“The devil loves a vacuum.”
As soon as my colleague said it, the phrase resonated so strongly with me not only because it’s memorable, but because it’s true. Of course, there are other colloquial phrases that means the same thing – “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” – for example. But sayings are sayings, and Scripture is Scripture. Here, too, we find Jesus teaching at least in part something similar:
“When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it roams through waterless places looking for rest, and not finding rest, it then says, ‘I’ll go back to my house that I came from.’ Returning, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that person’s last condition is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).
Much more trustworthy than a proverb, Jesus emphasizes the same thing. And in a broader sense, there is a principle here for us, as Christians, for every day is an opportunity for repentance. Every day, as we abide in Christ, we are exposed to more and more in ourselves that doesn’t align with who He is. We are confronted with our attitudes, our self-worship, our greed, our biases, our preferences – and in every case, we have to reckon with the fact that the Holy Spirit is making us into something more. He is making us into the image of Jesus.
It’s not, of course, that we are earning our way into His good graces every time we repent of one of these actions or attributes. No – God has planted a flag on our hearts and souls and claimed us for His own. We are fully His, and we are fully His sons and daughters. In that sense, we are also holy because we have been given the righteousness of Christ.
But here we also find a consistent principle in God’s kingdom – the already, but the not yet. We are already God’s children, but we are not yet what He is making us to be. Our whole lives are spent growing into what we have already become. It is the process by which our outward actions come into line with the inner reality of a heart changed by Jesus.
How, then, does this process relate to a vacuum? Well, it’s because we must recognize that there is both a “turning from” and a “turning to” every day. Being made into the likeness of Jesus is not just a matter of turning from sin over and over again. It is a process of turning to Jesus over and over again. The wonderful news of God’s fatherhood in the gospel is that every time we turn from sin we are turning into the arms of a Father who is already embracing us.
We are turning from the trivial pleasures of the world to the endless delights of heaven.
We are turning from the temporary happiness of the day to the eternal joy of God.
We are turning from the anxiety of the moment to the restful state in Christ.
We are turning from the fear of what might come to the security of who was and is and is to come.
We must not only turn from or else we will find ourselves living each day with huge vacuums in our lives. We must instead turn to and find ourselves filled up with the goodness of God in Christ again and again.
If the devil loves a vacuum, then there is good news for those of us in Christ, for we will never exhaust that which He offers us when we turn to Him.