Happenings around Antioch

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.