If you ask a random “man on the street” to describe Christianity, most likely he or she will refer to the Ten Commandments or the “Golden Rule.” The conversation might even turn towards some sort of earnings–based approach to gaining favor. Ask the same question of a professing Christian and they’re likely to describe a grace–based approach to gaining access to their Creator.
But when you ask the Christian what happens next, more often than not, their answer stays stuck in grace, failing to realize and acknowledge that now a life of progressive transformation into Christ–like character has only just begun. Dallas Willard, who now basks in God’s eternally gracious Presence, wrote extensively about grace …
- “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” (The Great Omission)
But what’s the nature of this “effort”? There are 1,050 commands in the New Testament for Christians to obey, covering every phase of a person’s life in relationship to God and to others. This is where many followers of Jesus get stuck again … we get hung up on what I’ll call the “imperative lifestyle” … attempting to “check the boxes” on a long To-Do list. We tend to treat these commands like one–time events, religiously working our way down a new list every day.
What would happen if we added more participles to our everyday life of faith? How different would our lives look? Who might be drawn to the Good News about Jesus by observing our “participial living”?
Participles are words formed from a verb, but used as an adjective … acting as modifiers, applying continuous, ongoing action to whatever word they modify. The common Greek language, used in the original writing of the New Testament, has been called a “participle loving language.” In fact, the present active participle occurs 2,549 times in the New Testament … more than twice as many times as commands. One of my favorites is found in 3 John 1:4 … applied to the Greek word [περιπατέω] and translated “walking” to indicate the apostle John’s joy upon learning that his “spiritual children” were conducting the affairs of their lives according to God’s truth …
- “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”
During my senior year of college, I was introduced to the power of participles in Scripture in the classic Greek grammar text by Dana & Mantey …
- “There are few languages which have equaled the Greek in the abundance and variety of its use of the participle, and certainly none has surpassed it … This wealth of significance which belonged to the Greek participle at the zenith of its development lies undiminished before the student of the New Testament, and becomes a valuable asset in interpretation when adequately comprehended.” (p. 220, H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament)
If you’re prone to scholarly reading, a classmate of mine at then-named Biola College has since written a sequel that dives deeper into the significance of participles … Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.
I’m simply proposing that we add more “–ing” words and behaviors to our daily lives of following the footsteps of Jesus. To the observant reader of this blog, you will notice that out of the 41 posts I’ve written here since December 30 of last year, 32 of the titles have begun with a participle. This has been intentional. Which is what we need to be as we flesh–out our lives of faith … “fixing our eyes on Jesus” … in continuous, ongoing action.
When I sign an email or letter or card to our children and grandchildren, I frequently write “Loving You”! … my way of saying that my love for them is continuous, ongoing and active. Let’s all apply that same attitude and effort in our daily lives of faith, following the footsteps of Jesus.
Peace & Joy!