Godliness Through Discipline - Jay E. Adams
Some notes from Godliness Through Discipline by Jay E. Adams
The Bible is very plain about how godliness does come. Paul wrote about godliness to Timothy. In his first letter to that budding young minister, he said, in contrast to all of the ways that will fail (mentioned in the first part of the verse), "Timothy, you must discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (I Timothy 4:7). Discipline is the secret of godliness.
The godly man leads a life that reflects God. Godliness is the goal of the Christian life; we must please God by being, thinking, doing, saying and feeling in the ways that He wants us to.
If you are going to learn discipline, you must first learn patience.
Discipline means work; it means sustained daily effort. The word Paul used is the one from which the English words "gymnastics" and gymnasium" have been derived. It is a term clearly related to athletics.
Take up your cross daily .... denying the self. Daily denial of the self indicates the presence of a day-by-day battle inside of the Christian. He must "take up the cross" as an instrument of a death upon which to crucify the self every day. It means putting to death the old life patterns of the old man.
But that is not enough. Whenever God says "put off" He also says "put on." On the positive side, each day one also must seek to "follow" Jesus Christ. That is what it means to discipline oneself for godliness. It means to continue to say "no" to self and to say "yes" to Christ every day until one by one all of the old habitual ways are replaced by new ones.
God gave man a marvelous capacity that we call habit. Whenever we do something long enough it becomes a part of us.
The practice of godliness leads to the life of godliness. It makes godliness "natural". If you practice what God tells you to do, the obedient life will become part of you. There is no simple, quick, easy way to instant godliness.
There is only one way to become a godly person, to orient one's life toward godliness, and that means, pattern by pattern. The old sinful ways, as they are discovered, must be replaced by new patterns from God's Word. This is the meaning of disciplined living. Discipline first required self-examination, then it means crucifixion of the old sinful ways (saying "no" daily), and lastly, practice in following Jesus Christ in new ways by the guidance and strength that the Holy Spirit provides through His Word. The biblical way to godliness is not easy or simple, but it is the solid way.
When you discipline yourself for righteousness, you don't have to do it alone. "it is God who works in you" (Philippians 2:13). All holiness, all righteousness, all godliness is the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22, 23). It takes nothing less than the power of the Spirit to replace sinful habits with righteous ones, for a ten-year-old or a fifty-year-old. God never said that once a person reaches fifty or forty or eighty he is incapable of change. Look at what Abraham did as an old man. Look at the tremendous changes that God demanded of him in old age. The Holy Spirit can change any Christian, and does.
As Christians we should never fear change. We must believe in change so long as it is change oriented toward godliness. The Christian life is a life of continual change. In the Scriptures it is called a "walk," not a rest. We can never say (in this life), "I have finally made it." We cannot say, "There is nothing more to learn from God's Word, nothing more to put into practice tomorrow, no more skills to develop, no more sins to be dealt with." When Christ said, "Take up your cross daily and follow me," He put an end to all such thinking.
Too many Christians give up. They want the change too soon. What they really want is change without the daily struggle. It usually takes at least three weeks of proper daily effort for one to feel comfortable in performing a new practice. And it takes about three more weeks to make the practice part of oneself. But many Christians don't continue even for three days. If they do not receive instant success, they get discouraged. They want what they want now, and if they don't get it now, they quit.
All of the stress that the Bible puts upon human effort must not be misunderstood; we are talking about grace-motivated effort, not the work of the flesh. It is not effort apart from the Holy Spirit that produces godliness. Rather, it is through the power of the Holy Spirit alone that one can so endure. Of his own effort, a man may persist in learning to skate, but he will not persist in the pursuit of godliness. A Christian does good works because the Spirit first works in him. Now the work of the Spirit is not mystical. The Holy Spirit's activity often has been viewed in a confused and confusing manner. There is no reason for such confusion. The Holy Spirit Himself has plainly told us how He works. He says in the Scriptures that He ordinarily works through the Scriptures. The Bible is the Holy Spirit's Book. He inspired it. He moved its authors to write every wonderful word that you may read there. This is His book; the sharp tool by which He accomplishes His work. He did not give us the Book, only to say that we could lay it aside and forget it in the process of becoming godly. Godliness does not come by osmosis. Your own ideas and effort will never produce it. There is no easier path to godliness than the prayerful study and obedient practice of the Word of God.
It is by willing, prayerful and persistent obedience to the requirements of the Scriptures the godly patterns are developed and come to be a part of us. When we read about them we must then ask God by His grace to help us live accordingly. He has given the Holy Spirit to us for this purpose. The word grace has several meanings in the Bible, one of which is "help." When we ask, "Lord, enable us, through following Christ daily in His Word, to become like Him," the Holy Spirit "helps" us to do so. The Holy Spirit gives help when His people read His Word and then step out by faith to do as He says. He does not promise to strengthn us unless we do so; the power often comes in the doing.
In II Timothy 3:16, Paul mentions four things that the Scriptures do for the believer. First, they teach what God requires. Secondly, they convict of sin by reveling how we have fallen short of those requirements. Thirdly, they "set us up straight again. " Lastly, they train or discipline in righteousness. This fourth benefit of the Bible means a structured training in doing righteousness. If you use the Bible every day, the Book will discipline you. Disciplined, structured living is what you need.
Structure alone brings freedom. Discipline brings liberty. Our whole age has been brainwashed into thinking the opposite.
Libery comes through law, not apart from it. There is a structure necessary for life; that structure is found in the Bible. It is conforming to that structure by the grace of God that makes men godly.
There is much that we don't feel like doing. There are only two ways to live. They reflect two kinds of religion and two kinds of morality. One religion and life and morality says, "I will live according to feeling." The other says, "I will live as God says." It all goes back to the garden. God gave a commandement and required obedience. There are only two kinds of life, the feeling-motivated life of sin oriented toward self, and the commandment-motivated life of holiness oriented toward godliness. Living according to feeling is the greatest hindrance to godliness that we face. Godly, commandment-oriented living comes only from biblical structure and discipline.