Glorifying God Together
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The Gospel and Personal Relationships

Zach Putthoff Written by 
Saturday, 30 August 2014 16:21

You and I are social beings by nature. We have been made that way. The very fact that we exist testifies to this fact, since life itself is conceived socially. Just as the human race could not succeed without social interaction, no single human being could either. Even the crazy mountain man that hasn't seen another human being for twenty years is a social being. He just interacts with animals and inanimate objects, instead of people.

Our desire for friendships then, is a natural, God-given desire. This, I believe is at the root of what God meant when He said in the Garden, "It is not good for man to be alone." Despite the perfect goodness of the original creation itself, it all would have shriveled up and died if man were not given the opportunity to exercise and display that goodness with others like him in open, honest, and loving relationships and partnerships with them.

This is one of the things that makes the scene of Genesis 3 so tragic. After rebelling against God in the Garden, Moses writes that the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:7-8 - ESV).

What was the immediate effect of their rebellion? Immediately their eyes turn inward. Self-interest. Self-protection. Self-esteem. Self-consciousness. Self-absorption. Immediately, Adam and Eve go from being wrapped up and interested in the other – to wrapped up and interested in themselves. The immediate affect of their sin was distance in their relationship. And then, although they are now divided in their interests regarding the well being of the other, they are yet united in their interest to hide from God.

And so goes the human race into centuries upon centuries of broken, difficult, tragic, and altogether less than ideal relationships.

But, this is one of the tragic effects of man’s fall into sin that is reversed by the Gospel. Consider what John says in 1 John 1:7

"…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7).

This verse is worth a closer look.

“Fellowship” could be described as deep, meaningful, loving, sacrificial, and mutually beneficial relationships. One of the things I think John is arguing here, is that the Gospel and living according to it is the basis for true friendship.

Pastor Tim Keller has said on different occasions that religion says, "I obey, therefore I am accepted." Christianity says, "I am accepted, therefore I obey." This is Gospel living in a nutshell. This kind of living builds the only true foundation for the kind of relationships we all long for. The greatest hindrances to deep, meaningful, loving, sacrificial, and mutually beneficial relationships are absolutely demolished by the Gospel.

Think about it. What are some hindrances to our relationships? I can think of four immediately.

First, there is THE HUNGER FOR ACCEPTANCE. The Gospel of Christ rescues us from the dominating urge of human acceptance, which always leads to meaningless pretense. If my goal is to have you accept me in my relationship with you, then I will do whatever it takes to impress you to the point of accepting me – which means that I will probably only show you the good things in my life and will somehow find a way to hide the things that I think could make you reject me. Why be pretentious to gain acceptance with you if I know I am accepted by God, who sees me as I am?

The hunger for acceptance is also destructive in another way. It also leads me to reject you if I do not believe you are clearly accepting me. You see this all over today – and all of us are guilty of it to some degree. You don’t like me? Fine! I don’t need you anyway! We base our acceptance of others on whether or not we are convinced they have fully accepted us.

The Gospel reshapes our values here, such that our concern is no longer to prove our self-worth to others, nor is it to receive affirmation of our self-worth from others as the basis for our relationships. If I believe the Gospel, I can be honest and vulnerable with my friends, knowing that I do not ultimately need their acceptance to feel secure and at peace and I can love my friends whether or not they fully accept me, knowing that I have been accepted by the One who matters most. The Gospel secures me in my own skin, enabling me to not merely enjoy relationships, but to actually lovingly invest in them.

A second hindrance to true friendship is that of SHALLOW INTERESTS. We become friends simply because our kids are in the same school, or because we like the same sports team, or because you have cool things and I like cool things. The Gospel creates an interest in things that truly matter – freeing us from relationships based on shallow points of interest or agreement. It actually protects us from thinking that the silly, glad-handed, light-hearted interactions we have with one another are actually friendships. It keeps us looking for the real thing, and guards us from becoming satisfied with counterfeits.

Then there is the issue of PRIDE & PREJUDICES. The Gospel rescues us from looking down on one another – and from being intimidated by one another. It tells us there is no hierarchy of holiness. No totem poles. No caste systems. No straight to heaven routes for some, and long waits in purgatory for others. No system of perpetual reincarnation for those who just can’t seem to get it right. No critical members of society (unless by critical members of society you are referring everyone). No babies worth keeping and others worth destroying. The Gospel tells us that the great problem in this world is us. All of us. We are all on the same level; all sinners in need of the sovereign grace of God; all desperately and helplessly bound to our sins apart from that grace; and all of equal value and importance. Prejudice in every form hurts people and kills relationships, but the Gospel kills prejudice in every form.

And finally I think of the relationship killer of SELF-PROTECTION. The Gospel frees me from my “need” to protect myself (I continue to learn this). I feel the need to protect myself because I am afraid of what you might do to me if I don’t. This leads me to do a lot of the same things that my hunger for acceptance leads me to do. I only stick my neck out there so far. I only let you in so close. I only give so much. But, why must I be so guarded and afraid of being hurt if Jesus has taken my greatest possible suffering on Himself. If my greatest risk has been perfectly and completely mitigated by Christ at the Cross and I know that I will never be destroyed utterly; what do I have to fear? If God is for us, who can be against us?

And so, if we walk in the light…that is, if we are living lives that are consistent with the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ; examining ourselves according to the Scriptures; being honest about our personal walks with God; not trying to project inaccurately positive images to others; living open lives before God our only true Judge, leading to open lives before others – then, we can have the friendships we have always longed for – or at least pave the way for them. The fellowship of the Garden will be restored one day to a state far beyond what it ever was and we can begin to experience that restoration now, in “little things” like our relationships.

The invitation has been officially extended. Come walk in the light and experience Gospel-sustaining fellowship with God’s people.

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