The clock strikes 5:00 p.m., and I set my rambunctious kids in front of the television so I can make dinner. In the silence, I heat olive oil in a pan and brown chicken thighs. I chop potatoes and carrots then whisk together a balsamic sauce. I take a deep breath, savoring the delicious smells and the quiet kitchen. At the end of a chaotic day, I’m comforted by the predictability of a recipe. If I diligently follow each step, I’m guaranteed a delicious meal.
However, I recently read in Samin Nosrat’s cookbook (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) that good cooking isn’t about following a recipe precisely but about cultivating culinary instincts. Because of her advice, I tweak the balsamic chicken recipe this time. I had salted my chicken thighs the night before, and now I take them off the heat a little earlier when I notice they are over-browning. I taste the sauce, adding a bit more vinegar.
An hour later, my husband takes the first bite. “This is delicious!” he exclaimed before putting another forkful into his mouth. “Is this a new recipe?”
I laugh, knowing we eat this meal regularly, but he’s right. While my balsamic chicken had always been edible (enjoyable even), this time it was more flavorful. I was surprised that following my instincts for a dash of salt, a little less heat, and a splash of vinegar could change the outcome so much.
All the ingredients
Scripture teaches us that God has given his children everything we need to live a godly life. Peter even goes so far as the list the “ingredients” of the Christian life: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:3-7, ESV). However, I’m often tempted to approach Scripture passages like these as to-do lists—a strict recipe, if you will. If I can add a little faith, a dash of virtue, and sprinkle in some knowledge, then I can create a godly life in my own power. Just as I desire control in my kitchen, I often attempt to control my Christian journey to guarantee an ideal spiritual outcome.
In my prideful heart, I want the Christian life to be an easy-to-follow recipe. If I read this many chapters and pray this many minutes and serve my church in these ways, then my life should turn out the way that I hope. Yet while all these disciplines are beneficial for my spiritual growth, I often exclude the main ingredient in my Christian walk—the Holy Spirit.
God doesn’t hand over the ingredients and recipe, expecting us to make ourselves more like Christ. Rather, these qualities are born out of “the knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3, ESV). He doesn’t merely give us the tools to live a spiritual life, he gives us his own Spirit. When we allow the Spirit to grow these qualities in us, “they keep [us] from being ineffective or unfruitful” in our Christian lives (2 Peter 1:8, ESV).
The Spirit is the one who takes the Word I’ve read and convicts my heart. He is the one who lifts my prayers to the Father and changes my heart. He is the one who knits my heart together with other believers in my community. When I attempt to control my spiritual growth without the help of the Spirit, I end up with a bland and burnt-out Christian life.
Walking by the Spirit
Ever since I finished reading Nostrat’s cookbook, I’ve been a little more intentional with the way I cook. On spaghetti night, I now heavily salt my pasta water, let my sauce simmer for hours, adjust the acid in my Caesar dressing, and generously grate parmesan cheese over my plate. I spend less time looking at the recipe and more time following my culinary instincts by looking at, smelling, and tasting the food I’m cooking.
In a similar way, I’m learning to walk by the Spirit as I grow in godliness. I can do all the right things, check off all the boxes, and follow every rule, yet if I ignore the work of the Holy Spirit, my life will be as flavorless as my usual balsamic chicken. Rather than checking off a list of rigid disciplines, I’m laying down my need to perform for God and instead inviting his Spirit to work in me. Walking by the Spirit hasn’t replaced the disciplines of prayer, study, service, etc., but it has changed them.
The Holy Spirit breathes new life into my prayer time when I ask him to intercede where my prayers fall short (Romans 8:26). I invite the Spirit to open my eyes to the truth of God’s Word (Psalm 119:18) and show me how I should obey (John 16:13). I ask the Spirit for guidance in where God is leading me (Isaiah 30:21) and strength to walk in his will (Ephesians 3:20).
With every perfectly flavored dinner I cook, I realize there is joy in letting go of the recipe—in releasing control how a meal turns out. Similarly, I can surrender my own efforts to create a “recipe” for the good Christian life. Instead, I choose to walk by the Spirit, allowing him to make me into a fruitful, aromatic disciple of Christ.
2 thoughts on “A Recipe for the Christian Life”
Bethany, I’m a recipe follower too, so this resonated with me, not only in cooking but also in my walk with the Lord. I so appreciate your gift of writing. Carol Pacheco