By Jane Highley
I have a serious question for you: How gritty is your faith? No, that is not a typo. I did mean to say “gritty,” but I’m not referring to sand in your beach bag, flax seed in your oatmeal, or the sugar scrub in your shower. I’m referring to intangible grit: resilience, follow-through, tenacity, get-back-up-and-try-again-ness. Do you have it? Do you have faith that is full of it? If so, how would you know? If not, how would you cultivate a faith that has this quality?
These are the questions that surfaced as I finished reading a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Angela Duckworth, the author and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is passionate about grit. Through countless interviews, surveys, and data, she encountered and studied many “paragons of grit” — people whose enormous success was the result of continuous, deliberate practice and strategic focus. She believes that with interest, practice, purpose, and hope, “you can grow grit from the inside out” and thereby, achieve a level of mastery or excellence in a profession or skill. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to be a natural-born genius or athlete to win a Nobel Prize in literature or to compete in the Olympics. She argues that “what we accomplish in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit.” She defines “grit” as the intersection of both passion and perseverance toward long-term (even life-time) goals.
So should grit matter in our life of daily sanctification? Yes! In support of grit, a wise friend said, “No one coasts into holiness.” The Bible clearly exhorts having a gritty faith, though not exactly in such terms. For example, Paul “presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). He paints a vivid word-picture of grit in 1 Corinthians: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26-27). The author of Hebrews exhorts us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus was an unequivocal paragon of grit. He had a mission, not just a short-term interest, to teach and preach the good news of salvation. He taught his disciples how to pray, how to become fishers of men, how to be salt and light. He knew his purpose quite clearly and lived with laser-like focus for it. He spoke of the hope of eternal life.
But don’t fool yourself into thinking that grit is all you need. While God calls us to gritty faith, grit alone can’t make you more holy, just as fasting, tithing, or scripture memory alone won’t transform you into a paragon of holiness. Passionate faith reflects a passionate God who loves us and moves us to love. Determination to pursue Christ’s call heavenward comes from the God who will not let us go and strengthens us for every good work. Human passion and willful determination — without true faith — will not make us holy or enable us to be done with sin. Gritty faith is a dependent, clinging faith from beginning to end. We obey and follow with grit; God provides the strength and benefit. As Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure.”