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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month.  I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...

Friday, November 10, 2017

subtraction by addition

     His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
     For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
     Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-11)

Life with Jesus, it seems, is more about addition than subtraction.  Or, at the very least, subtraction by addition.  I don't know why it has taken me so long to understand that.  For most of my life I have taken it on myself (with God's help of course) to try and eliminate all of the habits and patterns and vices and dysfunctions and sin that fills my heart and my life.  And, for the most part, I have failed miserably at ever being able to do that.  But maybe my problem has been that I have had it all backwards.  Maybe living life with Jesus is much less about subtracting sin than about adding more of God.  Don't get me wrong, of course God wants sin eliminated from our lives.  But how that happens is not so much through the subtraction of vice, as it is through the addition of God.  Not so much through the push of "ought and should," as the pull of love and affection.  Thus, as God fills more and more of my heart and soul, as he seizes me more and more with the power of his great affection, there will be less room in me (and less desire) for sin.  Thomas Chalmers once called this  The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. The only way to eliminate a lesser affection is to be captured by a greater affection.

I think that's what Peter is getting at here.  He doesn't focus as much on what needs to be eliminated, as he does on what needs to be added.  That's how lasting change really happens, through the pull of God's love.  That's the place where making every effort can be a really helpful thing.  It is not making every effort not to sin (good luck with that), but making every effort to add more of God--more virtue--in your life.  Then the space that was once occupied by sin will, instead, end up being occupied by Love.  Do not be overwhelmed and overcome by staring constantly at the negative, but be consumed and compelled by the positive.  It is very similar to what Paul said in Philippians 4:8-9.  We do not overcome anxiety by constantly trying not to be anxious.  We overcome anxiety by focusing on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  We overcome anxiety by filling our minds and hearts with the beauty of God, by truly coming to know the God of peace.

Thus, Peter says that in order to live the life God wants to live in and through us--to be participants in the divine nature--we need only to add to our faith goodness.  That is where it all begins.  Pray.  Meditate.  Make time and space for God to move and act.  Ask him to plant his goodness in us.  And, as far as making every effort is concerned, be good.  Focus on being good--to yourself, to your spouse, to your kids, to your friends, to your world.  Make a concentrated effort to add more goodness to our lives, to our inner dialogue, to our conversations, to our interactions.  And before we know it, as goodness has begun to take root in us, add some knowledge (of God, of the Scriptures, of ourselves, of others)--and so on.  And eventually, as we are faithful in our adding, we will find our way to love.  Not just an outside in kind of love, but a love that has grown organically within us as a result of us adding more of God to our lives.  Thanks be to God that he has indeed, given us all we need  for life and godliness.  All we need to do is fill our lives with all that he has given.

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