Read Luke 16:1-13.

Do you like to run? Do you love to get out there, pound the pavement, feel the wind in your hair, see the world flow by, breathe the fresh air, sweat away the stress of the day?

Me neither.

I know someone who doesn’t like to run. He’ll run a couple of miles, on occasion, if he forces himself, but he doesn’t enjoy it. More often he’ll feel as though he ought to run but he won’t do it. On the other hand, he loves soccer, and he will happily play for hours, running around the whole time. He’ll willingly do the training exercises the coach asks for, contentedly bearing the exhaustion, the pain, the demands. What a difference that love of soccer makes!

Is your experience of the Christian life more like forcing yourself to run because you know you should or running for the love of your sport?

Ruysbroeck says that three things are necessary to have a spiritual or inward life:

  • a heart unencumbered by images, possessing nothing by affection but God
  • spiritual freedom in the desires, so that all that is done is done out of love
  • a feeling of inward union with God

Spiritual freedom is serving God for your love of the sport. It’s living the Christian life for the love of God. It’s contentedly bearing the training exercises, the pain, the demands with the goal of pleasing the one you love in mind. All things become bearable, even enjoyable.

Spiritual freedom presupposes some level of victory of the higher part of your will over the lower, or perhaps it’s some level of active grace, some presence of the Holy Spirit. Your desire to rest would prevent you from running but your love of the wind and sun and sweat prevails. Trials and temptations come, but your desire for victory overcomes. Your spirit is hard pressed on all sides, but free.

Consolations arise, and you thank God but tell him to help you grow instead. Difficult circumstances arise and cause you to suffer. God is hidden. You are desolate, panting for water. You long once again for his presence. You alternate between heaven and hell. But your spirit is free.

Spiritual freedom is equally at peace in consolation or desolation, joy or pain, contentment or sorrow. It doesn’t fight back or struggle. It asks for nothing. It is not double minded—that’s death to the spiritual life. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Why don’t some virtuous Christians get there? According to Ruysbroeck, they don’t respond to God’s movements by renouncing themselves. They also don’t turn inward, toward following the spirit, but remain turned toward outward multiplicity and doing good deeds. They do their good deeds more out of custom than interior experience and pay more attention to their number and variety of works than to the glory of God (Little Book of Clarification, 258-59).

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and