When I was a kid, I was obsessed with basketball. It was all I talked about. I didn’t just talk about it, though. I did it! I played every day after school, every weekend and every spare moment I had. I hung a basketball hoop in my living room and played basketball while I watched basketball on TV. I studied the game. I emulated my favorite players and wore their jerseys to school. I even went to camps over the summer to try to improve my fundamentals. Basketball was, in every way possible, my thing.
There was only one unfortunate barrier standing between me and my inevitable future as a professional basketball player: my nature. Anyone who says you can accomplish anything you put your mind to if you work hard enough never saw me working hard at basketball. I’m slow, pasty, non-competitive and I peaked at 6 feet tall. Much to my chagrin, I wasn’t going to be the next David Robinson.
It would have taken a miraculous transformation to turn me into an actual basketball player.
The New Nature
When God made a covenant with His people, He was emphasizing the importance of what they did, more than what they said. They were to behave like righteous, obedient children of the Living God. There was only one barrier to this: their nature. God set an unattainable standard of behavior knowing full well that His people would need more than His instruction and guidance to reach that standard. They would need more than hard work and practice. They would need a miraculous transformation.
In the midst of His first covenant, God told the prophet, Ezekiel, about a new covenant that He was planning. “I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit in you,” He said. “I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and I will give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT) God’s plan wasn’t to try and motivate people to behave like His children. His plan was, through Christ, to invite us to be His children so that we would then act out of our new identity.
As campus ministers, we want our students to put their money where their mouths are. We want them to be Christ-followers, not just in what they say but in what they do. We want them to behave like they really believe what they say they believe. If our teaching stops there, though, we’re missing out on the next step. We’re still instructing our students in the old covenant.
The apostle Paul says that the new covenant is one of the Spirit, not of rules and regulations. It’s a covenant that does more than instruct us on how to act — it changes who we are! It’s the miraculous transformation we all need. Passages like Ephesians 2, 2 Corinthians 3 and Romans 6 lay it out for us. Our old nature was crucified with Christ, and we now live as new creations in God’s new covenant of grace. If our students can grow in their understanding of who they are in Christ, then what they do and what they say will soon change for the better.