On the application form for anyone seeking employment at Fresno Pacific we ask each candidate to write a statement describing “[their] relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ and the church and how [they] relate [their] Christian faith to [their] profession.” We do this not only because FPU is an explicitly Christian institution, but because we are convinced that above all else, God desires to be in a personal relationship with each and every one of us. We believe this because it is the unmistakable message of the Bible from Genesis to maps. With that in mind, let me do an extremely quick overview of the biblical terrain.
In Genesis 3:8—and don’t panic, I’m not going to go through all 66 books of the Bible—we read of God walking in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden in search of Adam and Eve. Sadly, the primordial pair had already set the pattern that we all have followed, i.e. rebelling against God and seeking our own selfish way. It is hard to imagine that God only ventured into the Garden after this rebellion, so it has seemed reasonable to generations of Christians to assume that this was God’s established practice before the fall. From this point onward, God is constantly pursuing humanity to restore this original intimacy.
To further stress this point, even though the Book of Genesis ranges over hundreds of years of human history, we find it pausing to mention one extraordinary individual right after the recounting of the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. Specifically, in Genesis 5:21-24 we read “Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (This same Enoch is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, Luke 3:37, and in Hebrews 11:5)
Next, in Exodus, we find God accompanying the Israelites, through whom all the nations of the earth are intended to be blessed, by “going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” (Exodus 3:21-22)
Later, God’s presence among Israel is both symbolized and realized in the sacred spaces of the Tabernacle and the Temple, even though the Scriptures make it clear that these are only points of contact for our benefit, as the Lord of the Universe cannot be confined by place and time (Acts 7:48-50; Is. 66:1-2). The terms governing the covenantal relationship between God and his people are spelled out in painstaking detail in the first five books of the Bible, but even then, their essence is subsumed under the command to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5), a message that is reiterated by Jesus himself (Luke 10:27; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30)
That God desires an intimate relationship with his people is further reinforced by the passionate and personal way the prophets and psalmists interact with God. You simply cannot read their works without being gripped by the intimate nature of their relationship with God.
All of this, of course, is leading up to the ultimate example of how deeply God desires to commune personally with us, as God himself condescends to become incarnate in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5-8). As we sing about and celebrate every Christmas season, Christ is literally Emanuel, God is with us! Unfortunately, even though he was now “in the world, and everything in the world was made through him, the world still did not recognize him,” (John 1:10) and therefore so much of Jesus’ ministry was spent trying to correct people’s misunderstanding of God.
Among the long, long list of misperceptions that humanity had developed about God which Jesus tried to dispel was our penchant for thinking that we can somehow do enough good works to earn God’s love and acceptance. Jesus confronted this head on when he taught in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Echoing the prophets’ declaration that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” [I Sam. 15:22]) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
The more people began to understand just who it was in their midst, the more they wanted him to stay, but they still didn’t understand what it was that he, as their messiah, had come to do. Repeatedly, Jesus had to stress to them that it was best for them if he were to die, such as when he told the disciples:
“Unless I go away, the Advocate (i.e. the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:6)
Even after Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus’s followers still had so much to learn and for this God chose to use a very unlikely character, Saul of Tarsus. Saul, as you may recall, was the biggest persecutor of the church and keeping with our theme it is worth noting that when Jesus appears to Saul on his way to Damascus, the first thing he says is “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Yes, folks it’s personal, when you mess with Christ’s followers, you’re messing with Christ. It is this same Saul, now Paul, who reveals one of the greatest mysteries of the ages, as is recorded in Colossians 1:25-27:
“Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It’s personal!
Indeed, throughout the various letters to the churches, we find scores of passages that talk about being “in Christ,” or “abiding” in Christ, such as II Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Or Ephesians 2:13 – “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Finally, we come to the Book of Revelation, one of several places where the church is referred to in the most intimate of terms as Christ’s bride (Rev. 22:17). More importantly, Revelation is where we read: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20), a verse which is near and dear to Christians throughout the centuries, but especially to those of us in the evangelical tradition.
I trust that from this very brief run through the Bible that you will see that Christianity is indeed very personal! And that is why we, as an institution of higher education with an explicitly Christian mission, take such pains to seek and secure men and women who have experienced, and continue to experience, a personal relationship with God so that they can both model the Christian faith for students out of the depths of their personal experience and mentor students in their own journey together with God.