In some Christian circles, it is often said that everyone should have a personal relationship with Jesus, and that everyone should ask Jesus into his heart. These phrases assume rich truths: That Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of meaning, hope, and love. That a fruitful life finds him at its center. That this center is not merely a matter of priority, but that it is a relationship, and a very personal one at that.
On the other hand, the way this is said often puts a kink into that relationship. It assumes that unless one does something—usually praying a certain prayer, said in a certain way—one does not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Also lurking in the background is a Jesus who passively waits for us to pray before becoming our friend.
This approach encourages transactional faith. If we do X, God will do Y. And a great deal depends on us. That’s a lot of pressure: to start this personal relationship with the right prayer and keep it going with the right spiritual life.
To be fair, people who extol a personal relationship with Jesus don‘t necessarily take the language to its logical conclusion. Still, the fact that it so easily lures us into transactional faith may be the reason the New Testament never urges us to “have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or tells us to invite Jesus into our hearts. Instead of exhorting us to have a personal relationship with Jesus by saying a certain prayer, the Bible says something much better: You are already a friend of God—enjoy it.
A strong current of the New Testament moves in this direction. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:19). In Adam, ...
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