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?