Legalism and Discipline

Discipline can elicit a harsh and immediate rebuke in many Christian circles because it is often equated with legalism. 

Legalism for the unaware is church speak for man-centered righteousness most noticeable in the Pharisees in the New Testament. 

There’s was an external righteousness of earning God’s love and approval. 

God’s Word forcefully and rightly condemns this way of living. 

Pharisaical legalism and discipline aren’t the same. 

One is based on the idea that your actions earn you God’s favor. 

The other is based on the idea that consistency and diligence are the pathways to spiritual growth. 

One concentrates on attaining salvation by works. 

The other concentrates on being transformed into the image of Christ.

Christians often hear the first message when the other is preached and it leads to frustration and heartache. 

The life God calls the Christian to isn’t a life devoid of work. It simply redefines its why. 

You are called to work hard, just not for your salvation. 

Spiritual Disciplines: Worship

We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Worship. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Last week, we learned how the discipline of prayer helps us grow to be more like Christ. In that post, we discovered that meditation on Scripture is the fuel for our prayer life. 

“The rigid rehearsal of a routine,” Whitney said, “is not the same as rightly practicing a Spiritual Discipline.” Don’t hold onto things too tightly. Hold them loosely instead. Our goal in studying the Spiritual Disciplines is that we might grow in Christlikeness, not that we would morph into strange creatures so weighed down by activities and routines that we completely miss their purpose. Remember that we are after growth in godliness not a growing to do list! 


“Worship,” Whitney says, “is focusing on and responding to God.” It’s why we are here, and our purpose for eternity but what does it look like and what does it have to do with our growing in Christlikeness? 

Most picture standing and singing without end when they think of worship and specifically heaven. Popular culture and poor teachers of Scripture have done us a disservice by allowing this image to of worship to remain in our minds. Singing songs to and about God can be worship, but there is more to the worship of God than songs and hymns. 

Nearly any practice can be turned into a moment of worship. “To worship God,” Whitney said, “means to ascribe the proper worth to God, to magnify His worthiness of praise, or better, to approach and address God as He is worthy.” There is no shortage of opportunities to reflect back to God His worth. Drinking a cup of coffee while watching the sun erupt over the horizon can cause praise of the Father to overwhelm your heart. When spontaneous affections for God rise in your heart, you are worshiping God. 

“The more we focus on God,” Whitney said, “the more we understand and appreciate His infinite worth.” It’s not simply that we allow our mind to drift to occasional thoughts of God but rather our intentional focus upon Him that constitutes worship. Focus is key in our understanding of what it means to worship God. Only when God is the center of our attention can He be uppermost in our affection.  

We aren’t to focus our minds towards vague thoughts about God, however, but upon specific attributes and truths about Him found in Scripture. “all worship of God—public, family, and private worship,” Whitney said, “should be based upon and include much of the Bible. The Bible reveals God to us.” God has revealed Himself to us generally through Creation, more specifically in the Bible, and most deliberately in His incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.  

The Bible therefore is central to our proper worship of God. For it is within Scripture that we learn of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is Scripture that we find example after example of faithful men who loved God, yet remained heavily tainted by sin. We see how God intentionally pursued them and in turn see how He has done the same with us. “As we meditate on this and begin to discover more of what it means for God to be holy,” Whitney said, “the Holy Spirit causes the desire to worship Him to overwhelm us.”

This brings to mind Jesus words to the women at the well in John 4:23-24. There he reveals this powerful link between worshiping in spirit and truth. “Before we can worship in spirit and truth we must have within us the One who is the ‘Spirit of truth’, (John 14:17), that is, the Holy Spirit.” Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, true worship can not happen. 

“The Holy Spirit,” Whitney said, “opens minds to the truth of Scripture and awakens hearts that were dead toward God.” He aides us in finding new occasions to praise God each time we open our Bibles. We see new and different things that while present before, did not catch our notice. As we meditate on Scripture the Holy Spirit is at work to kindle our emotions towards worship. 

Worship in truth is worship according to the truth of Scripture.

1.) We worship God as He is revealed in the Bible, not as we might want Him to be. We worship Him according to the truth of who He says He is: a God of both mercy and justice, of love and wrath, who both welcomes into heaven and condemns into hell. 

2.) Worship according to the truth of Scripture means to worship God in the ways to which He has given His approval in Scripture. In other words, we should do in the worship of God what God says in the Bible we should do in worship.”

The title for this and every chapter includes the words “for the purpose of godliness.” Whitney’s book is not concerned merely with our learning new and interesting things about the Spiritual Disciplines. He is more concerned with helping us see how each is given to us by God for our growth in conformity to the image of Christ.

What about worship conforms us to His image? 

“Godliness without the worship of God,” Whitney said, “is unthinkable.” We can’t grow to resemble the character and grace of a God we spend little time beholding. “The worship of God makes believers more godly,” Whitney said, “because people become like their focus.” What we choose to think about shapes us. If we fill our minds with good, pure, honorable things the same will ooze out of us. 

For all we have learned worship to be in this chapter, we must come to grips with the reality that it is both a public and private affair. The one is meant to feed the other. Our private worship of God in meditation upon Scripture and prayer is meant to fuel our corporate worship on Sundays. We will seldom worship a God on Sunday that we haven’t spent time with in private all week long. The opposite is also true. 


I’ve often taken worshiping God for granted. I wrongly assumed that all He wanted from me was a few moments each morning and an hour on Sunday. That idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. God not only desires a deeper richer relationship with us, but has gone to great links to secure it. Why would I not meditate on His Word, thank Him for all He has done for me in Christ and all He is doing in my life through the power of the Holy Spirit? My failure to understand how sweet an invitation to spend time with Him is, is shameful. 

Reading this chapter was the kick in the pants I needed. “We minimize our joy,” Whitney said, “when we neglect the daily worship of God in private.” I’ve found the same to be true about the neglect of public worship as well. I rarely miss my private devotional time. It’s part of my morning routine. But too often I allow myself to miss the joy of gathering with other believers for corporate worship. Sure, there are valid reasons why we miss Sundays, but my heart is the real issue. It should bother me to miss seeing and worshiping with my church family. It should be as important to me as my daily time in Scripture. 

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter six) of the book next Sunday. We may be in the middle of this series, but it’s never too late to get the book and join in. Click here to see what ground we have covered so far.  

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you in this week. Please post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Simply share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read. 

Spiritual Disciplines: Bible Intake

We kick off our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Bible Intake. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Two weeks ago, I introduced the topic of Spiritual Disciplines and shared some of my history with them briefly. In that post, we discovered that Spiritual Disciplines are practices found in God’s word that help cultivate Christlike joy and character within us. We also saw that God uses people, events, and discipline to change us; the latter being the only one we have control over.

There is a danger in this stuff. We must remember that we are to engage in the Spiritual Disciplines out of delight, not duty. Otherwise, they can become a burden that weighs us down or shackles that bind our limbs. At every turn, we must keep the goal of Christlikeness fixed before us! In short, we must beware of drudgery.


Bible intake is about more than reading it. It is a wheel with many spokes, which include hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating. Each of these sub disciplines works in tandem with the others to move the believer into closer intimacy with God. Let me explain.

Hearing - This is the easiest of the disciplines related to the intake of God’s Word. It requires the least effort of us, but delivers something far greater—God’s word faithfully preached. “Disciplining ourselves to hear God’s word,” Whitney said, “means primarily developing the practice of steadfastly attending a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is faithfully preached.” There are additional methods to hearing God’s word, which can include everything from reading it aloud to listening to the radio or a podcast. The important principle to walk away with is a commitment to hearing God’s Word.

Reading - Jesus expected those claiming to be the people of God would have read the Word of God. We see it over and over again throughout the gospels. Sadly, studies have shown only 18% of Christians read the Bible daily. “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ,” Whitney said, “discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Schedule ten minutes at the start of your day to read through a passage or even a single verse of Scripture. Start filling your mind with it daily. “God promises that those who read and heed His Word will be blessed.” Whitney said, “But only those who discipline themselves to do so will receive those blessings” Remember that our goal is Christlikeness however, many a man—myself included— has turned this life giving practice into one of toil and strife. Be on guard, and fix your end in mind each time you open your Bible.

Studying - The discipline of studying God’s Word, “takes you beneath the surface of Scripture,” Whitney said, “for an unhurried look of clarity and detail that’s normally missed by those who simply read the text.” This is my favorite discipline, I must confess. While I enjoy reading through God’s Word each day, I love slowing down to chew on it even more. To study Scripture is to immerse yourself in a single passage, idea or book for a period of time, that you might glean a deeper understanding of it. Don’t be intimidated to start. A pen and paper are all you need. Write down what stands out to you as your read, and questions you have. There are a million resources to help you study God’s Word in-depth. “Don’t settle only for spiritual food,” Whitney said, “that’s been ‘predigested’ by others.”

Memorizing - Hearing, reading and studying God’s Word is great, but they aren’t usually sufficient for remembering what you’ve learned. For that, you’ll need to apply yourself to memorizing God’s Word. This is where all the spokes on the Bible Intake wheel, start coming together. Memorizing Scripture, helps you not only remember what you’ve read but have access to it at just the right moment. “When Scripture is stored in your mind,” Whitney said, “ it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most.” The Spirit can’t call it to mind in your time of need if you haven’t memorized it. This is your best tool in the fight against temptation. Memorizing God’s Word also strengthens our faith, by reminding us of truth and gives us words of encouragement to share with others. “Until the verses are hidden in the heart,” Whitney said, “they aren’t available to use with the mouth.”

Meditating - “Let’s define meditation,” Whitney said, “as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture, or upon life from a spiritual perspective, for the purposes of understanding, application and prayer.” I hadn’t given much thought to the discipline of meditation prior to reading this chapter for the first time. I engaged in many of the meditation practices Whitney mentions without realizing it. This chapter challenged me to start intentionally letting God’s Word brew in my brain. The practice of meditation found in Scripture isn’t an emptying of the mind, but a filling of the mind with truth. “Hearing and reading the Bible is the exposure to Scripture—that’s needful, but it’s only the starting place.” Whitney said, “After the exposure to Scripture we need to absorb it. Meditation is the absorption of Scripture. And it’s the absorption of Scripture that leads to the experience of God and the transformation of life we long for when we come to the Bible.”

The overriding principle of these two chapters is this: “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ, discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Are we disciplined in the ways we seek God’s Word? Do we use these five spokes to fill our hearts and minds with the very words of God? Becoming a doer of the Word comes through meditation upon it. The general rule, then, in your personal, daily intake of Scripture is to both read and meditate.


I’ve read and listened to many talks on the topic Bible intake. Few have reached my heart in as convicting and convincing a fashion as these two chapters from Whitney. Being shaped and changed by God’s Word is a far more active endeavor on our part than is usually encouraged. It seems most Christians barely drink at the well of reading the Bible, let alone investing the energy and time it takes to actively engage with it. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times—no one escapes failure in this regard.

Whitney says that growth in Godliness starts with the disciplined intake of Scripture. It is the lifeblood that runs through all other Spiritual Disciplines. If we would grow in Godliness, we need to apply ourselves to this task. Let me then leave you with the words of John Blanchard:

“Surely we only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face problems, temptation, and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and greater encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear his voice, feel his touch, know his power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day! As the American evangelist D.L. Moody put it, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter four) of the book next Sunday. We have only begun, so there is plenty of time to get the book and join in.

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you in these two chapters. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.