Living as a Christian is hard. It requires loving Someone invisible with all your being, transforming from one way of life into another, and finding the answers to the hardest questions of our lives in Jesus. It isn’t easy to go from “of this world” to not while still living in the world and seeking to love the world like Jesus loves it. The calling of God is difficult, a calling that draws us to the end of ourselves and beyond and forces us to either fray at our seems or lean into the strength of another.
During the Exodus, the early Israelites received a similar calling. At Sinai God had laid out a world-altering way of life for them, one which would mark them among all people as being God’s, and one which they would historically fail to realize. But in Deuteronomy 30, God gave a powerful promise to His people:
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
God promised that His people would receive a mark upon their hearts that would enable them to live the way they were called.
Jesus fulfilled God’s promise. After centuries of trespasses, at Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come upon the people of God, with the result that they were filled with the Spirit and empowered to live as holy to the LORD. In the power of the Spirit the first Christians were equipped to walk in miraculous signs and give their whole beings to loving God despite great persecution and pressure to conform to the world.
Yet often they didn’t.
In the church at Corinth, for example, manifestations of the Spirit’s power abounded, but so did sin. Sin and spiritual gifting went on together in a fractious pairing that caused them a heap of troubles. In other places, apostolic leaders like Demas fell away from the Way and caused grief to their coworkers. Factions and infighting arose in many quarters and threatened to break the churches apart, churches formed in the wake of Pentecost.
Perhaps their experience resonates with us. Though many of us can testify to the Spirit’s filling in our lives, we may also awkwardly carry the incongruous burden of sin. The dissonance in this is troubling. Is our heart’s circumcision reversed? Has the Spirit come and gone? How can we with such power to live in holiness live profane lives?
Perhaps the answer lies in another verse in the same chapter of Deuteronomy:
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.
The ways of God are something chosen today. That today is always today. The path of good or of evil is invested in this day. There is both the earlier promise of an enduring mark upon the heart and also the exhortation to live it out daily. It is not that the baptism goes away, but it grows stale if neglected.
Many believers live with a stale baptism. I have been one of them. This happens because we seek an immediate filling and for that to be the summation of our spiritual progress. But Pentecost does not bring about the end of the union of human and Spirit, but the beginning. The circumcision of the heart marks us as sanctified, united to God by holiness, and with God to live for God in the power of the Spirit, but the power does not equal the choice. The choice is for each today. Today we choose to live out our filling. Today we choose to live marked by the circumcision of the heart. Today we choose it, and that is what transforms us.
So if we want to be transformed, to be “Holy as He is holy,” we need both the filling of the Spirit and the daily decision to choose the life of God. The first makes it available, the second makes it real. Choosing the holiness we have in God each day is where transformation is to be found, and we need this transformation to live out our calling. With the Spirit’s power it is a beautiful calling, a world-changing calling, and best of all, a calling that requires us to draw near to God today.