September 23, 2020

Chapter Two of the Christian Life

To start with, I want to endorse Jeff Dunn’s recent rant on iMonk.  He said this:  “Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own.”

This is not just true, it is important, even crucial.

AND – not but, AND – I am going to expand our consideration of the Christian life.  It’s still true, as Jeff said, that in ourselves we are dead in our sins.  Any program we subscribe to is just prettying up a corpse.  Any program that’s offered as a substitute to being born again into the new life of Christ is a highway to hell.

I now want to take up the Christian life at Chapter Two.  Chapter Two is that part of the Christian life that comes as we are resurrected into union with Jesus.  It’s the life that we live once we’ve staggered out of the tomb and begun struggling with our winding sheets.  It can be a pretty long chapter.  Most of us are not like the thief on the cross, whose literal and spiritual death and rebirth happened in the course of an afternoon.  Most of us are going to live for years being remade into the image of Christ.  We are going to strive for “a long obedience in the same direction.”  (I love that phrase, although it was Nietzsche who first said it, not Eugene Peterson.) Infused with our new life, we are going to have to work, to train and exercise and perform acts of goodness.

Yes, I know.  I’ve been told many times by evangelical Christians that grace is all that is necessary to the Christian life.  In a way that’s true.  Our resurrection from sin is grace, pure and simple, radical, appalling grace.  But when I was younger, many of the Christians I knew stopped there.  They said nothing substantial about the life we were to lead as resurrected Christians, about how grace works after we have begun the journey.

As a consequence, I spent years with nothing to do.  I felt that I had been issued a ticket to Salvation and now I was supposed to sit on the platform and wait for the train.  Oh, I could read a bit, and there were some fellow passengers to chat with, but it was an odd, in-between life nonetheless.  I was marking time between the two important realities of the spiritual life:  becoming a Christian (receiving the ticket) and going to heaven (getting on the train.)  And there was no plan that I could see for the long years on the platform.

I wondered, could I walk ahead down the tracks for a bit?  No, church people told me, I might miss the train, and besides, I’d never get to Salvation by my own efforts so there was no point trying.  Could I go do some other things in the town I’d left until the train came?  No, stay with your fellow travelers and stop thinking that there’s anything you can DO.

Well, I’d ask, what’s Salvation like, anyhow?  Is there any way I can prepare myself?  Some exercises, maybe, or a course of study?  The answer always seemed to be “Sit there and read your Bible.”  But I’ve read it!  “Then read it again.  And wait for the train.  Oh, and whatever you do, don’t lose your ticket.”

I was bored.  Bored to the point of falling off the platform in a stupor and landing on the rails.  One more Bible study video course did nothing for me.  One more women’s prayer group, pleasant though it was, failed to bring light to my grey existence.  The sermon series, the parenting series, all the programs Jeff was talking about, became about as life-changing as the billboards on the train platform.  Is this all there is?  I had thought that the Christian life was hard, and challenging, and important, and occasionally (dare I say it?) fun.  But it was just a safe, dull, dimly-lit waiting area.  If this was the Kingdom of Heaven, then maybe Talking Heads was right:  heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.

I don’t want to blame any particular church or denomination for my doldrums.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that other people in the church I attended at that time were leading exciting, growth-filled lives while I was just sitting around.

But I am going to ask this question again:  Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be hard, and challenging, and important, and, occasionally, fun?  Were The Narnia Chronicles, the lives of the saints, The Divine Comedy, and Pilgrim’s Progress all lies?

Part of the reason for the exaggerated passivity of some Christians is an extreme attitude about the relationship between our own sinfulness and God’s grace. Because we can do nothing toward our own salvation, these extremists counsel, we should do nothing at all, even after being saved.  All healthy, outgoing activities, like fasting, pilgrimage, or acts of mercy, they would immediately quash, because in doing those things we might mistakenly think we can impress God or change his mind.  I’ve heard and read a lot of that and found it baffling and discouraging.  Welcome to Christianity.  Here’s your seat.  Don’t move.   Blah.

Well, I don’t want to be driven by wretched urgency.  I strive to avoid the sort of pride that assumes that God can’t get the world saved without my input.  But I still want to do something with my life.  I want to begin the eternal journey of obeying what Jesus commands, to begin being perfect.  Not in order to be perfect in the abstract, but to be like him, and to be with him.

I want to be prepared – for life with God, for heaven, for the Judgment whenever it comes.  I am delighted that I can trust in God’s mercy.  Now I want to do something in response.  A scene from Anne of the Island, the third of the Anne of Green Gables books, has stuck with me for years.  Anne is talking with Ruby, a dying schoolmate, who says, “I’m not afraid but that I’ll go to heaven, Anne.  I’m a church member.  But – it’ll be all so different. . . .Heaven must be very beautiful, of course, the Bible says so – but, Anne, it won’t be what I’ve been used to.”    And Anne makes a resolve.  “It must not be with her as with poor butterfly Ruby.  When she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different – something for which accustomed thought and ideal and aspiration had unfitted her. . . .The life of heaven must be begun here on earth.”

I’m reminded of when I was preparing to go overseas with Peace Corps.  Many of us volunteers did lots of preparation.  We bought practical gear, read books, worked out,  took a first aid class, talked to people who had lived where we were going, got our finances in order – we worked hard.  None of our work made our departure date come any sooner, of course, but it did have two benefits.  First, it gave us a purpose and a joy while we were waiting; second, it prepared us for the new life we were going to face.  In fact, in a small way we began living the new life even before it had entirely arrived.  Other volunteers did no work in advance but only threw some things in a bag the day before they left.  Most of them didn’t stick it out.  Most of the prepared ones did.

Or if you prefer a biblical illustration to a personal one, think of Cornelius.  He did not yet have in its complete form the faith that comes by hearing.  God in his grace sent Peter to tell him the Good News and to baptize him.  But Cornelius is described as “devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly”  (Acts 10:2).  He was beginning to live the life of God.  And God’s messenger told him, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”  His works didn’t save him and were no substitute for grace and the Good News, but they were pleasing to God, and in doing them Cornelius began down the path that Grace had laid for him.

It’s true, that sometimes we need to be reminded about “being,” not “doing.”  But that isn’t the only imperative of the Christian life.  It can’t always be evidence of weak faith or overweening pride to “do.”  Consider the parable of the talents recounted in Matthew 25:14-30.  Let’s face it:  the first two servants did something with what they were given.  They weren’t earning their position as servants, because they were already members of the Master’s household.  But he had left them alone for a long time – had left them in an in-between time, between joining the household and receiving their reward.  They didn’t just sit around and talk about their unworthiness to work and therefore, indirectly, the Master’s unworthiness to be worked for.  They worked with what they had been given, in order to achieve something for their Master.  The third servant, on the other hand, resented the supposed arbitrary nature of the Master and buried his money.  He did nothing.   And his reward was nothing.

I know God needs nothing from me.  I love Milton’s “On His Blindness,” and I’ll stand and wait if that’s the action God requires.  But while I’m waiting I want to prepare myself for the place I’m going.  I want something hard, and challenging, and important, and fun.

I want training.  The Greek word for training is askesis.  We get the English word asceticism from it.  Asceticism is the training of the Christian athlete for the Christian life, now and in eternity.  If we haven’t tossed out all Christian tradition, we can see that the last two thousand years have provided us with a wealth of wisdom about how – and how not – to practice askesis.  Asceticism doesn’t just mean hair shirts and flagellation. I think you’ll find, as I am beginning to, that the ascetic disciplines are hard, challenging, important, and, oddly, fun.

I’d like to come back to this idea of Christian training in subsequent posts.  I won’t be the first to be saying any of these things – which is good, because I have no intention of being original.  Richard Foster, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, Brother Lawrence, St. Isaac of Syria, John Bunyan, Mother Teresa – all of them could say it better than I, in life as well as in words.  But over the next few weeks I will add my voice to the chorus, in homage at least.  Some of the ascetic disciplines I’d like to touch on will be ones outlined by St. Benedict in his Rule: humility, obedience, silence, chastity, prayer, work, stability, poverty, and hospitality.

I can’t say much about how to practice these disciplines, since I am a neophyte myself.  I can, I hope, offer encouragement to other Christians to consider them – to you Christians who are tired of sitting on the platform, who have always secretly hoped that there would be dragons to kill, quests to fulfill, journeys to struggle through, and acts of love and mercy to perform; you who hope to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when the Master returns, not “You wicked and lazy servant!”

There is work for the Christian to do.  We can’t just sit on the platform waiting for our train to come in.  In fact, let me let you in on a secret.  There is no platform.  You’re already on your journey.   We all are.  The question is just where you’re going and how prepared you’ll be when you get there.  Pack well.  Count the cost.  As long as it is day, we must do God’s work; night is coming, when no one can work.


L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island.  New York:  Grosset & Dunlap, 1915. pp. 140 and 144.

The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, 1949 Edition.  Translated by Rev. Boniface Verheyen, OSB, of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas.  Electronic text (with added scripture references) prepared by Br. Boniface Butterworth, OSB.


  1. I love you guys.

  2. I think you began well with the Jeff Dunn but then, for me, the needle scratched the record. My personal experience is that life doesn’t let you stand on the platform, it pushes you off onto the tracks and the real question that arises is will the train run me over or is it going to let me board to take me home. It smells of a purpose driven life that is mostly self-centered and ends up on a different track than the train is actually on. And I think that is our natural inclination and why it is so dangerous to preach things that feed my already voracious appetite to feel good about myself. Grace does call us towards the life you are describing, it just is an indicative, not an imperative. Just my opinion:)

    • Well put, but doesn’t the indicative lead to the imperative? Isn’t that the basic outline of almost all the Pauline epistles?

      • Right (even though the imperative is always left lacking)…but the lack of imperative drives us back to the indicative…to Christ…the fulfiller of the imperatives. It is driven by grace…which is why when I read the post and it says that I know that God needs nothing from me, and then also talks about the imperatives of the Christian life (whatever that is) I am hearing two different things.

        • okay, you’ve lost me here

          • What is it that I am saying wrong? (a distinct possibility)…when I say imperative, I mean law, absolute requirement…and indicative is descriptive. So I am saint…indicative…who is freed by Christ who fulfilled the law (imperative). So while it is true that I am redeemed through Christ and move towards the law, it is only by faith in Christ, I never achieve the imperative (law) to verify the indicative (saint). The idea that the indicative leads to the imperative, to me, means that any and all obedience on my part comes only through my being freed from the law to become a saint through Christ. But the real world (not MTV) as well as Paul, tells me that I never fulfill the imperative (law) it is always dependent upon the indicative (sainthood by Christ) Please let me know your thoughts:)

  3. I agree with Mark.

    Because of your Baptism, you are ALREADY perfect, because of Christ. You have “put on Christ” (Galatains 3:27) You wear His perfect white robe.

    So, now that you ‘DON’T HAVE TO’ DO ANYTHING… ‘what will you do?’

    You are FREE in Christ! (Galatians 5:1)

    What do you want to do? Do those things that interest you. Do those things that might be of help to the neighbor. And do them with NO expectations for yourself. You don’t need anything else. You are already an inheritor of the Kingdom. But your neighbor could use your help in some area or another.


    • Yes, thankfully, we are FREE in Christ. But Paul emphasizes both what we are free FROM (the requirements of the law) and what we are free FOR (Christlikeness). Even in Galatians, his most one-sided epistle, we have commands to keep in step with the Spirit, share with those who teach us, not become weary in doing good, do good to all people, love our neighbor as ourselves, and live in the Spirit, and bear each others burdens (“in this way you fulfill the LAW of Christ”). Furthermore, he tells us that “each man should test his own actions” (6:4), which certainly implies a type of ongoing moral examination not content with simply being baptized.

      • I’m sure about you, but when I stand before the Living God, I do not want to look back at my seriousness, or my moral committment, or how well I loved my neighbor as myself. Good works will come, and we probably can’t put our finger on them anyway. But when we start to look to our performance as evidence of our faith, we are on dangerous ground. I’d rather look to what God has done for me in my Baptism. And that is He forgave my sins, gave me the Holy Spirit Spirit, life and salvation. That’s pretty hard for me to beat with anything that I can do. Especially since “all our righteous deeds are filthy rags”.

        Thanks, Daniel.

      • I meant to write, ‘I’m not sure about you…’

        Sorry about that!

      • Well, I think Steve is talking about the horror of being held to the Law…and I would hesitate seriously to describe the law of Christ in the same way as the Law as Paul describes in his letters. I think the words ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ are true, I don’t think the law of Christ that Paul talks about is saying that there is now a new law that condemns us, but rather a new law that frees us to love in the manner of Christ…but ALWAYS under the freedom of the Gospel which is the indicative that is the only means to the imperative. (see how I tried to put this in there) It is a freedom that informs us how to live like Christ while freeing us from the condemnation of the failure to do so. Why? Because Christ himself became our curse so that we would become his righteousness. Any moral examination you do will come up short, at least mine do. A really great in depth discussion of this kind of thing is on the Mockingbird blog under this post…you have to scroll down the list of comments and it gets pretty heavy but a very interesting read 🙂


      • Daniel wrote;

        “…Even in Galatians, his most one-sided epistle, we have commands to keep in step with the Spirit, share with those who teach us, not become weary in doing good, do good to all people, love our neighbor as ourselves, and live in the Spirit, and bear each others burdens…”

        Why would we see those as “commands” instead of indicatives of the life in step with the Spirit?


        • At that point, what’s the difference? The closer we get to the will of God, the less difference there is between indicative and imperative voices.

  4. Not that I think my comments couldn’t bear repeating…but I think that ia a little much!

    Could the moderator please get rid of the 1st two and leave the last one. Thanks. Trouble getting it to post so I hit the post button a few times (too many). Sorry about that, Chief!

  5. I agree with you Damaris. I often wonder what I am doing in church. More Bible studies, more programs. It all seems so weak. I am weak. I want to see Christ’s power. I want to see all things made right. Myself, being chronically undisciplined, mentally ill, and now physically ill i am unable to slay dragons. “do the first things first” Live that sacrificial life which is beautiful. A pleasing aroma to God. And with that aroma, HIS presence. The best thing. But certainly not in my own power. Not going to happen. Yet I long for it. Weakly. I want Him to be Lord of this life, he gave me. I can’t seem to do it. I know it is right. I know His lordship is good. But, I can’t do it. Very fustrating. If we do not abide in the vine then all we have is our own fakery to rely on. Seems to work for a lot of people. Not for me. Good article. True. Good things.

  6. I sometimes wonder many of the same things. I think boredom and frustration with life is part of the curse. It appears the only exciting thing we’re allowed to “do” is get others to wait with us at the station and be bored together while talking about how exciting it is at the station.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And try to sell others the same ticket/fire insurance so they can join the wait at the station.

      However, the image of “be bored together while talking about how exciting it is” dredges up a disturbing analogy. Remember the classic Communists? Always talking about how Democratic and free and Democratic and perfect and Democratic their regimes were? Like North Korea, with all the people Joyfully dancing with Great Enthusiasm before Comrade Dear Leader? Rejoice, Comrades, the chocolate ration has been increased from twenty grams to ten!

      THAT is the image I get from all the “be bored together while talking about how exciting it is.” Two-Plus-Two-Equals-Five Unreality with an Exciting (TM) coat of paint, and don’t you even dare think of rocking the boat.

      That is NOT what the Gospel was about.

  7. The problem becomes that we want to be done with Chapter One so quickly and spend our lives in Chapter Two, when in reality the source of our lives is Chapter One. Next thing you know, Chapter One becomes a foot note to the Christian life barely warranting a passing reference from time to time as WE get on with the really important stuff about what WE need to be doing.

    • My experience is exactly the opposite, Kyle. I see many Christians wanting to spend life in Chapter One, being saved again and again, without beginning to really live the life that Chapter One equips them for.

      • @Damaris: how well do christians in general understand there own salvation , and the basics of Chpater One ? How many christians habitually “abide in Christ” ?? I’m asking because wouldn’t a thorough understanding of Chapter One propel us into Chapter Two ? If we are abiding in, and following Jesus, aren’t we doing the things HE is doing ?
        I’m guessing that much of the church at large has an intellectual appreciation of Chapter One, but still doesn’t get it. My take.


        • You’re exactly right, Greg, and so is Jeff, in pointing out that as long as we branches are detached from the vine we are dead and useless. There’s no good in a corpse trying to work for God. But growing to and with the vine takes both grace and work — our cooperation — and there’s a lot we can learn about how to cooperate more fully and cling on more firmly.

          I realize there are many Godly Christians who disagree about our ability to cooperate. I respect their desire to emphasize God’s grace and power, but I can’t reconcile a view of humankind as totally without power and choice with what I read in the Bible.

          • And as far as how many Christians “abide in Christ,” I wouldn’t want to speculate. I’m sure all of us could do it better.

          • If we are so passive that we cannot cooperate with the Spirit, then verses like “keep in step with the Spirit”, “be filled with the Spirit”, “live by the Spirit”, “do not quench the Spirit” mean nothing.

          • ‘There’s no good in a corpse trying to work for God.’

            I don’t know about this. Logically speaking, anyone who is not a Christian is a corpse, correct? Are we to conclude then that Christians and non-Christians cannot work together in establishing peace on earth? If so, that’s a pretty divisive and elitist position that deserves the scorn of those outside the church who are tired of christians looking down on them for not believing like they do, to the point of not noticing what they do in fact do with and in their lives. I know so many people who are not Christian, yet their actions and behaviors are more Godly than many christians that I know, and I have to believe that God not only notices their actions and behaviors but is glad as well. Isn’t that kind of the whole point behind the Good Samaritan parable?

          • Touchee as to speculating, more correctly NOT speculating as to who is and isn’t abiding: my point is that a lot of what Ihear preached takes the abiding step very much for granted and goes on to application. We race past Eph 1 and 2 to get to “the good stuff” in ch. 4,5,and 6. I would hate to call out (99%of the time at least) some individual to say: you aren’t abiding. As much as is taught about position in Christ, I can’t escape the feeling that we’re missing something. The GOSPEL always bears fruit and is increasing. Maybe my own experience has colored my perception, but mostly, I”m not seeing it church wide.

            Love your post, BTW, and i have no problem seeing training go hand in hand with ‘all is grace”. In HIM we live and move and have our being……all is grace, but that means men and women fully alive.

          • Jason —

            Here’s where the definintion of work and what its goal is gets tricky. There are many unbelievers who do great work, some of it certainly pleasing to God. This work, however, does not earn salvation in the strict sense. Many Christians use the word work as something done to make ourselves acceptable to God. This dual meaning complicates discussions like these considerably.

            Hope that’s clear.

          • Damaris,

            I understand what you are saying, however:

            ‘This work, however, does not earn salvation in the strict sense.’

            Does such a thing even exist in all of creation?!? As a Christian who believes that there is no “work” that can be done to “earn” salvation, isn’t this kind of a moot point? As I understand it, there is “work” that is pleasing to God, which can be done by a believer or by a non-believer, and then there is Relationship.

            Now, in that Relationship, no amount of “work” that I could do or not do will make Jesus love me more or less. The goal is already accomplished and completed – Jesus accomplished this.

            I would never consider my actions toward my wife or in our relationship as “work”. Certainly there is effort involved, but it is not work. It is relationship, which is pretty contrary to a goal-oriented, “work” outlook on life. My efforts within the framework of our sacred union are better called overtures; my desirous pursuit of her. We make music together; I’m not a one man band. Our song is already here, we are simply moving though it and experiencing it – the goal is already here, in our love and commitment to one another and the joy that we experience with one another and those that our lives come into contact with. So too in my union with God. My efforts are not “work” per se, but rather, they are overtures, and the goal is already here and accomplished.

            Earlier you had stated to Kyle that, you ‘see many Christians wanting to spend life in Chapter One, being saved again and again, without beginning to really live the life that Chapter One equips them for.’ Do you think that it’s possible that the phenomenon of being saved again and again is merely the result of our capricious appreciation of the amazing and miraculous gift of life that God has given us? Rather than looking at my life and being grateful for what God has given me, I look at my life and determine that I need to start really living the life that God wants me to have, the other life out there somewhere, certainly not this one. But He has given me this one? What about this one? Why skim over it and look elsewhere? The sin of propinquity? Do you think it’s possible that the Evangelical exhortations to live a full, pleasing life toward God so inordinately cause us to focus on ourselves, that the being saved again and again thing is more the result of minimizing God and maximizing ourselves? After all, I do and will sin for the rest of my life. So if I am aware and experiencing that I am sinning but minimize God in that equation, which is to say, kind of reject the full and complete forgiveness that is mine in Christ, it makes sense that I would need to keep coming back to this point until I realize that I am COMPLETELY forgiven.

            It’s like this: I am involved in the same action pre and post salvation. Pre-salvation I had no conviction over this action. Post-salvation I have conviction; evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. What to do with this conviction? Option “A” seems pretty good, so I’ll go with option “A”. However, after employing option “A” the problem is still there. In fact, employing option “A” has created another problem that has also convicted me. Tricky, tricky, tricky. What do I do? Thanks be to God the way out of this mess is Jesus Christ! The point being, we know not the ripple effects of all of our “works”, which is why Jesus is necessary. He is the goal, and if I am in relationship with him, nothing else really matters because I have Him.

            This is not to say that efforts toward improving my Relationship with God are worthless, or even that efforts to improve my life are worthless. Certainly they are not. But, if my Relationship with God is hinged upon my behavior then God is not God. While my behavior was reprehensible He looked at me and declared, ‘I love you and you are worth dying for.’ In Him there is no darkness at all – He is pure light and love.

            Now, considering this, I look at my children. I love them so much it hurts. There is nothing that I would not do for them. There is also nothing that they could do to make me love them less, just as there is nothing that they could do to make me love them more. I fall more in love with them the more that I get to know them. How much more true is this sentiment when you consider that God is pure love and I am not?

            To put it very simply, all I am trying to say is that, when you are in a relationship, you can kind of tell when someone is trying too hard to get you to like them, and all you want to do is say, ‘Hey… relax. I already like you. Just be yourself. It’s o.k. Stop trying so hard and let’s just walk together. ‘

    • Agreed Patrick…can we at least say that Christ and his work on the cross are needed as much in chapter 2 as in chapter 1? And what about Chapter 3, I am feeling pretty old and starting to study for finals here…where is that damn train!!!!

  8. It makes me happy to read this, Damaris. Your analogies are great.

    I particularly like your, “I want to begin the eternal journey of obeying what Jesus commands, to begin being perfect. Not in order to be perfect in the abstract, but to be like him, and to be with him” and “There is no platform. You’re already on your journey. We all are. The question is just where you’re going and how prepared you’ll be when you get there. Pack well. Count the cost. As long as it is day, we must do God’s work; night is coming, when no one can work.”

    And that IS a great group…Richard Foster, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, Brother Lawrence, St. Isaac of Syria, John Bunyan, Mother Teresa. I hope we all can be inspired by them and by one another, including YOU! I know that what you write inspires and encourages me.

  9. I really appreciate this post as I have felt God speaking to me recently about the same things. I look forward to your upcoming posts, Damaris. I have been challenged by Brother Andrew’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” to be more mindful of God in all that I do. I disagree with those who think this makes me self centred in works, but rather it makes me aware that I am doing God’s work on earth, even in mundane tasks. I have been at the station for a very long time and it is very tedious…I love that analogy.

    • I’m glad this post speaks to you, Ruth. May I mention that it’s Brother Lawrence — Brother Andrew’s the Bible smuggler! Both good guys . . .

  10. I think a few of the earlier commenters missed Damaris’s point.

    Damaris is nowhere claiming that he wants to train because it will win him anything. His desire for training is not transactional (I pay X = God give me a ticket). It is in *response* to the grace that has been given. It is a thanksgiving. An offering.

    To use a metaphor he started with but did not develop…once Christ has called us out of the tomb, we are made alive. But will we continue to wear dead mens’ clothes? Let us strip off the grave windings and dress ourselves like living men with the new robes Christ has given us. Not because these robes are our ticket into the palace, but because we want to look our best for the King who made us alive and gave us the robes. It is an offering of thanksgiving. An oblation.

    In doing so, we take on the office of priest for which God created us. Not only do we dress ourselves, but we are called to dress up the world in new robes. He gave us the world to offer it back to him. By bringing us to life and empowering us with his Spirit, our offerings are more likely to be in tune with rightness. Enter the ongoing role of grace, that makes up for all the deficiencies of our offerings.

    Or, if you prefer a different take…we become co-agents in Christ’s redemption of the world. Little redeemers working in concert with the Great Redeemer. Again, an offering, not consideration in a transaction.

    I think that’s what Damaris is aiming at.

    • Yes, dubbahdee, you phrase it very well. Thanks. And by the way, Damaris is a woman’s name (Acts17:34). You’re not the first one on iMonk to make me a man — but God didn’t!

      • Yes, I tried that as well…..but she stubbornly stayed a woman… 🙂

      • I made that mistake too initially!

      • David Cornwell says

        Good name; excellent writer. I like to read Damaris’ stuff.

      • Yes. Sorry. I got halfway through my comment and thought, “Hey. Wait a minute. Which pronoun should I be using?” I looked for clues on the website. None to be had. Just an anthology of your posts. I took a shot. 50/50 I figured. Guess I could have googled it but with my luck it’s one of those names like Carol or Robin or Leslie.

        So…sorry again. Nice work regardless. 😉

        The picture of graveclothes I got from extrapolating from the writings of Robert Farrar Capon. Same with the priest metaphor, taken from his book An Offering of Uncles.

    • Well, for me the phrase Little Redeemers arouses my fears of how this thinking can make us all think…as if we are going to slap high five with Jesus and say ‘Yeah! We did it!” Redemption was accomplished on the cross and I for one had no part in it. I love the idea of offerings given in gratitude and as a result of Grace, but never as a way to make me have fun or not be bored…that feels as though it places the emphasis on me and I would rather come to Jesus every day as beggar. I believe that God right now says to me, well done faithful servant only because he said it to Jesus…I receive it by grace.

      • By no means have any fun, Mark. Also do everything you can to avoid the last paragraph of Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy.”

        Sarcasm aside, you’ve got your invitation to the party; what if Christ is asking you to dance and you insist in propping up the wall?

        • Is this the last paragraph in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy that you are referring to, Damaris?

          “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

          You can read that at and the entire book is at that CCEL website. Another book that is on my “to read” list! It seems like his thought above ended too abruptly, though. I would have liked to have read beyond that. But probably that’s only because I skipped to the last paragraph. The preceding paragraphs likely flesh out his thoughts more.

          I have always felt, too, that Jesus must have radiated joy. He was so often talking about the joy that his disciples would have. And he so often talked about God rewarding you in secret if you are praying in secret. The reward is joy in its many different forms. That is not to say that we will ALWAYS feel joy while praying, but the fact that Jesus was often talking about joy kept me going and keeps me going when things seem bleak. I believed him and believe him still that God is love and God brings us true joy. We are so often looking in the wrong places for joy. And it doesn’t mean that we are always going to go around smiling and laughing, either. People like that can make me nervous, maybe because they are not always genuine. But there WILL BE, some time or other, that sense within you of an abiding joy. It may last for just a fleeting moment, but that tiny touch is enough to keep you going through the difficulities of life.

        • LOL sarcasm is always welcome:) I think that for me, when you talk about being bored and wanting the christian life to be fun…it becomes…’what is in it for me’…and I don’t personally see that as the joy Chesterton is talking about. When you are working for your own benefit, you are the one that I see propping up the wall (or perceiving that you are propping up the wall) while I am seeking rest for the weary….which is, by the way, possible to be seen as fun. Fun and dancing to me is knowing that the wall is propped up whether I lend a hand or not…and I have no need of stealing credit to make myself feel good…although I admit…I certainly WANT to do that often enough. It just never works and leaves me trying to fill a need that Christ has already filled for me.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          By no means have any fun, Mark. Also do everything you can to avoid the last paragraph of Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy.”

          “The hard, grim, grey, joyless path of Salvation.”
          — James Michener, Hawaii, describing the background of the haole missionaries

      • @Mark,

        Yes, after I posted, I thought someone might take it that way.

        The Bible is clear that Jesus did all that needed to be done and it is a fait accompli. He does not *need* me to accomplish his ends.

        So yes, we are beggars.

        But perhaps the better metaphor is “a corpse.” A corpse cannot do anything except be dead. But when Christ calls, we can do nothing else but come forth into resurrected life.

        Having come forth, what then? He already stood you on your feet, told the folks to take off the wrappers and get you some clothes. He invited you to the party. As Damaris (that lovely lady) has already said, once Christ has given you the invite, you can stop begging to be allowed in. Step through the door and for Christ’s sake (I mean it literally) have a drink.

        Always remember that you owe him everything. And then laughing the whole time for the sheer joy of it, give it all back. If we don’t know how to do that (and I can’t say I have learned it very well)…that’s what sanctification is about.

        • Yes, well said and I think it is important in how you talk about these things because if we feel spiritually bored or unfulfilled or lacking in life, the answer isn’t to work and try to elevate our sense of worth (no matter how you phrase that) but rather you need to go back to the well of Christ’s sufficiency and completion of the cross that provides the freedom to pursue life without hoarding your gifts away like the servant who protected himself instead of realizing he was free to make mistakes. Personally, it is constantly my knowledge that I don’t love, don’t do, don’t even want to do the things I should that drives me back to my need for Christ, builds my love and need for Him…and that is why being a beggar is a great status to have in this life, before and after Christ enters my life.

    • dubbahdee, I think you are exactly right. If we really understand the depth of God’s grace, of course we will desire to please the One who lavished it on us, as well as try to be vessels by which He pours that grace on others. This is as far away from legalism or triumphalism as it is possible to get!

  11. Prodigal Daughter says

    I grew up in a denomination/evangelicalism that you describe, Damaris. I am “tracking” with you–pardon the pun. I have read Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” and am reading Peterson’s “Practice Resurrection”, both of which speak to the same idea you put forth in this post–living in and ushering in the kingdom in the here and now. So. refreshing. Thank you!

  12. Jesus once touched a blind man’s eyes and asked him what he saw. “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” So Jesus touched him a second time “and he saw everything clearly.” (Mk 8:23-26)

    The problem I have with this post and Jeff’s rant (parts 1 and 2) is that you both need a second touch on this issue. Among other things, you’re using your creative imagination to fill in gaps in your experience, and for that reason your message just doesn’t resonate.

    • You’re probably right, Dave, but I’m not sure I know what you mean. Could you expand on “you’re using your creative imagination to fill in gaps in your experience”?

    • I have no idea what that means. A little help, here?

  13. This reader is looking forward to your subsequent posts, Damarius. Thanks for this one. Good way to start the day.

  14. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I’ve got a few thoughts:

    Earlier today I read an article in The North American Anglican by Rev. Dr. Joseph P. Murphy about how both the Fathers and the Reformers took a both/and view of justification and sanctification as well as a both/and view of Word and Sacrament. He goes on to discuss the historical problems with the dichotomization of each of those pairs. To whit: you end up with either a legalistic Christianity or a lazy Christianity. I think some of what you’re saying jives with what Murphy was saying. It’s a lot to think about.

    A book that really got me considering askesis in my walk was Brian Taylor’s Spirituality for Everyday Living, in which Fr. Taylor discusses applications of the Rule of St. Benedict for regular folk, especially the idea of developing the disciplines of Simplicity, Obedience and Conversatio via Work, Study, and Prayer. I’m not very far down that journey, but I’ve taken some steps and am enjoying it.

    As far as the Prayer end of askesis is concerned, I’ve found the Book of Common Prayer to be of inestimable value. In some of my Graduate Studies, I discovered that when Thomas Cranmer and the other early English Reformers set out to develop the BCP, one goal was to adapt the traditional monastic daily prayer disciplines into a format that could be used by regular folk (specifically, taking eight daily services and condensing them to two: Morning and Evening Prayer). While only the clergy were “required” to daily use those services, they were to encourage the flock to join them in those prayers by having the church open at those times and ringing the bell to let the people know they were invited.

    • Isaac, good words. Lazy Christianity and Legalistic Christianity: great way to describe the two dangers we must avoid.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The more I read these blogs in general, the more I am reminded of that unpronounceable (to an Anglo) Hopi word meaning “Life out of Balance.” Lazy Christianity vs Legalistic Christianity are another example of out of balance in opposite directions. And because they’re out-of-balance in opposite directions, they go at each other like the Wasters and Hoarders in Dante’s Inferno.

        “A fanatic is someone who has one piece of a pie and thinks he has the whole pie.”
        — Pope John Paul II

  15. There’s no more humbling experience than trying to be a real influence for the better in the lives of other people or a whole community. Between one’s own limitations and the inevitable failures of the people he’s witnessing to, “Good Works” are hard work.

    Most Christians never do any. They are friendly and supportive to their church fellows and their near neighbors. But “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.”

    Damaris is talking about the levels of personal discipline and outward action that begin where the fun stops. Nobody is going to do the things she’s talking about because it makes them feel good. They’ll do it because God has had His way with them sufficiently that they are useful to Him, and because “any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.”

    • Great words, Andy Z…..rec’d, and well said.

      • Credit for the ‘great words’ cited above goes to Jesus and to Charles Dickens.

        But I’m glad you appreciated them as much as I do, Greg!

  16. Damaris, well written essay.

    For me, the idea that grace implies a lack of work after salvation is nothing short of ludicrous, and betrays a complete misunderstanding of what grace is. It is not simply a “get-out-of-hell-free” card. It is the giving of a new kind of life, where, for the first time, I can cooperate with God’s Spirit in making me more like Christ, and doing the things Christ did. This does not mean I am saved by grace and then must work. It means I am saved by grace, and that grace then gives me the ability to work.

  17. “Well, I don’t want to be driven by wretched urgency. I strive to avoid the sort of pride that assumes that God can’t get the world saved without my input. But I still want to do something with my life. I want to begin the eternal journey of obeying what Jesus commands, to begin being perfect. Not in order to be perfect in the abstract, but to be like him, and to be with him.”

    I love this. I love the whole post. And I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say next.

  18. “I want to be prepared – for life with God, for heaven, for the Judgment whenever it comes. I am delighted that I can trust in God’s mercy. Now I want to do something in response. ”

    Very well-spoken. As I disciple and teach, I often use the phrase, “We don’t strive toward good works thinking that we can somehow impress God; instead, we do them because we are infinitely impressed with God.”

    Problems arise when we become a religion of “thou shalt not” ‘s . Many people lay down their sins, but then forgot that we are to be active in our faith. When you lay something down, pick something else up….That’s the meaning behind “taking up the cross, and following” Jesus. I encourage folks not to be characterized by what they “don’t do”, but instead, by what they live out in faith.

    Great post…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Problems arise when we become a religion of “thou shalt not” ‘s.

      Some months ago (between Left Behind volumes), Slacktivist did an essay on Christian actor Kirk Cameron — specifically on some of KC’s more neurotic quirks and demands on the set. Like only acting in specifically-Christian (TM) productions. Or hiding in his trailer to avoid contamination once he found out that some of the crew on the Left Behind set were “heathens”. Or his ironclad requirement that every kissing scene has to be done with his RL wife as stand-in “to avoid lust and adultery”.

      Slacktivist figured that KC had been discipled/catechized in a church environment that defined “holiness” primarily in NEGATIVE terms, i.e. holiness/godliness was determined largely or entirely in terms of “Thou Shalt Not.” And his “godly”-approaching-neurotic behavior was the end stage result of that negative catechization in terms of “Thou Shalt Not.” What my church calls “Excessive Scrupulosity”, becoming so obsessed about any and all “occasions of sin” real or imagined and fixated on avoiding even the “appearance of evil” that you become obsessive/compulsive/neurotic.

  19. ‘As a consequence, I spent years with nothing to do.’

    Wow, what a tragically said line. Seriously, my heart ached when I read that, for two reasons primarily:

    1) I can definitely identify with that sentiment and others like it that have been expressed. Another Bible study, maybe a different small / life group, maybe I need to volunteer here, or there….. blah blah blah. It’s enough to make one sick, and it would be comical if it weren’t so damnably crushing and vapid.

    2) The tragedy of that line flies so counter to the humility and gratefulness that should accompany a relationship with Christ. He has given us everything, and yet we are unsatisfied and impetuously stomp our feet out of ‘boredom’!?

    So much of what passes for Christian discipleship in North American Evangelicalism is not so very different from American Idol and reality T.V. in general, (think the Bachelor and/or Bachelorette). Consider, there is the same focus on getting noticed for one’s talents, and/or one’s externalities in general, and capitalizing on them. There is the same drive to be ‘the one’, to be profitable and to get ‘chosen’ and to make sure that the judges like you and deem your performance worthy of going on to the next round. It’s all too much and it makes me sick. God has given us life, the most precious of all gifts, and sadly, for many who profess faith in Christ this gift of His to us is not enough. No. We want something more. Something challenging, something fun, something extra-ordinary. As if life is inherently without these things.

    How about just being content with the gift(s) that you have already been given? Just as an individual who has been gifted with an amazing voice and does not find it to be enough in and of itself, to the point that they will quite literally whore themselves out in order to profit and capitalize, so too with disciples within Evangelicalism. Are you drawing breath? You have been gifted with life. Give a prayer of genuine thankfulness and do not deem it as lacking.

    Think of all of the good things in your life.

    The other day my wife went upstairs to check on our boys, (we had heard an unsettling noise), and while she went upstairs I realized that life turns, sometimes tragically. So I braced myself for a scream that would have pulled me up out of my chair and sent me racing up the stairs. I prepared myself for the worst. I prepared myself for the sight of one of our boys being injured in some way and us having to rush them to the hospital. But guess what, everything was fine. Nothing was wrong. The boys were just being boys and had knocked over something while playing. When she came back downstairs I shared this with her, and we expounded upon the reality that, at every moment of our existence(s) it could turn tragic, but guess what, it doesn’t. More often than not, day in and day out, we wake up and everything is in order and everyone is healthy. Our home has not burned down and our cars have not been stolen, our children are breathing and happy and hey, guess what, we are really and passionately in love with one another! Is this not enough!? What more could we ask for!? Well, if I listened to the mouth at the pulpit then I guess we should be asking for a challenge of some sort. Seriously, this one gets me. Is it not challenging enough to maintain a strong, loving and healthy relationship with one another so that our boys can grow up seeing, knowing and experiencing agape love!? Is it not challenging enough to raise two boys in such a manner that they are well adjusted, courteous and compassionate!?

    I truly believe that the greatest threat to the Christian life comes from christians who so downplay and minimize the sanctity of living a quiet, genuine and authentic life; think of Luther’s ‘Masks of God.’ He really hit the nail on the head there.

    It’s not enough to just be a person who naturally, (because of the grace and gift of God), is talented in one area or another. No. I have to profit from that and capitalize on that. As if we are not already exceedingly and abundantly profitable. I guess if it isn’t making dollars it isn’t making sense / cents.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The tragedy of that line flies so counter to the humility and gratefulness that should accompany a relationship with Christ. He has given us everything, and yet we are unsatisfied and impetuously stomp our feet out of ‘boredom’!?

      Because we are bored. Bored with the little subset of life that kind of theology makes of the Christian Life. Instead of “life and have it more abundantly”, we settle for a little “Spiritual/Godly(TM)” subset of life. A Punyverse instead of the real Universe. And because that Punyverse is so small and limited, we run out of “Godly (TM)” things to do real fast. Result: Boredom.

      As for “living a quiet, genuine, and authentic life”, have you ever heard of St Therese of Lisieux? Her “little way” was of finding God and Christ and Holiness in everyday routine, in everyday living.

  20. Matthew Peak says

    I’ve long struggled over the issue of “ok, now what?” What I have been able to glean, so far, is that so much of what is spiritual and degraded by sin is inward and spiritual death can only be rescued by grace through Christ. On the outside, a person can be quite busy with or without Christ. So I have come to see my post-salvation work as outward actions to reflect inward realities. In other words, that which is the creature, the body, reveals that which is the work of God through Christ, the spirit. I labor to reveal what God has done in me.

    Of course, as Paul declares from his own experience, along side the good, sin is waiting. And labor becomes an act of resistance against sin. That, in my opinion, is where matters get hard and I cry out, “O wretched man that I am!”

  21. I need to get back into training…when I was, my Christian life WAS challenging, and hard and fun. I was joyful. Now I am just bored.

    Loved this post, loved the analogy, love all the saints and authors you mention, and I and can’t wait to read the follow ups.

  22. Damaris, your analogy reminds me of Hebrews 6:1-3, whch calls us to “leave the elementary teaching… not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, washing, laying on of hands, resurrection and eternal judgement…”
    Those are VERY VALUABLE tickets to leave behind; they are not evil – – they are GOOD things to leave behind, to “press on to maturity”.
    The writer of Hebrews then defines maturity (your “chapter 2”) in Hebrews 6:9-10: “the things that accompany salvation… your work and the love which you have shown towards His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”

    Hebrews 3 certainly indicates that for the Isrealites, they were saved FROM Egypt, but they were called to be saved TO the Promised land of God’s rest.

  23. The tone of this post also struck me as a bit cranky and frankly unattractive.

    I came from a Southern Baptist church background and a church that was big on an uncompromising gospel message, where we constantly were exhorted to take up our cross. We were anything but passive. Sounds good, huh, but the experience as a whole, was less than the sum of its parts. The problem was legalism and a narrow vision of what constituted the spiritual life and what it meant to take up your cross. For example, Family life was generally considered to be not spiritual and having a family was generally seen as a barrier to people fully living out the gospel. To “fully experience” God meant coming to every church event (prayer meeting, intermural volleyball leagues, etc, etc) and as many Bible Studies as possible. Because we were so busy for God, we had the sense that somehow we were really living out the gospel message, when other Christians were “compromising.” As a result, I spent almost fifteen years being judgmental of other Christians who “missed the mark.” There was a total lack of humility as we judged others harshly and without consideration for their life station. In retrospect, it was a legalistic and unforgiving life and eventually I burned out.

    Now I am trying to sort out what it means to follow Jesus. I have grown to appreciate that God loves me, not for the things that I do, but for simply being His child. Now, the dragons that I slay are not literal dragons, but it’s the small opportunities to exercise my faith, like when I have the opportunity to pray for/with a co-worker, or when I have the opportunity to love those who are not as fortunate as me. It is an adventure, and it is undertaken with baby steps, that might have frustrated me when I was younger and “on fire for God”. But it’s a journey that is undertaken with a loving, compassionate savior, and that makes it much more enjoyable.

    • amazing!!! well said!!!!

    • If you take this post by itself, yes, I can see where you’re coming from. But if you look at the overall context here at iMonk, and especially recent posts by Chaplain Mike regarding vocation, you get a larger picture that rejects the attitude that the “works” to which we are called are to be on the premises every time the church doors are open. Sometimes “works” just means doing a good job of raising our children, or putting in an honest day’s work for a (hopefully) honest day’s wages.

      Of course, it can mean far more than that, but that can be a good place to start.

  24. I’m really glad you posted this. The idea of asceticism has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been reading St. Francis by G.K. Chesterton, and the Orthodox church I’ve been attending has been reading The Way of a Pilgrim together. I had never heard of the Jesus Prayer before, but when it was referred to as an ascetic practice, a red flag went up in my mind.

    I vaguely remember one of my Bible teachers telling me that the book of Colossians was written in part to deal with the heresy of asceticism. I’m sure there is a bad type of ascetic practices, but I’m beginning to see that there are not all bad; in fact, many are biblical.

    I don’t know if anyone here has heard of the Jesus Prayer (maybe Fr. Ernesto could help me out). From my understanding, it’s the practice of praying “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me, a sinner” repeatedly throughout the day. This is practiced to the end that it will lead to unceasing prayer of the heart. I’ve tried doing this for a couple of days, but while I’m doing it, I can’t get Matthew 6:7 (“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”) out of my head.

    Is there anyone who has experience with this particular ascetic practice who can help me understand it better? How does praying the Jesus Prayer repetitiously harmonize with what Jesus says about prayer in Matthew 6? What do you guys think?

    • I’m actually going to mentioning a bit more about this in my next post!

    • Grant, I think the difference is that Jesus was referring to “meaningless repetition” of the Gentiles’ prayers. The prayer you are referring to is not “meaningless.” It has MUCH meaning. It is the disciple’s acknowledgment of his or her need of God. You could shorten it to “Help me, Jesus.” You could just pray “Amen” if by “Amen” you mean, “God, I accept that without your grace, love, strength, comfort I can do nothing that matters. I accept all that you have given me and I ask you to work your will in my life.”

      I think Jesus was referring to the prayer of the Gentiles as being a lot of words said with the intention of impressing others, including God. God is not impressed by a bunch of words. God needs us to be open to Himself so that he can give us what we really need. A short prayer like the Jesus prayer reminds us to be open to God. God is always there; he doesn’t go away. But WE go away from God through our fears, our resentments, our worries, God wants us to trust that he is always right here, wanting to give us great joy and love.

      • Also, it should probably be pointed out that not all prayers of Gentiles are “meaningless.” Remember that Cornelius in Acts 10 was a Gentile and his prayers were heard by God and God told Peter to go to Cornelius. So Cornelius was praying because he knew he needed God and he was acting in love towards other people as Acts also says that Cornelius helped the poor. We do well to not put God “in a box” saying that God can only work this way or that way with Christians. I remind myself often of the passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells the story of some people who ended up in heaven who seemed surprised to be there. Jesus then told them what they had done in service to Him and His people. It helps to keep me humble, I hope.

    • I agree with Joanie, though I think even good things can become mindless and vain.

      Perhaps the question to ask is this: does this short, set prayer become more meaningful to me in my relationship with Jesus as the weeks go by, or does it become less meaningful? I could see it going either way, depending on how a person is wired and how their relationship with God has developed. If you sense that you really are seeking God’s power and grace as you pray this, by all means continue. Joanie’s last paragraph is spot-on.

    • Grant,

      I share your concerns. That has been a problem that I have with the rosary. I tend to frequently pray, “Lord, be with them”, when I see someone on the street, or “Lord, help me.” or “Lord, forgive me” I also say “Thank you” a lot.

      Perhaps, those phrases might be better for you. At leas try, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t until you try.

  25. I’ll have to admit a twitch came into my eye when I read the words acts of mercy. All I could think of was the Spiritual Acts of Mercy one of which is to admonish the sinner. I used to frequent a Catholic board (in my Catholic and Episcopalian days) and that act, to admonish the sinner was used to admonish not just Catholic sinners, but pretty much any person with as little charity as humanly possible. It didn’t push me out of Christianity, but it probably played a small role.

  26. One word, that has been mentioned here before comes to mind:


    The Lutheran doctrine of justification, and the doctrine of vocation, brings these two seemingly conflicting positions into harmony.

    Maybe you should all just stop kicking against the goads, and become Lutheran 🙂

  27. great post! we need to remember salvation is a verb.

  28. I may not be understanding the post accurately, but it seems that my experience has been nearly the opposite. The setting where I grew up seemed to measure spirituality by activity – whether service or rule-following – which easily became legalistic. Although lip service was given to grace being the only necessity, it didn’t seem to really be believed. Instead there were immediate hoops to jump through and constant challenges to prove your commitment. Train yourself in this discipline or that method to please God. As a natural pleaser, I fell for it & gradually developed a works theology without realizing it. A church-shaped spirituality, you could call it. Now, after decades of working hard to be a good Christian, I am finally finding some freedom to just be – if I can figure out what that means.

    • Maybe it would help if I made a distinction between what is being discussed here and the kind of legalism you speak of. At bottom, all legalism can be summed in four words: Be good, or else. If I can vastly oversimplify things, (and open myself up to a lot of comments that will take issue with what I’ve said and make excellent points) grace takes off the “or else.” And that is what is being discussed here. Christ tells us to become like him. We ask how much like him, or how quickly, or what if we don’t, but he stops us. He loves us, he forgives us, and he didn’t wait on us to do something before he started doing either one of those things. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”

    • “Train yourself in this discipline or that method to please God.”

      Two things come to mind. First, we’re not doing it to please God – our works come out of our relationship with Him.

      And second, what type of works are we talking about here? Are they based in what Michael Spencer called church-shaped spirituality, or Jesus-shaped spirituality? A lot of the problems we have are with church-based works.

      • I’m glad you frame the distinction in those terms, James: church-based or Jesus-based. Of course I come down on Jesus-based works, but I don’t think that the two are always and everywhere in contradiction with each other. Jesus fasted; churches have set aside periods for fasting in order to encourage Jesus-based works. Then people design and get into competitive extreme fasting and condemn slackers to hell, and there we go. Do we then scrap fasting because churches have messed it up? If so, we have to condemn pretty much all Jesus-based works, because they’re all messed up.

      • James, your first point was pretty much what I was meaning, but didn’t say very well – that I realize that the works are not what please Him, but that somewhere along the path, I picked up a load of guilt from those who seemed to imply just that. Michael says that “grace takes off the ‘or else’ ” – & some church leaders put the “or else” right back on & demonize those who don’t pass their extensive checklist of rules & regs.

        I do agree with what Damaris referred to about training & preparation – most definitely – but have seen the danger when that desire for training & discipline (in myself or in others) becomes the criteria for judging someone’s salvation & their worth.

        And I agree with your second point, James – which is why I referenced “church-based spirituality” in my original comment – describing the things I was talking about.

  29. Matthew Peak says

    One of the more passionate parts of my faith is for the practical, which seems missing in some ways from the church.

    I see two types of Christianity in the world. One is the commercial / television evangelical religion and the other is sombre, serious, old world religion and yet, each one seems somehow disconnected from the world around them.

    I do not believe that my salvation in Christ is meant to render my life impractical. Though I am thankfully free from the damnation that sin has wrought (God is holy), that freedom does not cancel out the practical truth of who God has crafted me to be in this world that He crafted.

    The struggle is avoid being conformed to a mold and then busying myself within the expectations of that mold and instead live a life that practically reflects the truth of Christ Jesus.

  30. “Life is hard, then you die…”

    Jesus said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

    And yes, life & life to the full does mean that living out our day-to-day should consist of His peace. We should be content with what we have & our station in life. We should enjoy the company of family+friends+fellow saints. We should practice hospitality & share good food+libations with others. We should enjoy the things God has provided. We should feel good helping others less fortunate than ourselves. The divine quality of life should be experienced with joy & thanksgiving &, well, ‘fun’. Yes. Hallelujah! Using our gifts+talents for the kingdom.

    There is enough default negative stuff of life that we will encounter. Jesus made that clear. What He did promise is that in the restoration process of new life we can also experience divine goodness that is otherworldly. And if my faith journey did not have His divine fingerprints all over it, I would simply be crushed by the world & its fallen condition…

  31. Christ saves unilaterally and sustains us unilaterally through the hearing of His gospel message of forgiveness, and in receiving His sacraments. He promises fruit by the means He provides. I’ll trust Him to keep His promise since He is the one who defines “good” actions.

    This is not a Lutheran cop out as people have labeled over many previous posts. It is from someone who comes to Christ tired and weak from the daily offices (father, husband, elder) and positions I have been placed in to love my neighbor. I’ll pass on the “enthusiast” desire to “reach God” or live the progressive sanctified life. Christ has shown me in His word and experience that He alone is the life that sustains. I come to the cross as a sinner who is growing in his trust of the savior’s completed work. (Lutheran sanctification) I am renewed by the fact, Christ says my feeble efforts are Holy in His eyes.

    I’ll pass on the 6 steps to make a Christian marriage, loose weight, be a daring Daniel, or X,Y,Z.

    • Rob says:

      > I’ll pass on the “enthusiast” desire to “reach God” or live the progressive sanctified life. I’ll pass on the 6 steps to make a Christian marriage, loose weight, be a daring Daniel, or X,Y,Z.<

      None of those things has been mentioned in this thread. You seem to be arguing against a position that no one has espoused.

  32. The fruit of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self control is what we ARE, not what we DO. (We are faithful and self controlled, we are not ‘doing’ faithfulness,and self control.)

    Surely these effect our actions, but without God’s Spirit renewing our minds and working these into our hearts, our ‘working’ is unprofitable religious busyness. How does He transform us? Through the Word and Sacraments. Hearing of Christ’s work on our behalf and His words to us over and over and over again. This is where forgiveness, life, and salvation are found. He works in us the fruits of the Spirit so that we may carry out the many vocations He has given each one of us in ways that please Him.

    To command someone to love or to be patient is the severest kind of law, and apart from God granting us His Spirit and the fruits thereof, it is an exercise in futility. If you aren’t ‘working’ (or attending to your vocations as Lutherans would term it) the problem IS NOT because of the lack of moral exhortation in the church, but probably because you have not grasped key facets of the Gospel.

    Also I find in American evangelicalism a kind of Protestant Clericalism that shuns common God given vocations like motherhood, being a boss or employee, student etc. in favor of ‘God’s work’ which usually means church work or what is termed ‘ministry’ in many circles.

  33. Darius,
    I think you’re seriously misreading Milton’s sonnet. I think you’ll find it’s more inline with what you’re struggling to say in this essay. He actually had a pretty “active’ life and lost his sight while participating in a revolution which he believed would bring the Kingdom of God to earth. The sonnet was his attempt to reconcile his blindness with serving God. Also, after he lost his sight he “managed” to write Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.


  34. As someone who leans towards the error of “I won’t do anything because I can’t do anything to save myself,” thank you. I began to see what you’re talking about here when I started reading Dallas Willard, and some of the other saints you mention.

    I’m finding that a decent practice to prevent myself from taking credit for my accomplishments is to look at the many shoulders I stand on when I do something well. Because it’s categorically never the case that any human does anything praiseworthy that isn’t built on top of thousands of years, millions of miles, and mountains of the efforts and accomplishments of people in the past. And that’s before we even mention the all-creating, all-sustaining grace of God. Your description of it does exactly what it should- makes working for him sound like good news.


  35. Thanks, Damaris. Your post makes me think of Paul’s words when he wrote that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul seems to have reached a point where he saw it all as part of the same journey in Christ and the arrival of the train as merely the point in the journey where you get to shed the dead weight of sin-infested flesh and the life-long struggle against fleshly desires.
    So I agree. Why wait around at the platform? Jesus showed us the way and the direction we need to set off in. He laid the tracks, and He has prepared a place for us on the train. Or you could say (as He said Himself) that He is the way and the course we need to travel. While we’re still in this pedestrian state, then He is the road or path we must walk. He is also our walking companion, walking with us and within us as we take each step. And when our allotted stretch of mortal road runs out, then He will become for us some other mode of transportation — and He will be the destination awaiting us at the journey’s never-ending end.
    I think the mistake of many is that they view Jesus as merely a first-class ticket for coach seats on a train to some kind of Club-Med in the sky — and one’s preferred brand of organized religion as the platform where we wait for our train. But the Gospel reality is that He is the whole travel package: the platform, the tracks, the train, and it’s destination. He is the King of the Kingdom and also the embodiment of the Kingdom itself. There is no way to move in the direction of heaven without moving closer to Him. And if we need a training program for heaven, then moving closer to Him is that training program, and no other set of programs or activities can serve as a substitute for that. He has invited us to walk with Him on His road in order that we might draw closer to Him — so that, at the end of that road, we can draw even closer to Him forever. Jesus is all in all: our ticket, the means of our transportation, our traveling companion, and our ultimate destination.
    However, waiting around to die is just waiting around to die, no matter how much religious make-up you put on it.

  36. What a wonderful way of picturing what so many of us feel – on the platform waiting. I have had several conversations with Christian friends about wanting a ‘mission’, wanting God to give us something to do, a proverbial ‘dragon to slay’. A mature Christian is wary of the temptation to decide ‘I will solve this problem that would not be solved without me’ and it often keeps us from just starting down that track to see what God is already doing that we can be blessed to be a part of.

  37. Your illustration of the Christian life as life waiting for a train to arrive reminds me of Tolkien’s story ‘Leaf by Niggle.’ The main character, Niggle, was in a similar situation to that which you describe – he knew he had an immanent journey by train to make, and couldn’t avoid it. But he didn’t spend all his time by the train station; he spent it making a painting in his home.
    Eventually he has to make his journey; and after a long period of drudgery and labor, he suddenly discovers that all his rewardless and supposedly fruitless painting was not in vain after all.
    But you should probably read it. It’s very good.

  38. Where do you put the parable of the last judgement and the sheep vs. the goats fit in if not here? If I don’t feed the hungry, visit the sick, give water to the thirsty and take care of the widow and orphan – what *is* my eternal destiny, whether I “believe and am baptized” or not?

    How does one “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” if it isn’t by striving (asceticism) to develop the virtues and extinguish the passions (vices)?

  39. I loved this post. I needed it.

    I get so bored to death with church. sigh…