The Bible tells us that we are to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Pet.1:15,16). But how do we get there? How do we gain a life that conforms to the likeness of Jesus Christ?
For centuries the church has relied on spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, worship, solitude, and fasting to further the sanctification of God’s people.
Following this pattern, the church today needs to recover the spiritual disciplines that are so essential to the Christian life.
Here’s why. . .
The example of the Scriptures
The Bible shows us that the Christian life is marked by certain practices. When you look at the followers of Christ in the Bible, what did they do? They prayed, they spent time in God’s Word, they served, they fasted, etc. . .
And they did these because Jesus Himself did them. Before calling His first disciples, for example, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer (Lk.6:12). The pattern of practicing the spiritual disciplines is well established in the Bible.
The instruction of Scripture
The Bible not only gives us the example of spiritual disciplines as a way of life, it also instructs us that we are to practice them. The Bible is straightforward when it tells us, for example, that those who live righteously and prosper are those who meditate on God’s Word (Ps.1:2).
Why does the Bible tell us such things? So we can be properly formed and developed as human beings to serve God in His kingdom.
To deal with the body
God gave us bodies, and with our bodies we carry out service to Him in the world. But the body is often a source of trouble for people. Many see themselves as imprisoned by their bodies and enslaved to its passions. It’s often thought that the only way to live a spiritual life is to escape from the body.
The spiritual disciplines are God’s means for bringing the body under subjection. By them we are able to bring our bodies into the service of the king rather live in service to our bodies. As Paul made clear, our bodies are to be our slaves, we are not to be enslaved to our bodies (1 Cor.9:24).
Godliness requires spiritual discipline
The Bible tells us that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, and it compares spiritual discipline with bodily discipline (1 Tim.4:7,8). Everybody is used to idea of bodily discipline for some purpose (like losing weight), but we easily presume that growth in godliness is automatic.
Could it be the reason why there appears to be so little godliness is that there is little serious application of the spiritual disciplines of the faith?
Whenever we face problems, it’s easier to blame others than take responsibility for them ourselves. And because blaming someone or something other than ourselves is so much easier, this is exactly what people often do.
Blaming our circumstances or someone close to us is appealing because it gives us cover for our failings. But doing so takes away hope for any change for the better.
The tendency to refuse responsibility for problems and shift the blame on others goes all the way back to the garden of Eden. After the first man and woman ate the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed his wife, and Eve blamed the serpent.
Although Adam and Eve portrayed themselves as victims, they were filled with shame and hid themselves from God. If it were not for God’s pursuit of them, they would have remained in this hopeless state of shame. But God confronted them with the truth, and brought them mercy so they could move forward with their lives.
The blame-shifting approach modeled by Adam and Eve is practiced daily as people face their own personal difficulties. It is far more common for people to explain away their wrong behavior than own it themselves.
The result? Multitudes spend their days stuck in hopelessness and shame.
This problem is reinforced in that society discourages personal responsibility and encourages blame-shifting in various ways. It used to be, for example, if someone had a drinking problem he’d be called a drunkard and exhorted to change his ways. Today, someone with a drinking problem is said to have a disease and is urged to get treatment.
This sort of approach is intended to be caring as it tends to soften the blow on the person who is afflicted. But the net effect is that it takes away hope.