Sgt Charles Daniels, a NYPD police officer, got an unusual call in the early morning of August 7, 1974. Someone had spotted a man standing on a wire suspended between the two tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. He ascended to the tower roof by elevator, which took several minutes. In his words, this is what he saw:
I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire….And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle….He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again….Unbelievable really….Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.”
Philippe Petit, a petite Frenchman, had planned this illegal 45 minute stunt for six years, including taking aerial photos of the towers being built, studying the swaying of the towers, and designing a 200kg cable and a 25kg balancing pole that he would need to traverse the 61m gap. When asked why he risked his life he replied, “When I see three oranges, I juggle. When I see two towers I walk.” Fair enough.
Amazingly all charges were dropped and he was even asked to autograph the roof beam from which he had stepped onto the cable.
The only balancing act that I can think of that deserves more attention is the tightrope Christians need to navigate in their daily walk to Christlikeness: the balance of our responsibility and God’s sovereignty in sanctification.
On one hand, all evangelicals recognize that God is the one predestines us, calls us, draws us, justifies us, sanctifies us, and glorifies us (Rom 8:30). And he does this with remarkable independence. We call it monergism. On the other, more sweaty, hand, we recognize that our Bibles don’t read themselves, our prayer times don’t come pre-scheduled in our calendars, and our fasting, memorization, or meditation doesn’t occur spontaneously without our concerted effort. Spiritual disciplines don’t seem passive when your alarm sounds at 5:30am for a pre-work prayer time, do they?
The Bible doesn’t speak of spiritual disciplines in any kind of comprehensive catalogue or list. But as you read the biblical narrative and biographies of influential Christian leaders, missionaries, martyrs, and other exemplars in the annals of Church history, particular practices begin to emerge and recur in the accounts like a pleasing motif in a symphony.
The lives of Christians who left an impact in God’s kingdom on earth of any recordable consequence all seemed to commit to the same types of regular, concerted, devotional practices. The list includes (though is by no means limited to) private prayer, corporate prayer, Scripture reading and memorization, meditation, solitude, journaling, sitting under the preaching of God’s word, and fasting.
It’s not my intention to unpack the “how to” of each of these, but rather to exhort us to recognize and cherish their value. There are some today who emphasize that one’s sanctification is simply a natural result of one’s appreciation of justification. i.e. that you become holy in your behavior and practice, desires and attitudes, by being daily reminded of what Jesus has done for you on the cross. And of course, this is by no means an unworthy point to make and in which to bask and revel—it is, after all, finished.
But when that truth gets underscored so much that it obscures a parallel truth it can become detrimental to sanctification. The parallel truth is that we need to work at our sanctification. We need to discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Tim 4:7), devote ourselves to Scripture reading and preaching (1 Tim 2:13), buffet our bodies (1 Cor 9:27).
The verse that terminates the debate in my mind is Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Paul appears to have no compunction laying both tracks of truth side-by-side to leave them suspended in paradoxical tension. You, the Christian, need to apply effort seriously to the progressive part of your salvation (sanctification) while concurrently acknowledging that it is God who applies effort on your behalf to achieve the result.
It’s a tightrope to be sure, but it leads to orthodoxy. If you let go of one part of the balance beam you fall off the antinomian side; if you drop the other you plunge into legalism. Make no mistake, sanctification is sweaty business. But praise God for the safety net of his grace that preserves our salvation.