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Pursuing a Deeper Relationship with Jesus

and Christian Epistemology

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Question #1:

Dr. Luginbill, I was hoping you might have some resources, or recommendations on pursuing a "Deeper relationship with God". I need more that brings me closer. I think I am missing a lot!

Response #1: 

This is a good question, but one that doesn't have a simple answer (or maybe the answer is too simple). I try to address the process of spiritual growth, of deepening our relationship with the Lord, in everything I write. It is a subject which is always on my mind, and I am pleased to hear that it is of great importance to you as well. To begin with, you might have a look at some things I have already posted (if you have not already done so):

"Walking with Jesus"

Imitating Christ (Peter #17)

The Christian Walk

The fact is that as believers in Jesus Christ, He is our life, and we are in Him and of Him from the point of faith forevermore! Appreciating and exploiting that relationship is why we are still here on this earth after salvation. Our purpose is indeed to grow closer to Him and to help others do the same, that is to love Him with all our heart and to love one another as He has showed us. This is a full-time, "all-time" job. None of us will ever do it perfectly, but all of us can do it better than we are doing it. This is one of those things in which there will always be room for improvement.

But how do we do it? Everything we do in life can be broken down into thoughts, words, and deeds, and in all of these areas it is important to learn to put our Lord first. What we do is often the result of what we say and certainly of what we are thinking, so while our speech is a very important "sentry" that stands between our actions and our thoughts (and as such receives close scrutiny in the book of James), it is in our thinking that we first must address this question of our relationship with the Lord. Perhaps no one can ever hope to gain complete control over his/her thoughts, but all of us could do a better job in following the advice Paul gives us (Rom.12:1-2; Eph.4:23):

Therefore since you have been resurrected [positionally] with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Think on the things above, and not the things on the earth. For you are already [positionally] dead [to all that], and your [true] life has been hidden away with Christ in God. When Christ - our [true] life - is revealed [at the 2nd Advent], then you too will be revealed in glory (i.e. resurrection).
Colossians 3:1-4

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever if pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 NIV

And in this determination to discipline our thinking, to turn it away from morbid preoccupation with the corruptible things of this world, with the pointless vanities of this life, the ultimate object of our thoughts should be the One we love more than life itself, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

Since then we too [like the believers of chapter 11] have such a large audience of witnesses surrounding us [both men and angels], let us put off every hindrance - especially whatever sins habitually affect us - and run with endurance the race set before us, turning our gaze unto Jesus, the originator and completer of our faith, who, for the joy set before Him, endured the shame of the cross, treating it with despite, and took His seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Keep in mind all the terrible opposition He endured against Himself at the hands of sinful men, so as not to grow sick at heart and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3

By faith, Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose instead to suffer maltreatment with the people of God rather than to enjoy the transitory pleasures of sin, because he considered the reproach [suffered on behalf] of Christ greater riches than [all the] treasure vaults of Egypt. For he was looking to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king. For he grew strong by seeing the One who cannot be seen (i.e., by keeping his mind's eye on the invisible Jesus Christ).
Hebrews 11:24-27

This cannot be done in a vacuum, of course. We need to deploy all of the resources that God has graciously given us in this fight: along with our will, our heart, our emotions, our intellect, we can pray, we can read our Bibles, we can make even more use of the opportunities we have been given to learn about His truth through substantive teaching, and to minister His truth through the various gifts and ministries with which we have been entrusted. And we can do a better job of all of this day by day. We can learn to pray in a more focused fashion, to read our Bibles in a more motivated way, to listen to teaching more attentively, to serve the Lord more aggressively and enthusiastically.

Often, when we "feel" that we are not close enough to Him it is a symptom of other things. Perhaps we have allowed ourselves to become a bit more lackadaisical in our approach to the Christian life than we should (this is an occupational hazard for all Christians), or perhaps we want to accelerate the pace and better the place we are at in our relationship with Him (this should be a universal desire for all Christians). But it is important to remember that emotion follows in this process rather than leading, and that while the lack of it may be an indication of a problem or of an as yet unfulfilled potential, the solution is NOT to concentrate on emotion or emotional response. When we are truly giving our heart over to Him in the study of, the meditation on, and the application of His Word, all the blessings of joy and comfort He has for us will flow out in a blessed right and righteous way. No amount of effort to generate emotional response apart from the truth and substance of the Word can ever do this. Why? Because ultimately what we want is to know Jesus better, to walk more closely with Him, to experience His peace, and to enter into His vineyard helping our brothers and sisters in Jesus do likewise. All of these things are fundamentally and inextricably connected to knowing, understanding, appreciating, living and breathing His Word - for He is "The Word of God".

I hope this will provide a bit of guidance and a start in your noble quest and endeavor. Please do not hesitate to write me back about any of this.

In the One who is our all in all, in whom we rejoice with joy inexpressible, waiting eagerly and patiently for the day when we will be with Him forever, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Dr. Luginbill,

Do you have any writings on Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth. How do we do that literally? It seems that many of the churches are using entertainment worship, which seems to be directed towards us rather than God in Christ.

Response #2:

This is, of course, a quote from John 4:23, which refers to the necessity of ministry of the Spirit to understand and learn the truth of the Word of God – it can't be done otherwise. Worshiping "in [the] Spirit and in truth" is therefore what true worshipers do (as opposed to unbelievers for whom the things of God are “foolishness”: 1Cor.2:14), and true worship, the appreciation and response of believers to the truth depends upon this circular process of hearing, understanding, and believing the truth through the aid of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is thus essential to our learning of any biblical truth, and always has been. But while in the past He was "with us", He is now also "in us" (Jn.14:17). This indwelling of the Spirit has made the process of learning the truth for all believers who set themselves to this primary task of spiritual growth much more effective (1Cor.2:12; cf. Jesus words in your context about the day of such true worship being “close at hand”). The Spirit testifies and teaches our spirit (Rom.8:16; 1Cor.2:12; 1Jn.2:20; 2:27). This is why we cannot be discerned by the world (1Cor.2:14) – our learning process is a supernatural one. Truth is of God, and the Spirit is the "Spirit of truth" (Jn.14:17). Thus there is an inseparable relationship between the Spirit who teaches the truth and the truth which the Spirit teaches. "Epistemology", as it is technically called, is for the Christian a very simple thing and does not require reams of philosophical treatises to understand and explain (pace all such reams in the medieval "church fathers" and philosophers). Simply put, when we are exposed to the truth, truth of any kind and in any format (i.e., observation of the night sky and recognition of our finiteness and God's immensity; Bible teaching in church, on the radio, in books, on the internet; our own Bible reading; conversations about the truth of scripture with friends and family; etc.), it is the Holy Spirit who enables our spirit to understand that truth, thus circumventing and "cutting out" the corrupt natural world and our own corrupt natures in the process. Thus true Holy Spirit epistemology recognizes that no matter how smart or how dull we may be in terms of the shells we now occupy, every spirit is capable of all the spiritual growth that it is willing to receive through the grace of God and the gracious ministry of the Spirit.

As to your specific question, God meets us more than half-way in all of these things. If we are willing, He is much more so. He wants us to grow as much as we can, and will surely help us abundantly whenever we make a commitment to do so. Worshiping in Spirit and truth is 1) being led by the Spirit (i.e., responsiveness to God and His calling, His agenda not ours); 2) being spiritual and not carnal (i.e., being in a state of fellowship with our Lord, not nursing sins, but having confessed them); 3) being genuinely interested and appropriately enthusiastic about the truth of the Word of God (i.e., not hyper-emotionalism but truly appreciating that His Word is the most important thing in this world). It is only from this solid foundation that we can truly appreciate who Jesus is and what He has done for us and respond to Him in an appropriate way. Worshiping in Spirit and truth is not 1) being motivated by various selfish interests (i.e., there are all sorts of reasons why people go to church or want to look religious that have nothing to do with responding to God); 2) being carnal and not spiritual (i.e., if we are in rebellion against God, no amount of truth is going to be able to penetrate until we repent and confess); 3) perfunctory religiosity (i.e., mere rote and ritual apart from the power of the Spirit teaching our responsive spirits).

The religious people of Jesus' day were big on "worship". The temple cult and the paraphernalia developed to embellish it were a most impressive sight by all contemporary accounts (cf. Flavius Josephus). They indulged in great shows of their religiosity, even as they covered up their true carnality (as every reader of the gospels knows full well). Jesus points us back to the two, true elements of worship: 1) seeking God's truth, and 2) operating in the power of the Spirit. Only by putting learning about God in first place, and doing so by responding with a supple conscience to all the promptings of the Spirit, can we fulfill Jesus' words here in John 4:23, "worshiping in Spirit and in truth".

Finally, I fully agree with your take on contemporary "worship" in most churches. Why do gather together in the first place if not for mutual encouragement (Heb.10:24-25) – and to be effective, whether it comes from the pulpit, or the table, or conversation with fellow believers, it has to be based on the Word of God. Therefore the teaching of the Word of God is the primary objective of all corporate worship (because that is that is the life-spring whence all true encouragement and the spiritual motivation to provide and receive it flow). As you suggest, ancillary things have come to the point of replacing the one really important thing, namely, learning about God through His Word of truth in the power of the Spirit. But we are under no obligation to follow blindly into the same ditch. Let us drink deeply of the new and powerful wine of the undiluted Word of God empowered by the Spirit, being careful not to waste it by trying to pour into old skins incapable of receiving it.  See also:

Epignosis, Christian Epistemology, and Spiritual Growth.

Is hearing believing?

Spiritual Epistemology

In Him who is the only truth and whose Spirit dwells in us, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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