Here’s a question that rarely surfaces these days but it still needs to be asked: How many professing Christians will Jesus receive as his own on judgment day? And how many will be told, “Depart from me, I never knew you!”?
Along with this basic two-sided question let me ask a related but more applied question: How do we live as Christians in light of Christ knowing us? What sort of spirituality comes with this “knowing”?
First let’s set a context. As Christians we all hold assumptions about God. Let’s consider two starters.
The first broad assumption is that God has a personality profile. At one end of the range of personhood options we may see him as placid: as one who maintains nature but does little else. Or he might be just the opposite: an engaged activist devoted to ruling and shaping everything in creation. And with that he may be viewed as self-concerned—seeking glory from the creation—or as other-concerned and devoted to sharing his glory freely in lively relationships.
Unending possibilities and permutations exist, of course. My point here isn’t to chase comparisons but to be reminded that our picture of God reveals whether or not we know him. Christ’s disciples—those who really knew him in the first century—were very different from the religious leadership in the way they responded to Jesus. They knew him; the Pharisees and Sadducees were only acquainted with him.
If truly knowing God is critical to eternal life we eventually need to ask, “Who, from Christ’s point of view, is a Christian?” He defines the conversation, not us. And our focus on Christ is what defines a Christian: he displays divinity to us in human terms.
Another assumption is that humans exist and relate to God in a life-shaping manner. Humans, for instance, may want to ignore God or, perhaps, to determine God’s existence in a “make-believe” way. This suits a placid version of God.
Alternatively God may be fully in charge of things. A version of this God has us reflecting his brilliance back to him as mirrors of his glory—so our connection with him can be impersonal and utilitarian.
Or we may assume—having been told by Jesus that when we have seen him we have seen the Father—that the nature of his bond to the Father by the Spirit is God’s clearest point of self-disclosure. And it also defines the way he created us. In other words, we were made ‘like’ him—as relational beings made in his communing, communicating Image.
Now, back to our first question. What is it that assures us that Jesus will acknowledge us in the Day to come? It will have everything to do with how our relationship with Christ shares in and reflects Christ’s relationship with the Father. This may sound a bit strange so please stay with me!
As we noted already, our being depends on God’s being. So when we meet God in the New Testament Jesus is standing there. He tells that he and the Father are one. And he wants us to trust him in the same way he trusts the Father. We’re called to love him just as the Father loves him. We’re called to be holy just as he and the Father are holy. We’re called to rely on the Spirit just as he relied on the Spirit. In a summative invitation we’re even called to “kiss the Son”—see Psalm 2—in our heartfelt devotion. It reminds us of the Father telling us, “This is my beloved Son!”
Another guiding text is John 17 where Jesus celebrates the union and unity of the Godhead. This is where God wants to take us. Jesus made it clear: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The Father and the Son are one, and their sharing and giving expresses God’s overflowing love: “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Which leads us back to the second question: how do we live the Christian life? The answer in the Bible is that God’s own relationship is the environment of our eternal union with Christ. We are brought into his eternal communion as family. And, what’s more, that relationship has already begun.
Think, for instance, of the Spirit’s invitation for us to call God “Abba”—Daddy—and our place with Christ at the Father’s right hand. The Father’s passion for his Son includes his passion for us—as we’re now called “children of God” and the “bride of Christ”.
How, then, should we live? As responders and repeaters. That is, as responders to God’s love so that we love him in return; and as repeaters as we share the love we receive with our neighbors. Is it a life of duty? No—realizing that Jesus was delighted to follow his Father—we also delight in God’s care for us.
What about those who promote faith as a duty, and treat the affections—whether God‘s or man’s—as sub-spiritual? Maybe they don’t even know God. Whatever the case let’s not take them to be our spiritual guides. Look, instead, to Jesus to tell us more, in his Word, of what it means to know him better.