In the summer 1991 I read the biography of Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators and a man of intense and effective spiritual discipline. Later, in the fall of 1992, I read the book Holiness by J.C. Ryle which was given to me as a gift by a man named Mike Edmunds, one of the elders of the church where I was working as a youth pastor. As I read Holiness, while still under the influence of the Trotman biography, I was completely overcome by the fact that there was only one thing keeping me from being a more godly man on more deeply intimate terms with my Savior. Me! Or more specifically, my sinful lack of spiritual discipline. The question in my mind wasn’t how I could look more spiritual or add more rules to my life. The issue was how much did I want to delight the heart of my Savior and bring glory to my heavenly Father – by deepening in my knowledge of, pursuit of, and satisfaction in, Him. And what was I willing to give up in order to gain it.
Since we are all called to glorify God by conforming to His image, building His church, and leading our families (or others) in a God-honoring fashion, we must learn the duty and delight of spiritual discipline. In order for this to happen we must find greater delight in bringing God glory and doing what is best for others, than in satisfying our carnal nature. No man consistently disciplines himself unless it is for something that brings him great pleasure. Thus, only the Spirit-filled man or woman can be truly disciplined, for only he can delight in spiritual things.
Spiritual discipline is the practical side of the call to discipleship – to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus. Effective denial requires intense discipline.
The thesis of this series of posts is:
The command by God to be spiritually disciplined is fundamentally a call to do the hard work of delighting ourselves in Him in greatest measure and thus impact the eternal destiny of all whom God has placed in our sphere of influence.
Discipline is a duty and delight which results in effective service
A. The Foundation of Spiritual Discipline
First, lets consider the foundation of spiritual discipline laid by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:7-8:
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Paul authoritatively states the call for discipline, as a command, not a suggestion. The Greek word , translated “discipline” is gymnazo and carries the connotation of rigorous training to the the point of exhaustion. It was often used for the regimen undergone by athletes preparing for the Olympics and indicates intense effort for a carefully considered goal.
Spiritual Discipline Thwarts “Old Wives Tales.”
One of the primary benefits of spiritual disciple, as commanded by Paul, is that it enables the Christian to supplant the “worldly fables” of the world. These “old wives tales” consist of everything the world believes about life, meaning, purpose, and value. These beliefs are all tainted with the effects of sin on the hearts of the men who base their lives upon them. Myths such as: man is inherently good; you can determine your own reality; you can only be fulfilled if you follow your own dreams and desire; there is no God; changing your circumstances will make you happy; and many, many more. In fact, every one of the worlds religions and “anti-religions” amount to nothing more than foolish vanity.
Spiritual Discipline is for the purpose of godliness
There is only one thing standing between us and the depth of intimacy with Christ – ourselves. Paul urges Timothy to focus his efforts on vigorous training for genuine godliness. John MacArthur defines godliness as: the right attitude and response toward the true Creator God; a preoccupation from the heart with holy and sacred realities. It is respect for what is due to God, and is thus the highest of all virtues. Oswald Sanders states, “Without this essential quality, all other gifts remain as dwarfs: they cannot grow. So discipline appears first on our list. Before we can conquer the world, we must first conquer self.”
Spiritual Discipline is a fruit of the Spirit
Spiritual discipline, however, is just that, spiritual. It is not the effort of the “type A” personality driven to dominate others by the force of his will. True discipline has nothing to do with personality. The discipline that results is godliness is a fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Ga 5:22-23
This means that in order to be spiritually disciplined, a person must be regenerated by the Spirit of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God (facts that are true of every believer), but also increasingly filled with (i.e. controlled by) the Spirit as Paul commands in Ephesians 5:8.
Spiritual Discipline is an Eternal Benefit
The beauty of Spirit produced discipline is that, unlike bodily discipline, which only produces earthly benefits, spiritual discipline produces godliness – which is profitable both for this life and the life to come. It is literally beneficial for “all things,” that is, no part of our life, both now and in eternity, is left unimproved by the exercise of spiritual discipline.
In this present world, godliness brings effective service, joy, hope, peaceful relationships, and a host of other benefits; while at the same time preparing us for eternity spent with Christ by storing up reward in heaven. Later in this same epistle, Paul challenges Timothy to instruct the “rich” (a title applicable to nearly every American Christian):
. . . to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Timothy 6:18-19 – emphasis added )
Once the foundation of Spiritual discipline is understood, we must practice the spiritual disciplines with wisdom and diligence. More on that in tomorrow’s blog. For today, my primary exhortation is to carefully consider the benefits of discipline, not just its difficulties, and then begin to humbly seek the Lord for a deeper desire and greater motivation to pursue the godliness which enables us to bring Him glory now, and fits us for heaven later!