Wednesday, September 23, 2009

“train yourself in godliness” – 1 Tim 4:7

“strive to enter by the narrow gate” – Luke 13:24
“take up your cross daily” – Luke 9:23
“work out your salvation with fear and trembling” – Phil 2:13
“I pommel my body and subdue it” – 1 Cor 9:27
“If your right eye offends you pluck it out” – Matt 5:29
“strive together with me in your prayers” – Rom 15:30

The "training in godliness" and the working out of our salvation is a way of living that has been almost lost. To our modern generation, it is a thing of the past. But to a disciple of the Lord, such a life is precious. A disciple seeks to acquire a Biblical understanding of spiritual disciplines.

“We are the creatures of a great master Designer, and His ordering of our lives is sure and certain, yet many people live without any visible order or peace or serenity. The way we live ought to manifest the truth of what we believe. A messy life speaks of a messy – an incoherent – faith.” - Elisabeth Elliot

Discipline - By Faith Alone

Before one can move forward with how a disciple lives, there is an issue that must be addressed. Many object to discipline in the Christian life with a slew of reasons that are usually along the lines of...
“I already go to church on sunday. I attend and participate in a weekly Bible study; I read my Bible and pray often enough – how much more disciplined should I be? Isn’t this enough?”
“That’s legalistic talk! I read and pray when I desire to because there’s no sense trying to be spiritual when my heart isn’t in it – and God wants our whole hearts when we’re seeking Him, doesn’t He?”

Firstly, we must remember that those who do not love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength cannot willingly submit all to Him in glad surrender. The true saint knows that the Lord’s commands are His enabling. When Christ call us to be His disciples, he makes that possible through His grace.
Secondly, a disciple does not seek comfort or gain. Not even the slightest bit. This is what the missionary, Amy Carmichael, called “Calvary Love.” A love that thinks nothing of self but looks upward to the Master, completely and is utterly taken up by that which is eternal. Love never asks, “Is this enough?” "How much must I give?” Calvary Love gives all.
Thirdly, legalism is such an abused word today. Those who use it in objection to a life of discipline use it in ignorance. It would help to acquire a Biblical mindset about what is and what is not legalism.

“….legalism is the pursuit of the law with some other engine than faith, on some other steam than the Spirit. What is the engine of legalism? Paul calls it “works,” (Romans 9:32) and he calls the fuel of this engine “flesh” (Gal 3:3). “Works” is the opposite of “faith” and “flesh” is the opposite of “Spirit.” So legalism is not whether you strive to obey the commands of God, but which engine and which fuel you run on.
Thus the power of legalism comes from ourselves (flesh). This is crucial because the aim of legalism is to trade with God value for value. And so the engine of works must have something self-wrought to offer God in the deal. “To the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due” (Romans 4:4). Legalism deals in debt-payments and magnifies its worth to God.”
In contrast, “the power of the “obedience of faith” does not come from ourselves but from God (the Spirit). The aim of the obedience of faith is to receive everything from God as a free gift of grace. And so the engine of faith must have nothing self-wrought in its dealing with God. “By the grace of God I am what I am … I labored harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). The obedience of faith deals in beneficiary delights and magnifies the grace of God.
Discipline is not legalism. Hard work is not legalism. Acting against carnal impulses is not legalism. They may be. But they may also be the torque of the engine of faith running on the fuel of the Spirit to the glory of the grace of God in a self-centered and undisciplined world” (Piper).
“Legalism is not attacking the American church today in the form of spiritual discipline. Not by a long shot! That is not our besetting danger. I think the most distinctive form of legalism (not the only one) in our day is almost exactly the opposite, with two sides to the coin.
One side is a fear of anything remotely resembling the biblical concept of discipline implied in phrases like “train yourself in godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7) or “strive to enter by the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24) or “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23) or “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13) or “I pommel my body and subdue it” (1 Corinthians 9:27) or “If your right eye offends you pluck it out” (Matthew 5:29) or “strive together with me in your prayers” (Romans 15:30). That whole reality of Christian discipline, that has marked the greatest saints for 1900 years, is feared today in the new legalism.
The other side of the coin is the emergence today of what you might call psychologically correct speech. If you don’t use a certain language to describe morality and ethics and duty and God’s commandments that is “psychologically correct”, then you are defective as a Christian people helper. In place of the old list of taboos there is now a new list of taboos: words like “ought” and “should” and “must” dare not (read: should not) be used. And warnings like “those who do such things shall not enter the kingdom of God ” (Galatians 5:21), and “if you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13) are banned. They are simply not “psychologically correct” ways of dealing with reality.
….I urge you to consider whether some of our weakness in the cushy, self-indulgent, meet-my-need American Christianity is owing not mainly to our bondage to lifeless lists of dos and don’ts, but to our loss of biblical discipline” (Piper).

“The call of Christ is to die not to live. You must by the grace of God make a decision – that Lord I want approval from You and no one else. So much Christian work originates in the flesh and carnality.
“Lord, I only want Your approval.”
I know those are strong words – unless you are sensitive to the Lord, you can easily misunderstand. We have a problem in American, in our church – we misunderstand obedience for legalism and bondage.” - K.P. Yohannan

Encountering God Through Spiritual Discipline

Spiritual discipline encompasses meditation, memorization, and study of the Word, prayer, fasting, and private worship. We should daily seek solitude in order to meet God and to saturate our minds and hearts in Scripture.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” – Matt 14:23
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. – Mark 1:35

“seeking God-focused solitude is a Christ-like habit…when we rightly practice the spiritual discipline of solitude, we not only conform to Christ’s example, we encounter him” (Whitney, pg 118).

A disciple understands the need to be a good steward of his time for without it there are no other disciplines. Perhaps this is why the practice of spiritual disciplines is so uncommon these days. Our time is so misused by our carnal pursuits. With modern technological advances, we don’t need to be productive or patient anymore. Everything is given to us with speed and comfort. In addition, we’re constantly distracted and kept busy by our society. Our world keeps us constantly moving and constantly longing for this and that. Sadly, this is a mindset that children are being raised on and they’ve taken it into their adult life. To be at rest, to be still, and to be productive and fruitful are no longer values and characteristics bred into our children.
It’s all about play.
Much of Christianity plays through life because we see no need for discipline. We dress up our toys and pursuits with “Christian” morality and attempt to justify our carnal fetishes by claiming they’re “innocent” and “safe.” Most of us dare not recall the Apostle Paul’s words, "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive” (1 Cor 10:23).
Even worse, there are those in their 20s, some pushing 30s, who live and breathe on this kind of self-indulgent, childish, and spontaneous lifestyle as an escape from the daily pressures and stresses of their jobs. These are what Alex and Brett Harris, authors of Do Hard Things, call “kidults.” Adults who live and think like 5 year olds. Kidults rely on earthly pleasures (movies, TV, games, food, music). They turn to these things when they are tired and weak and depend upon their obsessions to supply them.
Until this generation realizes just how sad and horrifying this kind of living is and comes to understand how imperative it is to redeem the time, we will continue to play through this life as if it was our own. We must recall the words of Jesus:

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” - Mark 8:34-37.

Father, save us from carnal Christianity! Teach us how to live Mark 8:34-37!
A true disciple acknowledges every day as a gift and seeks to use it for the glory of God.
As disciples, we are called to a higher living, although many may not see it.
It is the way of the Cross.
It is the way in which all our rights are surrendered into the hands of our Lord
It is the way in which we die to self and live to Christ EVERY DAY.
It is the way in which we submit every day and its decisions, pursuits, etc to God in prayer.
It is way in which we no longer give into our addictions of luxury, comfort, and fun, but are relinquished (soul, heart, mind, and strength) to God for His divine purposes.
It is the life poured out in service to others, to be our Lord’s hands and feet.
It is the way of Calvary Love.
It is the way that Christ went.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. - Matt 10:24

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. – Luke 6:40

Books and Links Cited and Recommended:
Elliot, Elisabeth. Let Me Be a Woman.
Carmichael, Amy. If.
Piper, John. The Anatomy of Legalism and the Discipline of Prayer.
Piper, John. Daniel's Defiance of Darius in Prayer.
Piper, John. Taylor, Justin. A God Entranced Vision of All Things. Chapter 5: Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards by Donald S. Whitney.