I dreamed last night that I was speaking to the students and faculty at a large university. It was the last day in a series of meetings and I was standing outside with the dignitaries waiting to speak. The weather was mild, I had on a white shirt with no tie and gray pants. Some chairs were set up on a large cement patio that connected to an L-shaped dormitory complex. The chairs were filled with students and the rest of them were watching from their windows. I remember thinking that it was going to be difficult to preach while tilting my head to face those students and then back to face the ones that were seated.
I came to the meeting having no notes and asked God what I should preach about. As I silently prayed, He gave me the topic; relationships. Here is a facsimile of what I said before I woke up. I expanded on it after I was awake because my mind was filled with words and I had to write them.
“Relationships. For 99% of the earth’s population, life is about relationships. For most people, their philosophy about relationship problems is, “If it wasn’t for all those other messed-up people.” We start learning about relationships when we are very young and if we don’t get it figured out by the time we are young adults, we’re going to have a difficult time in life. Marriage is going to be a challenge, to say the least. Marriage advice for some people may be to find someone with whom they can argue without killing one another and tie the knot with a constrictor knot. For those of you that do not know, a constrictor knot is so strong that often you have to cut the rope to get it off.
Understanding the art of relationships is more difficult for some people than other ones. It depends on the family we were raised in and our personalities. Individuals that were raised in dysfunctional families, or that have lived through one or more divorces, usually have a difficult time understanding and establishing a relationship. Someone with a narcissistic personality has difficulty establishing a satisfactory relationship. An individual with a submissive personality is likely to link up with a narcissist and that will not be good for either of them. Can you imagine a narcissist marring a narcissist? Hello Hollywood! In fact, without some way to control our lives, and to change our natures, we will all experience a great deal of unnecessary pain because of relationships.
The fact is the nature with which we were born is not normally structured for good relationships. It is rooted in one basic premise, and that is, “what’s in it for me”. We think about gratifying self in nearly everything that we do. We choose relationships that bring us gratification and that allow us to gratify ourselves. It is deeply gratifying to be accepted by people. That is why people are so dependent on what the people in their chosen circle of acquaintances think about them. Whether they dress Goth or shop at A&F, the purpose is still to make a statement to the people they are trying to impress. We are so susceptible to peer review because we fear rejection. Rejection is the failing grade in Relationships 101. In fact, rejection can be so harsh to bear that many individuals have difficulty venturing into another relationship with a group. Instead, they find one friend that they can get along with and focus on maintaining that relationship.
But relationship success or lack thereof will affect everything that we do. Whether it is an illustrious career or simply working at a menial job until retirement, the pressure to navigate the various personalities and potential conflicts will be severe at times. If one has the personality for it, the loner that says little and never complains or asserts an opinion seems to survive better than other people. However, there is joy in conversation. Some people know that all too well and exercise it to the maximum. Thus, it is more joyous for them than the ears they bend. There is joy in communication even when there are no words. Just to be with a friend and share an experience of a good meal is greatly enriching to the human spirit. One of the most difficult factors in growing old is loneliness. Loneliness is a harsh consequence of the lack of a bonding relationship. Although the affliction is prominent in elderly people that have lost their spouses and outlived their friends, it can be in the very young as well. Younger people who have experienced rejection and are fearful of extending a tender and fragile heart—a decision necessary for a bonding relationship—can experience painful loneliness. Desperate for a companion, some young people make the mistake of rushing into marriage. More tragic are the ones who give themselves to a common union without the bonds of matrimony. The result is more loneliness, and if children are born, a perpetuation of the relationship problem that plagues society.
There is an answer to this great dilemma. It is the most rejected because it is the most misunderstood. You already know what I am going to propose, but not all of you are familiar with the details. The greatest relationship that one can establish is perhaps the most ignored one. We have a standing invitation to a relationship with Jesus Christ, and through Him, with God the Father. I am not talking about finding a church to attend or join. Further, I am not talking about learning the catechism or doctrine of a particular denomination. I am talking about a genuine personal relationship that will fulfill all the joy and expectations of your need to have someone in your life that truly cares about you. In fact, a personal relationship with Christ Jesus the Savior and God the Father will so fulfill your life that you will not be subservient to peer approval, to loneliness and desperation. You will be spiritually and emotionally equipped to make the right choices in your relationships. Additionally, no matter what you choose to do in life, this relationship will give you the peace and presence of mind to accomplish more than you dreamed possible before. In fact, your dreams and goals will probably change for the better.
Relationship with Christ Jesus begins by accepting that He is the Savior and Lord. That acceptance begins with submission to the power of those two titles. If He is Savior, then you are one that He gave His life to save. He came to save you from sin and its consequences. Sin is the natural action of our carnal minds. We have all have characteristics inherent in our natural minds by which we make choices. There are really only two types of individuals. The first one, which I will call the earthly person, is described as follows:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
Someone might declare, “My problem is not on that list.” If you are uncommitted to Christ, then it’s there, but it may not be specifically named. For example, there are numerous adverse proclivities that can be listed under selfish ambitions. In fact, selfishness causes a lot of other sins. We are naturally selfish and may react to the selfishness of other people with anger, hatred, malice, vengeance, and even violence. Thus, we can wait until our sins have caused so many adverse consequences that our lives are continually miserable, or we can make an intelligent decision that we are in need of the Savior.
One benefit of surrendering to Christ Jesus the Savior and Lord is that we will receive a new and completely opposite set of characteristics in our nature. The second type of individual, that I call the spiritual person, is described as follows:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
An individual with the characteristics of the spiritual person will undoubtedly have wonderful and fulfilling relationships and a much happier life. Which individual would you rather have for a friend? Would you consider marrying the first one? Do you believe that the second one would want to marry you? Can you imagine being an earthly person and married to another earthly person? If we are earthly people, we may have to work with earthly people, develop bonding relationships with them, or depend on them for various things important to our peace, satisfaction, and general well-being. Most of our conflicts will be clashes between selfishness, jealousies, envy, and etcetera.
One may ask, “But becoming a Christian will not exempt us from working with, bonding, and depending on such people.” Yes, we still have to interact with earthly people, but he or she cannot find in us the other half of the conflict. This is where the other title of Christ Jesus comes into focus. We submit to Him in all things because He is Lord. Submitting to His Lordship will prevent us from making our own choices in a conflict or potential conflict (A soft answer turns away wrath). Not only does He help us make the choice in relationships, He will help us make the choice in the most important relationship of our life, marriage.
I’m sure by now that you are wondering just how this is possible. How can a natural individual have a relationship with a supernatural individual? After all, we cannot see Him, touch Him, hear Him, and all the other factors necessary for relationships in this temporal realm. The answer is that at the point that we confess that we are sinners, sincerely submit to Him, declare Him as our Savior and Lord, and mean it in the depth of our hearts, He imparts His Spirit into us to co-habit with our spirit. To explain how wonderful that is, just consider how close you would be to the one that you loved enough to marry if that person’s spirit could come inside of you. You would have to be completely devoted to them to even allow such a thing. It is a bit scary to think about. However, if you fully surrender to God, and accept His Son, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, He will impart the Holy Spirit into you.
The Holy Spirit imparts the characteristics of love, joy, peace, meekness, temperance, patience, self-control, and more, into our nature. During the process, He helps us to give up the old characteristics to make room for the new ones. This is what God’s word means by “walking in the Spirit”. It is allowing the Holy Spirit to change our nature to conform to the nature of Christ Jesus. If we accept the salvation and Lordship of Christ Jesus, and receive His Holy Spirit, we enter into a wonderful relationship that is greatly satisfying with deep joy and the security in knowing that we will never be rejected or alone. We would have to reject Him and His Holy Spirit to lose the benefits of such a relationship. Anyone that would want to do that would have to be deceived or foolish.
So there you have it. The options have been laid out clearly for you. You can take your chances in a world that is replete with person number one types, and try to navigate those murky and tumultuous waters as a person number one. Or you can decide that the best course is to surrender to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to change your nature into a nature like His. An even greater benefit is realized after we fulfill our life here. The fact is that earthly people are the cause of all the world’s ills. Therefore, they are guilty of many sins and have no hope of eternal life. Conversely, spiritual people are promised the reward of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Thus, they not only have a purpose in this world and the means to fulfill it, but they have something to look forward to when they exit this temporal realm.
It is not a difficult choice to understand. The difficulty may be in making it. People have difficulty in making the choice because it seems too good to be true. They wonder if they could really be happier, truly be more at peace, and if they would really be satisfied by surrendering to Christ. The thought of giving up the right to be in control and do whatever they please is unappealing because of those doubts. Well, that is what faith is all about. Either you believe what God promises, or you disbelieve Him. As long as you doubt, you will not make the right choice. You have to fully trust and believe in Him to bring to life the faith to be saved. Someone once said, “Why not take the risk? You can always go back to your old life.” I do not like that philosophy. That indicates partial surrender and a partial surrender only gives you partial experience with partial benefits. That is not a genuine salvation experience. If you want to experience the fullness of what God has to offer, then give yourself fully to Him. There is less chance that someone who surrenders fully to Him would ever turn back to the bondage and turmoil of person number one. That is the choice. It is the most important one of your life. It is life changing, but it is also an opportunity for life fulfillment. No one can make it for you, and no one can take it away once it is made. How about it? You will make a choice to accept or deny God’s offer. What will you do?”