Good-bye, Frustration: How the Spirit Sets Us Free

Photo by diegoalbero
Photo by diegoalbero

Jesus came to change our lives in an actual, practical, daily sense. This doesn’t happen without our participation. But it doesn’t happen by our own power, either.

The story so far is this: Jesus came to give us a kingdom. He didn’t come to destroy the law of Moses, but to accomplish what it couldn’t. He requires — and gives us — a righteousness that far surpasses that of the best legalist. He reconstitutes our hearts so that we function according to the laws of God on the inside.

So does this affect how we live our lives?

Of course it does.

That we even ask this question is proof of how lost in the trees we can tend to get, when a forest is staring us in the face.

Yes, there is such a thing as “the Christian life,” and yes, we can and should live it, and no, believing that does not constitute legalism or dead works. In a very real sense, it’s the whole point.

Jesus didn’t come to give us some fuzzy ideas and make us feel better about ourselves. He actually came to change our lives.

And our world, when it comes to that.


From the very beginning of this series, I’ve stressed that Jesus came to bring a kingdom. God’s kingdom. The kingdom is a gift, and we can do exactly nothing to earn it, which is why Jesus said it was for the poor in spirit. The people who have nothing except empty hands: that’s who’s best positioned to receive.

Jesus’s words are so radical, so outlandishly (outworldishly?) generous that we can’t wrap our minds around them. What does it mean to be GIVEN a kingdom, after all? We know what that means; we’ve all read stories of people given kingdoms. David was given a kingdom. Arthur was given a kingdom. Aragorn was given a kingdom. To be given a kingdom is to be given position, authority, power, privilege, wealth, honor, responsibility. (“Blessed Are the Spiritually Impoverished, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is Theirs”)

But to be given a kingdom is to be given something else as well:

When you receive a kingdom, you receive a government.

You receive the rule of the King — in this case, God.

You agree to be governed by another.

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom (“kingdom of heaven” = “kingdom of the spiritual realm”), so to receive the rule of God is to receive governance over your spirit. Your inner life comes into alignment with God’s life. The law will no longer be something external to you, something you comply with through outward observance, but something internal to you, which you comply with through trust and surrender and obedience from the heart.

In fact, this is the essence of Christian spirituality: that we leave behind the “lower law” that has governed our lives since the garden of Eden and become governed by the “higher law” of the Spirit of God.

We trade the law of sin and death for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.


Humanity currently is living a life oriented around “the flesh” — the body and its needs. We are anchored to decay and death and tuned in to externals, functioning according to what our five senses tell us.

But we weren’t supposed to be this way. We were created as spiritual beings, partaking of God’s eternal life and tuned in to the higher laws of the spiritual realm.

When Adam and Eve fell, they fell from that spirit existence to a flesh existence. Don’t get me wrong, they HAD flesh before they fell, and that was good — but their orientation changed.

That part of them that was meant to function as a servant became a master instead.

As a result, humanity ended up in a constant cycle of frustration, because, as Galatians 5:17 informs us:

The flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.

To me, the tower of Babel is the best illustration of this. Mankind, ruled by their flesh — i.e. governed by the law of sin and death — wanted to build a tower to heaven. They were actually able to do this, whatever exactly it was, but the Spirit of God did not want them to do it, so he frustrated their plans by scrambling their ability to communicate with each other.

The flesh and Spirit are opposed to each other; you want to do what the flesh wants; hey presto, you cannot do what you want. The Spirit will frustrate you every time.

History is a long tableau of mankind’s frustrated desires.

But then along comes the kingdom of God, and suddenly things change.

Because when we welcome the rule of God in our hearts, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus becomes the governing force in our lives. When we walk after the Spirit, we get out of the cycle of frustration and into the will of God … which, as it happens, the whole universe desires to bring to pass.

Good-bye frustration, hello freedom!


Jesus’s kingdom mission was and is to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth — to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. When we receive the kingdom (i.e. “get saved”), THIS is the program: we are being governed by a new law, reoriented from flesh to Spirit, pulled out of the cycle of frustration and placed into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

All of this is a gift.

It also requires our participation.

I can hand you a million dollars, but it won’t do you much good if you don’t spend it (okay, okay, invest it).

The Scriptures tell us that we are new creatures in Christ, but we are still in bodies that are used to the old law and the old orientation. It takes time and active participation to learn to live by higher laws. That’s why Jesus teaches us and gives us commands: they help us get our new lives off the ground. They show us how we will function best.

Discipleship, or the act of following and learning from Jesus, is an active lifestyle. It is entirely based on the gifts and empowerment of God, but it does require us to get up and walk.

It’s not a complicated process. It involves identifying and abandoning deception; accepting and receiving truth; changing our thought patterns and attitudes to line up with God’s reality.

It involves yielding to the Spirit, ceasing to fight, learning to rest, letting ourselves be loved.

It means learning to walk out a new identity that, in the end, was always who we were meant to be — a people created in the image of God, walking with him in a trust relationship, and drawing our life from his.

When we accept the rule of God in our lives, we do not find ourselves bound and burdened. We find ourselves set free.

That’s what it means to live a Christian life.

That’s what it means to receive the kingdom of God.

(This is Part 39 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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