We have been looking at the stages of friendship in order to understand salvation in relational, rather than legal, terms. A saving relationship begins, we have seen, with level 5: vulnerability. It begins when we recognize our sinfulness and need for a savior. And at level 5 we trust the other person enough to confess our faults. This is what Christians, using legal language, call “justification.” We confess our sins to God, who “justifies” us, that is, declares us not guilty.
This also explains the meaning of Matt. 7:23, where Jesus says to those who call him Lord, “I never knew you.” They have performed many works which ordinarily would be considered good, indeed very good, and yet Jesus sends them away because these good works do not arise out of a trusting relationship. Apparently they have been so busy “doing good,” in their minds “earning” or “meriting” salvation, that they have neglected to make themselves known to Christ. Being known certainly includes admitting one’s faults. Those who do not confess their sins are refusing to reveal the truth about themselves–refusing to be known–because they either do not recognize their own sin, or are attempting to deceive themselves or others.
In the legal model, justification is the initial step in salvation; and level 5 in the stages of friendship does the same. It is the first step in a saving relationship, but far from the last.
The next step is a big one. Imagine this dialogue with a trusted friend:
“Bill, I’m struggling with forgiveness, right now. Every time I see (name of person who offended), all I can think of is how he cheated me.”
If your friend replies, “That’s understandable. It was a mean thing to do,” your friend is responding on level 5. And don’t forget, healthy relationships are reciprocal, so the friend might add, “I would feel angry, too.”
But suppose your friend said instead, “I understand that, but I’ve known you a long time, and it seems to me you obsess about your injuries. You brood about them and make yourself miserable.” Empathizing with you is one thing, but bringing a fault you haven’t mentioned, perhaps have never seen… That’s a whole new level.
In fact, that’s exactly what it is. At level 6: intimacy, trust has reached the level that we allow the other person to point out faults we have not seen in ourselves. As our example demonstrated, this is indeed a deeper level of relationship. Now, this is not an acquaintance (level 2 or 3) walking up to you in church, and giving you the “straight testimony.” We’re talking about someone you trust. Someone who has earned this level of friendship. We’ll talk more about this later.
For now, let’s recognize that God has earned that level of trust. He knows everything about you, every evil thought, every unkind emotion, every contrary attitude. And He loves you. He does not tell anyone the things you share with Him. He literally gave His life for you. So He has earned that trust. So letting Him show us our faults is safe. The Psalmist gave us an example of this level of relationship with God, when he prayed,
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Do you hear it? The Psalmist is asking for a level 6 relationship, asking God to reveal sins and offenses.
This process, where God reveals our sins to us, and then helps us to overcome them, sounds very much like what we usually call “sanctification.” According to Merriam-Webster, sanctification is the “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.”
And this expands our understanding of being known by God. At level 6, we welcome God into the process of shaping our attitudes, thoughts, and actions–of altering the very fabric of our lives. Now Christ’s declaration “I never knew you” gains greater depth. Those who speak of miracles and healings, even of casting out demons, are focused on what they have done. Yet somehow they neglected to open their hearts to God, confessing their faults, seeking His guidance. They thought their deeds would recommend them to God. But it’s similar to thinking that giving money to God will make Him happy; in both cases, what we “give” to him came from Him in the first place. We cannot buy God off with His own gifts.
Those of you who are fathers, imagine that you have two teenage children. On your birthday, one gets money from you, and then buys a gift card to Olive Garden, then leaves to be with his or her friends. The other one spends all day in the kitchen, making your favorite dish, which turns out to be inedible. But the second child serves it with his or her own flour-covered hands. Which one moves you more?
Emerson wrote, “The only gift is a portion of thyself.” Objectively, the Olive Garden meal will be more tasty. But that child shared essentially nothing. The second child shared their effort, their time, and their heart–truly a portion of who they are.
That’s what God wants. He doesn’t want our efforts, our money, or our time–he wants us. Level 6 is part of that deep sharing of ourselves which makes up a saving relationship. And yet there is more.
At level 7: completeness, the relationship is total. There is complete openness. This occurs rarely on Earth, but I believe it is the norm in Heaven. The Apostle Paul, in his transcendent discussion of Love, tells us this:
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Cor. 13:12
I believe this type of relationship occurred at Pentecost. They were all of one accord. Whenever we experience this, heaven touches earth, and earth can never be the same again.
Yes, Jesus will say to some who claim to know him, “I never knew you,” because, no matter what great deeds they did, they refused to let Him into their lives in a meaningful way. But to others He will say, “Welcome home.”
Next time, we’ll begin to look at what this means in practical terms for our lives, and our churches.