Mark Fox May 13, 2024

Grace-Powered Diligence

Because of disobedience, the children of Israel had to do laps around Mt. Sinai for 40 years. But we are called by God to grow up in obedience through grace. And in order to do that, Peter wrote, we need diligence. It was one of his favorite words, one that expresses urgency and purpose. He told the believers to “make every effort to supplement your faith,” by adding virtue, knowledge, self-control, and more. He told them to “be all the more diligent to conform your calling and election.” He told them, “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

There are two ditches to avoid on the road to spiritual growth as followers of Jesus. The ditch on one side of the road, legalism, promotes the idea that you earn God’s favor outside of the work of Jesus Christ. That God accepts us because we dress a certain way or do or don’t do certain things. No, God accepts us solely because of what Jesus did on the cross. Otherwise, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was either not necessary or not sufficient. Legalism ultimately leads to bondage to pride or bondage to inconsolable shame and guilt. The ditch on the other side of the road is just as dangerous. It was called antinomianism by Martin Luther, which he used to describe people who say that belief in Christ eliminates the need for the law. This lessens the grace of the cross and makes it, as Ryan Reeves wrote, “a mere demonstration of love not atonement.” This ditch is attractive to people who say, “give me Jesus without any rules.” In other words, I want to be a Christian but only on my terms. Don’t preach to me; I am a child of God and I will decide what I believe about the Bible’s commands. This ditch leads to cultural Christianity, shallow doctrine, worldly living. To tell these folks to make every effort to grow in faith and obedience is not received well. 

 So we need to ask the question of ourselves: am I making every effort to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ? It is not hard for any of us to understand that concept, because we apply it, or don’t apply it, every day in every area of our lives. I remember the early days of Antioch, when I needed to supplement my income as a pastor working different jobs to feed my family and pay the bills. One job I had was selling World Book Encyclopedias door to door. That’s not even a thing now, is it? But the woman who hired me said, “If you knock on 10 doors, you will be able sell one set of encyclopedias.” She was right. Learning what you need to know to be successful in your job and then being diligent to apply that every day is a recipe for success at work.

   The same applies to taking care of our bodies. We know that muscles that are not exercised will atrophy. We know that the older we get, the more maintenance it takes to keep those muscles working well. There’s a lady I see regularly at the Y in the weight room, and it is always the same routine. She never really does anything there! She finds a machine that is not being used, usually the leg press, and she sits down. She pulls out her phone, puts the pin in the machine at the least amount of weight, and calls someone on her phone or just scrolls through her social media.  Every now and then, she will make a half-hearted effort to, you know, push on the weight once or twice. It is funny to me, and I find myself thinking, “You know, lady, why do you even come to the Y? You could sit outside and at least get some Vitamin D from the sun while you talk on your phone. But that machine right there? You will get out of that exercise exactly what you put in. Which is nothing!”

 The Christian life is hard. It requires diligence, and diligence, by definition, is difficult. But let me remind you as I remind myself, that our diligence is and always will be grace-powered. We have to go back regularly to an important passage where Paul combines an important command and a critical promise: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (that’s the command), for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (that’s the promise). God works in us to give us the want-to and the follow-through. We have the responsibility to work out what God has given us through diligence and effort, but we do so by his power.

That makes all the difference.


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Mark Fox May 13, 2024
Mark Fox May 6, 2024

How Should We Live in Light of the End of Time?

18th century British writer Samuel Johnson said, ‘Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ Peter makes a similar observation connected to a question in the last chapter of his second letter. Since these things will take place, the dissolving of the world as we know it, Peter says, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”? If the world as we know it is going to be dissolved, how should we then live? Augustine wrote about this in his book, City of God, defining virtue as “rightly ordered loves.” Our lives are filled with loves and some things we love too much and some not enough, but the summum bonum, the highest good, is God himself. We are to love him most of all and recognize that all other ‘good things’ are from his hand, including the earth we live on and the air we breathe and the family he has given us and the church community we enjoy. All of them are intended to lead us back to him. Here’s another blessing: when we rightly order our loves, we find the greatest joy. David sang to God, “…in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” 

Augustine wrote, “For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you, but only to those who love you for your own sake. You yourself are their joy. Happiness is to rejoice in you and for you and because of you. This is happiness and there is no other. Those who think that there is another kind of happiness look for joy elsewhere, but theirs is not true joy.” (Confessions)

That reminded me of John Piper’s well-known quote: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

 So, knowing the end of the age is coming and Jesus will return, how should we live? For him. With every effort towards holiness and godliness. God will help us do it; Peter told us that in the first chapter: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him…” We have his divine power to order our loves and live worthy of the Gospel, even though we are weak. I remember when my children were little and I would ask them to ‘help me’ pick up something heavy. Even though I would be carrying 99% of the weight of it, in their minds, they were doing half the work. I would praise them for their ‘muscles’ and they would grin and flex for me.  But here’s the thing. I was loaning them my ability to carry something so they would learn to carry it on their own when their strength increased. God’s power is always needed for us to live godly lives, and we will never be able to do so on our own. But like a loving earthly father, our heavenly Father teaches us how to grow in godliness. Paul loved this word and used it a number of times, especially in his pastoral letters.

He told Timothy, “train yourself for godliness;” Godliness does not come by itself. We must put effort into it, using his divine power that gives us everything that pertains to life and godliness. It is an attitude and a manner of life for us. 

Godliness is not only worth the effort; it is to be pursued. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”  Again, godliness is how we are to live, and godliness requires our sacrifice and our effort. We must help one another grow in godliness, as that is one of the primary purposes of the church community.

In light of the end that is coming, may our hearts and minds be concentrated wonderfully on the Lord, who is our hope and our joy.

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Mark Fox May 6, 2024