I think that N.T. Wright is one of the best theologians on the planet today. I've started reading "After You Believe", which deals with the premise that, while we can never earn anything from God, a long obedience in small things is a required practice in our own sanctification. But even that summary is woefully short of this complex subject; it could so easily be interpreted as a support for legalism (and anyone who knows me personally knows I'm not gonna wear that label very long, rebel that I am).
My own core identity statement says this: I'm surrounded, sustained and totally identified with grace; called and sent by God as a grace ambassador. Character-building must happen in the context of grace, but we must work at building a virtuous character.
"Virtue...is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn't 'come naturally'--and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find they do what's required automatically..." (p. 20)
Wright uses the example of "Sully" Sullenberg, who landed an airplane in the Hudson River and saved probably hundreds of lives both in the plane and on the ground. He didn't have time to consult the manual to see what do to in that circumstance. He'd done it in training and in the real world time after time in "practice", and when it counted, he was able to make the right decisions in the right moment, because he'd built into himself that "virtue" of being a great pilot.
So too it is with us. We must read the Bible, we must "practice" virtue, because one day soon (if not already) we're going to need deep Christian character to act and live justly. There won't be time to read the manual; what is built inside us will emerge. It will determine the choices made. In that moment, it is too late to build character.
Whether you want to be an athlete, an artist, or a leader, character is required. And to live in the kingdom of heaven daily, Christian character is a must. I'll try to blog as I read, cuz this book summary would be almost as long as the book. So hang on!