By Rebecca Dean
Yesterday I used Walmart’s grocery pickup service for the first time. It was a pleasant experience – an employee confirmed my name, then efficiently loaded the trunk with my order, which included a comical amount of frozen vegetables. When I got home, my husband asked with a concerned look on his face, “You got some meat, right?” I did, but I may have slightly overestimated the greens-to-meat ratio when filling my online shopping cart. Which just means that we will have plenty of fiber in our diet while we sit through the developing coronavirus outbreak.
The Wednesday before Spring Break, U of I announced that all classes would be online indefinitely due to COVID-19. Some students expressed disappointment over having to learn from home, while others expressed disappointment that ‘indefinitely’ meant that there was a possibility they’d have to come back to campus. (Indefinitely later turned into the rest of the semester.) That Thursday and Friday, there was a palpable uneasiness all over campus. For many of us, the University’s announcement indicated that the coronavirus was no longer just a distant threat in China or California.
As Urbana-Champaign was emptied of all its students, I began to be filled with restlessness. What was I going to do for Spring Break? What was I going to do for the rest of the semester? I can’t just stay home and be a potato! Just seeing the words ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-quarantine’ made me antsy. As I considered a hundred different scenarios, I was reminded of our Bible study from that week on Romans 8.
Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (RcV). What does for good mean? The next verse clarifies: God predestined us, those who love God, “to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.” God wants us to be conformed to Christ’s image so that Christ, who is God’s Firstborn, could have many brothers who match Him. As Christians, we’ve already been born of God (John 1:12-13), but we still don’t look that much like the Firstborn.
Romans 8:28 says all things are working for this. This means that whatever happens, good or bad, God is using our circumstances to help us be conformed to the image of His Firstborn. Even as Satan tries to wreak havoc on humanity using COVID-19, God wants us to come out looking more like Christ.
So how can we be conformed to Christ’s image? Paul tells us in the same chapter that it’s by walking according to the spirit* (8:4), setting the mind on the spirit* (8:6), and putting our old practices to death by the Spirit (8:13). The problem is that our flesh is warring against the spirit. We can react to COVID-19 in one of two ways: in our flesh or in our spirit. Living by the flesh might mean anxiously stocking up on canned beans and toilet paper because everyone else is doing it. Or it could be nonchalantly living life from the comfort of home, glad that there’s finally a legitimate excuse for being antisocial. On the other hand, living by the spirit is asking the Lord, “Lord, I’m not going to leave my house for several weeks. Which items should I stock up on?” Or, “Lord, I’m bored. What should I do?” Or, “Lord, stop the spread of this virus and keep us safe.” The key is to turn to the Lord and talk to Him.
The difference between walking according to the spirit and walking according to the flesh is not outward. It’s a difference in the source of our actions. Do we react to life based on instinct, social pressure, or careful deliberation? Or are our eyes on the Lord, waiting to see how He is reacting within us?
When we invite the Lord into our daily life, the Spirit is able to lead us and replace our old habits with a manner of life worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). Gradually, as we allow Christ into our thoughts and our feelings, He imparts more of His own thoughts and feelings into us. Our minds get renewed, which transforms us and conforms us to Christ, rather than to the pattern of this age (Rom. 12:2).
As an incentive to turn to the Lord, the Bible promises that “the mind set on the spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). As we engage the Lord Jesus in conversation, we are filled with a peace that surpasses man’s understanding (Phil. 4:7). The world around us may be in chaos, but inwardly, God Himself is our peace. Our anxiety, restlessness, dissatisfaction, and even boredom, are indicators that we have left God, who is peace. These feelings should remind us to turn back to Jesus.
So schools have closed their doors, and restaurants will not be seating customers. As we transition to online grocery shopping and video conferencing (including for Bible studies, hopefully!), may the Lord remind us to talk to Him and experience Him in new ways, so that we could be conformed to His image bit by bit. If the Firstborn could gain more brothers who match Him during this unprecedented time, what a glory it would be to God!
* Translators disagree on whether these verses refer to the human spirit or God’s Spirit. In our experience, it is both – the divine Spirit in our human spirit.
About the authorRebecca was involved in U of I Christians on Campus when she was a graduate student, and she is now serving on the staff.