This is a guest post by my friend and colleague with Docent Research Group, Justin Holcomb, who is also an Episcopal priest. He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a PhD from Emory University. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, wrote Rid of My Disgrace, a book on gospel hope and healing for sexual assault victims, which I highly recommend. You can follow him on Twitter here.
In John 6, Jesus performs a miracle of multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed over 5,000 people. This passage has been used to make the point that Jesus had to wait for the boy to offer his food before Jesus would do his part. When applied to our spiritual lives it looks like this: “God is really into you, but he wants you to be really into him first and he wants you to make the first move and show him that you are serious and all about his glory. And after you respond, God will look upon you with favor and good pleasure. God may even ‘use you’.” This is not true. We do not have this miracle recorded for the purpose of trying to convince you to try harder to get God’s attention. When Jesus’ first century audience sees this miracle they corner him and ask: “What do your works mean? Come on! Tell us what you’ve come to do. We want to know. We’d like you to be our king. We have an agenda for you.”
We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique…God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could take care of that which separates us from God and then bring us near to God.
Jesus reminds them about the bread or manna in the desert with Moses and says: “It wasn’t Moses who gave you bread in the desert. It was my father who brought the bread from heaven. And now it is the father who is giving you the true bread from heaven. That would be me! I am the bread of life. I am the true life that has come down from heaven.” He claims to be the one who can truly give the life of God and says “If you do not have me you do not have life.” The life of God was poured out in his life. The bread came down from heaven; we didn’t climb up to God. In Jesus’ words about being the bread of life, claiming that he is the life of God on earth, we are looking at the very heart of Christianity—that we are not spiritual, but that we have a desperate spiritual need. We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique. Rather, Christianity teaches our alienation from God until it is remedied by Christ. God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could take care of that which separates us from God and then bring us near to God.
To understand this is to get at the heart of what Jesus is about. We do not inherently have “spiritual life.” Christ was our spiritual life for us on our behalf. In being the bread of life, Jesus disarms us of our self-reliant spiritual efforts. As a result, we have a problem. We do not naturally on our own come near to God. He must come near to us. So a relationship with God is based on God’s condescension to us in Jesus being the bread of life from heaven. It is not that we have risen to spiritual heights, but that the bread of heaven has come down to us. Thankfully, it’s not all about us.