Bridges begins with asking whether we would be more likely to work through a meeting with an interested non-Christian if we had had a good spiritual day (e.g. we had a good meeting with God during our morning quiet time, felt His presence through the day, etc.) or if the day had gone badly from a spiritual perspective. The answer is that the question is irrelevant, because God’s relationship with us is not based on performance. He finds that within the Evangelical Church there is a feeling that the Gospel is to save people and that, once saved, they need discipleship to grow spiritually. This is true, but the Gospel cannot be put on a shelf after salvation, or we slowly find ourselves drifting into a performance-based relationship with God. Since we both have a desire to be holy as God is holy, and know that God, indeed, demands it, the fact that we still sin gives us the vague feeling that God is displeased with us. Without reminding ourselves that God has forgiven yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s sin through our acceptance of Jesus’ death as payment, we forget that our relationship with God is now based on love. God may be grieved by our sin, but he is no longer angry with us. Every day, though, we still sin, and every day our conscience condemns us on that basis. But we are no longer condemned by God, so we need to remind ourselves and our consciences that our sin is forgiven. We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day.
Having established this important point, Bridges then considers the implication of this grace that we are preaching to ourselves. Grace is essential, but equally important is discipleship. God does call us to stop sinning, to learn to be gracious and generous to others, to grow in holiness, and we cannot neglect this command. Ultimately God wants us to have the same character as He does; the rest of our Christian life must be spent effecting this transformation with His help. There are, though, some guidelines that will help us.
First we need to obey the greatest command—loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Loving God involves obeying Him. We cannot practice “cruise-control” obedience and merely stop doing all the obvious sins. However, obedience cannot be done out of duty, but only because of our love for God. For one thing, we will not be motivated enough by duty, but if we love Him, we will be much more willing to spend the effort to obey. Since we are thoroughly corrupted with self-centeredness, increasing obedience involves changing to become more like God. This is something that we both depend on God to accomplish, but need to work on ourselves. God changes our heart, be we change our actions.
Our pursuit of holiness should be marked by several areas of discipline. This is not discipline in the formal, fasting, daily quiet time sense, but a habitual consideration of these areas. For instance, we need to be committed to the pursuit of holiness, or there will be a strong temptation to abandon it. Furthermore, we must commit to not only the obeying negative prohibitions, “don’t steal,” “don’t lie,” “don’t gossip,” but the positive ones as well: “be generous,” “love one another”.
Likewise, we need to carefully consider our convictions, as convictions drive our actions. We will get our convictions from somewhere, either from the society we live in or from God’s Word. We are immersed in a society opposed, as all societies are, to God’s values, so there is a very strong pressure to conform to its values. Bridges observes that Christians are generally only about a decade behind in accepting societal norms. So unless we actively take our values from God’s Word, we will inevitably take them from the world around us. And as we discover areas where we have the wrong values, we preach ourselves the Gospel to remind us that that sin has been paid so that God can love us.
These convictions must be habitually enshrined in the little choices that we make every day, for our choices ultimately determine our character. Each choice to disobey weakens our ability to obey; each choice to obey strengths that ability. We must constantly watch over choices so that they lead toward holiness. This is painful, as it essentially involves denying our desires where they do not match God’s values. Inevitably we will need to remind ourselves that Jesus died for our failure to deny those desires, and that God does not hold them against us.
We should be attentive not only to our choices, but to our weaknesses, too. The world exerts a constant pressure to conform to its values, rather than to God’s, and occasionally the Devil will try to catch us off guard, but by far the strongest source of temptation is ourselves. We are fundamentally rebellious, at least until God gives us new bodies, and this rebellion is constantly seeking a means of expressing itself. The Lord’s prayer includes the phrase “lead us not into a temptation” as a recommendation that we ask God to divinely keep us from temptation, but He will not eliminate it from our lives, so we also need to be alert for possible sources of temptation. We know our weaknesses and we can use this knowledge to help avoid temptation in problem areas.
Finally, we need to have a correct understanding of adversity. Adversity is ultimately what creates Christ-like character; without the opportunity to refrain from sin and to love sacrificially, our holiness is just intention. It is the practice of holiness that changes our character and adversity is the means that God uses to accomplish this. Bridges would include very minor hardships (oversleeping, stuck in traffic, etc.) as well as obviously major adversities in this category. But it is the severe hardships that test us the most, and are most likely to cause us to feel that God is angry with us. He is not angry with us; Jesus’ death and our trust in it removes that anger. Instead, hardships are ordained to strengthen our character. Of course, some hardships may be consequences of our sin, but nonetheless God’s purpose is not that we endure them but that we strengthen our character through them.
Bridges has a keen eye for observation. Anyone who has spent time in the Evangelical church can appreciate such pithy phrases as “cruise-control Christians” and “morality by consensus,” for who of us cannot immediately identify this in part of our lives? In fact, these succinct descriptions of the contemporary Christian culture are the major strength of the book, as they are not said in condemnation but to motivate readers to something better. Much of the latter half of the book is exhortations that practicing Christians have already heard in various forms, but Bridges describes the problem so aptly that readers cannot help but recognize it in themselves. Unable to ignore the charge, we are compelled to listen to his solution more attentively than if the attitudes are less easily recognizable as our own.
The Discipline of Grace is a very practical, very relevant book. Bridges’ informal style is quite easy to read and his characterizations of Christian culture are both funny and convicting. I suspect that the first part of the book, about the necessity of preaching the Gospel to yourself every day, will be more helpful than the second part on disciplines, simply because, as he points out, the church tends to focus on the process of sanctification so readers are likely to already be somewhat familiar with this material. Despite the excellent content, the informal style allows some wandering to creep in, particularly in the second half. The Christian life is never easy to describe without lapsing into Christianese and Bridges does an excellent job of presenting in a fresh light, but the content would be more compelling if the flow were tightened up. Without his poignant observations, the second section would have little to offer that has not already been said elsewhere. And because of the cultural relevancy, I suspect that the staying power of this book is somewhat limited: when the Christian culture changes, the observations will be less relevant. While Bridges clearly has a deep theological understanding of the issues, the theology-lite presentation (which, for its part, is excellently done) is not likely to be compelling for readers of the next century. Still, the first part is quite apropos to contemporary Christian culture and with compelling insights into contemporary Christian psychology every few pages, The Discipline of Grace will fully deserves its Gold Medallion Book Award.
Writing is about an 8, but the content, particularly the insights into contemporary Christian, which are superbly worded, pushes it up. Concepts could be presented with more clarity, although since the book appears to be written more to persuade than to convince, the lack of clear argumentative flow may be understandable. While I suspect that it lacks the timelessness imparted by convincing arguments and a certain cultural independence, it is, in any case, an excellent book for the modern reader. I suspect many readers will be helped significantly by his explanation of the need to preach the Gospel to yourself every day. I also think it would be hard to read more than, at most, two chapters without being convicted of something, and, perhaps more importantly, motivated to diligently pursue holiness.
- Chapter 1: How Good is Good Enough?
- “At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. (12)
- Suppose you had a great spiritual day: good quite time,
peace of God through the day, everything works well. Suppose you
had a lousy spiritual day: overslept, missed quiet time, things
just keep going badly. If you met a non-Christian who was
sincerely interested at the end of each of those days, which do you
think God would be more bless your sharing of the Gospel? Answer: God’s blessing is independent of our spiritual
- Christians generally think of the Gospel as a leading to salvation, and discipleship as afterwards.
- We tend to focus on our spiritual performance. Either we
focus on external performance and become like the Pharisees, or we
realize that we don’t measure up to what God wants (or even other
people appear to achieve). We need to apply the gospel to our
hearts every day: “with the assurance of total forgiveness
through Christ, we have no reason to hide from our sins anymore.” (23)
- “A sense of obligation and duty never stimulates [a desire to know Christ more intimately welling up] within us. Only love does that.” (25)
- Chapter 2: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
- “Christians tend toward one of two opposite attitudes. The
first is a relentless sense of guilt due to unmet expectations in
living the Christian life. ... The other attitude is one of
varying degrees of self-satisfaction with one’s Christian life. We can drift into this attitude because we are convinced we believe the
right doctrines, we read the right Christian books, we practice the
right disciplines of a committed Christian life, or we are actively
involved in some aspect of Christian ministry and are not just
‘pew-sitters’ in the church.
Perhaps we have become self-righteous about our Christian lives because we look at society around us and see flagrant immorality, pervasive dishonesty, wholesale greed, and increasing violence. We see growing acceptance of abortion as a ‘right’ and homosexuality as an acceptable alternate lifestyle. Because we are not guilty of these more gross forms of sin, we can begin to feel rather good about our Christian lives.” (30-31)
- “A large part of our problem as evangelical believers is that we have defined sin in its more obvious forms—forms of which we are not guilty. ... Most often our sin problem is in the area I called ‘refined’ sins. These are the sins of nice people, sins that we can regularly commit and still retain our positions as elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, Bible study leaders, and yes, even full-time Christian workers.” (32) (For example, judging others, gossip, criticism, “resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, impatience, and irritability.” (35))
- Humility has about 40 references in the New Testament; the evangelical church tends not to focus on becoming more humble.
- “The problem with self-righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. ... When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because, you see, grace is only for sinners.” (39-40)
- We are both saints and sinners at the same time. While we are saints in Christ, we remain sinners ourselves, and we need a healthy understanding that we are sinners.
- Chapter 3: Preach the Gospel to Yourself
- “I believe that part of the problem [of evangelicals not understanding the gospel] is our tendency to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship.” (46)
- God demands 100% obedience; we cannot earn our way to Him. “Yet in our everyday relationship with God, most of use are no different in our thinking than the unbelievers who think they will go to Heaven because they’ve been good enough. To live by grace, we must rid ourselves of such thinking.” (48)
- Jesus died for us so that we could be righteous even though we cannot achieve it ourselves. “This standing in Christ’s righteousness is never affected to any degree by our good-day or bad-day performance. Unless we learn to live daily by faith in (that is, by reliance on His righteousness, however, our perception of our standing before God will vary...” (50)
- Christ’s righteousness is available to everyone, regardless of how much or (comparatively) little they have sinned. (We have all failed the test; it doesn’t matter how much we failed by)
- This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented
him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Romans 3:22-25)
- “When we trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ.” (54)
- “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you
continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus
through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that
you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied
the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath
is no longer directed toward you.” (58)
- “When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” (60)
- Chapter 4: We Died to Sin
- “The first thing we note about Paul’s statement that we died to sin is that this death has already occurred in the past. It is not something we should do but something we have already done. Every person in this world who is a true believer has died to sin. We are not to ‘die more and more unto sin.’ We cannot possibly die to sin any more than we have. ... A second observation ... is that this death occurred even though the believer may not be aware of it. Our awareness or understanding of a fact like this does not make it any more true, but it does determine how we respond to and apply the fact.” (64)
- We died to sin through Christ; he was our legal
representative before God, so whatever he did, we (legally) did. Christ was our power of attorney. As such, we were delivered both
to sin’s penalty and sin’s dominion over us.
- “We speak of the total depravity of a person who is outside of Christ. We do not mean the person is as wicked as he or she can possibly be, but that sin has corrupted the person’s entire being.” (69)
- How are we no longer under sin’s dominion when we will sin for the rest of our lives? “The believer who has died to sin’s reign and dominion delights in God’s law. The believer approves of it as holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12), even though he or she may struggle to obey it.” (70)
- We are also alive in God (vine-and-branches-type alive) and God is alive in us through the Holy Spirit.
- Chapter 5: Disciplined by Grace
- “We are performance-oriented by nature, and our culture, and sometimes our upbringing reinforces this legalistic mindset. ... We carry this same type of thinking into our relationship with God. So whether it is our response to God’s discipline of us or our practice of those spiritual disciplines that are so good and helpful, we tend to think it is the ‘law’ of God rather than the grace of God that disciplines us. ... If we fail to teach that discipline is by grace, people will assume, as I did, that it is by performance. That is why we must not put the gospel on the shelf once a person becomes a new believer.” (79)
- “The grace that brings salvation to us also disciplines us. It does not do the one without the other. That is, God never saves people and leaves them alone to continue in their immaturity and sinful lifestyle.” (80) Thus we can be encouraged that God is in charge of our spiritual growth, but we also need to realize that a lack of spiritual growth suggests lack of salvation.
- Ungodliness is not just wickedness, but a lack of regard for God in all areas of our life. Example: a book of ancient history which never mention any Biblical figure, evidencing a lack of regard for God.
- We need to not only refrain from doing the “don’ts”, but we need to do the “do’s”. The former without the latter leads to hardness and self-righteousness; the latter without the former leads to decay of morals.
- Believers need to live exemplary lives so that no one can twist anything bad against God.
- Example: “There are three attitudes we can have toward
money and possessions:
· ‘What’s yours is mine; I will take it.’
· ‘What’s mine is mine; I will keep it.’
· ‘What’s mine is God’s; I will share it.’
The first attitude is that of the thief. The second is that of the typical person, including, sad to say, many Christians. The third attitude is the one each of us should seek to put on. It is not enough not to steal; we must also learn to share.” (88)
- “I knew nothing of God’s grace in enabling me to live the Christian life. I thought it was all by sheer grit and willpower. And just as importantly, I understood little of His forgiving grace through the blood of Christ. So I felt both guilty and helpless—guilty because of recurring sin patterns in my life and helpless to do anything about them.” (89)
- “What does it mean that God administers His discipline in the realm of grace? It means that all His teaching, training, and discipline are administered in love and for our spiritual welfare. It means that God is never angry with us, though He is often grieved at our sins. It means He does not condemn us or count our sins against us. All that He does in us and to us is done on the basis of unmerited favor.” (90)
- “‘Run, John [Bunyan], run. The commands,
But gives neither feet nor hands.
Better news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and gives me wings.’ (90)
- Chapter 6: Transformed Into His Likeness
- “Again, I am concerned that there are thousands of professing Christians who think that they have been justified, who think their sins are forgiven and that they are on their way to Heaven, who show no evidence of the regenerating words of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I fear for them that they will one day hear those awful words from the lips of Christ, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:23) Lest I be misunderstood at this point, let me say emphatically that the solution for these people is not to change their conduct so that they might see some evidence of regeneration. The solution is to come to Jesus, renouncing any confidence in their own goodness, confessing themselves to be sinners in the sight of God, and trusting entirely in His atoning work.” (96)
- “Jesus did not just act righteously, He loved righteousness.” (98-99)
- “Jesus’ entire goal in His earthly life was to do the will of His Father”, and that he delighted to do it. (99)
- Sanctification is a process. We will become more and more aware of sin in our life as God shows us what holiness is.
- God/Holy Spirit is the one who changes us: “I can to some degree change my conduct, but only He can change my heart.” (104) Furthermore, although we may know some of what He is doing in our lives, in “the words of John Murray, ‘we must not suppose that the measure of our understanding or experience is the measure of the Spirit’s working.’” (105)
- “Beholding the glory of the Lord is one means the Spirit uses to transform us” (106)
- “To the degree that we feel we are on a legal or performance
relationship with God, to that degree our progress in sanctification is
impeded. A legal mode of thinking gives indwelling sin an
advantage, because nothing cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue
holiness as much as a sense of guilt. On the contrary, nothing so
motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding
and the application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and
the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.
Robert Haldane, in his commentary on Romans, quotes from a previous writer identified only as ‘Mr. Romaine,’ who said, ‘No sin can be crucified either in heart or life, unless it be first pardoned in conscience; because there will be want of faith to receive the strength of Jesus, by whom alone it can be crucified. If it be not mortified [put to death] in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.’” (108)
- Chapter 7: Obeying the Great Commandment
- ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ (Matt 22:36-40) What does loving God mean?
- Obedience: we are to observe, keep, and obey His commands. (Deut 6:1-5)
- Meditate on key passages, write post-it notes, etc.
- “My observation is that most of us who are believers practice
what I call a ‘cruise-control’ approach to obedience. ... we
press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our
behavior up to a certain level or ‘speed.’ The level of obedience
is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians
around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be
as spiritual as they are. ... Once we have arrived at this
comfortable level of obedience, we push the ‘cruise-control’ button in
our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian
culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of
conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s
Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes
with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.” (116) “I wasn’t seeking to obey God’s law with all my heart and
soul and mind. Instead I had settled into a comfortable routine,
in which there were no major vices, but neither was there an all-out
effort to obey God in every area of life, especially in interpersonal
- Race-car drivers, by contrast, do everything to eke out extra performance.
- “You may sing with reverent zest or great emotional fervor, but your worship is only as pleasing to God as the obedience that accompanies it.” We should enjoy God (as the Shorter Westminster Catechism states), but obedience is more important. (118)
- Love is a motive. We should obey because we love God, not because we fear him (e.g. tithe so that He won’t punish us financially), not for self-control (pride), not because we want something from God (e.g. praying while kneeling instead sitting down because it’s “holier” and thus more likely to be answered).
- “Love for God, then is the only acceptable motive for obedience to Him.” (119)
- We grow in love by coming back to the cross; ‘He who has been forgiven little loves little.’ (Luke 7:47)
- “Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and as we have seen, without love it is impossible to please God. But this love arises in our hearts only as we by faith lay hold of the great truths of the gospel. To do this, our faith must be constantly nourished by feeding on the gospel.” (124)
- “‘The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not believe that he loves you.’” (124, quoted from John Owen)
- “To the degree that we live with an abiding sense of His love for us in Christ, to that degree we will love God with all our heart and soul and mind.” (125)
- Chapter 8: Dependent Discipline
- The spiritual life is composed of two equally important areas: dependence on God and disciplines.
- There is a prevalent camp (the Bridges subscribed to for a while) that we can only rely on God to change us. But this is not Biblical
- Example of farmers: farmers must plant, water, etc., but must rely on God to grow the plants. Failure of either will not work
- Likewise Nehemiah both prayed and posted guards when a threat appeared
- Paul learned to be
content in all things; he didn’t just receive it all at once from
- A discipline of prayer can help us grow in dependence on God
- Need both planned prayers and spontaneous prayers when the need arises
- Chapter 9: The Discipline of Commitment
- “When we commit ourselves to the pursuit of holiness, we need
to ensure that our commitment is actually to God, not simply to a holy
lifestyle or a set of moral values. The people of my parent’s
[sic] generation [born in the early 1900s] were generally honest,
chaste, sober, and thrifty. They were committed to those values,
but they were not necessarily committed to God. Many of them were
outstanding moralists and even church people, but they were not
committed to God. They
were committed to their values, not to God.” (146)
- “We should not seek holiness in order to feel good about ourselves, or to blend in with our Christian peer group, or to avoid the sense of shame and guilt that follows the committing of persistent sin in our lives. Far too often our concern with sin arises from how it makes us feel. ... I realized that sinful habits make us feel guilty and defeated. The absence of Christlike character usually doesn’t have a similar effect on us, so there is less motivation to seek change in our lives.” (147)
- "We must make it our aim not to sin", although we will not actually achieve this. (148) We need to commit to obedience, and renew our commitment frequently.
- “Sin has a tendency to exert an ever-increasing power on us if it is not resisted on every occasion. ... It does not matter whether the sin to which we are tempted is seemingly small or large. The principle we are looking at—that saying yes to any temptation weakens our commitment to resist sin—works in either case.” (151)
- “If we want to be like Christ in His character, we must commit ourselves to putting on His virtues. It is not enough to stop cheating on our income tax returns; we must also learn to share with those in need. ...” (151) We need to commit not only to not sinning, but to put on Christlikeness.
- It is helpful to commit to pursuing holiness in areas of our life where we are particularly vulnerable.
- “People will help you compromise your integrity if you have not already made a commitment to be absolutely honest in your business dealings.” (155)
- “So an all-out, unreserved, nothing-held-back commitment to the
pursuit of holiness may be exhausting, but it will not be oppressive if
it is grounded in grace. But to be grounded in grace, it must be
continually referred back to the gospel. So don’t just preach the
gospel to yourself every day merely to experience the cleansing of your
conscience. You certainly need to do so for that reason. But as you do so, reaffirm, as a response of love and gratitude to
God, your commitment to Him. And do so in reliance on His Spirit
that by His grace He will enable you to carry out your
- Make a list of the specific areas of temptation that you need
to make commitments in. Do it now.
- Chapter 10: The Discipline of Convictions
- “It seems that in many evangelical circles we do have morality by consensus. We may not be doing what is right in our own eyes, as society around us is doing, but neither are we living according to biblical standards. Instead we live according to the standard of conduct of Christians around us. We not only have morality by consensus; we have sanctification by consensus. We expect to become holy by osmosis, by the absorption of the ethical values of our Christian peer group. If we are going to make progress in the pursuit of holiness, we must aim to live according to the precepts of Scripture—not according to the culture, even Christian culture, around us.” (162)
- We need to develop “Bible-based convictions.” “A conviction is a determinative belief: something you believe so strongly that it affects the way you live. Someone has observed that a belief is what you hold, but a conviction is what holds you.” (162-3)
- “Our convictions and values will come from society around us (the world), or they will come as our minds are renewed by the Word of God. There is no third option.” (163)
- “All of us who are believers are somewhere on [a] continuum, partially influenced by sinful society and partially influenced by the Word of God. The more we are influenced by society, the more we move toward the left end of the continuum [sinful society end]. The more we are influenced by the Word of God, the more we move to the right [Word of God end]. What determines whether we are moving to the left or to the right? The psalmist [of Psalm 1] gives us the answer: our attitude toward the Word of God and the time we spend thinking about it. Nothing else will determine where you are on that continuum.” (164-5)
- The person influence by the Word of God: delights in God’s laws and His Word, meditates on it consistently and habitually, examines his life to see how well it conforms to God’s principles.
- “We should not think of the concept of ‘continually’ as meaning every moment. Rather we should think in terms of consistently and habitually. What does your mind turn to when it is free to turn to anything? ... Thinking is our most constant activity. Our thoughts are our constant occupation. We are never without them. But we can choose the direction and content of those thoughts.” (166)
- “One thing we can be sure of: If we do not actively seek to come under the influence of God’s Word, we will come under the influence of sinful society around us. The impact of our culture ... is simply too strong and pervasive for us to not be influenced by it.” (166-7)
- Paul commands us to be transformed. Since we cannot transform ourselves, we must “bring [ourselves] under the transforming influence of the Word of God.” (168)
- We need to read scripture not for information, or to affirm our views, but asking the Holy Spirit to teach us.
- We need to read scripture with discipline
- “The question we must ask ourselves is this: What value do we place upon the Word of God? Do we search it [with the same intensity] as if we were seeking for hidden treasures, or do we read it and study it only because we know it is something we should do?
- We need to be dependent on God for teaching. This dependence is a deep, desperate dependence.
- (Personal note by this web site author): I recently had an experience illustrating this. I was rather depressed with how all the things I wanted out of life haven’t come to pass, and I sat down for my evening quiet time. Frustrated by not having any idea what part of the Bible to read and having had little life-changing Bible reading recently, I had this sort of deep desperation Bridges talks about and prayed “God, I know that your words of life are in here somewhere. I need them. Please show them to me.” Immediately I heard the words “Ruth”. It was in my own-thought voice, but because I had been assuming the New Testament and because I like Ruth anyway, I read it. That was, indeed God speaking, because in Ruth’s devotion to Naomi I saw a reflection of God’s love and devotion (in a manner of speaking) to me, which was an area I have been dealing with recently. Also, I realized that Naomi said the same sort of things I was saying, and God worked everything out for her, even though she was convinced that she was done for. An example of desperate dependence and listening prayer.)
- Treasure God’s Words: memorize them
- Memorize scriptures to combat the temptations listed as a result of the previous chapter
- “One of the banes of present-day evangelical Christianity is the way we sit every week under the teaching of God’s Word, or even have private devotions and perhaps participate in a Bible study group, without a serious intent to obey the truth we learn. ... Our tendency seems to be to equate knowledge of the truth, and even agreement with it, with obedience to it. James said that when we do this we deceive ourselves (James 1:22). This is especially true when we focus on the more scandalous sins ‘out there’ in society to the neglect of the more ‘refined’ sins we commit.” (176-7)
- We develop Bible-based commitments “when we begin to apply the teachings of Scripture to real-life situations.” (177)
- “What does happen if we stumble or fall in the practice of these disciplines? First of all, God does not love us any less. ... Our progress in the pursuit of holiness, however, is conditioned on our practice of the disciplines God has given us. It is true that we are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is also true, however, that one of the chief means—in fact, probably the chief means—He uses is the renewing of our minds.” (179)
- Chapter 11: The Discipline of Choices
- In Eph 4:25-32 Paul shows a contrast of choices: the choice to tell the truth or to lie; “the choice to deal with anger or let it smolder ...” (183)
- “Whereas righteousness in this verse refers to our conduct, holiness refers to our character. So it is through righteous actions that we develop holy character.” (184) Each choice trains us to be more godly or more sinful (which is why sin leads to ever-increasing wickedness)
- “Dawson Trotman, founder of the The Navigators, used to say, ‘You are going to be what you are now becoming.’ And what you are now becoming is dependent on the choices you make. So commit yourself to making the right choices and then look to the Holy Spirit to work in you ‘to will and to act’ (Philippians 2:13) in carrying out that commitment.” (188)
- “To mortify a sin means to subdue it, to deprive it of its power, to break the habit pattern we have developed of continually giving in to the temptation to that particular sin. The goal of mortification is to weaken the habits of sin so that we do make the right choices. Mortification involves dealing with all known sin in one’s life. Without a purpose to obey all of God’s Word, isolated attempts to mortify a particular sin are of no avail.” (191)
- “To mortify a sin we must focus on its true nature. So often we are troubled with a persistent sin only because it disturbs our peace and makes us feel guilty. We need to focus on it as an act of rebellion against God.” (192) “Think of an unusually persistent sin in your life—-perhaps some secret lust that lies in your heart that only you know about. You say you cannot overcome it. Why not? Is it because you exalt your secret desire above the will of God? If we are to succeed in putting sin to death, we must realize that the sin we are dealing with is none other than a continual exalting of our desire over God’s known will.” (193)
- “We must realize that in putting sin to death we are saying no to our own desires.” (193)
- It is helpful to have someone to help us pursue holiness by encouraging and admonishing us.
- “‘It is forgiveness that sets a man working for God. He does not work in order to be forgiven, but because he has been forgiven, and the consciousness of his sin being pardoned makes him long more for its entire removal than ever he did before. ... An unforgiven man cannot work. He has not the will, nor the power, nor the liberty. He is in chains. ... A forgiven man is the true worker, the true Lawkeeper. He can, he will, he must work for God. He has come into contact with that part of God’s character which warms his cold heart.’” (200, quoting from Horatius Bonar)
- Chapter 12: The Discipline of Watching
- We need to watch out for (and pray against) temptation, or we are likely to succumb to it.
- Sources of temptation
- The world: “characterized by the subtle and relentless pressure it brings to bear upon us to conform to its values and practices.” (203)
- “It is my perception that Christians are no more than five to ten years behind the world in embracing most sinful practices” (203)
- The Devil: the ultimate coordinator of temptations from the world, but will also try to blindside us with direct attacks when we are off guard.
- The flesh: our sinful nature. It our largest source of temptation, because it is tuned in to, searching for, temptations that it can express itself through.
- Know your areas of weakness and decide on the best way to guard those areas.
- Watch for the little things: “‘little sins, little inconsistencies, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, ...’” (209, quoting Bonar) “‘He that despises little things shall fall little by little’” (209, quote unknown)
- Do not try to push the edges of temptation because of God’s grace
- “1) Is it beneficial? Does it promote my spiritual
2) Is it a practice that over time will tend to master me? Will it stimulate a desire that will be difficult to control?
3) Is it constructive? Will it promote the spiritual wellbeing of other believers if they engage in this practice that is permissible for me?” (213)
- Two defenses: meditation of God’s Word, and prayer that we ‘are not led into temptation [i.e. “God will not providentially (sic) bring us into the way of temptation” (214)] but deliver us from the evil one’ (Matt 6:13).
- Chapter 13: The Discipline of Adversity
- God always treats us with love (because Jesus paid for our
penalty). Furthermore, adversity comes from God. Thus his
discipline is not divine wrath, but adversity to strengthen our
character. “‘He has regard, in all [His actions], to our good
here, to make us partakers of His holiness, and to our glory hereafter,
to make us partakes of His glory.’” (221, quoting Samuel Bolton)
- Thus we should neither make light of it (i.e. thinking that it is just Chance, or that it is merely to be endured), nor lose heart (thinking that God is angry with us). (Heb 12:5-6)
- “Endure all hardship as discipline.” (224) It is not necessarily connected with a particular sin, and we probably won’t know its purpose. But it will develop Spiritual fruit through actual practice. “The only way Christlike character is developed is in the crucible of real-life experience.” (224)
- Don’t get mad at God for hardships, and accept them with submission and trust that He has our good in mind. Neither should we try to pretend that it doesn’t exist. (Of course, we can still pray that the hardship would end or attempt to mitigate it, but we need to do it with the attitude of submission, not with an “I will...”)
- “‘The person who accepts discipline at the hand of God as something designed by his heavenly Father for his good will cease to feel resentful and rebellious; he has “calmed and quieted” his soul [Psalm 131:2], which thus provides fertile soil for the cultivation of a righteous life, responsive to the will of God.’” (229, F. F. Bruce)
- We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day with regard to adversity so that we realize that God loves us (through Jesus’ death) and that hardships are not punishment, but training. Thus we will not ask why this hardship happened (that is, what did I do wrong), but see it as an opportunity for our character to become more like God’s.