[God] made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
–2 Corinthians 3:6 NET
I was always fascinated with jugglers spinning plates. It seemed to require both finesse and speed to keep the plates from crashing to the floor. Unfortunately, in my formative years, that was my image of the Christian life. When remarking on the challenges of trying to keep all the plates spinning (Bible reading, Christian service, prayer, attending three services a week, exhibiting all the fruit of the Spirit, etc.) no one corrected me. Keeping everything in the air was an expected practice that haunted me up through Bible college and into my first ministry.
Afraid to just stop trying altogether, I secretly wondered if the warnings were true. What if God is upset (angry) with me when I mess up and then makes my life miserable when I fail to maintain my Christian walk? It was a burden too heavy to bear and other’s talk of joy felt like a cruel mockery of my own struggle.
One day in grad school a professor and mentor asked me what I wanted to do. Confused, I told him that what I wanted was to walk away from the whole thing. “Why don’t you?” came the reply. Thinking he had lost his mind, I just stared at him feeling quite ambivalent about the conversation—I wanted the relief of coming out from under the pressure to get it right but was still reluctant to act. He was inviting me to a new way of living in Christ I had never heard before.
With the New Covenant, we are not only made pure and given a new identity, we’ve also been given new desires: “…continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, [because] the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God” (Philippians 2:12-13 NET, brackets mine). So, my Prof could rightly ask, “What do you want?” and then help me sort out the dross from the gold. Trying to live up to an external standard was about to kill me and even jeopardize my willingness to continue in my faith.
“The Spirit leads the children of God by inclining them to do the will of God from a holy, heavenly disposition (new desires) which the Spirit of God gives them.” (Jonathan Edwards) This important truth cannot be overstated: Our desire for God and His ways is not something we have to generate in ourselves; the Spirit of God is causing us to want Him. It’s the real energy behind our life in God.
This is liberating news! That’s why Paul can rightly exclaim that in his inmost being he delights in God’s law (Romans 7:22). What a radical and life-giving thought!
ACTION: How would you depict your understanding of the spiritual life? Have you felt more pressure to pull it off than freedom to live and love? Take some time to sit with the idea that you have been given new desires as a result of God’s new arrangement with mankind. Journal your response to Him.