Think of a time you were surprised when a person you’ve just met turns out to be close to one of your very dear friends who lives in a distant place. A pair of responses usually follows.
First you both compare notes about the shared friend and these validate the connection. And next the new acquaintance gains credibility in line with the esteem you both have for your shared friend.
Let’s reflect on what happens here.
For one it captures a truth. We are relational beings. To be human is to be formed by a vast and complex set of encounters. A host of relationships—the good, bad, and uneven—are all threads woven into the cloth of our identity.
We bring our unique contribution, of course, but our closest family and friends mark us deeply. So a newcomer already bonded to someone we love can be ushered rather quickly into a favored space.
Christians, especially, find joy in this truth. Our identity is communion-based. Or, in Bible terms, we are all members of Christ’s Body by his Spirit living in us. And, as such, we are tightly knit to others who also have his Spirit.
The Spirit, of course, isn’t present in everyone. As Christians our union with Christ consists in the Spirit’s awakening and sustaining presence. And, conversely, any who don’t yet know Jesus lack his presence.
Why? Because in Eden God’s Spirit was instantly grieved and his ministry quenched. So Adam lost God’s magnetic presence—a benefit he enjoyed by the presence of the Spirit’s divine life—and immediately curved in on himself as signaled by his newly felt nakedness. Adam’s new freedom from God also ended his enjoyment of God’s spreading goodness.
But there are memories of the relational fabric we were made to share, even among those who are now distant from God. In meeting that person who shares a friend in common there is an echo of God’s relational Image being heard. We were made to share deep bonds with others. But now that remains a memory instead of a living reality.
For non-Christians there is, of course, an alternative way of relating. Sin always retains its devotion to freedom. Yet there remains a need and willingness to engage others. Success, after all, only comes in a community that can satisfy Adam’s appetite for glory.
And some form of community is needed to salve the loneliness of autonomy. Yet even as this mitigated sort of caring is widespread it comes with a prospect of being despised as dependent and needy. In the end it amounts to linked selfishness—to using others to support a lonely vision of self.
The Bible treats this upside-down sort of relating as something God offers to solve through the Son. Jesus came to present God’s living relationship: to share his love for the Father by his full dependence and by the power of the Spirit working in him. He mocked his mockers by overcoming their societies of mutual-glory with a sacrificial devotion to his Father’s glory. His life exhibited love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and more!
Christ’s approach was so shocking to the fallen world—to both the pious and the impious; the religious and the irreligious—that they soon killed him.
But some people—but not many—recognized him as the true God-man and the antidote to Adam’s pride. And with that recognition their lives changed as they received his Spirit and, with him, Christ’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and more.
And this little clan of transformed people started to enjoy God’s spreading goodness among themselves. What was unique about them was just one feature: they had all come to know Jesus by his Spirit who offered the introduction. Or, to be accurate, by a person in whom Christ’s Spirit was present and active—who showed Christ’s qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and more.
And this brings us back to our starting point. Today there are millions of people who profess to be Christians. But among them there’s a smaller community: the people who, when they meet someone who has qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and more that remind them of Jesus. Then the question comes, “Do you, by any chance, know Jesus?”
“Yes! He’s my dearest friend and savior!” And with that the conversation turns into an exchange of compared notes about Jesus, an exchange that validates their shared relationship with God. This is the instant recognition of Christ’s Spirit whose ways are unmistakable. And it’s an easy relationship to share with others!