Sometimes Christians fall into a trap from the pit of hell. We assume that grace means passivity. We are supposed “to let go and let God,” we think. When it comes to Christian living, we rest content in our sin so that “grace may abound.” But I want to assert that this mindset is lethal. God’s grace liberates us to fight, to work hard at breaking bad habits and forming new ones, and to not fall victim to our feelings and our circumstances. Grace tells us that our salvation rests completely on what Christ has done for us. But it then goes on to apply Christ’s work to transformation in us. If we lose the for us we are legalists. If we lose the in us we rob the gospel of its transforming power. If we lose either emphasis, we are not holding to a biblical gospel.
To make my point against passivity, let me show you 3 biblical metaphors that the New Testament authors use to describe the Christian life. A metaphor provides an image which helps us to understand a particular concept. It uses one concept that we are familiar with in order to express truth about another concept that the author is trying to explain. The 3 metaphors that we’re considering clearly explain the Christian life as a call to aggression. We don’t sit back and wait on the Spirit to work. Instead, the Spirit empowers us and enables us to aggressively pursue Christ with every ounce of energy we can muster.
Paul (and the writer of Hebrews/Paul?) uses the metaphor of a race in Phil. 3:13-14, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, 2 Tim. 4:7-8, and Heb. 12:1-2. What is striking about this metaphor is how often Paul uses it. It’s not something he just thought of one day. It seems more like it was the dominant metaphor of his life. He kept coming back to it. And at the end of his life, it was this metaphor that came to mind: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul uses this metaphor to show us that just as a runner is running for a perishable prize, we are running for an imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25). In order to obtain the prize, we must train as a runner would. We must exercise self-control and deny ourselves liberties. We must exercise discipline and godly habits of life. We find motivation to continue running by looking ahead to the finish line, where we find Christ who embodies our joy (Heb. 12:2) and our inheritance (2 Tim. 4:8).
Again, the predominant uses of this metaphor are found in Paul’s writings. Specifically in 2 Cor. 10:3-5, 2 Tim. 4:7-8, and Eph. 6:10-12, we find Paul comparing the Christian life to warfare. This means that we are to fight, that we have real enemies, and that there is great danger involved. We are to wield the spiritual weapons of the gospel (Eph. 6:10-20) against the spiritual enemies of God: Satan and his hosts (Eph. 6:12). The amount of passages that employ warfare imagery in the New Testament is too many to list here. But one thing is for sure: passivity is ruled out. War is violent. It involves personal sacrifice. It involves intense fighting. It means that we’re going to experience casualties; we’ll lose some battles. But ultimately, we look to the cross and resurrection where the war is already won.
3. Gird up your loins
I heard Barney Fife use this expression on The Andy Griffith Show recently. Three different New Testament authors use the expression or some semblance of it: Luke 12:35-36, 1 Peter 1:13, and Eph. 6:14. The expression is probably a reference to the Exodus, where God told his people to eat the Passover “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand” (Ex. 12:11). They were to eat it in a ready position–ready to flee the land that had for so long held them in bondage. To understand the expression, we must familiarize ourselves with the way men dressed in those days. They wore long robes with a belt around the waist. If they ever did anything that required physical action, they would tuck the bottom of their robes into their belts in order to free their legs to move. The point being made in every instance of the expression’s use is to always be ready. Be prepared to move. Expect the unexpected. Don’t have a passive mind (1 Pet. 1:13). Be ready for the return of Christ, living every day in hardworking expectation (Luke 12:35-36).
Passivity is an enemy of the gospel.