July 13, 2015

Sweaty Sanctification: the Tightrope of Salvation

by Clint Archer

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.”

PetitPhilippe 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.tightrope

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.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • tovlogos

    The tightrope of salvation — how true, Clint. It is like walking a tightrope. Is it any wonder so many people get head shy when they realize Jesus expects us to even walk on water, “Oh, ye of little faith.”
    The winds come, the waves get choppy, and everyone panics.
    Then the devil puts wax on the rope, you feel yourself slipping, and start to panic — Oh ye of little faith!
    Our Lord put it in a nutshell when He said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? Bring him here to Me.” (Matthew 17:17). God sees dissidents as spiritually perverted.
    As usual our Lord took care of it — so my daily prayer is that I may conform further to His image — before anything. Perfection is beyond our pay grade; but following closely “definitely” is. No excuses.

    Thanks,
    Mark

  • I read a book about this tightrope walker to my kids countless times when they were all young. He made it look so easy, and he really enjoyed the tension and the effort. I believe that you are on to something with your metaphor for the Christian life. Glorious grace and grit – in balance.

  • Adam

    The apostle Paul describes this balance between self-effort and God’s sovereignty in 1 Cor. 10:15 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
    Paul labored, but his laborious efforts were fueled by the grace of God. This is how it must be done – recognizing our part to do the work but relying on the grace and strength of God to perform. The Pharisees had the first part but lacked the second and therefore were puffed up in pride and self-righteousness. They were religious workers indeed, but disciples of God they were not.
    We dare not forget the words of our Lord – “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) This involves much more than merely living “right” and serving in the local congregation; it also involves individualized and disciplined study, prayer, and worship.

  • Tony

    Mr. Archer: I have read your posts in the past and have been greatly blessed and encourged by them. Thank you for writing on the matter of sanctification. If you ever have a moment to continue on this subject I would very interested on your thoughts on the differences (if you think that they exist) between the spiritual discplines that you have in mind with this article, “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” and the teachings on Spiritual Formation (or ‘Spiritual disciplines’) that have been promoted by people like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster (or Thomas Merton). The purpose of my request is simply for clarification. If your schedule does not allow for an immediate response, it is understandable. God bless you and your wonderful work in the Lord’s ministry.

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