Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Fitbit Spirituality

I just got my annual report from Fitbit for 2021.

My busiest day was August 9 with 21,631 steps. I have no idea what I did that day, but whatever it was, I did a lot of it. 

My total steps for the year came in at 3,847,612. The report told me that was like dancing to 10,632 of my favorite songs. Probably not the best analogy for me…

My total days of exercise – 301 – was encouraging. The community average was apparently 97. Just writing that last sentence felt like posting that I completed my daily Wordle on the second try.

I like my Fitbit. I like hitting my daily goal of 10,000 steps. I like hitting my goal of five days of exercise each week. It takes physical activity and fitness and makes it simple and quantifiable.

Have you ever wished for a spiritual Fitbit? Something that would tell you that you met your spiritual steps for the day – as in minutes prayed, number of times you followed God’s will or times temptation was resisted – and through it all, a sense of where you stand with God?

Don’t wish for it. Run from it. It would be the opposite of authentic spirituality. This is what set up the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day—the “teachers of the law” and the group known as the Pharisees. They were very religious and considered to be the holiest people of the day. They had taken the Old Testament and calculated that it contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they lifted those out and vowed to obey every single one of them. And just to make sure that they didn’t break one of those rules, they made rules about the rules and laws about the laws—as in more than 1,500 additions. 

To avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain, they refused to even say God’s name—even in honor and respect, worship or prayer

To avoid committing adultery, they would lower their head whenever they passed a woman so that they wouldn’t even look at her because if they looked, they might lust. This is why the most holy of all were known as “bleeding Pharisees” because they were lowering their heads so much that they were always running into walls. 

They also decided that on holy days, a person could eat but not cook; that you could bandage a wounded person but not apply medicine. And if you were a woman, you couldn’t look in the mirror because you might see a gray hair, and if you saw a gray hair, you might be tempted to pluck it out, and plucking out a gray hair was considered work, and you couldn’t work on that day.

All such things are religion. But Christianity is not about religion, it’s about a relationship. When you make it about religion or legalism, then it quickly devolves into gaming the system. You can play it like a tax lawyer would. Loopholes and technicalities; the letter of the law, but never its spirit.

(You can do this with a Fitbit, too. I’ve gained steps just by driving my car. I moved my hand as if walking, and I was credited for walking, but I was sitting the entire time.)

Jesus isn’t after my 10,000 steps. He’s after the kind of person I am while I am walking, however many steps I take. 

And that’s something only God can track.

James Emery White

Sources

Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.


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