Written by Stephen Cox
Once again, I have recently refocused my efforts on getting fit and healthy. It’s probably the third time I’ve started this year. So far – 4 weeks in – it’s going well. As I struggled jogging over a few kilometres of the Wiradjuri track I was struck by the realisation of the hard work needed to stay fit. And it is like that in many areas of our lives.
Want to be a first-rate Olympic athlete? You gotta work at it and practice incessantly. Want to be the best pianist around? You have to practice like mad. Want to be the best husband you can possibly be? You have to really devote yourself to this end. Want to be the best chef around? You need to work at it and dedicate yourself to it. Want to excel in your calling? You have to spend plenty of time and effort on it.
Anything worthwhile takes a heap of time, effort, work and commitment. The world’s great musicians or the world’s great tennis players do not just pop up out of the blue. While some folks may have some natural-born talents and giftings, they all need to really put a lot of work into what they are doing. They have to make sacrifices, they have to practice constantly, they have to deny themselves simple pleasures that others may enjoy, and they have to really discipline themselves and say no to all sorts of things. All great athletes or artists or musicians or writers know these basic truths.
So why should it come as any surprise that the Christian life is just the same? Why should we think that we can do nothing, and yet somehow grow as a disciple of Christ? Why do we imagine we can just sit around, play games and waste time, and still manage to become more holy and more Christlike?
It just does not work that way. Holiness and the sanctified life are the result of a lot of effort, struggle, denial of self, and deliberate, whole-hearted pursuit.
Sure, it is a cooperative effort, with the Holy Spirit at work within us, but he will not do his work apart from us.
We are everywhere in the Bible commanded to do things, to die to self, to say no to sin, to resist temptation, to put on the new man, to put off the flesh, to walk in obedience, to pick up our cross, to resist the devil, and so on (Ephesians 4:34; Colossians 3:10; James 4:7; Luke 9:23; 2 John 1:6; Titus 2:11 – 12; Philippians 2:12 – 13; 1 Peter 4:1ff). There are hundreds and hundreds of commands and imperatives directed at the believer in the New Testament.
The Christian life is not one of just sitting by and expecting God to do all the work. Sure, salvation is all of grace, based fully on the finished work of Christ at Calvary. Justification is solely of Christ. But the growth of the believer – sanctification – is clearly a team effort, where we are instructed to make every effort to be holy, to seek perfection, and strive for righteousness.
There are no shortcuts in the Christian life in other words. There are no magic pills we can pop to make us instantly holy and devout. All the great men and women of God have realised these truths. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
“Anything that offers a spiritual short cut – and I do not care whether it calls itself evangelical Christianity or not – is not the Christianity of the Bible. There are no short cuts here. New Testament Christianity is the outworking of the mighty doctrine of Christ and His apostles, which a man believes by the power of the Spirit, the Spirit working in him. It is watching, it is praying, it is ‘mortifying the deeds of the body’, it is ‘a keeping under of the body’, it is pummelling it, as Paul expresses it in 1 Corinthians 9:27, ‘hitting it until it is black and blue’. That is Christianity in New Testament terms; and it is in entire contrast to the cults which do it all ‘so simply’, and do it all ‘at once’.”
U.S. theologian Don Carson puts it this way:
“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
With this in mind, let’s resolve to make every effort to please our Lord by seeking after him diligently, obeying him unquestionably, and pursuing after him whole-heartedly.