The guy in front of me wore flip-flops and consumed only an energy drink. He was a low-maintenance line-waiter when set against my camping chair and satchel full of computer, books, and snacks. In response to the lady behind me, he said that he is a bartender at a gay bar. An hour later when the topic of food inevitably surfaced, he started listing off all the foods he avoids. “Allergies?” I thought. No. He needs to maintain his trim figure for his job, which he loves and hopes to keep for at least 5 more years when he hits the ripe old age of 35.
Another 30 minutes later, a fit, bearded, crunchy-looking guy stopped by to chat with a friend a few places behind me. I never heard whether he was actually there to buy the new iPhone or whether he just happened to be walking around the Biltmore Fashion Square at 8 in the morning. His buddy and the cluster of dudes around him joked that the guy was joining them in line to make some new friends since he had been homeschooled. Homeschooling might not be a bad idea, someone else suggested, since you can forego the usual ridicule and demoralization of being around hundreds of your peers. Bearded-hiker-guy shared how from the age of 13 on he would knock out his school work by lunch then play video games or watch movies for hours upon hours. Only in the last few years did he realize the waste his life had become and give up all the screen time, cold turkey, for outdoor pursuits.
As I think about my line-waiting cohort–gay bartender, bearded hiker, the recent divorcee, the taxes-are-evil guy–I think about why we are there. We are waiting for an upgrade. The software upgrade came out a few days ago, but now we await the new hardware that optimizes it. As an end in and of itself, this is a hollow upgrade. I for one have struck “Waiting in a long line for a gizmo” off my bucket list and never care to do it again. But if anything became clear after hours of waiting with complete strangers, it was the human need for an upgrade. Not our technology, but ourselves.
The language of “Spirit” and “flesh” we have started studying in Paul’s letter to the Galatians captures the essence of this upgrade. The flesh is that disposition of rebellion against God into which we are born. Life in the flesh results in broken marriages, wasted years, toxic peer groups, and a sexualized culture–whether gay or straight–in which image trumps intimacy. The upgrade we need is spiritual, of the Spirit. All the rule keeping in the world cannot accomplish this. As Paul wrote, “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15), a new creation that only happens because of the cross of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.
But even we who “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) continue to experience weakness. We must be told to “walk by the Spirit” so we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Why is this? What remains? To use the language of technology, even though our software has been upgraded, we await a change in hardware. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “The Christian belongs to the community of the resurrected order, but lives within the context of the present order. Even new life in Christ, lived in the Spirit, has as its context bodily and mental existence which has long been dominated by the flesh” (The Holy Spirit, p. 155). The upgrade we await is physical, when we will be resurrected like our Lord with a perfect body in which no hint of weakness or rebellion remains. In that day our bodies will be optimized for full spiritual life of showing love, experiencing joy, and living in peace.
Until then we strive by the Spirit’s power to taste as much of this new creation as we can in these old-model bodies. May we not only help one another in this pursuit but also offer it to those in line with us who yearn for new life but have yet to find it.