Awhile back BrianJ asked me these two questions. I thought I’d answer them here.
How do you know that Jesus is real?
First off, I think the historical evidence is solid that Jesus was a real man living in present-day Israel 2,000 years ago. Further I think the evidence is solid that he was crucified by the Romans and that his followers immediately began boldly preaching that He rose from the grave. He’s not a mythical figure. He was a real, flesh and blood man who walked the earth. We can know that he existed with as much certainty as we can know any other historical fact.
I’m aware that Brian is asking me something more metaphyscial than my opinion of ancient historical evidences but I think it’s important to start there. Based on that same historical evidence I think we can safely assume that Jesus equated himself with the Jewish god and that by his own power he defeated death. The claims of those beliefs are much more controversial and carry much greater consequence, but I rest my own interactions with the resurrected Jesus on those historical claims.
I experience Jesus in my life today through reading his words and the words of his early followers. Based on the experiences and practices of other believers I try different methods of communicating with Jesus. I compare my experiences with other believers and look for points of connection and agreement.
In particular, I’m interested in the radical life change I see in new believers and I see how my own life continues to be transformed as I practice greater dependence on His teachings. I feel inner promptings that sound different than my own inner-dialogue and more often than not, when I listen and obey those promptings other people are encouraged. I’ve also audibly heard the voice of God on one occasion.
How do you know that you have a “personal relationship” with him? (Apologies if that phrase is not used in your church.)
The phrase “personal relationship” is rather new in the history of Christianity. I believe he got its start in an effort to encourage people to make the Christian faith one of their own choosing. It’s not intended to be a cultural system that one accepts as part of a larger community. It’s meant to be an individual pursuit that’s lived out in a larger community of faith. In places where Christianity is the predominant cultural language it’s important to encourage people to be self-reflective and intentional about their faith. Far more people check the box on the survey that says “Christian” than people who actually seek to make their lives emulate Jesus’. To have a personal relationship with Jesus is to personally choose to follow him. To make a direct individual choice.
In addition, as a real, living person, Jesus can be known. His invitation is not just to be like him but to know him. Jesus works through his (universal) church, but he also works through individuals. He actually speaks, empowers and motivates individuals. His calling for every believer is individual and “personal.” To have a “personal relationship with Jesus” is to know what that calling is for yourself. I know I have a relationship with Jesus because I can hear, feel and see him speaking directly to me and using me for his kingdom.
Many times when people are investigating Christianity, Christians will advise that the investigator just give themselves over to a personal relationship. The advice seems to be that individuals should not be concerned with the particulars of the faith but should just experience this “personal Jesus.” I totally understand why Christians promote this. Many of them have had powerful metaphysical experiences upon saying “yes” to a life in pursuit of Jesus. Today we call it a “born again experience.” I would disagree, but some would say that you aren’t a true Christian unless you’ve had such an experience.
The reason Evangelicals promote this idea is because it’s a short-cut to understanding. If a person has an experience like this, the particulars of the faith immediately make much more sense. It’s like if I tried to tell you all about my wife. I could probably write a book about my wife, but if you actually met her the time you would need to understand who she is would be cut short.
Would you say your understanding of a personal relationship with Jesus is the same?