11 December 2015

Disciplines: The Scriptural Basis

Note: This is part of my series on Discipleship and Disciplines. You might want to read from the beginning if you haven't already.

I'm convinced that spiritual disciplines are not only a good idea; they are the best way for a believer in Christ to get better at following Him.

Here are a couple of passages from the New Testament that discuss this topic. There are others, but these two stood out to me because they make some really important points.

Hebrews 12:11-13 (NASB): 
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
The author of Hebrews is actually referring to discipline imposed by God "for our good, so that we may share His holiness" (v. 10). This discipline (the call to resist sin and endure persecution) is to bring God's children in line with His intent for their lives.

Verse 11 reminds us that discipline is momentarily painful and costly, but we can have faith that it will bear fruit and bring joy.

In verses 12-13, the writer urges his readers to respond appropriately to God's discipline: Strengthen your weak hands and knees, walk in straight paths, and your (spiritually) infirm body will heal. In other words, respond to God's discipline with self-discipline. Get in line with what He wants for you, and you will be healthier and stronger than ever before.

I Timothy 4:7-8 (NASB): 
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
In this passage, Paul is talking to Timothy about some people who teach abstinence from marriage and certain foods. Paul rejects their teachings because "everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude" (v. 4).

He goes on to call these legalistic rules (or "bodily discipline") "worldly fables fit only for old women." In other words, these superficial practices are not for mature followers of Christ. Instead, Paul instructs Timothy to pursue disciplines that lead to godliness.

We receive an important warning here. In pursuing spiritual disciplines, we are not simply trying to build good habits. By themselves, habits don't have much value. However, when a spiritual discipline makes us more like our Lord and Savior, it brings us value, both in this present world and for the rest of eternity.

In my next post, I'll discuss more of what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ (i.e., the practice of keeping His word). I'll also address some specific examples (from Ephesians 4-6) of how spiritual disciplines can fuel a life of discipleship.

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