An Exercise in Spiritual Arithmetic

Back in the dark ages before electronics began to dominate our world, American ingenuity produced a way to liberate us from pads and pencils and the burden of having to do arithmetic in our heads. Mechanical engineers rose to confront the curse of multiplication tables and the awful torture of doing long division. They defeated it all with a bunch of gears, springs, levers, and buttons. There was a heady sense of freedom that came with knowing that all we had to do was punch in the figures and pull a lever or hit a button and like magic, the correct answer and the whole operation would be printed out on a piece of paper. Mechanical euphoria had arrived in our world! 

An Ironic Situation ~
Eventually, that mechanical world intermingled with my own. I worked as a maintenance and repair technician, and my days were spent gazing into the inner workings of one of thoseAddition.2 mechanical marvels. It was ironic, to say the least. After faithfully avoiding direct involvement with mathematics whenever possible since the fourth grade, finding myself working with machines whose entire purpose was to perform mathematical calculations was laughable. But it wasn’t the math that I found intriguing. It was the fact that those operations could be performed mechanically that aroused my curiosity. Now, many years later, there’s another aspect that captivates my attention. A comment from one of my favorite Bible teachers connected a mechanical process to some implications that are spiritual. 

The inspirational comment was that our spirituality isn’t defined by the things we don’t do. It’s the things we do that reveal our true condition. In light of my past experience as a technician, I’d like to borrow that idea and try to reframe it in the context of the mechanical world I used to live in. In that regard, I’d say it like this . . . Our spiritual growth isn’t measured by what we subtract from our lives. It’s measured by what we add

Defined by the “Don’ts” ~
I love hearing people share their stories of how they came to personal faith in Jesus, but I especially love hearing about the journey with Jesus that followed. The testimonies of how He protected them, delivered them, and provided for them provide powerful reinforcements. The addition.3accounts often include reports of deliverance from the self-destructive and sinful practices that once held them captive. Some tell of being liberated from the bondage of addiction or compulsive behavior. Others confess patterns of sexual misconduct, serial dishonesty, bad relational choices, and other self-defeating behaviors that end in shame and regret. I’ve noticed that a recurrent theme attends many of these testimonies . . . After describing their new birth experience, the major focus tends to be on the things they no longer do, the places they no longer go, the kinds of relationships they no longer develop, and the kinds of activities they no longer engage in.

Let me be quick to say that I am wildly in favor of the kind of genuine faith in Jesus that facilitates getting the garbage out of our lives. But I’m also concerned that we remind ourselves that there’s more to being a follower of Jesus than leaving our toxic baggage behind. He didn’t just call us from something. He called us to something. Following Jesus is neither sedentary nor circular. It is like Him, always reaching outward and moving forward. Jesus was constantly adding new insights to ancient laws and unveiling new, positive perspectives on familiar customs that had lost their meaning. Jesus didn’t distinguish Himself by highlighting all the things He would not do on the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus added something new. He demonstrated that the Sabbath could be a time for displaying compassion, healing, and restoration. Jesus made it appealing rather than burdensome.

Doing Mechanical Math ~
Jesus’ focus on adding things that are positive rather than trying to strip away all possible negatives brings my mind back to those early machines and how mechanical math is done. There are four basic math functions that must be accomplished: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The thing I found most fascinating about them was that theyaddition.4 accomplished all that with an internal device that could only do one thing – and that device was called a register. It was made up of two parallel shafts with rows of small interconnected gears that could rotate forward or backward. If a gear rotated in one direction, it was considered to be performing addition. If the same gear rotated in the opposite direction, it was theoretically doing subtraction, but in truth, it was only adding in reverse. And when you consider that multiplication is really only a matter of adding the same number a specified number of times and division is simply beginning with a predetermined number and repeatedly subtracting another number from it, the little mechanical register could handle it all. 

The internal “register” that God built in us is sufficient to handle all that He called us to do. But it’s important to realize that the same gears are in motion regardless of whether we hit the “add” button or the “subtract” button. When it comes to spiritual things, the process that gets our primary attention has a great deal to do with how we approach our role as followers of Jesus. God isn’t ambiguous about where He wants our focus to be, and He declared it through the Apostle Peter: 

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks [failed to add] these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. (2 Peter 1:5–9 NKJV)

Later, he followed up with this:

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow [continue to add] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17–18 NKJV)

Growing Through Addition ~
Truth is, we came into the world functioning like little adding machines. We come equipped and prepared to grow, and we do that by adding things. Much of our parents’ time was devoted addition.5to determining which way our little internal gears were turning. They wanted us to be adding the things that were good for us and to subtract those that would get us in trouble. They may or may not have realized that those same gears are still in motion, regardless of which way they’re turning – and that brings us to the point we want to make.

Those concepts God calls us to add are not just mental acknowledgments. They are behavioral practices. They require time, energy, and activity. If we set out to add virtuous characteristics to our life, for instance, the time spent doing that will influence the removal of things that are not virtuous – and the same principle applies to all of those positive qualities Peter mentioned. 

We aren’t called to distinguish ourselves by all the sinful things we refuse to do or by trumpeting warnings to those who engage in them. The growth we’re expected to display comes through addition, not subtraction. In this spiritually oppositional culture of negativity, we’re called to add demonstrations of love, acts of compassion, the fruit of forgiveness, and examples of the power of hope. To the degree we add things like that, we’ll be decreasing their opposite at the same time. 

Our gears will be turning every day. It’s time to make a conscious decision to focus our spiritual arithmetic by “adding” things that are missing. 

TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below.  Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter.

    • “For many Christ followers, we tend to focus on things we no longer do, places we no longer go, the kinds of relationships we no longer develop, and activities we no longer engage in. But He didn’t just call us ‘from’ something. He called us ‘to’ something.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
    • “Concepts God calls us to add are not just mental acknowledgments, but behavioral practices. They require time, energy, activity. If we set out to add virtuous characteristics to our life, the time spent doing that will influence  removing things that are not.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 
    • “We are not called to distinguish ourselves by all the sinful things we refuse to do, or trumpeting warnings to those who engage in them. The growth we’re expected to display comes through addition, not subtraction.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 
    • “In this spiritually oppositional culture of negativity, we’re called to add demonstrations of love, acts of compassion, the fruit of forgiveness, and examples of the power of hope. To the degree we add these, we’ll be ‘decreasing’ their opposite at the same time.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)  

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About Ron Gallagher, Ed.S

Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher, Humorist, Satirist, Blogger ... "Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World" For Ron's full bio, go to
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6 Responses to An Exercise in Spiritual Arithmetic

  1. Jason says:

    I love this approach to our Christian walk. Addition!


    • Thanks so much for the encouragement, Jason. Hearing from you always adds a bright spot to our day. We’re sending back our praise for the way God uses you and your family and our continuing prayers that the fruit of the seeds you sow will affect generations to come.


  2. Math was always my downfall in school, Ron, but I managed to plug away at it with some loving tutoring by my father. Without him, I would have never survived algebra! And much like my earthly dad, our Father in heaven is pulling us forward to understand and add new concepts of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Let us keep our hearts and minds open to the lessons He daily reveals in order to draw us closer to Him. We have nothing to lose, and everything worth having to add.
    Blessings, and thanks again for another soul-stirring post!


    • Sorry to be late getting back to you again, Martha–was sort of overwhelmed with a graduation weekend for the the youngest grandosn in our “southern crop.” But aside from that, I always love being on the same page with you, and knowing that we share a similar relationship with math makes me smile. I’m relieved to know that God handles the important mathematical calculations and that it even includes the number of hairs on our head (a process that has required numerous revisions as I’ve gotten older). Most of all, I’m blessed beyond expression that we are included in the number of followers that Jesus went to prepare places for in the Father’s house. And once again, thank you for blessing our day with your gracious and encouraging comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. JD Wininger says:

    Did you know you were writing this post for me today sir? Well, of course, you wrote it to God; that He would bless your words and multiply them across the world to reach many; but it sure did speak to me this week. I was just thinking about “the balance sheet of my life” this week, and while God has taken various sins, vices, fears, and hurts from my life, He has given far more than He has taken away. I actually thought about the old 10-key I had on my desk for many years, to help mom balance the day’s receipts from our station. Then came those electronic gadgets, and like the way of the mechanical typewriter (I had an old secondhand Royal, you?), the adding machine gave way to the electronic 10-key (there was an extra key added for the zero). 🙂 Of course, the whirring gears and mechanical keys became push buttons and semiconductors. The results were the same. Oh, I could do more complex mathematics with my Texas Instruments scientific calculator. It replaced the slide rule, but it came with a cool pouch that fit on my belt. Oh, come on. I KNOW I wasn’t the only kid with one of those and a pocket protector. LOL

    Still, no matter how complex the equation, arriving at the answer still reaches the conclusion that positive is always better than negative, and negative balances are never good. Sometimes, reaching zero is okay, but doing so means you’ve broken even, not that you’ve gained. I don’t think God wants that. As I’m writing, the thought came to mind, that’s what many so-called Christians seek, a zero balance. They think that if they claim salvation yet do nothing else beyond keeping a pew warm on Sunday mornings, they’ll be saved from eternal damnation. That’s not the way “Spiritual Algebra” works though. When God takes away our sin, He adds His Holy Spirit to those who are truly saved. When that happens, the multiplication begins. If we are truly saved, then the Holy Spirit cannot leave us with a zero balance. As in algebra, what you take away from one side, must be done to the other. But in “Spiritual Algebra”, God replaces what He takes away with much more, when you share what He gives. He must increase as we (our human spirit) decrease. That’s the work of sanctification. If you only get to the justification stage, then friends, someone forgot to hit the Total button, Enter key, or pull that handle!

    Loved this post brother; will climb down from my soapbox again. I sure seem to do that a lot with your posts, don’t I? God’s blessings sir, and I sure wish we could attend BRMCWC together, but then again, Ridgecrest might never be the same. 🙂 best to Ms. Diane. What saints God gave us my friend.


    • You always give us reasons to smile, and often laugh out loud, as you intertwine those glances over your shoulder at those earlier days when God was molding us and shaping us and laying the groundwork for principles He’d be unveiling later. And speaking of which, no, you weren’t the only one with one of those calculators and a pocket protector. I wish I had a picture of that classic look, but cameras weren’t so simple to use back then either.
      Your point about the way so many “Christians” seem to be seeking some kind of zero balance was a powerful insight, and I loved your comment about “Spiritual Algebra.” It encapsulates the main idea I was shooting for. We’re not here to just sit in our pews and “be forgiven.” We’re here to take something fresh and new and hopeful to this rotten sin cursed world around us. Mrs. Diane and I love the way you do that.
      I have to say, though, that your response was not without a downside. My smile faded when you mentioned Ridgecrest. As the conference gets closer, I try not to look at the calendar, because there’s no way to think about it and not feel left out. It’s like being invited to a party with all your favorite people and not being able to go. But as usual, my Diane intervened and said that I should stop pouting and start praising God. We may not get to go to Ridgecrest, but that we can at least look forward to hearing about it over a Texas dinner and getting to meet the Cross-Dubya family, including Bubba and his new playmate. So take some good notes, Brother, and you can fill me in on what I missed later this summer.


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