Monday, August 16, 2021

The Opposite of Grace is Not Effort

Dan and Allie, in Detroit

Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. 
Stay clear of silly stories 
that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! 
Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, 
but a disciplined life in God is far more so, 
making you fit both today and forever. 
You can count on this. 
Take it to heart.
1 Timothy 4:7-10 (The Message)

In 1981 my spiritual mentor gave me a copy of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. God used this book to change my life. 

Through it God challenged me to up my spiritual life. I was introduced, in a fresh way, to the life-giving, Spirit-empowering spiritual exercises.  "Exercise unto godliness," Paul wrote. Foster gave me a way to do that.

One way I "exercise unto godliness" is by praying. Foster's book kick-started a prayer life that has never ended. I write about this in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Linda and I physically exercise in the local YMCA. The room with the treadmills and bikes and machines is coated with mirrors. In the spiritual gymnasium (yes, the Greek word in 1 Timothy is gymnaze) there are no mirrors. I am not spiritually exercising to impress anyone, to include God. For me, the spiritual exercises are the means by which I abide in Christ. In praying, for example, I am a branch connected to Jesus, the Vine. He pours His life and hope and power into me.

So thank you, God, for Richard Foster.

Foster was interviewed in Christianity Today, where he distinguished between exercising unto godliness and works righteousness. 

"Some today are concerned about “works righteousness.” That is something to watch for because “works” has to do with merit. There is nothing that we do that can merit the grace of God—we really have to come down strong on that. The disciplines have no righteousness. They don’t give me a brownie point with God.
The opposite of grace is works—but not effort. And many, many Bible passages teach us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and strive to enter in at the narrow gate, as Jesus said. We go through a process of growth. I’m not talking about perfectionism, but I am talking about progress. All of the great classical writers on devotion work with this idea. Think of Pilgrim’s Progress and what Christian went through and how he grew in grace through the process on the journey to the celestial city." 
When I read the chapter on "Fasting" in Celebration, I desired to fast. I began fasting, periodically. I did so, not to secure Jesus' love for me, but because I love Jesus, and Jesus tells me "When you fast." I read a lot of books. No book motivated me and encouraged me in my Jesus-connectedness as much as Celebration
For more on the spiritual discipline of fasting, see...

Fasting Reveals Things That Control Us