Christianity from the Perspective of Relationships
We have opinions and preferences for everything in life. Some we hold strongly, others could be easily changed. Each of these things holds some level of value to us. Let us take them as a whole, and call them our value system.
Your values best reflect who you are. They are your morality, and what you hold to be important on vocation, politics, family, leisure, food, humor, goals, dreams, etc. They drive your behaviors, your associations and your relationships.
All relationships are built on a common value system. When you find common ground with someone else, what you have in common is something you both value. The more you value in common, the better will be the relationship.
The big problem for human relationships is that what we value most highly is ourself. Therefore all our relationships become marred and corrupted by our selfish motivations. Our default value system is selfishness for the benefit of me (which is exploitation of others). This comes out in one of three areas of desire: doing something to bring pleasure to my body, doing something to make people like me, or doing something to make my own domain of control.
God is amazing because he is not like us. He is not a physical being like we are, and more importantly, what he values the most is not the same as us. God came as Jesus to show us clearly what God is like (Heb 4:1-4). Jesus' whole life built up to his death on the cross. He died to save his friends, and this picture clearly shows us that God loves us with a sacrificial love.
This kind of love is the singularly most characteristic attribute of God. It is what he values most highly. Unlike us, he has complete integrity in his motivations, so there are no values that he holds that are in conflict with this value. God completely lives this value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. note
God is also unlike us in that there are three persons in one God - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of God's persons has this same value system, and so God lives in continuous perfect relationship!
Humans were also created for relationship. However, ever since the beginning, every one of us has chosen a value system different than God's. That fact and the rebellion it represents puts us out of relationship with God. And it puts us out of relationship with each other. We have no ability to change ourselves because selfishness is how we are hard-wired. The sad part is that we like our value system (for the most part). We are hedonists, we like being popular, and we like being in control - even though these three aspects kill our relationships.
God, however, had a plan to repair this. There are two problems: the offenses we had already made and our value system. He solved both of these relationship problems by carrying the cost himself.
God sent Jesus to earth to die. Death is a relational term. If someone I know physically dies, my relationship with them is broken. They become inaccessible; the previous relationship no longer exists.
The consequence of our rebellion against God is broken relationship with him. This has already occurred, and without intervention will continue indefinitely. When Jesus died on the cross, yes, His body died; but much more significant is that before he died, Jesus' relationship with God was broken. ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matt 27:46) Jesus, who had never been out of relationship with God before, experienced this death (the relationship part) in substitution for us.
Then later, Jesus said two more things: "It is finished." (John 19:29) and "Father, into your hand I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46) These showed that the relationship break was not permanent; relationship had been restored. This makes sense because throughout his whole experience, Jesus never had a value system that was different than God's. Therefore, he couldn't remain out of relationship with God the Father!
Jesus then physically died (though he was fully alive in his spirit). Some days later he completely renewed his body back to life. This supernatural act was to show authority in the physical realm, and that he also had full authority to correct issues in the spiritual realm. (He had explicitly made this point before - Mark 2:5.) So, Jesus' physical death and resurrection was meant as objective evidence that he was able to, and did solve the relationship consequence problem.
A New Kingdom
God also sent Jesus to earth to start a new Kingdom. This is a non-physical kingdom - Jesus was very clear about that! (John 18:36) When we enter His Kingdom, God sees us through Jesus. Jesus is our King-representative to God. Therefore in our position as citizens of that Kingdom, God sees us as He sees Jesus - having His perfect values. God can then send His Holy Spirit to transform us bit-by-bit through time, to in-reality having His value system.
In the human realm, normally only the guilty party is allowed to pay jail-time and capital punishment costs. However, when a person is under direct authority, the one in authority becomes the one responsible. Since Jesus is our King-representative to God, this explains why He can take our rebellion consequences in substitution for us. When we enter God's Kingdom, Jesus becomes responsible for us and therefore rightfully is able to bear the cost of our relationship failure with God.
When Jesus was talking about going to the cross, He said He was going to do it because He loved God. (John 14:31) This is a very important point! !! It means that He did it firstly because of His love for God and then only secondly because of His love for us. That means that there is nothing that we can do to change his love for us. The love that He has for us today is primarily because He loves God, which then overflows to be love for us. It is Jesus' value system to love us even though we are unworthy of his love. That is good news! It was never possible to make ourselves worthy because our problem is our value system. And only He can fix that.
There are two parts for us to this solution: believing that Jesus is our King, and adopting His value system. This kind of belief is the kind like believing in cars and chairs - we trust them. We trust our King to lead us. And adopting His value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others involves acknowledging that our value system is wrong and that we want to abandon it.
As a consequence of this belief and adopting, we will do good things. However, they are not a means (to gain favor with God), nor are they an end (a goal). The good things we do are an evidence. We do them because we are in Jesus' Kingdom, not to get into the Kingdom.
The cross is important because it most clearly shows God's value system to us; it most clearly reveals God to us. What it shows us is sacrificial living, love and forgiveness. That is what God wants to transform us to be like.
The result of this is that our relationship with God is restored. When we have a value system that is the same as God's, we can't remain out of relationship with Him. This is very significant because this is what we were created for. And the huge side effect of adopting God's value system is that we now share a common value system with everyone else in Jesus' Kingdom, so our relationships with people can be restored as well.
God's Kingdom Now
This, in reality, is what heaven and hell are: heaven is where God's will (which is His value system) is done (Matt 6:10), hell is where everybody does their own value system. Therefore, heaven is a place of good relationships and hell is a place of very great loneliness. Since we were created for relationship, hell will be terrible! However, the significant thing is that heaven and hell start here on this earth. While we live here, we have a chance to choose. And it appears that we do not want to change our choice after this world. But even if we were able to choose later, why risk it? And why delay, and let hell occur now in this life? Would it not be better to choose life now?
This is very great good news: the value of God's Kingdom is not "pie in the sky bye and bye", but good things now in the parts of life that are most meaningful to us. This is why our faith is most certainly not blind faith. We know how stubborn we are and how much we desire our three weaknesses (bodily pleasure, being popular, being in control). The greatest miracle of all is that God transforms us from that selfishness into someone that can genuinely love like He does. That is no pretending with words and embellishing a point! That is truly astounding and is powerful objective evidence that God's value system and Kingdom is like no other. In a world of spiritual "authorities", only one really identifies the root cause of the human problem and then completely solves it.
However, it does not come without cost to us. In fact, the cost is very high. Adopting God's value system is very hard. And it includes personal loss. Loneliness remains unless we are willing to lose ourselves. Normally, we try to hold onto our life either in self-love or in self-protection. Either we want our three weaknesses, or we want to avoid being hurt ever again. In both cases when we grasp tightly to what we have, we will find that it will slip out of our grasp anyway in the end. This paradox is very true: If we keep our life, we will lose it; if we lose our life (to God), we will gain it all, and more! (Matt 16:25)
This requires faith in a God that raises the dead. If God cannot put life back in us, we are fools for what we would throw away by giving up our values. But if there is life beyond our physical time on earth, it is a wise and motivated choice to choose this option God gives us.
Because of this question, Jesus physically died and came back to life to give us objective historical evidence that trust in Him is well-placed. And the changed lives of those living in His Kingdom is the evidence that he is effective for today. We believe in a God that creates life where previously only death existed!
Citizens of the Kingdom
God does not expect us to be perfect when we become citizens of His Kingdom. He gently guides. He gives us strength every time we ask it of Him. And when we fail, there is another astounding thing: In God's Kingdom, the consequence of failure is forgiveness. When we do wrong against Him or someone in the the Kingdom, we are forgiven (when we ask for it)!
The cross judges us because it so clearly shows God to us. It shows God's value system to us. It shows that forgiveness is one of the most vital parts of His value system. In fact, God doesn't forgive us unless we also forgive others (Matt 6:14-15). This is because it all goes together. Only with God's value system in us, can we truly forgive. If we are unwilling to forgive, that is evidence that we have not adopted God's value system or are putting ourselves outside of the Kingdom. Expanding it a bit further: God doesn't forgive us unless we come into His Kingdom and adopt His value system. How can He? - we have kept ourselves outside of His responsibility by rejecting His Kingdom. He is instantly ready to forgive because that is one of the most essential expressions of His value system. But He cannot do it in literal fact until we become one of His own. We become one of His by asking Him to be our king and telling him that we want to adopt His values instead of ours.
For those in God's Kingdom, we are to forgive in the same way. We are always to be ready to forgive any others in the Kingdom. As part of the process, the offender needs to admit a failure of values, and then adopt values in common with the one they offended. The forgiver's part is to treat the other according to his new value system, and to sacrificially carry the relationship cost of the of the wrong that had previously been done. After forgiving, they both need to actively work to extend the relationship.
Interestingly, the command to forgive does not extend to loving and forgiving those outside of the Kingdom. This protects God's people relationship-wise from those who do not have God's values and remain wired to exploit others. But, of course, these values will generously overflow anyway from all who have truly adopted God's value system.
All relationships are built on a common value system. However, our selfish value system brings conflict into our relationships with God and with other people. God's two-part plan repairs this situation by handling our selfish value system's consequences and by transforming us to have His good value system. Our part is to take Jesus as our King and adopt His value system as our own. Through this, God renews us to have relationship with Him and simultaneously enables us to also have good relationships with everybody else.