I intend to write a series of articles on the topic of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.
Discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose. Discipline is the firm resolution or purpose to do something. This is not foreign to our society. The business world is full of “go-getters.” Many there are who work hard to succeed, who are driven and scheduled, and who are determined to accomplish the tasks before them. What is the motivation behind such discipline? Their goal is to get ahead in the world, to further their reputation, and to receive the praise of men.
But with that kind of discipline we want no part.
As adopted sons and daughters of God, we desire to grow in spiritual discipline. If discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose, then spiritual discipline is the commitment and resolve to serve God in His kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. These activities are many and varied, including, but certainly not limited to, public worship, family devotions, private devotions, and Bible memorization. All the activities can be summed up with one word: worship. We will explore these spiritual disciplines in future posts.
These spiritual disciplines are an aspect of our life of sanctification: our life of separation from sin and consecration to God. These disciplines belong to the category of good works. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 33, defines good works as “Only those [works] which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.”
This pursuit of godliness has a source: true faith. Faith is the bond that unites us to Christ. Only those who are united to Christ (the elect), and have His life coursing through their spiritual veins, will exercise themselves unto godliness. This purpose to serve God in His kingdom is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the fertile soil of the regenerated heart. By the work of the Spirit of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus we are strengthened and enabled to live this life.
This purpose to serve God in His kingdom has a standard: the law of God. The law of God is the Ten Commandments, summarized by Jesus this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). We seek, in these spiritual activities, to live in conformity to the will of God.
This disciplined life has a goal: the glory of God. The glory of God is the radiating forth of all His attributes. When we make ourselves busy in the things of God’s kingdom, our goal, our aim, is always the magnifying and extolling of God’s attributes, especially the attribute of His holiness. Whatever we do, we do it to please Him.
Of course, as is true of all our good works, we live our lives in this disciplined way, not to earn anything with God, but rather to show our thankfulness to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Gratitude for God’s grace is what will drive us, day after day, morning and evening, to be consistent and disciplined in these activities of the sanctified life.
The Bible addresses this matter of spiritual discipline, perhaps more than you might think. The scripture does so under a number of different figures, all of which, in some way, carry the idea of spiritual discipline. Paul commands young pastor Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7, 8). In Hebrews 12:1, 2, we are exhorted to run the race: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” II Timothy 2:3, 4 calls to mind the training and rigorous discipline of a soldier: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” This is only a very short list; can you think of more figures?
Are you disciplined? Do you exercise? Are you a runner? Are you a soldier? God requires of us discipline in the Christian life. How crucial a subject this is!
Next time we will look at the need for discipline. After that, we will consider these spiritual disciplines, one by one.