The Difference between Following a Teaching and Following a Teacher

Central to Christianity is an invitation to connect with the Teacher of the teaching.

“They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn. It is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message. ‘In Him,’ say the Scriptures, ‘dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, ‘I am the truth.’ He did not just show a way. He said, ‘I am the Way.’ He did not just open up vistas. He said, ‘I am the door.’ ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ ‘I am the I AM.’ In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.”
― Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message

I imagine it’s hard for someone, generally, to understand when another person talks about “having a personal relationship with Christ”. The quotation above provides some explanation for a statement like that, but I suspect it isn’t enough.

The backdrop is this: Jesus invited people to believe in him and promised the person who does believe in him “rivers of living water”. By this, the Apostle John explains, Jesus meant the Holy Spirit. (See John 7:37-39)

Jesus explains further what he meant in these words recorded also by John (John 14:25-29):

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus was talking about his death when he said, “I am going away”; and he was talking about the resurrection and the Holy Spirit when he said, “I am coming back to you.” Christians believe, and they will tell you from experience, that a person can have an intimate, personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised.

While the idea may seem preposterous to a modern thinker, Christians from the generation after the death of Jesus to the present day will tell you its real. You can really have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, and He desires you to have relationship with him. That is the essence of the story of Jesus:

  • God emptied himself of his privilege and position to become one of us (Philippians 2:5-8);
  • In Jesus God was fully present (Colossians 1:19);
  • In Jesus God demonstrated his love for us (Romans 5:8);
  • Jesus is the way, the truth, the life – the door to this relationship;
  • The way in to this relationship with God is Jesus; and
  • The goal is that we would be in God as God was in Jesus (John 17:21);

This is why Paul says to the believers at Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) When Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God….” (Romans 8:16), Paul is talking about an experiential reality of intimate relationship with God through His Spirit that dwells in people who have submitted themselves to Him.

The difference between the teachings of other religions, and the “teaching” of Jesus is that Jesus is the teaching.

Jesus is the Living Word. Jesus is “the Word that become flesh”. (John 1:1-14) Jesus dwelt among us, having the fullness of God in him, and he left us the Holy Spirit to live within us as Jesus was in the Father.

This is the remarkable thing about Christianity. It isn’t just a teaching. It isn’t a set of rules to follow, as many people (even in the church) seem to think. Central to Christianity is an invitation to connect with the Teacher of the teaching. Relationship with God is something to be experienced. “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, cried the Psalmist. (Psalm 34:8)

The Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of that cry.

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