Disciplined by Faith: Part 2
In Part 1 of this post, I described two inadequate responses to spiritual dryness and practical crisis. First, many turn to worldly methods of addressing their problems or of drowning their sorrows. Second and more importantly for my purposes, many submit to the tyranny of the urgent. Their Christian life is defined by urgent concerns and finding answers to them (i.e., felt needs). I argued that neither approach yields the deep-seated maturity God desires and that best sustains us through the highs and lows of life.
Therefore, we should embrace a third approach where we are disciplined by faith. By this I mean that we discipline ourselves to cultivate spiritual maturity even when it doesn’t feel relevant because we believe in its long-term value. Paul reflects this focus when he prays for the churches in and around Colossae, “That their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2–3). He wants them to love each other and know Christ deeply. Everyone’s on board with loving each other, but many Christians have little patience for knowing Christ deeply because Christology and Soteriology seem irrelevant to parenting a rebellious teen or navigating a financial crisis. However, God says that knowing Christ is our fundamental need. Then vv. 6–7 add, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” God is clear—spiritual maturity and spiritual power come from walking “in Him (i.e., Christ).” Our greatest ambition must be to “walk in Him (i.e., Christ), and God says that we get there by becoming “firmly rooted,” “built up in Him,” and “established in your faith.” We must not be content with a shallow faith; instead, we must pursue maturity. And maturity is not defined by mastery of felt needs or practical Christian skill; it is defined by “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.”
How do we fulfill this ambition? Paul answers, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1–3). Paul exhorts Christians to prioritize a rich knowledge of Christ and to dive deeply into the meat of the gospel as revealed in Scripture. We must “set our minds” on Christ, and discipline them to remain in the rich soil of the gospel. Christian maturity is the fruit of deep thought and meditation on Christ.
How do we apply this as a church? We understand Paul to mean that the most practical, relevant gift we can share on Sunday is a worship service that dwells deeply on the truths and promises of God’s character and the gospel. We want to equip people for practical challenges, but we believe that nothing is ultimately more practical than the gospel. The same philosophy should drive your personal Bible study and prayer patterns. Don’t merely search for a practical nugget to get you through the day; instead, pursue a firm foundation and a mature faith.
This pursuit must be anchored in a deep conviction about the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16–17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” God says that he has put everything you need for life and godliness in his Word. And here’s a point that you especially must remember. God knows better than you do what exactly you need for life and godliness. This is very important because if you subscribe to the felt needs model of discipleship, you will probably view vast swaths of Scripture as irrelevant to your spiritual growth. Afterall, Leviticus, the Prophets, Revelation, etc., are hard to understand, and they aren’t filled with practical nuggets. But if you believe that God designed his Word with a perfect understanding of what we need, you will treasure all of Scripture and yearn to comprehend it all. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Believe Jesus. Sanctification happens through Spirit-illuminated study of God’s entire Word.
I entitled this post “Disciplined by Faith” because this philosophy of discipleship and worship is anchored in faith. For example, my private devotional time is built on reading through the entire Bible, but my daily schedule doesn’t always seem relevant to my pressing concerns. My private prayer time is built on praying through the Psalms, and there are days that the psalm before me does not address my biggest cares. Finally, I don’t build my preaching calendar off the biggest stories from the nightly news but on expositing books of the Bible. I know there are weeks when I don’t scratch the biggest itch of many in attendance. So, why should you value disciplines that don’t always seem immediately relevant? The simple answer is that you trust the Lord, and you trust the means of grace he has provided. You believe that if you embrace the disciplines he commands in the strength of his grace, he will build the foundation of maturity that Paul describes in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 2. We believe he will do the same in our church. We believe that the long-term value of following the process God prescribes in his Word will yield better fruit than chasing people’s felt needs.
Believe in the long-term value of spiritual maturity and power. Believe that there is nothing you need more than to know God deeply and to appreciate every facet of the salvation he has provided in Christ. Believe in the value of all Scripture. Believe in God’s process even when it feels dry and irrelevant or when it is complex and inconvenient. Believe that God knows exactly what you need and that he is doing more than you can see.
Then discipline yourself to follow through. Prioritize consistent Bible reading and prayer. Don’t quit or bail when life is hard, or the text seems irrelevant. If you must confront a crisis, do so, but get back on schedule quickly and stick to it. Discipline yourself to participate heavily in the life of the church. Push through when you are tired, achy, or the kids are cranky. Discipline yourself to desire the things that God says you need most—to see God, to know Christ, and to be rooted in the gospel. If you leave feeling dry, discipline yourself to believe God is building you in ways that you cannot see. Then discipline yourself to do it again the next week.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones sums up the spirit of this post when he says, “Do what He (God) has told you to do. Live the Christian life. Pray, and meditate upon Him. Spend time with Him and ask Him to manifest Himself to you. And as long as you do that you can leave the rest to Him. He will give you strength…He knows us better than we know ourselves, and according to our need so will be our supply. Do that and you will be able to say with the apostle: ‘I am able (made strong) for all things through the One who is constantly infusing strength into me” (Spiritual Depression, p. 300).
Trust the process God provides in his Word and follow that process day by day. In the short-term, you may have hard days and your progress may seem slow. But God will slowly transform you, and you will be amazed at what he accomplishes.