We complete our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Perseverance. If you’d like to know more about what we’ve been doing, you can read about it here.
Last week, we discussed Learning. In that post, we discovered that spiritual maturity doesn't increase by age and experience alone. It requires a teachable heart.
Each week I have worked to draw your attention to a reminder like this. Going through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. The Holy Spirit will. Engage in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will use them to make you more like Christ. Keep this in mind as we move on from our study of the Spiritual Disciplines.
Our schedules overflow with activity. Most of us go, go, go seven days a week. There is little rest for the weary it seems. The Spiritual Disciplines aren't for a special class of Christians. We don't need more time or a better handle on things.
“The godly person,” Whitney said, “is a busy person. The godly person is devoted to God and to people, and that leads to a full life.” The people we admire are busy people as well. They have responsibilities, families, and jobs like us. In truth, they are busier than we would ever know.
“Laziness,” Whitney said, “never leads to godliness.” He is onto something with that point. Seldom have I met a maturing believer in Christ, whose schedule wasn’t full. As we grow in godliness our level of activity and service increases.
“God makes Christlike people,” Whitney said, “out of busy people, and He does so through the biblical Spiritual Disciplines.” The Disciplines aren’t for a special class of believers, but you and I amidst a crazy schedule. In fact, the Spiritual Disciplines refuel our hearts and give us the power we need to maintain our busy pace. “Instead of adding additional weight,” Whitney said, “the Spiritual Disciplines are actually one of the ways God lightens your load and gives you smoother sailing.”
Our busyness can become an excuse to neglect the Disciplines, but we do so to our detriment. “Without practicing the Spiritual Disciplines,” Whitney said, “we will not be godly; but neither will we be godly without perseverance in practicing the Disciplines.” We can’t do them every once in awhile—when schedules and energy allow—and expect to become more Christlike.
The Holy Spirit isn’t going to impose Christlikeness upon us in this life. We have to discipline ourselves towards that purpose. While salvation is a work of God from beginning to end, sanctification is a work of both God and man. We play a definite and vital role in our sanctification and will experience as much of it as our efforts permit.
Lest we fall into the trap of believing that we bring about the change we seek of our own efforts. “We must perpetually remind ourselves,” Whitney said, “that despite the most fervent diligence to our responsibility to discipline ourselves ‘for the purpose of godliness,’ we cannot make ourselves more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit does that, working through the Disciplines to bring us closer to Jesus and making us more like Him.”
So while there is a role we play in our growth in godliness, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. The Spiritual Disciplines help position us so that when the Holy Spirit sparks, a fire is lit. We don’t have control over when the Holy Spirit does His part, but that shouldn’t cause us to neglect ours.
We aren’t able to grow in Christlikeness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, and we won’t grow in isolation either. It is quite fashionable to rail against the church these days as if one can love God and not love His people. The church is a gift to the believer and we need each other far more than we realize. “Without true fellowship,” Whitney said, “even the Christian who is ardently practicing the personal Spiritual Disciplines will not develop in a biblically proportioned way.”
John Bunyan’s Christian didn’t make the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City alone. And we won’t either. “Associate with sanctified persons,” Thomas Watson said, “They may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you holy.”
Christian fellowship is more than socializing with other believers in Christ. “Christian fellowship,” Whitney said, “involves talking about God, the things of God, and life from a uniquely Christian perspective.” The Lord uses socializing to connect us with both believers and unbelievers alike. There is a higher aim for Christian fellowship. It is to push and stretch us to be about the Lord’s work and ever growing in godliness.
“Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines and progressing in godliness,” Whitney said, “will be accompanied by struggle.” The Christian life is not any easy one. Every believer must do battle with the world, the flesh and the Devil. Christ won the ultimate victory over these three foes at Calvary. We must persevere in the Disciplines to experience that victory day to day.
“So we need to remember,” J.I. Packer said, “that any idea of getting beyond conflict, outward or inward, in our pursuit of holiness in this world is an escapist dream that can only have disillusioning and demoralizing effects on us as waking experience daily disproves it. What we must realize, rather, is that any real holiness in us will be under hostile fire all the time, just as our Lord’s was.”
I’m amazed at the degrees to which we will go to find a loophole or shortcut. I find more and more that there are zero true shortcuts in life. Good old fashioned hard work is required to do anything of real and lasting value. There are those who will attempt to convince you otherwise, but they're wrong. The disciplined application of effort is the only path to that will get you where you want to go.
Whitney has done us a great service by calling to the Christian mind the enduring need of discipline. No amount of will or self-control can get anyone to Heaven. Only Jesus life, death, burial, and resurrection can secure that for us.
“One of the surest signs that someone does cling to Christ,” Whitney said, “is his or her ever-deepening desire to know Him better and to become as much like Him as possible. That is what godliness is, and genuine disciples of Jesus passionately pursue it. And just as the only way to God is through Christ, so the only way to godliness is through the Christ-centered practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.”
I am thankful for Whitney’s reminder of discipline’s place in the Christian life. He has given us a clear a path to pursuing Christlikeness. There will never be a ‘right time’ for me to put in place what I’ve learned these many weeks. However I integrate these Disciplines into my everyday life, I will have to do so with life still up in the air.
Congratulations! You reached the end of our reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. Thank you for coming along for the ride. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. If you didn't jump in with us this time, I'd encourage you to buy the book and walk through the series on your own.
This is the end of our reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. I’d love to hear what stood out to you this week and every week throughout our study. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.