Living the Experience – Experiencing the Life
Experience is with us every waking moment. Some experiences are happy, others are sad; some are funny, while others may appear weird or strange.
We talk about sharing experiences, but experience is always unique – no one else can have your experience.
Christian faith arises out of experience
Christianity arose out of the experiences of Jesus’ disciples. In the first instance it was built on the experience of those people who had a relationship with Jesus during his lifetime and in his resurrection appearances. The experience of the early church gave us the New Testament.
The First Letter of John starts off with, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”
The gospel, you see, is not based on theory or speculation. It is more than a philosophy or ideology. It is based on experience.
There is a place for theology. It arises out of experience and then in turn guides experience. The experience of the early followers of Jesus led them to describe him in theological terms as the Son of God. This then became a guide to their further experience of him.
We see it in the Old Testament too. The experience of the nation through Exodus and Exile shaped their faith. With the help of the prophets, the nation’s growing understanding of God was based on their experience of living through those difficult times.
Experience makes faith real to us
It is not just at the beginning that Christian faith had its origins in human experience. It is experience that makes the Christian faith come alive for us today. We learn about God, Jesus, Spirit, Bible, but for this to make a lasting impact on us it has to touch our experience. It’s one thing to be told that God loves us; it’s another to experience it.
Christian faith is based on our experience of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, not in doctrines, theories, arguments, or explanations.
Acceptance or forgiveness has to be experienced for it to become real. It’s not enough to hear that your sins are forgiven; you need to live as a forgiven person.
Doctrines need to mean something in terms of our own experience for them to come alive. As the Easter song says: He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today. You ask me how I know he lives. He lives with in my heart.
“The Bible says” is not sufficient; we need to be able to relate what the Bible says to our experience. That’s why we often have to put what the Bible says into our own words, words that are meaningful and intelligent to us.
Equally any authority that the church has when making pronouncements relies on their making sense to the experience of those who listen.
Don’t be content with a theoretical faith but seek an experiential faith. An experiential faith is a lived faith rather than a theoretical one. Jesus said: It is not those who call me ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.
John Wesley preached the witness of the Spirit, the sense of assurance. His journal entry for 24 May 1738: In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. At a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
This is not to suggest that our faith should be based on feelings alone. It is experience based on the Gospel that makes faith live.
We live in a world where people are running after experience all the time: travel, extreme sports, movies and entertainment, drugs and alcohol, retail therapy. But deep down they need the experience of being loved, appreciated, accepted, forgiven, and belonging. And not just on a human level as important as that is. They need to experience God’s love and acceptance.
They need the experience of having a purpose to life, meaning and direction, challenge and adventure, and a deep abiding joy. They need to lose themselves and their preoccupation with their own ills and complaints in the experience of doing something for others.
And we can offer all this – if we ourselves have experienced the word of life.
We cannot have their experience for them, nor give it to them; they have to experience it themselves but how will they know the possibilities unless we tell them, show them, share our deep and abiding experiences of God’s love and freedom, God’s renewal and empowerment, the deep and abiding joy that trust in God brings.