This post will contain two things. First a quick middle school update. Second, a theological question.
1. Friday we had a fire drill. More and more, I am amazed by the power of institutional law and their effects on human nature. We as a school created a new fire drill policy this year that said that a kid will get written up no questions asked and sent to in school suspension if they talked while moving out of the school and into the field for the fire drill. Now, we said this more as a scare tactic, understanding that it is nearly impossible to keep 450 kids absolutely silent for 5 minutes standing in the middle of a field in august. We expected that it would improve the situation, and that we wouldn’t actually write kids up for whispering something to their neighbor.
But it worked. For 5 minutes, I stood in a field with kids in rows of 25, all the way down the blacktop, and no one so much as stepped on a twig. Dead silence. I have never been more amazed at an institution’s rule making system. And it makes you wonder – Is this why we need laws that seem like they are irrational and too harsh etc. Because without them, you will always have deviation, and the less of a social guardrail in place, the more deviation you’ll have. So we need the law, because people learn behavior from institutional messages more than almost any other source.
Also on Friday, we knew the fire drill was coming in a matter of minutes. This one kid, Q. (probably shouldn’t use real names), in the back of the class, starts this imaginary countdown to see if he can seemingly instigate the fire drill. As he is counting down from 5, I said something like “Quentin, if you actually nail this fire drill, I will probably…” and then as he said zero the alarm sounded. He nailed it. Good thing I didn’t finish my sentence. I would have owed him twenty dollars.
2. – work in progress on the debate: can we improve our spiritual lives and become more holy by becoming spiritual athletes, relying to some degree on the effort we put into our relationship with God? –
Here is a cursory answer to this question, which should be supplimented with scripture. Maybe I’ll list them at the end. My thoughts on this question are: no, you can not improve your spiritual life and make yourself more holy. That is, on your own strength. When you think about what it means to be sanctified, it means “made more like Christ” and it is visible in a person’s actions and character. These are the fruit of the spirit. We are to be connected to the vine, which is the scripture, like a plant connected to a larger system of underground roots. And I was thinking about a plant and the way a plant bears fruit. It doesn’t sit there with a calculator trying to solve a formula for how it can pop out an apple. It doesn’t scratch its head, plug things into an algorithm and do things a specific way and then – BLOOP- out comes a fruit. No. What a plant does is it remains a plant. It abides in its soil. It stays steadfast, not searching and striving with extra dashes of self awareness to be something that it currently is not. A plant bears fruit when it receives water and receives sunlight and is planted in good soil – when it it is connected to the vine.
Ok, but we are not plants. We may be like plants, but we also have a brain and a spirit and the will to make decisions. So do we have responsibility to make ourselves better christians?
First, I think it is essential to point out that the doctrine of sancitifcation does make spiritual athleticism possible. There are spiritual athletes out there, and by that I mean saints. There are people who are holier, or closer to God, than others. There has to be otherwise we are kidding ourselves when we say Christ really can draw us to himself. But the distinction is that they have not trained themselves to be that way out of their own human power. The trick is that the holy spirit has done the work, or has given that person the strength to do the work, without which the work would not be done. This brings me to my second point – the doctrine of sanctification also implies that we are coworkers with God on our spiritual lives. Because its not as if we can be lazy all the time and God is going to zap us with his power and suddenly kapow, without us even wanting it we are made into better christians, conformed into the image of his likeness.
Here is what I think the answer is. We must will to be better christians. It must be internal effort, and that is all. Because going on with the plant analogy, we really can’t do anything to make sure we receive sunlight and receive water. We can’t transplant ourselves into good soil. But as humans with spirits, we can ask for these things. We can ask to be planted in the good soil of fellowship and community and scripture and teaching. Actually, I think our main work should be praying these things for other people, because I haven’t prayed this much for myself except in the last 2 years, but I know my parents and friends from church have. And the prayer was answered. We can’t move mirrors around and help deflect more sunlight into our foliage so we photosynthesise more. But we can ask for less clouds and more light. But you might not want to do that either because clouds bring rain, and you need rain. Your plant needs all of that stuff, and you are basically powerless to obtain it, except by asking.
Matt 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
John 16:13 “But when he, the spirit of turth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
1 Thess. 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body…”
** 2 Philippians 2:12-13 “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
Notice in the last one it says both. We are called to be athletes in a sense and work out or exercise our salvation. But at the same time, it is God who is doing the work. A paradox!
The Lord’s earth certainly is full of many paradoxes, but I think I love that about him. It gives us so much to chew over, and probably for the rest of our lives. I don’t imagine any great theologian or spiritual philosopher ever came to the end of things and said “Welp, I’M done.” No, there is always more to think about and wrestle with. Its an infinite supply because its an infinite God – we have finite minds and we cannot get it all.
So what should we be doing? I think all we should be doing is wanting God. Wanting lots of him. Asking him over and over to save us, telling him we need him and we are completely dependent on his words to receive life, and seeking him as hard as we can. Asking him to drag us into his presense so we can be touched, so we can see and taste that the Lord is good. Whatever that looks like to you, it means many different things to many different demoninations. But I think we can all agree that we are saved by grace alone and any work that we are doing as christians we do because we want more of the lord. Scripture always tells us God will reward our work. But not by our own definition of rewards. He rewards us with more of him – he makes us saints. Do you want to be one is the only question?