Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Gap but no Zap

My son got a kite today--a prize for practicing the piano a certain number of times this month. Wouldn't you know it, there's no wind. We just got back from running around the grassy field by our house trying to get this thing to fly. As long as the person with the string was running, the kite stayed in the air. But when the running stopped, the kite went down. It took a lot of effort.

What a nice segue into the sequel from yesterday! (Mind the Gap) Dallas Willard has gotten a lot of mileage out of saying, "Grace is not opposed to effort, just to earning." Premise 2 from yesterday's post is that we have a role to play in our spiritual maturation. This does not mean that we somehow earn our salvation or sanctification, nor that we can make ourselves holy. But it does mean that there is some effort required of us.

I come from a theological tradition that is keen on using the terms "entire sanctification" or being "filled with the Holy Spirit." These are well-intended concepts that I'm afraid have wandered some from their biblical moorings. In practical, everyday language it is often preached, "You've made Christ your Savior, now it is time to make him Lord of your life." The more theologically astute might say something like, "Subsequent to salvation the believer will have a crisis experience, fully surrender, and God will fill her with the Holy Spirit in a second act of grace." At that moment the believer is fully sanctified.

OK, so I'm not going to quibble about terms, but the impression is given that we have no role to play in this apart from giving God permission to fill us up. A recent speaker at my place of employment claimed that all we must do is "Let go and let God. We have no part, it's all his part." (This is almost verbatim, by the way, from The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life.) That is to say, we must just sit back and let God zap us into holiness.

Perhaps that is a caricature, but it the message that many of the college students are hearing. And many of them resolve (sometimes year after year) to make Christ Lord of their lives, but find themselves back in the old patterns after the spiritual high has gone away. I know quite a few of these who end up saying, "Let's be honest. This is not working." And they jettison what vestiges of faith they once had.

The biblical story, I believe, and the one that is true to our experience, is that it takes some effort on our parts to become holy people. Again, that doesn't mean we're making ourselves holy, but rather that we're putting ourselves into the position where God makes us holy. No one (except the extreme 5 pointers) would argue that there are things we can do that hinder our spiritual development: if I consciously decide to spend my time on the internet looking up soft porn, I am doing something that impedes my spiritual growth. So, by listening to a baseball game instead (go Red Sox), I am "doing" something that is better for me and contributing to my spiritual state. It is not too big of a leap from there to understand that there are other positive things that I can be doing that will help to move along the process of becoming more like Christ. There is no Zap that does this for me.

More on this in the future. If you've read this far, you must have enough time on your hands to skip over to Knee Deep in Life and read the May 7 posting. Good reflection on labor involved in getting something done.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
Good website (and insight!)
Did you mean to quote students by saying, "Let's be honest. This is not working."?

Ron L. Stump

J. B. Stump said...

Yes, thanks! What a difference a "not" makes. I fixed it.