The Divine Tension

One of the things we know as a result of the primal fault (we wrote of this in one of our earlier blog entries) is that our world requires substantial ordering.  A house requires regular maintenance.  A garden must be tended. It must be watered and weeded.  Left to itself it quickly goes to grass.

Now, certain Scriptures are very beautiful with the idea that the Christian life is simply a matter of leaving it all to God.  We rest in God.  Our salvation is secure.  We are appointed, not to wrath, but to obtain salvation (1 Thes. 5.9).  We are chosen to salvation (2 Thes. 2.13).  We are predestined (Rom. 8.29).  God will work all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1.11).  We are born again.  We are free spirits.  Our lives are like the wind that “bloweth where it listeth,” that is, wherever it wants to blow in the great sky of God.

This is beautiful truth.  On the one hand the Christian life is to be nature to us—the beautiful nature of the new creation Man born of the Spirit and borne along in the Wind of God.  But there are other scriptures that show the Christian life requires diligent and continued discipline, which if we are not careful to maintain, leads to our ruin.  Like the garden, we must be continually cultivating, watering, and rooting out weeds.  Or we too go to grass.

We find these two opposites all over Scripture, and people are chronically arguing over which is the right view—God’s sovereignty or man’s responsibility.  In fact I believe that both are held in play by what I like to call the divine tension.  The string on a musical instrument is held between two fixed points; if it is slack, if it is not held in perfect tension, it is useless.  You can’t make music on strings that are not held in tension.

Great arguments rage over whether Calvinism is the right doctrine, or Ariminianism.  Are we unconditionally elect, and there’s nothing we can do about it one way or the other?  Or do we ourselves have a part to play in our salvation?  It’s wonderful truth that God “hath chosen us in Him (in Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him” (Eph.  1.4).  Or in another place: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (Jn. 15.16).  There are times when we need to lean heavily on this truth—in times of great trial and difficulty, or perhaps failure.  In a time of failure the Devil will be quick to assure us God is through with us now.  But we arm ourselves with this truth—that God in His own wisdom and grace has chosen us from before the foundation of the world—and we know that He that hath begun a good work in us will perfect it unto the day of Christ.

But then the divine tension comes into play.  When we get slack and presume in spite of our slackness that we are predestined and all is well with us, we are in deep trouble.  We must pay heed to what Peter says.  I may be called and chosen, but Peter says, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure…” (1 Pt. 1.10).  There are times when not doing this could result in total shipwreck.

Paul says in one place, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2.16).  How wonderful—a mind filled with the very thoughts of God.  But then Peter calls us to “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pt. 1.13).  This is speaking of spiritual discipline in the thought life.  If we are not girding up the loins of our mind we will find our thoughts flowing all over the place and we will be in trouble.

In another place Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”  Why would this be necessary if it is all up to God?  Obviously we have a critical part to play in our own salvation.  But Paul goes on, “…for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2.12,13).  Ah, you say, if it is God who is working in me both the willing and the doing, why do I have to work out my own salvation?  It’s because of this divine tension.  The Christian life is not a passive walk.  We have a vital part to play in the working out of our salvation.

But don’t forget that our working must be God’s own working.  Otherwise we quickly degenerate into striving.  Really, it’s no use trying to separate these two facets of truth.  It’s the divine tension.  Yes, we are to work out our own salvation.  But our work must be God’s own working.  Jesus says:

Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn of (from) Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Mt. 11.28-30).

Notice here the two kinds of burdens—those which are our own initiative, our own labour: “all ye that labour,” and those that are put upon us by outward circumstance or others: “and are heavy laden.”  (The first is active, the second passive.)  We are not to get our shoulder under either of these types of burdens.

But yes, we are to labour—but only in that which is the Lord’s own labour, only in the yoke of the Lord… in which Jesus says we will find rest.  We are not debtors to any other labour, and we must discipline ourselves not to get involved in any of it.  We must abide in the yoke of the Lord—working together with Him, and at the same time resting in the Lord.

It’s the divine tension.  Let us learn to accept it.  We’ll find ourselves playing beautiful music to the Lord on our instrument of ten strings.

9 responses »

  1. I believe that God has designed this salvation to be a joining with Him that we can exercise our free will to follow in his ways. A way where we have to be wide awake to get the direction and the grace to follow him. Good word Allan


    • Hi Alden: That’s the secret, I believe– our joining with Him. God has designed things so that it is only in fellowship with Him that we get anywhere. Yes, He is sovereign. But it doesn’t appear that He is all that interested in doing everything all by Himself. He wants a relationship with us as we work out our salvation… in fellowship with Him.


  2. Excellent reply thank you Allen


  3. I,as in the case of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, have been eavesdropping all along and enjoying your ruminations as well as the comments. This topic of the Divine tension cuts through the grain of most of our lives as we experience the extremes of joy and pain ;loss or gain; cold or hot. As we ascend even more in the Spirit we experience more acutely this tension –the need to diminish as He increases;to strive to die that He might live;to sorrow now to know joy set before us;and so many more.This realm is as the wind (Jn.3;8) the lift offset by the thrust;the negative empowered by the positive.As Oswald Chambers said'”Holiness is the balance between my disposition and the law of God as expressed in Christ Jesus.”


    • Hi Frank, nice to hear from you! Thanks for the comment. Yes, there are many ways this divine tension finds expression.

      …Hope you are being careful not to get too sunburned! 🙂


  4. Paul Valentine

    Amen again: God is good. Hi Allan, as I read your latest addition I was reminded of Adam just after his disobedience and fall from grace.

    see Gen 3:7-11 their eyes were opened…The first thing they did was to try to cover up or hide their sin. So by nature (adams race) so do we. We are afraid that we will not be accepted or loved by the father any more because we have sinned.

    So we try to cover up our selves, sew our own fig-leaf covering to cover our nakedness instead of being honest with God and tell him we ate the fruit.Gen 3:7

    Then God comes on the scene. He already knew what Adam and Eve had done. This is part of the oh what is the right word…God knows and knew everything from before the foundation of the world, before angel and spirit as George Fox said.

    Before there was time. Ep 1:4,5 Heb 4:3 1Pet 1:20
    God already knew they ate the fruit that he told them not to. He wanted to hear it from Adams mouth. Confession, repentance and turn to the Lord for deliverance.Trust in his mercy

    Upon hearing God’s voice… their (our) first response is fear. Fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted. Not being loved by God any more. This is so imbedded in the fallen human nature. Of course then ultimately comes blame and accusation and hiding from God Gen 2:9 And the Lord God called called unto Adam, and said” unto him, Where art thou.

    Adam’s (our) response, “And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid,because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Instead of… coming to the light as a brother said in a meeting last night, and trusting in the love and mercy of our Lord.

    “Who told thee that thou was naked (sinned)?” This was God’s sovereign hand coming on the scene. Gen 3:21

    So after we see man’s fall from grace and God’s judgments, we see God clothing man with his salvation. God initiated, man responds.

    God came looking for Adam, not the other way around. Of course we see the great battle of and balance of God initiating and mans response or lack thereof.
    and the two natures or two humanities as T.A.Sparks once wrote.
    That in itself opens up the entire word of God.

    Bro Ed Owen once said to me when I was very young in the Lord, Who told you, you sinned? There is little in this life that we can do but, we can reaspond to grace. Madame Guyon said the same thing. It has taken me a long time to see this and I believe by the great mercy of my God, that, finally a small ray of light is finally starting to pierce through.

    Back to Adam and God. So we see that it was God who before the foundation of the world made the provision and is the one who intiates it and we respond. This is the answer, He begins we respond, we cooperate with him.

    As you said earlier there are two sides to truth. Two sides to every coin. hence Paul the Apostle writes…

    Oh how Great is our God…

    God’s fountain is flowing bro. Please keep sharing!
    Lord bless you.

    Lord bless,


    • Hi Paul,

      I’ve read your comment two or three times now, and want to thank you for sharing. There’s some very precious insight here. God certainly didn’t plan for Adam to sin in the Garden, but He did know it was going to happen. And He had a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world to “cover” him. Why do we try to cover ourselves with fig leaves? Like you said, it’s fear. We don’t trust God’s love enough to come to the Light. We read of Christ that He covereth Himself “with light as with a garment.” Let us always come to the light. Let light be our covering. Instead of hiding in darkness. “If we walk in the Light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”


  5. Beautifully expressed, Allan.



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