Many who are curious about Jesus, and many who follow him, think of Christian behavior in purely legal terms (e.g. “God is the great lawmaker and judge. I must keep his rules!”) Though this view of Christian ethics is good and inspires respect, it can also be intimidating, or even frightful.
Thomas Keating, writing about prayer, gives an illustration of the work of the Spirit that I’d like to apply, more broadly, to Christian behavior.
The action of the Spirit might be compared to a skillful nurse teaching the adopted children of a wealthy household how to behave in their new home. Like waifs pulled in off the street and seated at the banquet table in the elegant dinning hall, we require a lot of time to learn and practice the proper table manners. Because of our earthly background, we tend to put our muddy feet on the table, break the chinaware, and spill the soup in our laps. To assimilate the values of our new home, profound changes in our attitudes and behavioral patterns are required. For this reason we may experience our nurse as constraining in the beginning and heavy on the “don’ts.” And yet she always seems to be encouraging in the midst of correction; never condemnatory, never judgmental, always inviting us to amendment of life.
Don’t neglect the image of the judge, but see yourself, also, as the adopted ragamuffin at the banquet table of your loving father. The call to holy living represents the Father’s intention to work through the Spirit to make you like his begotten child, Jesus.