Today we officially begin our journey through Don Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. As we read this excellent book together, we have certain goals that we want to achieve personally and hopefully our conversation, questions, and considerations in the comments will encourage us in our pursuits.
As Don Whitney begins the first chapter, he makes a very important statement. He writes, “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” He is exactly right. There must be an end goal in our discipline, or it becomes as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes exclaims, “vanity of vanities.”
The end goal of spiritual discipline is to pursue God in such a way that we become more conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). As the author of the letter to the Hebrews makes clear, without the pursuit of holiness we will never see the Lord. Don Whitney makes the point clear that the reason such people will not see the Lord is because they do not know the Lord. Therefore, our foundation for such pursuits is 1 Timothy 4:7 – “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”
Don Whitney explains that some people are “deceived into thinking that they’ll make sufficient spiritual progress if they are deeply involved in the life of their church, believing that somehow their participation in meaningful church activities will compensate for the lack of a personal devotional life” (Whitney 6).
As we examine the church, but most importantly our own lives – we must remember that no amount of busy work within the church will elevate the level of holiness within the heart of an individual. We must strive for holiness in private if we are to live holy in public. As we look back at biblical times, we see the Psalmist engaged in Bible intake (Psalm 119). As we explore church history, we see the heroes of the faith as spiritually disciplined people. Spiritual maturity is a destination that nobody arrives at by accident.
Don Whitney explains:
The word rendered “discipline” in the New American Standard translation is the Greek word gumnasia from which our English words gymnasium and gymnastics derive. The word means “to exercise or discipline,” which is why the King James Version renders 1 Timothy 4:7 as “exercise thyself rather unto godliness,” and the New International Version as “train yourself to be godly.” It’s a sweaty word with the smell of the gym to it (Whitney 13).
Since God has a purpose and goal in our godliness and we recognize it as a command rather than a suggestion, take time this summer to reevaluate your priorities, commitments, and goals in light of eternity. Life will soon be over, remember that only what we do for God will matter. Put some work into your pursuit of godliness this summer.
Questions to Consider:
- What does it mean to be holy?
- Honestly, are you pursuing holiness or merely floating down the river of life?
- What is the difference between a personal discipline and an interpersonal discipline?
- Is it possible to see God without holiness according to Hebrews 12:14?
- Will busy work within the church elevate the level of personal holiness?
- Can discipline in godliness earn favor with God in a way that’s disconnected from the gospel?
- How can a person fall into a trap of legalism in practicing spiritual disciplines? Without a commitment to the gospel and a goal of glorifying God, the practices become checkboxes of external duties.
- Can you name one spiritual hero from biblical days or church history that was not committed to spiritual disciplines?
Next Week: Next week, we will turn to chapter 2 and look at the subject of Bible intake. Read ahead and think through the content of that chapter, and we will gather here next week to discuss what we are learning.
Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.