An Introduction to the Christian Disciplines
As I mentioned in January, a primary focus for my writing this year would be to review some of the answers I've found over the years to the following questions:
So If I’m going to pursue a life of depth, if I’m going to actively pursue God, to seek him and knock on the door, how will I go about it? How can I follow the exhortations I see in Scripture, to be holy as he is holy, without moving my focus from him to my works?
The answer is multifaceted, but it includes the disciplines we see exhorted in Scripture. From there, I talked about how the purpose of these disciplines is to seek his presence and the end result is a change in what we desire. But, like any good thing, it takes hard work to get to that point.
What That Work Looks Like
We see a lot of different terms in the Bible that speak to how to live a well ordered, God pleasing life. Again, we’re talking about working out our salvation, not working for. We have to beat this truth home again and again.
Christ’s work on the cross — and only his work — makes us right with God. But after this redemption, while we live in this world, we are soldiers at war, fighting against the powers of darkness as well as the selfish desires of our own heart. We rest in his grace, while at the same time dressing ourselves for battle each day.
And it’s the various disciplines that Christians have used for centuries that can help us prepare.
Here are a few words we see used in Scripture to exhort us in this battle: disciple, discipline, chasten, subdue, keep, diligence. Some of these terms we do not use in many modern contexts, so it may help to define them.
chasten (paideuó): to train up a child, educate, or discipline (by punishment), instruct, teach
train (gumnazó): to practice naked, i.e. train, exercise or training
keep (hypōpiazō, also often translated as discipline or subdue): to hit under the eye, buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist, subdue (one’s passions)
This last one sounds a little harsh, no? But rather than alluding to the sin of self-mortification, God is pointing out to us in his word just how serious we need to take things. Jesus did not humble himself, take on human flesh, and suffer the wrath of the Father only so we can live a life of comfort.
Justification is not a spiritual club Med
Rather, Christ is the “firstborn over many brethren” and we are to follow his example.
But we cannot do that with half measures.
Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
1 Cor 9:26,27
In his epistles, Paul illustrates how we’re to approach our life here using the examples of Olympic athletes and soldiers. In order to overcome our self-focused tendencies and selfish desires, we have to approach the battle as if each day is our last.
Where Is the Focus?
The primary way we do well in this battle is to keep our eyes on Christ. Like the bronze serpent Moses raised in the desert, we’ll only survive if we keep a laser focus on our saviour himself. And this is the purpose of the disciplines of the Christian faith.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
The disciplines we see in Scripture and in church history enable the diligence spoken of in Hebrews 11. And they are not a burden, but a blessing. Consistently seeking out God through fasting, prayer, meditation and the like will help us lose our taste for the things of this earth. Why?
Because we learn to enjoy Him more.
All of these writers are united in their view of the spiritual disciplines as crucial means to the pursuit of God.
Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image
So, what are these disciplines I keep talking about? We see many mentioned explicitly in the Bible. Others are implicit. Here are the ones I see: study, prayer, meditation, solitude, silence, fasting, worship, fellowship, submission, service, and confession.
I’ll close with this thought: apart from the last one, which of these did Christ not do? And if the son of God needed these in order to complete his work, how much more so do we?&