Relationships: Approaching God

Each month, I’ll be writing out an entry that’s targeted at our small groups ministry at Jubilee Presbyterian Church. As we’re looking at “Relationships” for the upcoming six months, that’ll be the focus of these monthly blog entries. These are longer than the usual blogs that I post, so if you’re looking for an easy two minute read, you might want to come back to it at a later time. Still, I hope that this survey of relationships will somewhat aid in understanding and bringing about harmonious Christian relationships in the midst of sinful hearts and tendencies. Enjoy!


Relationships are crucial, and in Christianity, I argue that there is nothing more important to the individual than his or her relationship with God. In an age where Christianity has unfortunately been stretched from experience-related spirituality to therapeutic psychology to seemingly heartless and cold academic pursuits, a relationship with God has come to mean many things. Contrarily, a meaningful relationship with God starts with an understanding of who he is and how he’s come to reveal himself to us. Through the words and explanations of the Scriptures along with input from other men much more knowledgeable than myself, I’d like to take us along for a ride to capture the essence of the greatest of all relationships. This relationship is not only the beginning of Christianity, it is the foundation of all other relationships as Christians. What our relationship with God looks like will ultimately dictate what our relationships with others look like as followers of Jesus Christ.


The first thing we need in understanding a relationship with God is to know who he is. In any given relationship, there are judgments that are made about the other person in a relationship. Rarely, will you ever see one jump into a relationship with no assumptions or understanding of who this person is. Take for example a blind date, since some of us might posit that this would be an example where we know nothing of the other person. There are still assumptions and judgments you make about the other person based on the little information you have. He or she might have been recommended to you by a friend. From there, you collect information of the validity of his or her character based off of your opinion of your friend. That’s still information, as invalid and tertiary as it might be. You also might have a picture of this mysterious him or her, which may lead you to formulate differing levels of excitement in meeting this new person. This is information that leads you to approach the relationship in a certain way. Thus, any relationship, “blind” or thought through, comes with assumptions and judgments you make of the other based off of the information that you have.

A relationship with God is no different. In the Christian tradition, we believe that we were created for worship, and we have a longing for God in our lives. In the words of Michael Horton, “You cannot experience God without knowing who he is, what he has done, and who you are in relation to him.”[1] Thus, there is a three-fold process to digest before approaching God for a relationship with him.[2]

Who God is

To understand who God is, there are two ways that God has disclosed information about who he is. The primary way to understand who God is comes through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. There, we get all of the necessary information we need to approach God for a relationship with him. However, the Scriptures are not an exhaustive handbook in life. You would find absolutely no information in the Scriptures to help you with the practicality of your new start-up business. There’s nothing in the Scriptures that will aid you in studying for your upcoming biology exam. Nowhere does Scripture help you with your second round selection in that all-important fantasy football draft. What we want to take note of is specific intention behind the things that are placed in Scripture and the things that are not placed in Scripture.

In his preface to Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis brings about the possible implications behind his silence to certain issues.[3] Because he himself couldn’t be absolutely exhaustive in describing Christianity through the radio, he forewarns his hearers that there will be plenty of issues that he won’t touch upon. Still, there seems to be much value in things that are unsaid. Indeed, one can know a lot merely by looking at these unsaid things when looking at a piece of writing. Perhaps it wasn’t to be known, perhaps it wasn’t relevant at the time, perhaps it was a touchy subject, perhaps the author was on the fence, perhaps it was something the author didn’t know. The list goes on and on. With that said, there are plenty of things excluded from the Scriptures, as it is not an all-encompassing and exhaustive handbook to everything in life. The 66 books in the Bible are intentionally crafted in a way to draw upon a specific purpose of bringing people in a relationship with God.

Thus, the things that are unsaid in Scripture highlight not only the non-necessity of such things, but it further highlights the necessity of the things written of in the Scriptures. For this the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms helps us categorize the contents of the things in Scripture into two distinct categories: (1) what we should know to believe in God, and (2) what we should know to live for his glory.[4] Then, the things omitted or unwritten are things that are either irrelevant to the aforementioned things or excessive to the necessary things already stated. I don’t want to play a dangerous game in assuming things about the intention behind all of the things in God’s Word, but it is fully sufficient and the necessary content for us to know him and navigate through this Christian life.

Ironically, even those who do not read or believe in the Scriptures are said to have knowledge about[5] God in some sense. Romans 1:20 states, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Here, the Apostle Paul notes that since the creation of the world, which marks the beginning of time according to man, God’s existence has been clearly perceived, and all men are without excuse for refusing to believe in his existence. Anything in creation, starting from things natural such as sky high mountains to man-made inventions like the iPhone 6 points to the existence of God, since they all find a starting point in a divine creator. All things are done and have come to be after the creation of the world. Therefore, even those who don’t believe in the words of Scripture have a relationship with God. It might not be positive, but it’s still a relationship with him.

Some of us might have seen the movie Home Alone. There, the main character Kevin McCallister is an eight year old boy who is stranded by himself in his home due to forgetful parents leaving without him for vacation. He’s called upon protect his home from burglars and be courageous upon interactions with any suspicious people. One of the characters that he is deathly scared of is his next door neighbor “Old Man” Marley, who is rumored to have killed his family with the very snow shovel he uses to clear out the sidewalk everyday. Because this is the only knowledge and information Kevin has about “Old Man” Marley, his relationship with him is based on fear and distrust. However, one Christmas Eve, Kevin meets Marley in a church where Marley is watching his grandchild sing. Upon carrying a conversation with Marley, Kevin comes to know that Marley didn’t kill his family, but he’s actually a very kind-hearted man. The reason Kevin never sees Marley’s family is because Marley’s not currently on good terms with his son. He also shovels the sidewalk daily as his duty of service to the community. Then, all of the preconceived notions of “Old Man” Marley were actually false due to speculation without interaction. In flow with what we’ve been talking about thus far, Kevin had a relationship with Marley before his interaction with him at church. However, the relationship crafted through rumors and unverified thoughts brought upon an unfair relationship between the two. It is only through interaction and verified truths that bring the two into a harmonious relationship with one another that is not entirely based upon speculation.

Such speculation without interaction in a relationship with God can lead to false information gathered. Therefore, it isn’t sufficient to look at the things in creation to come to know who God is. That only leads to speculation upon how he exists in relation to us. Rather, the source of such knowledge of God must come through interaction with God himself. And as the Westminster Standards have informed us, this personal interaction with God comes through the things written in the Word. It is there that we come to truly know about God so that we can come to know God in a personal and intimate way.

Historical Validity

If coming to know God comes through coming to know the things in Scripture, we must believe in the validity of the things in Scripture. Though spiritual documents, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are also historical documents that present facts and events. Yet, there are many things in the Scriptures that are not completely understood through the things we see in everyday life. There is definitely an element of faith in believing in the things of Scripture, but C. S. Lewis argues that faith is necessary to believe in anything you can’t see. He writes this:

I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority.[6]

According to Lewis, belief in things comes through credible sources who inform him of that thing he believes to be as true. Just as one might come to believe in historical events through historical evidences and documents, the events of Scripture are likewise validated through such means. However, what one has to establish is credibility. If credible, the things attached to these reports are deemed to be true also.

The resurrection is, according to the Apostle Paul, the staple to this credibility of Christianity. Without it, he says his preaching is in vain along with the faith of those who believe in Christ (1 Cor. 15:14). The life, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ are historical facts. These occurrences need no supernatural faith to believe in apart from the kind of faith that we place in believing in historical events that we have not witnessed ourselves. What polarizes the audience of the Christian narrative is one’s understanding of this resurrection. Then, proof of the resurrection is incredibly valuable in coming to understand the true Jesus of the Scriptures and in history. Timothy Keller makes a convincing argument about the historical validity of Christianity through the legitimacy of the resurrection through two explanations.

His first explanation deals with the timing of the books in Scripture in relation to the resurrection. His example focuses particularly on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians was most likely written a little over twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus,[7] so there had to have been eye-witnesses in the church and at large who could testify against Paul had the content of his letter been incorrect. 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 reads, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” As the reading of letters in the first century were public readings, Paul was inviting any kind of refutation of what he considers to be truth. He would not have been able to make such a challenge had eye-witnesses of the event not existed in the time of his writing.[8] Thus, through the silence of any kind of protest and the continuation of prominent usage of 1 Corinthians, Paul’s testimony stands to this day that Jesus Christ was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The second explanation for the validity of the resurrection Keller uses is one involving the women. Each of the four Gospels note that the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women which seems ineffective had one tried to pass something as truth. Women’s social status was unmatched to that of men in the first century. Then, their words in the human court of law would not have been deemed credible. There would have been no advantages given to the church’s defense of the resurrection in involving women as the first eyewitnesses… unless it was the truth.[9] It goes against the line of human thinking to envision a liar presenting to his audience eyewitnesses who were not credible in an attempt to convince others of his lies. Though small details, these two explanations mark the historical validity of the resurrection. This verified and credible piece in the Christian religion stands representative for the validity and credibility of the entire Word of God. This, in turn, validates the supernatural revelation of Scripture.

The Truth about God’s Character

If we are to believe in the Bible’s account and testimony of the resurrection, we must also hold the entirety of the Bible to be true. After all, God is the author of all the Scriptures, not just portions or in limitation (2 Tim. 3:16). C. S. Lewis famously states, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”[10] I’m not exactly sure if Lewis was aware of Francis Turretin’s statements in his Institutes, but he seems to be drawing upon the same line of thought. Turretin states, “For as the works of God exhibit himself and as the sun makes himself known by his own light, so he wished in the Bible (which is the emanation from the Father of lights and the Sun of righteousness) to send forth different rays of divinity by which he might make himself known.”[11] Essentially, what this goes forth to show is that God’s revelation for us comes to us from his Word. All understanding of God must come from God.

In any conversation concerning a divine being, one of the things that always comes up for discussion is the creation of the world. That’s a perfect place to start when it comes to finding out about the Christian God of the Bible. It’s actually where he begins to reveal himself to his creation. Genesis 1 and 2 shows the creative force by which God makes all things from nothing in this world. This creative force sets him apart from all other things in creation, as he alone is capable of making things out of nothing. Even with human inventions and with technology progressing, things are made of something whether they be actually physical substances or ideas from past reflections. All created things of men have a starting point dating before men began creating things. Men do not have the power to create things out of nothing, because we are creations ourselves. The distinction between God and man is what theologians have come to call the creator-creature distinction.

Yet, with the first person Adam, God holds a special and intimate relationship with him. He is different from all other things he created, because he was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Through disobedience to the commands of their creator, Adam and Eve sinned against God. This resulted in a barrier between God and his creation man, because Adam and Eve had violated what he as the creator desired from them. As a perfect God (Deut. 32:4), God had required perfect obedience in order for man to join him in a perfect relationship for eternity. As a just God (1 John 1:8), he was not able to overlook the sin committed but needed have consequences for man’s disobedience to him. Thus, as a consistent God, he had to punish man for the sins committed. The Apostle Paul reminds us that in Adam’s sin, all sinned (Rom. 5:12). We don’t have to look very far to see this sin and imperfection in our character, in our conduct, and in the world around us. This sin sets us apart from God, since he is a God who cannot be in perfect harmony with corrupted and unpunished souls. Then, how is it that we are able to come to form a relationship with this God?


As stated before, a relationship with God comes with what we know about God. We’ve concluded that God is a perfect God who is just and needs to punish imperfect people. This is the starting point in coming to understand God and to know him.

How one ultimately gets to know another is dependent upon the person he or she is getting to know. Think about it with me when considering some of the relationships you’ve built. The people you’ve come to know have come to be known through different steps and methods. The way you might know your spouse is much different and has come through different methods than the way and method in which you know your sibling. To a child, knowing a superhero is different from knowing a parent. To take it a step further, one might find methods different in getting to know a public figure, i.e. Barack Obama, than in getting to know an acquaintance at church. It’s all relevant to the character involved. How available/accessible is that character? What’s the maximum knowability of this person? How much am I willing to invest for the relationship? These are all questions worth pondering before committing to a relationship with another.

J. I. Packer in his famously written Knowing God writes that the purpose of our existence is to know God and to be known by God.[12] Further, he states that the way in which Christians come to know God is to hear the shepherd’s voice whom he knows (John 10:27).[13] It is this voice that calls us out of death into life.[14] Then, this sort of intimate knowledge of God is contrasted from both a collection of information about God and a information-less experience of God. It combines both information and experience, because the source of the information is crucial. It must be the shepherd who speaks to us through his Word that we hear his voice and draw near to him. The Apostle Paul makes clear the way to come to know God in Romans 10:13-15: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” It’s by hearing the good news proclaimed and believing in this that our shepherd speaks into our broken lives of a new life and a new creation. This experience-packed and information-filled, as we encounter the God whom we are created to come to know.

It is the voice of the shepherd that we need to hear, and it is by means of words through that voice that God establishes a relationship with us. Think with me in the way God comes to interact with his people. It is through words that God communicates to his people. The prophets were mouthpieces of God who communicated the words of God to his people. The Scriptures are words testifying to the message of salvation and the content needed to comprehend the Christian religion. It is also through words that Jesus teaches us to communicate to God in prayer. Thus, the Scriptures pointedly shows that Jesus, in the prologue of John’s Gospel, is called the Word as one who establishes our relationship with him. John 1:1-3 states:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Christ himself is the Word who was in the beginning. That phrase in the beginning must strike a nerve with those who are familiar with the creation account, for it points to the beginning of creation. This is where God makes all things from nothing as stated in the beginning of Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Furthermore, the way in which God makes all things into being is by speaking things into being. The formula of creation is that God said, and it was. John unmistakably makes this connection between the God who spoke things into being with Jesus who speaks a better word. The creator of the universe who is set apart from his creation is this person who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The very God who is not able to be in eternal fellowship with sin and darkness came into a world of sin and darkness to be the light of men (John 1:4). Yet, the purpose of him becoming flesh was not merely to be in our midst, but he became flesh to put himself into human history–precisely because that was what was needed for us to have a relationship with him.

Tim Keller recalls and explains an analogy that points to God writing himself into human history as a playwright. C. S. Lewis once responded to a Russian cosmonaut who declared that he went into outer space and looked for God. However, he came back and said that God was nowhere to be found. To this, Lewis stated that this is similar to Hamlet going into the attic of his castle to find Shakespeare. The only way that Hamlet would come to know Shakespeare is if Shakespeare wrote himself into the play where Hamlet was. Essentially, he as the playwright had to write himself into the story. Then, we like Hamlet, can not know God by going up to the attic. The only way we come to know God is if he writes himself into human history.[15] The point is that there is no way man could seek to find God on man’s own terms. The only way that man could seek to find God is if God makes himself accessible to man on God’s own terms. He must write himself into human history as the Playwright.

This is precisely what John 1:14 shows us when we are told that Jesus became flesh to dwell among us. He needed to take upon himself flesh so that he would live the life that we should have lived so that we might get the life that he alone deserved. The story of this good news is that upon believing that Jesus paid in full the sins committed by you and me, we have access to a relationship with God by grace. Therefore, one can not forcefully approach God for a relationship with him. Upon understanding who he is, who we are in relation to him, we find that the only way to access him for a relationship is through the gospel message for all who believe in the name of Jesus Christ.

Approaching God

The way we know the goodness of God is by way of understanding how he relates to us and acts in our lives. We might turn to things that we can tangibly relate to, such as our families, the blessings we’re grateful for, daily encounters of provisions, etc. However, without a proper understanding of the God in history who took the Israelites out of Egypt, who promised a better land and dwelling, who came down in form of a man and lived a sinless life while dying a sinner’s death, who promises eternal life for belief in him, who rose again symbolizing victory for all who are in him, and who reigns today as the one who puts those individual blessings in your life leads to a gospel-less understanding of who God is. As Michael Horton says, “I do not believe the gospel because I believe in God; rather, I believe in God because of the gospel. There is more for us to know in the Bible than the gospel, but apart from it there is nothing worth knowing.”[16] The gospel becomes the gateway for us to understand and know this God.

God allows for us to know him, because he reveals this way in the gospel to us. The gospel is the good news of God from God. Whenever God and the things of God are revealed, man is not the revealer but God himself is.[17] This is the specific way we have to submit to in order for the loving relationship of God to be ours, because we have wronged God. For this, he has given us a specific path to recover that relationship with him. We are the wrongdoers have no right in claiming a specific way for us to make right our relationship with God. We have to abide by the ways he instructs us, not only because it is his way but it is the only way.

In example, I find this applicable to my relationship with my wife as well. As a young married man, I make plenty of mistakes in my relationship with my wife. Though none have been severe enough (fortunately) to bring our relationship to a close, the relationship when affected by my mistakes is not in the right state between my wife and me. I’ve attempted to right this wrong status in our relationship by doing things on my own terms by thinking of ways I’d want to be treated in the situation. However, that never seems to work out. In order for our relationship to be right again, I need to play by her rules and take the specific path that she wants me to take in reconciling with her. A correct apology is definitely needed, but an apology that is acceptable to her is doubly needed to restore the relationship to a right standing.

John Calvin writes of the order by which a right relationship with God can be set into play:

We find God just as declares himself in His Word. … God declares in what character he would have us know him. … Indeed, the knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him.[18]

Note here that Calvin marks an order for us to know God–that we are first to fear him, then we are to trust him. This comes because we first know about his character as a perfect God in opposition to imperfect people, then about his loving actions found in the love story of the gospel. When thinking about the gospel message, indeed, it is the message of salvation where one truly encounters God. This is absolutely true, so one might posit to say that it’s the loving action and the love story of the gospel that causes one to know God. While this is true, embedded implicitly within that form of logic comes back to God’s character.

Think with me here. Say you’re thinking about a person who bought you flowers. The same act could be done by completely different people, and it would mean different things to you. If a stranger would come up to you and offer you flowers, you might respond in flattery. If your child were to come up to you and offer you flowers, you might respond with parental love and appreciation. However, when your spouse offers you flowers, you exclusively respond romantically. This is all because the character is presupposed even before the action is laid out. Thus, it is not only about what the actions are but about whom the actions come from. To carry the example even a step further, the context behind the action of giving a flower from your spouse gives a fuller platform to form a reaction. The flowers could be received on your anniversary, they could be received as an act of surprise, they could be received after an argument. The more specific the context, the more specific the act. The act of giving a flower becomes narrowly fixated upon one character being the ultimate fulfiller of that act–your spouse.

Think about this with our relationships with God. In saving us, it had to be God saving us for the grand gesture to be infinitely grand. If a finite person died for our sins, it could be a touching moment; however, it doesn’t have everlasting implications as when an infinitely holy and present God comes to die for finite beings. The fact that God is God makes the gospel what it is. Then, if we place the proper context in that action, where God specifically saw the need to save us from our sins, it makes his grand gesture the only possible gesture to enable us to be in a relationship with him. Modifying a famous saying: If God thought our primary need was health, he would have sent a doctor; if he thought our primary need was more knowledge, he would have sent an educator; if he thought our primary need was a way to prove our salvation, he would have given us an extra set of laws; if he thought our primary need was another chance, he would have given us a clean slate; but he didn’t. God saw that our primary need was salvation from the sin that leads to death, so he sent us a Savior, who gives us life by giving up his own.

Now that we know of how it is possible for us to approach God, I’d like to finish by looking at the attitude we carry because of a God who approached us.

As Children to a Father

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. However receives one such child in my name receives me.”

– Matthew 18:1-5

The Scriptures talk about Christ requesting that his children are brought to him. This shows the need for childlike faith in the Christian religion. What exactly is childlike faith? It’s something that is thrown around but is hardly explained in full detail. Before we talk about what it is, I want to address what it is not.

There is often this misconception that having a childlike faith is one that is pure and absent of sinful and malicious thoughts. This is due to the false presupposition that children are innocent, unlike corrupted and sinful men. However, Jesus does not ask that the children be brought to him due to the fact that children are innocent and pure in relation to their faith. You and I know that children are definitely not absent of sin. I’m a young father with a near one year old baby, and I see marks of sin in her life already. What’s endearing but a bit scary is seeing our little Kalen smiling and laughing at herself in the mirror. She really seems to love herself and is very fond of herself through her own reflection. Whether this is merely smiles due to a new discovery or a funny looking person that stares back at her in the mirror is unanswerable. Yet, due to human depravity, the idea of narcissism creeping into the mind of a young baby doesn’t seem to be out of reach. I can only imagine what older children are like in their self-serving and manipulative ways. Due to a ME ME ME attitude brought about by children, we don’t have to look far to see how society has succumbed to the desires of these children. There are things upon things that serve children and their desires–things like Disneyland, Pixar, Pokemon, etc. Children are hardly absent of sin and are morally pure in heart. What, then, does Jesus mean by saying that only childlike faith inherits the kingdom of heaven?

In looking at childlike faith, I want to take us to two approaches in understanding this in relation to our own relationships with God. Firstly, what Christ means when stating that it is the children who enter into the kingdom of heaven and have a relationship with the Triune God is in connection to the context of the time of his statement. Children during the first century were not regarded as precious beings that are far more important than grown adults. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true. Each child didn’t get his or her own room decorated with a drawer full of onesies. In fact, children were considered less than human at times. The Apostle Paul equates young children to slaves during the first century (Gal. 4:1). There have been recorded instances where children were left from the family to fend for themselves, because there wasn’t enough food to feed the whole family. They were hardly an asset to the family. Rather, they were, at times, considered a detriment and a nuisance to have to feed and to have to provide for.

Thus, when Jesus says that he wants the children to come to him, he’s stating that he wants the lowest of the low to come to him. These are the people who know innately that they have nothing to offer God. Like children, they cling to their Father in heaven through their Savior Jesus, because they are utterly lost without his protection and providence in their lives. Does that reflect our mentality when we approach God? I dare say that our mentality is often one that mirrors self-sufficiency and pulling out God as an accessory that we find useful from time to time. This makes God a convenience in our lives. It makes him a God who is readily approachable on our terms. This is the God we come to like, not fear. However, God doesn’t call upon his people to like him. He calls on his people to need him. Those who like God find him friendly and useful. Those who need God find him dangerous and necessary. Those who like God approach him as an equal and as a pal. Those who need God approach him as a king and as a Father. Our attitude when we come before God is not one where we offer him mutual benefits. It’s one where we admit our utter dependency upon him, knowing that he very well does not need us but our life depends upon our need for him.

What does this look like? It presents a relationship where we come before God empty-handed, knowing that there is nothing we can offer him. It presents a relationship where his grace, and not our works, is the reason why we carry confidence to approach his throne. This relationship is placed upon the firm foundation of the finished works of Christ and not the ever so wavering works of our own hands. This relationship is about God, not about us. The more we think about ourselves, the more we fall out of love with our God. Yet, the more we think about God, the more we realize that we are more loved by God than even ourselves. The gospel is not the door to get us into a relationship with God, but it is the very floor we stand on as we walk with the Lord. Constant meditation of the gospel and its meaning for us in light of God’s character brings for us a childlike dependence upon the Almighty. This is the way God desired for our relationship with him to be, because we were helpless, we were lost, and we were headed for destruction.

Secondly, C. S. Lewis paints an interesting picture of a childlike faith in his series of The Chronicles of Narnia. When reading from book to book, one can note the changing characters that join Aslan in the magical world of Narnia. In the beginning, it’s Digory and Polly entering into this fantasy world. After, it’s the famous Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy who merge lanes with the Great Aslan in his road to defeat the witch. Through time, however, Peter and Susan stop joining the stories (after Prince Caspian), and it is Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace interacting with the great battles. Eventually, it is Eustace and Jill who are found towards the end of the book as the remaining characters as the stories come to a close. What is symbolized with the changing characters who eventually leave the story? Peter and Susan are the first to stop appearing as the oldest of the siblings. They’ve grown up, and they’ve stopped believing in this magical fantasy story. Likewise, with age, Edmund and Lucy stop believing in the fantasy land of Narnia, as they stop appearing in the stories. Lewis’ portrayal of a childlike faith, then, is coupled with a belief in the unthinkable sketched out through talking animals, fantasy battles in a world that exists apart from the knowledge of most.

As a Christian, the most unthinkable and inconceivable thing to believe is that a king would come and die for his servants. We might line up the doctrines of grace by looking at the attributes of God, the depravity of man, the plan of redemption, the acts to reconciliation and restoration, and such. However, if those do not lead to an utter belief and faith in an unthinkable and seemingly inconceivable story, childlike faith is nonexistent in our relationship with God. Even through seeing the logical explanations for the existence of God and the benefits of the gospel, there needs to be a belief that God can do what we cannot. This is the faith that serves as the foundation of our relationship with our heavenly Father through his only begotten Son whom he gave up to have this precious relationship with us. An attitude that reflects belief in the unbelievable and an approach that shows that we have nothing to bring to the table grants us access to the greatest of banqueting tables through the exchange of Christ’s life for our own.

Here, then, lies the treasures of a relationship with God. It’s a gift, characterized how salvation is described to the grace of God. It’s God giving us a way out of sin though we are absolutely at fault for our state of misery. It’s God giving us the promise of eternal life though we did not deserve. It’s God giving us a relationship with him, as he loves us more than we can ever imagine… because he gave for us the greatest of gifts by giving up his Son on the cross. All that he asks of us is to give up our pride and give way to the King, who is the way, the truth, and the life.


[1] Michael S. Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 14.

[2] These three steps: (1) who he is, (2) what he has done, and (3) who we are in relation to him will be somewhat of a guide for how we can come to understand our relationship with God. In essence, this talks about (1) God’s character, (2) his story, and (3) our salvation.

[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1952), ix-x.

[4] WSC 3 & WLC 5.

[5] The distinction of about and of in relation to knowing God comes through J. I. Packer’s explanation of such in his book Knowing God.

[6] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 62.

[7] D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 448.

[8] Timothy J. Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 212.

[9] Keller, The Reason for God, 213.

[10] C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry,” 1944, in They Asked for a Paper (Longdon: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), 165.

[11] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 63.

[12] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 33.

[13] Packer, Knowing God, 38.

[14] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981), 34.

[15] Keller, The Reason for God, 126-128.

[16] Horton, Pilgrim Theology, 20.

[17] Horton, Pilgrim Theology, 21.

[18] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.10.2.

Relationships: Approaching God

The Gospel, the Multicultural Church, and the Korean-American Church

As a Korean-American man who serves in a Korean-American church, it doesn’t seem like my place to talk about multi-cultural churches (from here, I’ll use “KA” for “Korean-American”). Sure, observations made from afar often miss the mark on fine details of what is observed. Yet, one can be blinded to his or her own biases when immersed in his or her own identity. Sometimes, a broader perspective is needed. In the fashion of Walter Brueggemann, truth can be well-served coming from outside in. With that being said, I’ll do my best to justify my reasoning for making statements about the idea of “multi-culturedness” along with reflecting upon the KA church as whole. With multiethnic churches, I don’t think all of my observations are from too far outside with binocular vision. After all, I’ve been raised in the States. And though the churches I’ve attended have always been KA, I’ve had my fair share of experiences worshipping in non-Korean churches. I’ve always been raised in a community where racially I’ve been the minority and went to a seminary that was likewise. 

I’m a fan of cultural diversity, particularly when it comes to food. Since coming to Philadelphia with my family, I’ve been able to go to Center City Philadelphia with my family on my days off of work nearly every week. One of the places that I’ve enjoyed very much is the Reading Terminal Market. There, you have a plethora of options for meals, desserts, and beverages. Better yet, there is commerce from all different regions of the world represented inside this building. Here, I got to thinking about the beauty of such a place where people can come and celebrate unique dishes offered from nations all across the globe. While consuming a combination of Cajun food with roast pork, an unoriginal thought hit me. What about cultural diversity in the church?

looking mighty attractive there, bud (upper right)

The local church is a place for people to gather and celebrate the common victory for believers in our risen Lord. At Pentecost, the progression of Christ’s commission to his disciples in making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19) comes into effect as the good news is heralded in the words of all kinds of languages throughout the region (Acts 2:4, 7-11). The idea of a multi-cultured church is, thus, a biblical one that follows the progression made where people of many nations come to have common faith in a common Savior. Furthermore, the gospel-proclaiming church is a place where relationships are established and come to fruition through a common bond that is infinitely deep. This out of this world kind of message brings about togetherness and unique relationships within in this world people and churches. Tim Keller likens relationships to woven fabric that goes “over, under, around, and through the others at thousands of points.”[1] This interwovenness brings harmonious peace to a community. This is the power of the gospel where rich and poor, strong and weak, nation A and B are brought to the feet of Jesus in worship and communion. 
The bringing together of many nations and cultures is such a beautiful picture to me. So why do I serve at a KA church if I really believe a multicultural church is a reflection of the gospel ministry as Christ intended? Well, first of all, the KA church is also Christ’s church, just as any multicultural church might be. Secondly, it’s a group of people that are near and dear to my heart whom I understand better than a non-Korean might. The KA culture (second generation) is an interesting one, balancing between the pressures of first generation immigrant and western values. We are categorical anomalies in many ways, as we don’t culturally fit under the umbrella of both Koreans and westerners. You may have noticed that KA’s tend to flock to one another, creating sub-groups within KA’s. This is not only a picture of KA’s but the KA church.

Having been in the KA church for most of my life, I’ve come to understand some of the tendencies of it that I’ve become more conscious of. Many of these may reflect other predominantly mono-ethnic and/or immigrant churches and aren’t exclusively KA church traits.

  1. For many, the KA community is sought out to satisfy one’s comfort. Although comfort is not necessarily a bad thing, it should never override the desire for a parishioner to hear clear gospel-centered sermons and for a minister to continually grow in pursuit of knowing the Lord and loving God’s people. I do believe that an attachment toward comfort can create a negative reaction of complacency and selectivity. Though Christ doesn’t explicitly call his followers to be uncomfortable per se, uncomfortability seems to align better with how Christ calls us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses in light of NOT gaining the world and forfeiting our souls (Matt. ) Isn’t being comfortable and creating divided groups in the church the reason why Paul tells the church in Corinth that they don’t come together for the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-21). If the Supper were to bring unity to a diverse church, the Corinthians were not successfully implementing it. Disunity comes in all sizes and shades. Perhaps, we could be more conscious of disuniting factors that tear the body of Christ apart.
  2. I’ve heard countless times of members of KA churches saying, “I have this friend I want to invite to church, but I don’t feel comfortable doing so since he/she isn’t Korean.” This is not just members but myself included. I am SO guilty of this. In my mind, this is a pretty lame excuse for us not willing to step outside of our comfort zones for the sake of witnessing to another of the greatest treasure in our hearts. Am I alone in seeing KA’s as particularly disengaged in being witnesses of Christ’s name outside of the church? Why don’t we make the Lord the judge as to whether our friend would enjoy Sunday at a KA church or not? It might be a stretch, but I do believe that an over-desire for comfortable church life has a strong connection to a unwillingness to reach out to our neighbors.
  3. Just because a church is KA doesn’t mean the church is primarily mono-cultural. There are, in fact, a lot of different kinds of KA’s who come from different backgrounds. I’ve witnessed good gospel-centered KA churches to be able to bring different kinds of people together in harmonious relationships with one another throughout the body. This is, in a sense, a view of what a multicultural church might look like. I personally find this a cause for praise, as it is the gospel that is uniting people together.

Even in the midst of mentioning some of the flawed traits found with the KA churches I’ve come across, I don’t know if I can say that gospel-centeredness is necessarily better enacted within a multicultural church. I have a hard time believing that Christ’s primary goal for his disciples was founded upon a vision of churches that consist of people that look, think, and act differently from one another. However, I’m a firm believer that a focus on the gospel can create such within the church. In fact, the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the Philippians was to have the same mindset that is theirs in Christ (Phil. 2:2, 5). This mindset that reflects upon the Lord who took on the form of a servant yet brings every knee to bow at his name (Phil. 2:7, 10) brings unity in being in full accord and of one mind within those in the church (Phil. 2:2). This attitude comes through persistent and faithful preaching and hearing of the gospel in our churches. I think there is a huge possibility that in overemphasizing a multicultural community, a church can take the focus off of the gospel that creates this one mind within brothers and sisters in Christ. In turn, there might be a church that looks different on the outside but are not necessarily strongly bonded by the true message of salvation on the inside. Though each person’s origin and upbringing may result in a unique culture, “the sinful condition is universal.”[2] Thus, humanity shares a commonality that digs even deeper than one’s birthplace, first language, or ancestors. Then, rather than dealing with differences with others, honing on this commonality amongst each other points not only at our commonality in sin but our commonality for hope and identity in Christ. Multiethnicity must be a result of the focus that is the gospel, not the focus itself.

The sight of a multiethnic church is a beautiful thing, but I think there is a danger of misplaced emphasis if that is too much of the focus. If the gospel itself pours forth results of different kinds of people uniting together in Christ, will not a multicultural community form within churches? If the gospel is faithfully preached and heard, will not the church grow to embrace people of different political views, sexual orientations, and race? Does not the gospel incorporate unbiased evangelism to our neighbors? Then, I truly believe that multiethnicity can come through faithfulness to the gospel ministry, even in a KA church. However, let us not confuse multiethnic with multicultural. As noted before, there are plenty of KA churches that exhibit many of the multicultural qualities that are fruits of fidelity to the gospel. Just because one ethnicity is predominant in a church doesn’t mean different cultures and thoughts aren’t welcomed. The gospel unites.

Yet, the KA church is in an interesting position. At this point, language is not the reason why English-speaking KA churches exclusively have KA’s. As stated before, comfort can often drive us to be in a place that’s familiar. However, familiarity may no longer be a viable option for KA’s in coming years. With improved economic  conditions of South Korea, Koreans have had less of an incentive to immigrate to the States. With Korean immigration rates to the U. S. having drastically decreased nearly in half since the early 90’s (while other Asian nations’ immigration rates continue to increase), the KA church might become less prevalent. There will always be the biblically valid need for KA churches to keep families from ripping apart doctrinally and spiritually. Yet, what happens when second generation KA’s themselves become fathers and mothers? Is there such a need to stay long term at a KA church that our respective parents aren’t even a part of? It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with and will continue to wrestle with in coming years.

I don’t have a clue as to what’s in store for the KA church, but I know the Lord’s called me to serve one. I do believe that the direction of second generation KA churches is to become more and more multethnic over the years. But who knows how long that will take? I merely feel a sense of duty in my heart to serve those who are struggling to cross over to the other side. In the meantime, the call to churches is to be faithful to the gospel. With a focus upon the gospel comes countless blessings. Broken hearts are healed, severed relationships are repaired, blind are made to see, and lives are changed for Christ. Still, in the midst of all of Christ’s blessings to the church, Christians, may we never forget to celebrate the victory that grants us freedom from sin and fellowship with him and one another. It’s the head whom the body needs to depend upon, and may look to him for direction and guidance with life in the church. The Word makes this clear: 

Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

No facts or rules here. Just some thoughts and reflections. 


[1] Timothy J. Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 173.

[2] Michael S. Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2011), 115.

The Gospel, the Multicultural Church, and the Korean-American Church