Faithful Christian life is full of tensions. From conversion to our last breath in these bodies in this life, I am convinced that God calls us to grow up into holding many things together which seem to lean apart. This is not irrationalism; this isn’t to accept contradictions. But tensions tempt the faithless to let go of one end and allow one truth, one command, one emphasis to become dominant. Where there is otherwise great Biblical balance, the Spirit guards us in our own ignorance and weakness and upholds us. But sometimes this lack of courage, this lack of tension can actually lead one straight out of the Christian faith, riding that one trick pony off the cliff of orthodoxy.
When I speak of tensions, I’m thinking of great doctrines like the Trinity, like creation and incarnation, like God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom and responsibility, like the great gospel indicative which drives us to the great gospel imperatives (“this is the case” therefore “you must be and do this”: You are forgiven, therefore you must forgive), like fasting and feasting, etc. One of the those tensions that Douglas Wilson has been particularly helpful to me in remembering is in the poles of the covenant and the freedom of the Spirit. On the one hand, God has given us true and glorious promises. He has promised to meet us, to visit us, to be our God and the God of our children, and to work through and in the means of prayer, the Word, the sacraments, the body of Christ, etc. On the other hand, God remains completely and absolutely free. And when we have sinned or forgotten God, He is free to leave. He is free to keep covenant by disciplining covenant-breakers, giving us over to our lusts.
And the cash value of this shows up in individuals who either know God or don’t, who are in the light or are not, are true and lively sons or are false, illegitimate sons. The covenant requires us to lean one way, declaring God’s love and gracious intentions for the whole world. And to be in covenant is to be “in Christ” — in the life of God begun in this world, participating in the Kingdom of the Spirit. And at the same time, Jesus warns repeatedly that there will be many who have shared in this life who nevertheless grieve the Spirit, who trample the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, who like Israel of old, enjoy the salvation of God being brought out of Egypt on eagles’ wings and who nevertheless fall in the wilderness because of idolatry and lust. And we hold these two tensions together in the person of Jesus and in power of His Spirit: if we abide Him, then He abides in us. But if we do not abide in Him, His father will cut us out.
And we receive these warnings in faith, looking to Jesus, resting in Him and trusting that in Him, we will never be put to shame. We do not hold God, but He holds us.