Journey or Destination?

This post is from a friend and librarian and professor at Irish Bible Institute, Ana Mullan: Her question is this one: IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE A JOURNEY OR A DESTINATION?

This is a question that I have been asking myself many times and in many different ways.

When I became a Christian the gospel that I received was: repent, accept Jesus as your personal saviour, your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven. And though this is true, as time went by, I started to wonder if what I heard was the only thing I could expect. Was I ever going to experience a real change in my life? Did I have to die and get to heaven to be able to be transformed into Jesus’ likeness? What did it actually mean to become like Jesus? It definitely didn’t mean just to become a “nice” person. There are loads of people who do not believe in God and they are very nice as human beings and there are those who say they are followers of Jesus but leave much to be desired.

The other big question that I have been asking myself is this, Jesus says in Matthew 4:17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. The reality of the Kingdom is found at the beginning of the gospel and immediately after that Jesus chooses his first disciples. These disciples had not understood yet that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that He was going to die on the cross. So, my question is:

Why when we present the “gospel” to others we start with the death of Jesus and not with the life? Why did Matthew and the other gospels writers bother writing about what Jesus said and did if it is only the death that we have to concentrate on?

These questions led me to do a good bit of reading from authors whose understanding of the “good news” was new to me. I include in this list Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard and Richard J. Foster. I have come to understand the good news as an invitation where the availability of the Kingdom is near, all the time, in all places. If I choose to live under this new King, as I walk with Him on a daily basis I become his apprentice and can experience transformation.

The Christian life is a journey. Journey is not a word that we fully understand in our western world. For us to journey is to travel on a bus, car or plane, we travel to get somewhere, the destination is what matters and how fast we can get there. It is not so with journeying with Jesus.

A few years ago, my husband did the famous Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. He walked for 28 days, carrying all his belongings in a rucksack that weighted 9 kilos. As he walked he met many different people, from different countries, languages, backgrounds. When he came back, he was not the same person, because to walk with others had transformed him. Relationships with other human beings change us, why should be any different when we are talking about the most important relationship?

Paul writing to the Corinthians says: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which come from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. (2 Cor.3:17). Note the verb’s tense that he uses, present continuous, which indicates that he himself was still being transformed. And writing to the Romans he says: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”. (Rom.8:29).

To be transformed into the likeness of Jesus means to live in perfect harmony with the Father, with oneself and with those around us. That was God’s intention from the beginning. It does not come as a result of outside changes, but it is a revolution of character from the inside.

It is not an instantaneous process. It is the difference between going to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, walking the Camino, or going by plane. We live in a culture geared towards quick results. In the words of Eugene H. Peterson, the Christian is both disciple and pilgrim. A disciple is a learner, but not in the intellectual sense, but more like an apprentice who works next to a craftsman. The Christian is also a pilgrim because his life is spent on a journey with and towards God.

If we take that the Christian life is just a destination, we can end up thinking that we have arrived, that once we have understood salvation that there is nothing more in offer. The people that Jesus most condemned were those who thought they understood God, that they had nothing left to learn apart from a list of dos and don’ts. If we think like this, we will never experience real inner transformation, no matter how holy we might appear to others.

Now here is my other question: HOW IS OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOSPEL SHAPED BY OUR CULTURE?

In my observation the goal of ALL Christians is to be conformed to the image of Jesus; however God’s transformation takes into consideration our personalities, human make-up, culture and background. God does not produce clones.

This journey into transformation takes place in community and it is not just for our benefit but for the sake of the world. The more a disciple is formed into Jesus’ likeness, the more that he will love God and his neighbour as himself. Western society is individualistic and independent. Christianity is about community, because our God is a God who portraits the perfect community in the Trinity.

ARE OUR CHURCHES PLACES WHERE WE EXPERIENCE REAL COMMUNITY THAT LEADS INTO TRANSFORMATION OR JUST GATHERING PLACES?

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Robyn

    What a good question to ask! I hope it is both a destination and a spiritual journey. I am reading a very good book called, “The Book of Ernest” by Ernest Clement. It is really helping understand spirituality. This a non-fiction book on spirituality and mankind’s place in the universe written from the author’s own experiences over a period of 15 years. He includes some humor and perspectives on American politics. I am learning so much!!! http://www.ernestclement.com/

  • Reved Up

    More than ever I am convinced by what Scott has to say about ‘Journey or destination’. The connection for me comes from Matt 23.23-24  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!’
    If we read the scriptures from the perspective of ‘journey’ then all of a sudden verses like these take on a whole other meaning. Jesus isn’t giving a soteriological gospel here, he’s giving a life long journey lesson. Justice (Not rights), mercy and Faith. Imagine a Christian Church that actually lived this out in the community life as well as the individuals’ life. Journey not destination, more so because a journey like this will see more at the destination. Praise God for Discipleship.

  • http://www.danwhitejr.blogspot.com Dan Jr,.

    I’ve always had a nagging suspicion that responding to the Forgiveness-Gospel does not lead naturally to becoming a follower, an apprentice or a disciple. Discipleship always seemed like an add-on for the super serious. There are quite a few popular books that try to convict Christians to become disciples by using the “lukewarm” leverage. Something seems odd about their content when I look at the Kingdom-Gospel Jesus illustrated and invited people to participate in. I did a little post on the Kingdom-Gospel and the Forgiveness-Gospel > http://www.danwhitejr.blogspot.com/2012/05/rock-climbing-kingdom-gospel-angst-it.html

  • Rick Carman

    Thought-provoking. Thanks. Might the question set up a false dichotomy which for many results in a choosing of one over the other with drastic results either way? Only destination can lead to individualism and little regard for the witness of the gospel to the world. Only journey disregards the culmination of the image of Christ in us in glorification and can lead to errors such as social gospel, overly contextualized Christianity, and other errors that arise from letting go of the goal or end of salvation. Seems that it is a journey to a destination.

  • http://www.jesusandthebible.wordpress.com Lucas Dawn

    Beginning with your last question, most church attenders and leaders make the church a gathering place where the pastor stands and talks and the people sit and listen. The only pilgrimage is riding in individual cars to that place; the only community is joining a crowd of spectators who support the “star” up front. That’s why I prefer to attend only Sunday Schools, since it is smaller and more informal, and many teachers like others to participate and interact with them and one another. I don’t attend “worship services” anymore. Actually, a home bible study can be even better as far as building community, participation, and helping each other on our pilgrimage to becoming more like Jesus.

    The churches’ love affair with a Savior on a cross and forgiveness indeed misses the King who walked all over the kingdom of Israel and talked about the kingdom of God. As in Mt. 4, Jesus begins the new kingdom by announcing its arrival and gathering disciples. He goes on to teach them what it means to be part of his kingdom, and show them how the king practices what he preaches. This gospel of the kingdom is his main theme; for disciples who are being transformed into his likeness, it will be our main theme also.

  • TJJ

    It is, like a marriage, indeed both an arrival into something new but also the start of a jouney. But maybe a better way of saying it is that it is a journey and an arrival, or that It is also a journey and a beginning.

    But I think I would not use the word “destination” anymore. That word communicates some things that the Christian life definitely is not.

  • http://www.nextreformation.com len

    I wonder if Richard Rohr and others are on the right track when they suggest that many questions are answered differently depending on our life stage. In the first half of my life I tended to answer this question with “destination.” Somewhere in my forties I began to answer it differently.

  • Percival

    As a Rabbi said, “It’s such a good question, why would you want to exchange it for an answer?”

  • Ana Mullan

    Len, in a way I agree, as I am older now I tend to think about it differently. On the other hand, I was never presented with the idea of the christian life as a journey when the gospel was explained to me, it was all about life “after” death.
    Percival, your reply is very good because it presents us with the tension that the Christian life is. If we only think about journey we forget that this life is more than we have and do now, if we think in terms of destination only, we live this life just trying to work hard and being nice but without embracing the possibility of change that the gospel invites us into.
    Therefore, I like Eugene Peterson way of thinking in a Long Obedience in the Same Direction, the disciple is both an apprentice and a pilgrim. We walk towards God, towards a destination and in the process of walking we are transformed into his likeness.


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