Welcome to week seven of “The Pursuit of Holiness” book club. I missed posting for a few weeks due to the Easter holiday and sickness in my house. If you would like to go back and read the prior posts in this book club series, click these links: Intro, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6.
This week, we’re looking at chapter ten, “The Place of Personal Discipline.”
“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales;
rather, train yourself to be godly.”
1 Timothy 4:7
Last time, we looked at putting sin to death. Two elements that are needed for that are convictions and commitment. We need to recognize the convictions that the Holy Spirit gives us. Then by His strength, we need commitment to follow through and act according to His convictions.
This time, we begin by recognizing that we are all imperfect humans, and that even with convictions and commitment, the goal of holiness can still go unachieved. In the first three months of a new year, do you look around and see the shrapnel of all the broken resolutions people made and failed to keep? Years ago, as a young adult with plans and goals, I used to attempt making resolutions each January. No matter what it was, I was never able to keep focused and stick with it. It would inevitably fall to the wayside. I learned to stop making resolutions because the calendar told me to, and just do things when I’m inspired and motivated, no matter when it is.
We also live in a society of “instant gratification.” We need high-speed internet, microwave ovens, and 60-second heat up rollers. (I bought new rollers a few weeks ago, boldly advertising on the box how quickly they are ready to use!) I suppose we have trouble keeping our resolutions because our goal just isn’t achieved fast enough. We grow bored or tired of the work and then are more susceptible to being distracted by something else that comes our way that can offer some level of satisfaction.
Jay Adams said, “You may have sought and tried to obtain instant godliness. There is no such thing…We want somebody to give us three easy steps to godliness, and we’ll take them next Friday and be godly. The trouble is, godliness doesn’t come that way.” No, my friends, we can’t just take a pill, do a few exercises, nor have a formula to be godly.
The answer is in Christian discipline. There’s that bad word, discipline, that our inner longing for a life of ease cringes from. For me, someone who has never been able to commit to journaling or an exercise regimen for more than a couple weeks, or hasn’t been able to follow a Bible reading plan for more than a couple months at a time, discipline is a big, scary word. In the “religious” arena, discipline seems to take on notes of negativity and harshness, perhaps even legalistic.
The dictionary defines discipline as training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. In the Bible, Paul speaks of discipline as structured training, in the same sense as an athlete who is training for a big race or the Olympics.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,
but [only] one receives the prize?
So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours.
Now every athlete who goes into training
conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things.
They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither,
but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither.
Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim).
I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary.
But [like a boxer] I buffet my body
[handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships]
and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel
and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit
[not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit].”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 AMP
Just as an athlete in training has a plan, so we ought to have a spiritual training plan. To be clear, the purpose of this plan is not to check things off a religious to-do list every day so that we can either feel better about ourselves or in an effort to make God happy with us. That’s missing the point. It’s so we can build our relationship with Jesus and run our races (lives) well.
There’s no better place to begin implementing our plans than with the reading of the Word. We need to set aside regular time to read the Bible. And a regular time to meditate (think) on what we read and how we can apply it to our lives. Plan a time that works in your schedule. There are different methods for being in God’s Word: by hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating.
Jay Adams said, “It is by willing, prayerful and persistent obedience to the requirements of the Scriptures that godly patterns are developed and become a part of us.” There is no other way to break our sinful habits. Here’s what our interaction with the Holy Spirit looks like as we get into the Word:
The Spirit wrote the Scripture —> We learn the Scripture —> The Spirit brings to our mind what we learn —> We apply what He brings to mind.
Jerry gives three questions to ask ourselves as we read and meditate on Scripture each day:
- What does this passage teach concerning God’s will for a holy life?
- How does my life measure up to that Scripture; specifically where and how do I fall short? (Be specific; don’t generalize.)
- What definite steps of action do I need to take to obey?
Jerry iterates how important it is to make specific application to specific life situations. Coming up with an action plan might make us uncomfortable because it requires change. But to get to holiness, change is required.
He says, “We deceive our souls when we grow in knowledge of the truth without specifically responding to it. (James 1:22 – “But be doers of the Word [obey the message], and not merely listeners to it, betraying yourselves [into deception by reasoning contrary to the Truth].) This may lead to spiritual pride. (1 Corinthians 8:1 – “…Yet mere knowledge causes people to be puffed up (to bear themselves loftily and be proud)…)”
I admit that I’ve been there before. Being raised in church, I knew all the stories and heard the truths of Scripture over and over on Sunday mornings. I would read the Bible here and there, but for many years, not on a regular basis. When I did, I glossed over things, didn’t meditate on it or try to make life applications. There were some sins that I didn’t even realize were there. I was deceived by knowledge without a growing, active relationship with Jesus. I fear, especially in our fast-paced, overcommitted culture, this is where lots and lots of Christians are stuck – and many don’t even know it.
This discipline of studying Scripture and making life application is a lifelong process. The Word is referred to as “the Living Word,” which means that you can constantly pull truths from it. You can read a passage one day, and depending where you’re at in life, it will say one thing to you. You can go back a year later and read it again, being at a different place in life, and it can speak something else to you. (It’s the work of the Holy Spirit.)
So tying this back in with the beginning of the post, being in an instant gratification culture, we need perseverance for our lifelong journey of discipline. Not only is it lifelong, but we will likely stumble and fall many times along the way. It’s easy to get discouraged, but with the Holy Spirit working in us, giving us strength and perseverance, we can continue. Jerry also points out that as we grow in the knowledge of God’s holiness and in the practice of holiness, the gap between the two will grow wider apart. That might make us feel like we aren’t accomplishing as much as we should be, again discouraged. But it is the Holy Spirit’s way of drawing us to more and more holiness.
For your journal:
1. Look up the following verses and write what they teach about Christian discipline:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 3:16
2. Why is perseverance needed in Christian discipline? How can these verses help us persevere?
Proverbs 24:16; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 12:3
3. Write a plan of action – how you can get daily doses of the Word into your schedule. For example, Sundays might be going to church to hear a sermon. Maybe you can catch a sermon on Christian radio one day a week. Maybe you can use a Bible app to get a verse of the day to meditate on. Maybe you can read a quick devotional or perhaps you have time for a more in-depth study. Or you can tape index cards with verses on them in places where you look often: the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the coffee maker, or in your car. Get a plan that works for you.