The Sanctification Gap Part 2: Spiritual Disciplines

If you haven’t read the previous posts, you can find them here and here.

When I use the phrase ‘Spiritual Discipline,’ the image evoked is fairly similar to the response we have to the term ‘discipline.’ It is hard work, and it is precisely because it is ‘work’ that we fear the usage of the term in connection with our spirituality. “We don’t want to be legalistic!” we say, and we run in the other direction. We run away from James’ declaration that “Faith, by itself, if it does not have work, is dead” and into Paul’s declaration that “We are saved by grace, through faith, it is not a work of our own doing, but a gift of God.” We must not allow our fear of legalism to cause us to pick and choose what we want out of the Bible.

Clearly salvation is a gift of God, though it is after that that our works are required. Not to save us, but as a proof of our salvation. When using the term ‘Spiritual Discipline,’ all I intend to mean is that we must put work into our Christian life.

Spiritual Disciplines come in various forms. Some are intensely personal, and some are necessarily communal, and some are, at different times, both. I will only explore a few today, and I will provide Biblical examples of each.

The first Spiritual Discipline is that of prayer. While Paul tells us to ‘Pray without ceasing’ in the first letter to the Thessalonians, it is also clear from Jesus’ life that we should be praying. Jesus takes time to pray publicly, teaching the disciples what is a public prayer. The Lord’s Prayer beings with “Our Father.” The plural pronoun suggests a corporate setting for this particular prayer. Jesus also spends time praying along, seeking the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. His prayer is personal and, in fact, so intense that it causes him to sweat blood. Prayer is important to perform with other Christians, and it is important to participate in it in the private life as well.

The next is the reading of Scripture. Again, Paul tells us that all Scripture is profitable for teaching and doctrine, and yet again, we see Jesus proving that Scriptures are important. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus comes to two of his disciples. He converses with them, and when they finally recognize him, he explains to them all of the scriptures, in light of His coming. Jesus takes time to explain to his disciples the importance of the Scriptures. This indicates to us that Jesus believes that studying the Scriptures is beneficial, and that right interpretation is important.

The final spiritual discipline is that of the Eucharist. Even the term, ‘the Eucharist’ is one that causes many Protestants to take a step back. Jesus instituted the last supper, and said ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ and it is for this reason that we partake of the bread. People debate about what actually happens at the table (whether the bread becomes the body of Christ, physically, and to what extent Jesus’ real presence is there), but the point, ultimately, is that we are part of the destruction of Jesus’ body, and He does this willingly for us. We benefit from this reality, and whether the Eucharist is the symbolic or active in its representation of this truth, the truth is still there.

Next week, there will be a post concerning moralism, and the role it should, as well as the role it shouldn’t, play in our spiritual walks.

Christ Abide.

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    • ElSteve9
    • November 15th, 2010

    “The final spiritual discipline…” Only 3? Heck, there’s more than 3 in the Bible itself, forget about what later believers found useful. I’m curious why it is you only believe in these 3?

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. I believe there is a misunderstanding. I do not mean that I only believe in 3 spiritual disciplines, but rather that I was only planning on addressing a few in this particular series. This is by no means an exhaustive series, and I only meant to explore some spiritual disciplines, as a sort of ‘proof of point.’

      Hope that clears things up.

      -J.F. Arnold

    • ElSteve9
    • November 17th, 2010

    Ah, got it!

    Thanks,

    -Stephen

    • Kristen Girard
    • December 6th, 2010

    How would you describe the role disciplines play in sanctification? In your second paragraph here you’re clear that these are not salvific, but I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on the purpose of the disciplines in sanctification.

  1. Hey Kristen,

    That’s a great question. To be completely honest, this is something I’m still working out in my own life.

    My primary purpose with this post was to argue that Spiritual disciplines are not only compatible with Christian living, but in fact very important. Even commanded.

    What does that do to our souls? What change does that make on our relationship with our Maker?

    At this moment (I am not committing to this idea, since I’m still working on it), I like to think of salvation like marriage (after all, doesn’t the Bible make a similar comparison, when speaking of the Church?). Once I am married, I stay married. I can treat my wife well or I can treat her poorly, but (as far as I’m concerned, and as far as the analogy is concerned), I will stay married. Now, would I be a good husband if I always disregarded my wife’s thoughts, never cared for her, abused her, and degraded her? No. I wouldn’t be. But the key here is that I would still be her husband. I have that choice to be a good husband or a bad husband, and being a good husband takes work.

    It gets a little trickier when talking about salvation, since ‘entering into salvation’ is often less observable (immediately) than a marriage (which is marked with a wedding). (On a side note, perhaps baptism should be this observable marking off?). You have to answer questions like ‘Was this person ever really saved?’, when you’d probably never ask ‘Was this person ever really married?’.

    Is it important to your marriage to maintain a good relationship? Absolutely. Is it important to your salvific relationship to maintain that by growing closer to Christ? Absolutely. Will this change your ‘saved’ status? I don’t think so.

    Those are some preliminary thoughts. I’ve still got to work a lot of this stuff out.

    Did I answer your questions? Thoughts?

    • Kristen Girard
    • January 12th, 2011

    Sorry for the delayed response! Finals, grading, excuses, excuses, bla bla bla…

    When I review my history with God I see the importance of the spiritual disciplines. They give structure for our spiritual development.

    The place where my understanding of the disciplines is changing is the extent to which I see their practice as the cause for my spiritual development. I tend to view these primarily as a cause and effect relationship where the more I read my Bible/pray/worship/attend church/serve then the more I will grow to love God and others. This is not entirely untrue. But as a basis for a relationship, it sounds a little empty, so I have been trying to move away from this “use” of the disciplines.

    Some possible issues I have identified in this approach to spiritual disciplines are:

    1) Misguided goal: Is my goal to enjoy a better relationship with God and grow where he wants me to grow, or do I want to look holy? Looking holy makes me look good to others, and is often a way to avoid dealing with my real issues with God.

    2) Motivation of fear: Christians fear condemnation as much or more than nonbelievers, I think. We’re so afraid of being bad people that we can’t stand spending more than 10 seconds confessing and asking forgiveness because we’re afraid to see how bad we really are and find out what God will think of us.

    3) Magic!: When I confess a problem I have to another Christian, they say, “have you prayed about it?” Like, if I pray more then all my problems will go away. God changes us with truth, and with love, with other people, and with real life. I’ve been guilty of using spiritual disciplines to magically remove issues from my heart that can’t be treated with a verse-and-prayer spell that *poof!* removes the problem.

    These thoughts are mostly a concoction of various ISF teachings I’ve really gotten a lot out of over the last year or two. I *really* like your analogy of disciplines as maintaining a relationship like a marriage relationship in that it makes it clearly about a relationship. I refer to similar analogies often when I consider how I’m perceiving my faith.

  2. Thanks for the response, even so far away! I had to re-read our conversation to understand what was going on, but I’m up to speed again.

    You’re absolutely right about using spiritual disciplines as a sort of ‘checklist’ for our relationship with God. To be honest, it is what many Protestants see Roman Catholics doing (especially with confession) and desire to avoid.

    What I was arguing against was the opposite position, however, that comes from the fear of a checklist. I’ve seen people who are so afraid of the spiritual disciplines that they find themselves hardly every praying, hardly ever reading the Word, and hardly ever just spending time seeking after their Creator. I’ve been there myself, and I struggle on that side of things.

    Some people struggle with only living for a checklist, while others struggle to live properly without one. It seems that, as with many things in the Christian walk, this takes a lot of balance.

    • Kristen Girard
    • January 12th, 2011

    True that. Neither living by a checklist nor disposing of all discipline is very helpful in the long run.

    I recently read a little of Saint John of the Cross on the dark night of the soul. He actually advises people in a dark night not to pray. There’s a lot of attention that ought to go into interpreting what exactly he means by that, but as best as I can tell he is advising people away from what has become a self-focused work (like a checklist maybe) in order to encourage them to seek where God is working in them. This was a guiding principle that helped John find balance in his spiritual disciplines; the disciplines changed but he was always seeking God.

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