Many churches tell us we need to be more ‘Spirit-led’ and then, in the same breath, tell us not to be anxious.
Yes, but, I wasn’t really so anxious until you told me I needed to be more Spirit-led. Because Spirit-led – in evangelical jargon – means something equivalent to holiness. And I learned in Sunday School that if someone questions you’re holiness, it is time to crumble into a guilt-ridden heap or defend your tower of righteousness with the common retort: At least I’m trying!
When a person tells you that you really need to be more Spirit-led, the underlying assumption is that they are more Spirit-led than you. And this means – by my calculations – that they are a worthless minister of the gospel. They will only make you anxious. They have created a standard that has no hope of achievement.
But the degrees of holiness put us on a Christian escalator to the imaginary stars. We can live two ways: on an ‘up’ escalator or in reality. The ‘up’ escalator artifice is a life of pretending that we are improving by our hard work. Holier and holier we grow, until Christ can come and upgrade our B- to an A+. Living in reality, though, is the growing realization that our shoelaces got stuck at the bottom of the ‘down’ escalator. If you were a good student like I was, you will be shocked to hear that our B- was a pipe-dream.We didn’t even show up for the exam. The admissions department kicked us out, and blocked our way back in with a “cherubim and flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24). Whoops.
If someone gives you tips on how to be Spirit-led like they are, I am not sure the Spirit has anything to do with it. Despite worldly opinion, experience is a wildly tempting thing for Christians. Nobody can argue with it, precisely because there is nothing to argue with. Your subjective world has whatever meaning you ascribe to it. And when you are addicted to your ‘up’ escalator theology, you need to convince yourself that you are improving. An easy way to track your advancement is to take a look at those who are in the same race. Your friend’s slight anxiety is the blood in the water and you catch the scent. Suddenly, many of your Spirit-led experiences and anecdotes come to mind as you remind yourself and your friend that you are basically out of their sights. You sincerely wonder how the view is from the bottom of the escalator. Satan crafts such delicious lies.
And when we are talking about being Spirit-led, what are we talking about? Not some ambiguous holiness competition, I should hope. Jesus said what the Spirit’s mission was – to testify about Christ and his righteousness: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me (John 15:26). Being Spirit-led means being gospel-grasped. This is different than thinking more about ourselves and our pathetic attempts to secure our own righteousness.
In conclusion, the gospel is true. You are probably doing just fine. Listen to the comforting words of the Spirit. He is not the one crushing you with guilt. He is not telling you to look deeper into your own heart for motivation to speed up the escalator . He is telling you that the gospel is true. He is not saying you need to do, do, do. He is saying Christ has done, and He is doing.
Christ has died and risen for your forgiveness. And the Spirit’s job is to show you the freedom of that life-giving forgiveness. Even if you are anxious that you don’t know him well enough: He knows you. You are loved and free.