The Primary Paradox of Christianity: Faith & Works
There is one aspect of Christianity that causes more confusion and uncertainty than any other. At least, that has been my experience. In my life, and from what I’ve seen in the lives of others.
How do my actions contribute to my faith?
This is a heavy concept and I realize it will be so easy for people from all different backgrounds to read some of these words and come away with a different idea than what’s kicking around in my head. But I’ll try my best to articulate it clearly and plainly.
The Bible is a big book and there are times when one verse can seem to contradict another. And that’s why I used the term “paradox” in the title. By definition, a paradox is:
a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true
The key word there is “seemingly”. For a good overview of what makes a paradox, as well as contradictions and mysteries, and how they’re involved in Scripture, see this bit from one of RC Sproul’s books.
And the paradox I’m referring to comes down to faith versus works. There are many verses in the Scriptures exhorting readers to do this or don’t do that. Many passages are practical advice on how to live your life and get along with others. But there are also many other verses that clearly state that salvation comes from faith alone … and that faith is a gift from God. It is not something we can earn, but a gift. And as faith cannot be earned, nor can our salvation.
And so there is a paradox where the Bible seems to be saying two different things. One, my standing with God is dependent wholly on him. Two, my standing with God is largely affected by my actions. Two big ideas that appear to be saying different things.
Let’s back it up just a little. Hopefully, we all agree that our justification (being saved from our sins and declared innocent by God) is not our work. However, the process laid out in Scripture shows that once justified, a person will be glorified by God.
As Romans 8:29–30 points out, our path looks like this:
Foreknown -> Called -> Justified -> Glorified
But before that happens, the process of sanctification takes place. So I find the important question to be “how do my actions contribute to my faith?” For Scripture seems clear that my faith itself starts with God and is a gift, but what after that? Can I lose my faith? Do my actions affect my standing with God?
So the process I mentioned above ends with justification turning to glorification (which is just mind blowing). But something happens in between those two pieces, that is spelled out in many other places in Scripture. Before we are glorified, we are sanctified.
What is sanctification? I like this definition:
Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God's work and being conformed to the image of Christ.
This is the contribution I’m referring to in my big question. The question then, is this: is our sanctification our work or God’s?
I would say both. There are plenty of verses that show God is involved.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
But on the other hand, there are plenty of examples like this:
Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Throughout the writings of Paul, you cannot come away with a sense of his being lackadaisical. Far from it. While he strongly emphasizes the source of this faith (a free gift from God), he also clearly indicates that our very best efforts are required to make the most of this gift. To live for God, day by day.
Louis Berkhof sums this up well in his systematic theology, introducing the section on sanctification:
It is a work of God in which believers cooperate. When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but merely, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations, which clear imply that man must be active in avoiding the pitfalls of life; and b) from the constant exhortations to holy living. These imply that a believer must be diligent in the employment of the means at his command for the moral and spiritual improvements of his life.
Kenneth Boa, in Conformed to His Image, puts it this way:
The biblical balance is that the spiritual life is both human and divine … we are responsible to work out, not work for, our salvation. On the divine side, God gives us the desire and empowerment to accomplish his purposes.
That matches so well Philippians 2:12,13 (emphasis mine):
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
We’re to work out our salvation, but it is God who works in us to give us the desire to do so and to enable us to act on the desire.
But trouble comes when we begin to lose sight of the original gift and focus instead on our efforts. It’s easy to go from living and doing through the peace that comes from a right relationship, to bearing burdens we were never meant to carry. To be law-focused, rather than Spirit-led.
So If I’m going to pursue a life of depth, if I’m going to actively pursue God, to seek him and knock on the door, how will I go about it? How can I follow the exhortations I see in Scripture, to be holy as he is holy, without moving my focus from him to my works?
These are exact questions I’d like to answer in 2017.
For newer readers, I shared the direction of this newsletter and the results of a survey last fall. My focus here is to encourage depth & focus for Christians in the digital age and that starts with identifying exactly what role our efforts play in our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Our efforts do not save us from our sins. And they do not affect our legal standing with God. But they do have a part to play on our journey to joining Christ in the fullness of his kingdom and sharing in his glory.
Each month will have one newsletter that focuses on this primary theme. Where do we go from here? Find out next month!
While I’m not crazy about the term “lifestyle design”, this post has some good tips. Srinivas Rao opens the piece by defining the problem of people wanting to “hack their lives”:
When people think of the words Lifestyle Design images of working from a laptop, location independence, The Four Hour Workweek and digital nomads pop into their head. What they don’t think about is the actual work that goes into those accomplishments, all of which are a byproduct of days and environments that have been deliberately designed.
As I shared recently, this quote from Shawn Blanc in Day 3 of The Focus Course nails it:
It’s one thing to be able to define what our most important tasks are; it’s another thing entirely to make the time and put forth the energy to do those tasks.
We’re all good at identifying the things we’d like to do. But having the discipline to sit down and do the work itself is another matter. In this article, Rao uses the term “design” to describe changing your life, but it’s more commonly discussed in terms of habits and routines.
The kind of stuff we care about ‘round these parts!
Fitbit Charge 2
I’ve been slowly getting into using more tools in the genre of “personal analytics”. Gyroscope has been my primary app for the past 6+ months. In combination with services like RescueTime, Moves, Strava, and Apple’s Health, this service gives me an interesting perspective on how I’m using my time.
As 2016 progressed, I started to consider getting an Apple Watch for the first time. The primary reason was that I had grown used to taking my iPhone everywhere I went … it was my step tracker. This was not a desirable long term scenario. I also wanted to leave the phone behind when I was on a run, something the latest version of the Apple Watch allows you to do.
The Apple Watch would be another potential cause for distraction however, so another option I considered was a FitBit. And that is what my wife picked up for me this Christmas. Since Dec. 25th, I’ve worn a FitBit Charge day and night. And I’m very happy with it!
Here are the things that have come to mind over the first 4 weeks of usage.
It has stopped me from carrying my phone around all the time. Thank God! For one thing, you don’t have to remember anything … the Fitbit is just on me. Second, I look at my phone a lot less, which is always a goal of mine.
It seems accurate so far. I haven’t had the time (or inclination) to measure my stride length and calibrate this thing, but it has seemed mostly accurate. There are times when I notice it adding steps when none were taken. But these times seem to be balanced by other situations where several steps are not immediately tallied. At the end of the day, I’m not that concerned about 100% accuracy. If it’s inaccurate, as long as it’s consistently accurate, it achieves its purpose.
The battery life is quite good, far better than what I would get with an Apple Watch. The charge gives round the clock tracking with a charge only every 5 days or so. And it fully charges in about 90 minutes. No complaints on this!
The heart rate tracking makes a big difference over what I was tracking previously. Even when I’m less active, like when I’m sitting at my desk for an hour or more, I can do somethings to get the heart rate up.
The Fitbit app does a good job of recognizing increased levels of activity and logging an event. If I go outside for my lunch break and shovel snow or chop some wood, it recognizes that an elevated heart rate and increase in steps indicates some type of exercise activity. I then just categorize the event that the app has already logged. And the event shows duration, calories burned etc
The sleep tracking has been far better than any other option I’ve used. Previously, my usage was solely using Apple’s Health and the Sleep AI feature in Gyroscope. Neither are very accurate. Contrastingly, the Fitbit really nails this by showing the correct total time, as well as the quality of the sleep. Times awake or being restless in bed are shown.
I’ve previously owned a Fitbit, one of the early versions. And I eventually put it in a drawer and never wore it again, so I recognize there is a possibility this string of events occurs once more. And really, do I need a device and an app to tell me I had a much more active day or a poor night of sleep? Not really.
However, I find it helps between the extremes. On the weekend, if I have a 25,000 step day because of all the family activities, I feel it. Or if I stay up late working on a Sunday school lesson, I’m well aware the next morning. But it’s the other days where I see the differences. If I’ve hit 8,500 steps and we’re sitting down to eat dinner, I’ll make sure I hit 10,000 for the day. Same for the other activities tracked (sleep, drinking water etc).
Overall, I still have the mindset that data is not helpful on its own. To be informative and useful, you have to put it to use. There is just enough benefit tracking this stuff that it has an affect on how I spend my time. It increases my mindfulness.
For now, it stays.
Related to the above, there are a few tweaks that I have made that have helped me focus on goals for creating habits for each week. This has been an emphasis for me since completing The Focus Course last spring, a habit that has been further reinforced since I started using a weekly setup in my journal. That’s right: a habit focused on habits …
The following are my tools for doing this each week.
my journal: as referenced above, this past summer I consolidated my weekly review practice with my notebook usage. Although I do not properly journal on paper (I use Day One for that), I do track my weeks and days in a Bullet Journal style. But I use a weekly plan that closely resembles the SELF Journal setup. The part that pertains to habits is that I add a section each week for habits, where I include a grid of days crossed by the habits I’m working on developing
Gyroscope: this service recently added Goals to the Pro plan, which have been a nice addition. I can automatically set goals for the week like how focused I am during the work day, how much sleep I get, the number of steps taken, etc. The nice part is that these things are already being tracked, but now I can set a goal and monitor whether I’m on pace to meet them. Sound cheesy? It is, a little. But there is power in keeping score … not all of these bring a change in habits. But if I’m focused on ensuring I have more sessions of focus work in my week, I am aware that if I open Twitter in browser, that is bringing down my score and reducing my chance to meet my goal of 95% productive time on the computer for the week. This is already something I want to do and track in my paper journal. But seeing it quantified can affect my behaviour. That should not be underestimated
Zero: a newer too, this is Kevin Rose’s new fasting app. I’ve been a big believer of fasting for some time, but I struggle to do it regularly. This app’s sole focus is on helping you attain that string of days, like Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar on the wall (Deep Work fans will recognize the reference).
Fitbit: last, the Fitbit is powering a lot of this. I don’t have much more to add to the above
There are a lot of apps focused on this now (Productive, Way of Life, Streaks for example). Journalling tools as well. As with all things, I’m striving for balance. Although I focus a lot on the person I want to be, I also do my best to foster contentment in the present.
But when I want to bring change, these tools have been a help.
Here’s another enjoyable essay from Craig Mod. He’s one of my very favourite writers and this article was no different. However, although I usually read Craig’s writing and feel like he’s ahead of the rest of us, that was not the case for this article. His experience reminds me of many others in the past year or two (example).
By the time I finished the post, I thought back to how Cal Newport opines that Internet sabbaticals are not a true fix for the modern knowledge worker. For those who want their attention back. And I agree.
If Craig, and the rest of us, wants to get back to a state of mind and being that he had before the Internet became what it is today, that will require more than the occassional respite from constant connection. He has the right desire:
Attention is a muscle. It must be exercised. Though, attention is duplicitous — it doesn’t feel like a muscle. And exercising it doesn’t result in an appreciably healthier looking body. But it does result in a sense of grounding, feeling rational, control of your emotions — a healthy mind.
His attempt to achieve this healthy mind? He quickly recognizes that coming back to the connection after a long absence brings a quick return of old habits.
And yet, the quietude of those disconnected days evaporated as soon as I came back online. It was a shock to feel my mind returning so quickly to where it was before — namely, away. Elsewhere. My attention so eager to latch onto whatever cleverly architected spaceship of dopamine was flying out from my consciousness. It was immediately clear that vigilance was required, some set of rules. And so here are mine:
The internet goes off before bed.
The internet doesn’t return until after lunch.
While I like the efforts, including no internet at all until after lunch (impressive if you get up at 5am, slightly less so if you rise around 9am … so this depends on Craig’s schedule), I feel like Cal Newport’s ideas are better suited to truly winning this battle. Not using Twitter or Facebook at all, or the internet for your entertainment, has to be more effective than trying to wean yourself of the dopamine, while simultaneously letting yourself go back to the firehose for a portion of each work day.
In the end, I believe it goes back to desire. What you want most, you will seek. And you will find. Bringing change, even getting back your attention, will be easier done with a change in what you want, rather than attempting to self-discipline yourself and control your urges.
Baron Fig Squire
Over the past 2 years, I’ve used a couple of Baron Fig products (the Confidant and the Planner). Both were solid products and I’ve come to love the cloth bound notebooks over other options. I’m currently on the official Bullet Journal notebook and the hard cover on the Leuchtturm produced product is less enjoyable.
Until recently, I had not tried any of the other options from Baron Fig. But I decided to give the Squire a try. I like a good pen as much as I do a good notebook. My current favourites are these rollerballs from Muji, but I was intrigued enough by the Squire and the overall quality of the Baron Fig products.
How is it?
I like it. The Squire is a smaller pen. It’s not as small as many pocket pens, say a Fisher Price space pen, but it’s significantly shorter than all the other pens I carry around. The package it comes in is lovely, so the overall experience is very much like what you receive when you purchase a new Apple product.
The casing is aluminum, so it’s cold to the touch at first. But it feels really good in your hand. It’s got a good weight and the balance is very nice. I could see this being the pen I used almost every day. Except for …
The pen itself is lovely, but the tip is too fat for me. I prefer a .38mm pen and this feels more like a .5mm. I can live with it on the right paper, but my writing would be chunkier and too blurry in many settings (my penmanship, or the lack thereof, does not help). Baron Fig chose to use refills that use the dimensions of a Schmidt P8126, so I may look for other options available.
Just looking for other options led me to stumble across the niche communities around pen hacks … this could be dangerous.
For now, I’ll be using my Muji’s and keeping an eye out for a thinner tipped option for the Squire.
Interesting news from the Medium CEO. A large chunk of the Medium team has been let go and they’re trying to figure out how to make money.
On the one hand, I chuckle a little and think, “Here we go again.” Medium is Ev’s third company that he has built that has not made a profit while he’s in charge. And the news is not surprising at all.
On the other hand, I do admire them for being willing to attempt to monetize in some new fashion, rather than the tired model of current web publishing. Ev states:
We had started scaling up the teams to sell and support products that were, at best, incremental improvements on the ad-driven publishing model, not the transformative model we were aiming for.
Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to.
That’s truth. But it’s sad that the CEO of a company that attempted to transform web publishing and has been around for 5 years is just coming to this conclusion. It makes me wonder: were sales just that bad? If they had been better, would this change of focus taken place, or would they have continued down the road they were on.
We’ll never know, but I have to wonder. This piece gives a good summary of the history of Medium and it sure seems like many VC funded services … they’re making it up as they go.
More commentary on this news:
DHH from Basecamp has some thoughts. I was very surprised when they made the move to use Medium wholesale, especially considering their stance on VC backed businesses. But I’m not surprised David posted his feelings here … I wonder how much they’re regretting the move.
David Kadavy, a writer earning income directly from Medium, shares his own unique thoughts on the news
This response to Ev’s post caught my attention. The writer was responding to Ev’s statement that Medium as a team will be focusing on rewarding writers for their work
The problem is, much of Medium’s best writing is being hidden, due to the link-bait titles and content being driven to the fore. New voices become disillusioned, and the circle continues.
I agree. Although the platform is very easy to use, provides a lovely reading environment, and has an active community, the content itself has seemed to go down. The content that is being driven to my own dashboard is definitely lacking in quality. And that was not the case even twelve months ago.