Divide your spiritual disciplines into separate lists—a list of those areas in which I am doing well and another list of the areas where I need help. If I were married, I would seek the help of my spouse in objectifying the lists. If not, I would ask a trusted friend who is spiritually mature. I would then number my areas of need in order of importance, say: (1) purity, (2) mind, (3) prayer, (4) witness, (5) giving, (6) work, (7) friendship, and (8) leadership.
Then, beginning with the first need, purity, I would look over the suggested subdisciplines and choose one to three things that I think would best help me improve. In doing this, I would resist the temptation to commit myself to too many disciplines. It is better to succeed in a few than to assure failure by overcommitment. Perhaps, regarding the discipline of purity, I would choose to commit myself, first, to memorizing Scripture passages that will help steel me to temptations, and, second, to not watching anything sensual on TV or online. Perhaps under witness I would make commitments to pray that God would give me someone to share Christ with and to join an interest club to meet unchurched people. After going through my list, I would have perhaps twenty specific things that I could do to improve my eight weakest areas.
But before committing to the specifics, I would look at the whole list with honest realism, asking, “Are the things that I am about to commit to really within my reach with the help of God?” Perhaps, regarding the discipline of mind, I have become so convicted that I am considering committing myself to reading the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice, plus reading War and Peace in January. Think again! Since I have not been doing much reading, how about setting a goal of reading the New Testament through once in a year and War and Peace in January through April? Make sure your commitments make you sweat, but also make sure that taken together they are manageable. It is better to increase your commitments as you succeed than to bite off more than you can chew. Success begets success.
Before setting your commitments in concrete, give yourself a week to think about them and pray over them. Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance for ways to spiritually discipline yourself.
Ask your spouse or friend to hold you accountable for your disciplines. Make sure you regularly confer and pray—even if it has to be over the phone. Be honest about your successes and failures. And be willing to take advice and make adjustments.
Salvation is by grace alone, and living the Christian life is by grace alone also.
If You Stumble . . .
You will, no doubt, stumble and even fail outright at times. When this happens, wounded pride and embarrassment can make you want to take your marbles and go home. We do not like to do things at which we fail. But we must realize that failure is a part of succeeding, provided we admit our failures and go at it again. Moreover, we are not under law but grace. God is not counting our failures against us, and we are not building a treasury of merit with our successes. We are simply trying to live a disciplined life that pleases our loving Father—and he understands our failures better than we understand our own children’s.
All by Grace
The man who wisely disciplines himself for godliness understands the necessity of prioritizing, realism, prayer, and accountability, and that failure is part of success, but his greatest wisdom and impetus come from his understanding of grace. Everything in his life comes from God’s grace: sola gratia, grace alone!
Salvation itself is by grace alone. We were dead in our transgressions and sins, captive to dark powers, no more capable of effecting our own salvation than a corpse. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:4–5, 8–9). Even the smallest percentage of works debases saving grace, as Paul made so pointedly clear: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom. 11:6). Sola gratia.
Salvation is by grace alone, and living the Christian life is by grace alone also. James makes this stunning declaration regarding the believer’s universal experience in this world: “But he [God] gives more grace” (James 4:6). This is not saving grace, but grace to live our lives as we ought in this fallen world—literally, “greater grace.” There is always “more grace.”1
1. “But he giveth more grace” (KJV). “But he gives more grace” (RSV). “But He gives a greater grace” (NASB). “Yet he gives grace more and more” (Moffatt). “But He affords the more grace” (Berkeley).
This article is adapted from Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes.
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- Why Godly Discipline Is about Learning to Fail Better (R. Kent Hughes)