True Grit

“The way is hard that leads to life.” (Matthew 7:14)

“By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:19)

We humans are always seeking to discover new keys to success. But nowadays we’re hearing more and more about something of a rediscovery. After much research, it turns out that across all ethnic, socio-economic, educational, and psychological demographics “one characteristic emerge[s] as a significant predictor of success… grit” (Duckworth).

Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth has made grit the focus of years of study. She defines grit as “the ability to persevere in pursuing a future goal over a long period of time and not giving up… It is having stamina. It’s sticking with your future, day-in, day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Grit. The relentless resolve to keep pursuing a desired goal and not giving up. Wouldn’t you know? Your grandfather was right after all: Success does look a lot like hard work.

Grit in the Bible

You won’t find the word grit in a credible English translation of the Bible. But it’s there nonetheless. The Bible’s terms for grit are steadfastness (1 Corinthians 15:58) and endurance (Luke 21:19). Steadfastness is the determination to remain at your post come what may. Endurance is the determination to keep moving toward your desired goal despite external challenges and internal weariness.

The Bible is replete with gritty examples:

  • Noah building a huge ship over decades as he waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

  • Abraham and Sarah living like strangers in the land of promise and waiting a quarter century into old age as they waited for the fulfillment of God’s promised child.

  • Jacob serving his devious uncle, Laban, for many years as he waited for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

  • Joseph languishing in an Egyptian prison as he waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

  • Moses leading the recalcitrant Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years as he waited for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

  • And “time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32), and of Mary, the disciples, and Paul.

And Jesus. Jesus, the man of such sorrows as we’ll never know, who in the garden, facing a horror that only God could experience, said to his Father, “not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36) and moved with relentless determination to the cross. Never has more grit for the sake of love ever been seen.

But this biblical grit differs from worldly, bootstrap-variety grit in a crucial way. Biblical steadfastness and endurance has, at its core, a faith that rests on the promises of God and therefore is full of hope (Romans 15:13). True godly grit is able to strive hard and stand fast because it is empowered by God’s grace. That’s why Paul could say things like, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

What Produces Grit?

Biblical grit is not a genetic trait. It is an acquired character trait. True grit is forged in the fires of adversity.

Pressure, which I wrote about last week, is a force that pushes us forward. But adversity is a force that opposes or pushes against us. And like pressure, we often resent adversity. But, like pressure, adversity in the hand of God becomes a grace to us (Romans 8:28), even though it may be the result of evil futility (Romans 8:20) or active demonic evil (2 Corinthians 12:7). That’s why the Bible teaches us not to resent adversity, but to be grateful for it:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

All kinds of adversity, because of God’s grace, strengthens the Christian’s faith. Just like our brains and our bodies, faith is only strengthened by vigorous exercise. Adversity produces strong, gritty faith.

We Have Need of Grit

So life is hard — harder than we ever expected. Well, Jesus told us it would be hard (Matthew 7:14; John 16:33), and our gritty forebears all found it harder than they expected too, so we are in good company. Like the Bible says, we have need of grit:

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36).

The reason we have need of grit is that there is a promise to receive! Jesus has made us a promise: eternal life (John 10:28). And that life will no longer be subject to futility (Romans 8:20), no longer be lived in a world ruled by the evil one (1 John 5:19), no longer be characterized by adversity for “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will] have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And we will see our Savior face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and we shall be like him (1 John 3:2) and we “will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

This is why Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). And it’s why James told us to count all our trials as joy. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), and the gift of faith becomes gritty faith through struggling against adversity. Therefore adversity produces endurance and “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

So as you weather the adversity God is ordaining for you today, know that ultimately you are receiving from him the gritty gift of endurance. And “by your endurance you will gain your [eternal] lives” (Luke 21:19).