A pastor is called to care for a group of people who differ from people in general. The difference is that those in the pastor’s charge are “born again” to use the heavily worn, but still biblical phrase. It may well be the case that among the flock are those who, for religious reasons, consider themselves “Christians” but who have in reality never experienced what Jesus described as being born again. That is not my concern today. Rather I want to ask what it looks like to pastor someone who has truly been born again.
Something has happened to this person. They will “never be the same again”! We know that they are forgiven, justified and adopted and all the so-called “objective” works of salvation have been completed on their behalf. But something more has happened. A natural baby who has completed the birth process has become in himself a viable member of the human race. He is fully equipped for physical life. Spiritually a person is born again and becomes a viable participant in the new covenant in himself. We are equipped with all it takes to participate in the new covenant. We are fully equipped for spiritual life. (We still need to be equipped for ministry, but not for life.)
So what is this new covenant? Well it starts like this, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33). A born-again person comes pre-loaded with God’s law written on their hearts. What do we imagine that looks like? The Decalogue chiseled out again in human flesh? Which particular laws? The heart is the seat of feelings, desires and passions as well as thoughts and will. So it must mean at the very least that the desires of our hearts are innately in tune with the will of God. If not, then what is the point? Come back Moses, all is forgiven!
It means that the baseline assumption is that my desires are a reflection of the will of God. Now you can push this to silly extremes: a Christian cannot sin — no. If I desire it, it must be God’s will — no. Of course there are qualifications. But here is my point – we have become obsessed with the qualifications to the point of obscuring the fundamental alignment God has achieved for us by writing his law upon our hearts.
Much pastoring is based not on Jeremiah 31, but Jeremiah 17 – the heart that is desperately wicked and deceitful above all else. Surely this speaks of the unregenerate heart? For many pastors the fundamental assumption is that the desires of a born again person are still so profoundly opposed to the will of God that the Christian life is a prolonged re-enactment of the garden of Gethsemane – not my will but thine! Jesus endured Gethsemane (and Golgotha) so that we don’t have to. He has redeemed us not to a life of daily mortification, but to LIFE where the dying has already been accomplished.
Can we trust people to have desires that are not diabolical? Does distrusting the motives of people’s hearts really help protect them from sin? Do poor decisions stem more from wrong desires or from acting out of fear? Why did Jesus need to say, “Fear not!” so often, but never uttered the words, “Desire not!”? If God’s people are ungenerous, is it usually because they are secretly coveting a red Ferrari, or because they live in fear of poverty?
Now Paul does say that he dies daily, and Jesus did invite us to take up our cross and follow him. Why? Is this a necessary survival technique for believers in a sin-filled world? Is this really about dealing with ungodly desires and the wickedness of our hearts? Or is it speaking of the nature of ministry? We die indeed, but not to deal with our deceitful hearts, but for the benefit of others. That is called love.
Can we trust that God really has done a miracle with His people? Can we trust that God has filled their hearts with wholesome desire? Can we allow them to dream? Even if it is of a red Ferrari?