Growing up

Eldredge, on stages of relationship with God:

The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe our relationship to God at various stages. If you’ll notice, they ascend in a stunning way:

  • Potter and clay. At this level we are merely aware that our lives are shaped–even broken–by a powerful hand. There isn’t much communication, just the sovereignty of God at work.
  • Shepherd and sheep. At this stage we feel provided for, watched over, cared about. But beyond that, a sheep has little by way of true intimacy with the Shepherd. They are altogether different creatures.
  • Master and servant. Many, many believers are stuck in this stage, where they are committed to obey, but the relationship is mostly about receiving orders and instructions and carrying them out.
  • Father and child. This is certainly more intimate than being a servant; children get the run of the house, they get to climb on Daddy’s lap. These fortunate souls understand God’s fatherly love and care for them. They feel “at home” with God.
  • Friends. This stage actually opens up a deeper level of intimacy as we walk together with God, companions in a shared mission. We know what’s on his heart; he knows what’s on ours. There is a maturity and intimacy to the relationship.
  • Bridegroom and bride (lovers). Here, the words of the Song of Songs could also describe our spiritual intimacy, our union and oneness with God. Madame Guyon wrote, “I love God far more than the most affectionate lover among men loves his earthly attachment.”

I, unfortunately, make frequent stays in stages 2 and 3, while longing to prolong my brief visits to 4.

By Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a marketer, blogger and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

6 replies on “Growing up”

I’ll buy that. I think it connects with Eldredge’s point here in that sheep-shepherd/master-servant isn’t the ultimate destination, though a lot of times we act like it is. We experience conviction when we let our master down, or bitterness when we feel forced to do what he wants; we get stuck in stage three.

But the Lord longs for us to move onto a more full and mature relationship with him. And he keeps pursuing us (an upcoming post…)

Stages 2 and 3 are void of true relationship. 4, 5 and 6 are all about the relationship—our experience with God. He wants the real deal and wants us to have the real deal. Religion tells us otherwise.

Interesting post. I can see how he would draw those different levels. But I don’t think we ever get past 1 in the sense that it is a continual thing. If it isn’t we are either perfectly submitting (obviously not) or God has abandoned us (also not true), The only way that we progress to knowing Christ more is through his breaking of us and continually remolding us into the image that He has for us. But us being utterly sinful continue to distort that image so God continues to remold us into people whom glorify God as we aught and not as we are wont to. This is problem as it is also the very sin that God is continually aware of. God created us to be continually wrapped up with glorifying Him. Adam decided he would entertain something other than that and BLAM sin entered the world. The whole thing about what is missing with our experience with God is that we sin, and we sin some more, and we continue to prefer/treasure that which is not Christ. So as for Graham Cooke, I don’t think I could disagree more heartily. If that were true that what is the sense in asking for forgiveness? God doesn’t realize that we are full of sin, he is just thinking about how much we are missing out on. If that were true than why would that apostle Paul talk about being the worst of sinners? Why would God have sent the Prophet Nathan to accuse David of is sin with Bathseba? Or Gad to confront him about the census. Sure that is OT but He is that same God. God the Father is the JUDGE. The only reason God’s hatred for our sin does not fall on us is because of Christ. And his standing in our place as the substitutionary atonement. He is our substitute, and has payed the price. How can we cheapen Grace, WHY would we cheapen grace. Saying that God doesn’t see what’s wrong with us is like saying; God you’re not all knowing. Like he has been douped into thinking there is just something missing, we aren’t really full of sin, really we are just missing something. How is it possible, in God’s perfectness for something to be missing and for that not to be sin anyway? That sounds strikingly like; “Well God, you know I’m not hot, but hey, I’m not cold either, isn’t that great, yep I am the wonderful temperature referred to as luke warm.” Ok, sorry that was laden with sarcasm. But really. In God’s perfectness anything short of FULL ALL OUT GLORIFICATION! is sin. Our “experience with Him” is supposed to go something exactly like this; GLORY TO GOD………. (this continues on in unending loops through all that we are until we die and then continues in eternity). Anything short of that is sin.

Ok, I think I will stop here. I could go on and on about this, but I have already started to do that. Don’t mean to jump on anybody, I just really plead with ya’ll DON’T CHEAPEN GRACE. Just don’t do it. The only reason we would is because we want to feel better about who we are, and there is no Biblical ground for doing that.

Jon… point taken. Gotta love your passion for making sure Christ gets His well-due props :) That is along the lines of what I attempted to do in the message I delivered Friday.

Regarding the stages of our relationship with the Lord (after thinking about it some more and considering what you had to say) I wouldn’t see them as stages we ever truly graduate from. We’re always going to be clay, sheep, servants, etc… But we’re never going to be the Bride until we’re His friends, and we’re never going to be his friends until we’re his children, etc. They build upon each other.

Even as I was writing about spending most of my time in stages 2 and 3, I was thinking: “And I certainly get broken and molded quite often as well.” As sheep, servants, children, friends and brides…whatever… we all have times when molding and breaking is necessary. So, I agree that we ultimately never “leave” stage 1, but we certainly do move on into a situation when more than mere sovereignty is at work in our lives. We want to come in line with God–acting as ambassadors of and co-creators of His will on earth as it is in heaven, subduing and lording over earth as He does over all creation.

God can put a donkey to work for Him if He has to–the most elementary potter/clay situation. But we know that scripture tells of a relationship available with Him that is on a higher plane than that.

Regarding the Graham Cooke point: I don’t think He’s cheapening grace. Cooke’s statement implies Christ’s work. Now, “implicating” may be primary means of cheapening in you mind. And I guess I can understand. The work of Christ should not be implied or taken for granted in our discussions of lives. Maybe he should have said, “Because of the work of Christ did to set us free from sin, God can can focus on what’s missing in our relationship with him rather than what’s wrong with us.”

But, I believe Cooke is right in that when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees Jesus. We’ve “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.). As we live repentant lives, we exist in a state of reconciliation (Romans 5:8-11).

It’s not that we’re without sin and it’s not that we won’t have to give an account for it; we will. And in this world, even with God’s saving grace, we’ll reap the consequences of the sin we sow. And yes, God will confront us on our sin and convict us of it, as he does the seven churches in Revelation. But ultimately, Christ already paid for it all–sins past, present and future. And because of what Christ did, we’re empowered to get back to the basics (He’s the second Adam, the big “reset button”) and focus on, as you said, glorifying God!

How to we do that? By being conformed to the image of Christ–basically Cooke’s second point, in a glass half-full, glass half-empty sort of way: God could focus on sin-management (glass half-empty) or relationship-development (half-full).

Once we come into redemptive faith in Christ, we can begin the journey of sanctification, or discipleship, or whatever you want to call our journey down the narrow path. God can lead us down this path one of two ways: by repeatedly reminding us how awful and undeserving of the destination we are and how lucky we are that He fixed everything for us (the law and sin-management), or by calling us into deep fellowship with Him, showering us with His love and grace, filling us with His Spirit and cultivating within us the holy creatures we were designed to be (Christ and relationship-development).

How does God get us to stop sinning? Buy simply saying “Don’t do that” (the law and sin-management) or “Get to know Christ and he’ll show you how to live to please the Father” (Christ and relationship-development)?

Having not been at the conference I can only speculate on this, but when Cooke says “what’s missing in our experience with Him,” I think He’s getting at: Which ways has John 17 not been fulfilled in our lives yet? Christ’s last prayer was essentially that we would know the Father as He did.

By focusing on “what’s missing in our experience with Him” (following Christ) he takes care of “what’s wrong with us” (sin).

Graham Cooke’s point – stop beating yourself up. God isn’t looking at you and saying “Wow, you’d be a great servant of mine if you didn’t judge people so much. Oh well.”

I have lived in the prison of self-crtizing, self-condemnation and perfectionism too long. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need my help in convicting myself of sin. I take the rebuke, IF it’s from Him or someone led by Him, I ask forgiveness, I move on.

God LOVES. Most of us are deep in the dark about this. We mentally assent to the love, we think we understand it, we think we know how to move in it. We are clueless in it.

He loves. And His love covers a multitude of my sins. God’s hand is stayed by Jesus’ atonement, yes, but also by HIS LOVE. He sent Jesus because of His love, not because of His anger.

I will never walk around underneath a cloud of how terrible I am. How does that point anyone to Christ? It still puts the focus on me. I am hidden in Christ and I am what He is. As He is, so am I in this world.

This doesn’t cheapen anything. I’m not sinning with the intent on repentence. But even if I did, it doesn’t cheapen it. We all fall short. We all treat God badly sometimes. We don’t mean to, we just do.

Graham Cooke knows God in a way that I can only dream about now. And I hope, with deep, desperate hope, that I will one day know the love of God the way that Cooke does and beyond. And treat others according to that love.

God hates perfectionism. He hates religion that keeps people down and makes them feel terrible about sin all the time. Let it go, He already did when you repented. Move on.

Why do we forget how happy God is? How good He feels about us? How much He loves and desires us?

Sin only keeps us from Him. He doesn’t want to beat us up with it, He wants to remove it…so we can get to what’s missing in our experience with Him. So we can be close to Him, hear His heart and take it to the world.

Hope I didn’t offend anyone, but when I read the conversation, it hurt my heart. I’m done being perfect. I’m ready to be like Jesus.

p.s. yes, I know Jesus is perfect. I just mean, I’m sick of perfectionism.

p.p.s. sorry if i sounded overly aggressive, i just felt impassioned when i wrote all that. okay, i still feel like that. oh well.

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