Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30-–27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).