I was transformed from a Jesus believer into a Jesus follower during the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s. At age twenty-three I landed in a house-church where our worship was simple and unrestrained. Our study of the Scriptures was disjointed and unsophisticated with a focus typically on the Holy Spirit – His works recorded in the Bible and our experience of His daily presence in our lives. We knew nothing of Brother Lawrence's book The Practice of the Presence of God, but we were sensing God nonetheless. We were simply discovering and enjoying the reality of being young disciples of Jesus.
Freedom. We quickly learned, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). With naïve hearts and idealistic minds we believed we were finding freedom from sin and freedom for living holy lives. We witnessed college kids getting free of drugs and adults getting free of institutionalized religion. I plunged into the freezing, January waters of a local river for baptism and found, thereafter, that I was free of the colitis which had affected me for six years. We were reckless and confident – we were abandoning ourselves to God’s mercy and love. We were surrendering to God’s truth (as best we knew).
Two Categories of Truth. Our souls were being formed by the Holy Spirit with each surrender to the truth. Two aspects of this spiritual formation were on-going, often simultaneously: we were surrendering to 1) the informational truth and to 2) the relational truth of God. Caught up in the child-like awe and wonder of what I would later realize was the fear-of-the-Lord, we were aware of no separation between the informational truth and the relational truth – from both we simply listened for the ‘ring’ of truth. The categories, briefly, are something like this:
The Written Word of God
The Bible's stories
The Bible's facts and statements
Biblical principles and doctrine
Structured belief system
The Living Word of God
Knowing and relating to God personally
Joyful sense of being loved and validated by God
Knowing the truth about yourself
Knowing the truth about others
Deforming. Make no mistake – some deforming of our souls also occurred. No formation process is fool-proof and we often exercised our foolishness. We made errors in understanding the scripture. We derived some harmful doctrine and practiced some hurtful relational strategies as we haphazardly alternated between following Jesus and following man. Without the guiding and guarding hands of trained and experienced leaders we ‘learned’ ways which later needed to be repented of, renounced and unlearned. This was a messy way to become a Christian – more so than some other methods, for sure.
Thriving. But because of the relational truth, we learned to love and trust God and carry on a continuing conversation with Him. Our souls thrived because we could feel God’s love and validation. We were a living, growing part of God’s kingdom and the gates of hell could not prevail against us. Even though we enslaved ourselves in some things ‘foolish,’ the truth always/eventually set us free.
Some of us found our way into the safety of established churches with denominational oversight. But difficulty has been found there, as well, particularly because of the pervasive over-emphasis of informational truth as leaders utilize, almost exclusively, the North American (Western world) intellectual model of church dynamics. The ‘ring’ of relational truth and its vital link with informational truth often seems either unrecognized, over-looked or disregarded by many.
God’s truth is not just informational facts which we ‘learn’ in typical academic ways. When we personally hear Jesus speaking the words, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), He speaks them with emotion, with tone, with enthusiasm, with energy, and we feel something true about Him – we sense something true about His character, we experience something about His desire for us to be with Him. That’s the Living Word, Jesus, encountering us and revealing truth, relational truth.
Christian spiritual formation, Christian discipleship, is totally dependent on the vital linking of informational and relational truth. And that is the truth which sets us free. May we surrender to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!