The Spiritual Disciplines
As Paul wrote his magnum opus, Romans he included two crucial truths about the good news of Jesus Christ: 1) it is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16–17) and 2) those whom God foreknew would obey it would be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). On the latter point, one might ask how a Christian comes to be conformed to the image of Jesus. While several answers may be given, the one on which I focus here is the spiritual disciplines. What exactly are they, you might ask? Spiritual disciplines are practices we see in Scripture that early Christians regularly engaged in as believers in Jesus to become more like Jesus.
In the earliest letter of the New Testament, James, the author, urged Christians to submit to God and resist the devil, to draw near to Him and cleanse one’s hands (James 4:7–8). Though we are saved, our flesh is still what it is, and that’s tempted to sin. As most recovering addicts might inform us, to eliminate the vice from their lives, they must replace it with something healthy. The void cannot remain. I might contend that the same is true of sin. We seek, by becoming saved, to eliminate sin from our lives, but our bodies are weak because of their urges. Therefore, we must replace sinful behavior with spiritual disciplines, because these help us to grow closer to God and further from sin, which is the aim of salvation.
Allow me a point of clarity: spiritual disciplines do not save us, Jesus saves us. However, though we are declared righteous by God through the blood of Jesus, we aren’t given a one-time stamp as if being saved were all that is required. When God declared Abraham righteous, he did so before the inauguration of circumcision and the law. When God needed anything of the patriarch, Abraham obeyed. God declared Abraham righteous, but Abraham also had to pursue righteousness. This is what we do with spiritual disciplines: we pursue godliness.
Professor Don Whitney notes six traits of spiritual disciplines: 1) they are personal and interpersonal. 2) They are activities, not attitudes. 3) They are things taught or modeled in the Bible. 4) Those in the Bible are sufficient for knowing and growing closer to God. 5) They cannot be divorced from the gospel. 6) They are means and not ends. Over the coming weeks, I plan to highlight spiritual disciplines for us with the aim that we would each practice them and grow closer to our Father and more like our Savior.