As Christians (and Americans) we have been taught since birth that there is a direct cause and effect that governs our lives. You know, if we “do” this then we will “get” that. It is kind of quid pro quo formula. For example, if I work hard, I will get ahead at my job. Or, if I lead a healthy lifestyle I will enjoy good health and a long life. Although I believe in the theory of cause and effect as a principle in the physical realm, I’m not convinced it works in the spiritual realm. I’m not even sure it works in life. This thinking was the basis for the Old Covenant but is not the basis of the New Covenant that Jesus has ushered in.

This A + B = C sequence is clearly defined in Deuteronomy 29:9: “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may [be prospered] in all that you do.” There we see that our efforts (A) plus the working of God (B) equals His blessing in this life (C). And, whether consciously or not, we believe this because we have subtly (and not so subtly, I’m afraid) been told this is true. This message has been echoed from church pulpits, Christian counselors, and the shelves of Christian books stores. But it is wrong. It is a system intended to make this life better but it doesn’t work. It didn’t work for the Israelites and it doesn’t work for us. Leviticus 26:14 and following tells us what happens when the covenant (or equation) is broken . This system worked only if they kept all the law perfectly and there was a dangerous downside if they didn’t. They didn’t and they couldn’t. We don’t and we can’t.

But we still try. It’s engrained in us (it’s called pride) and we are indoctrinated in this linear equation. We often continue to pursue the blessing of a better life by trying hard, asking God to give us what we want, and expecting to see the blessings unfold. We are a slave to this law that often doesn’t work, which leaves us exhausted and filled with doubt about ourselves, God, or both. So our worldview goes down the tubes when we try really hard, tust God, and crisis comes. We did our best to do “A” and we trusted God to do “B” but we don’t see the evidence of the “C” that is the blessing of a better life. We have but two options here; we didn’t try hard enough and do all the right things or God is not good and faithful to His promises. Neither one is a good conclusion.

And, if this system does seem to work, it inevitably leaves us empty because we have this “better life” but have missed the point. That’s because the formula is wrong. It is based upon the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant. It is the way of the law, a law of cause and effect that Jesus came to do away with. For Christ has introduced a radical shift from the pursuing the blessing of a better life to one where our passion is the beauty of His presence. Because relationship and intimacy with Him is the point. It is that, and that only, which truly fulfills us and is our great blessing. Everything else is a weak, useless idol without any substance or value (see Psalm 115). And this Old Covenant formula is often the very thing that keeps us from fully experiencing Him as we seek His hand and not His face, His “presents” instead of His presence.

The writer of Hebrews explains: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (7:18-19). Notice in particular that last phrase, “a better hope [of] nearness to God.” Actually, the writer of Hebrews said much about those who looked to God in faith not for His earthly blessing but for the hope found only in His presence (see Hebrews 11:1-12:3). For we, in the end, do not find real satisfaction in “success” but in our Savior. For it is He who had crucified this old law so that we might live in Him, He might fill us, and allow us to enter into the life of liberty He so gloriously purchased:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:9-14).

*I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Larry Crabb and his book The Pressure’s Off for a significant part of these ideas and content. I highly recommend this book!