But have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).1
What is the first step you must take to train yourself in godliness? And what are the most important things you can do to smack your ungodly inclinations upside the head (1 Corinthians 9:27)2 and develop self-control?
The truth is, the first step in spiritual formation is desire. You must desire to grow in Christlikeness or you won't get very far. And that desire is ultimately a grace of God. It should be evident as part of the new you, the creation where all things are new, including a new desire to be like Jesus. Even then you will find it necessary to ask for increasing desire to be like Jesus. As Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, for it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). Thus, God both gives you the desire and the ability to obey Him.
However, simply desiring Christlikeness is not enough. The next step is to act on that desire and cultivate Christlike attitudes and behavior (Philippians 2:12). The epistle of Jude gives us a quick list of some of the most important Christian disciplines. But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life (Jude 1:20-21).
First on the list is theological instruction. This may seem "unspiritual" to some people but the truth is "we will not grow much in godliness if we do not know much of what it means to be godly."3 Therefore, the first thing you must do to engender spiritual formation is spend time reading the Bible, meditating upon the word and seeking wisdom.
The second spiritual discipline you should pursue is prayer. "To abandon prayer is to fight the battle with our own resources at best, and to lose interest in the battle at worst."4 And one of the best ways to engage in consistent, meaningful prayer is to use God's word as a guide for prayer. In other words, "when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm."5
The third spiritual discipline is to keep ourselves in the love of God. "Christians are recipients of this love when they strive to do God's will by loving him with heart, soul, and mind and by loving their neighbor as themselves (see Mat 22:37-39)."6 In other words, the third spiritual discipline is to love God by obeying him in service to others (1 John 5:2). Indeed, "God's word has no place for spiritual unemployment or spiritual retirement or any other description of the professing Christian not serving God."7 You should therefore "discipline yourself to serve in a regular ongoing ministry in your local church."8
The fourth admonition from Jude is, in the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, embrace a confidence in eternity. This points to the discipline of worship. And "if by means of meditation we will focus on the person and work of Christ as found in the Bible, we will understand more of the holy God, for Jesus ‘has made him known' (John 1:18). And to the degree we truly comprehend more of God, we will in turn respond to him more in worship."9 In truth, as we meditate upon the mercy of God and the promise of eternity, a Bible informed, Holy Spirit energized mind cannot help but consider the attributes of our Lord Jesus Christ and the many blessings we receive in him.
Bible intake,10 prayer, service and meditative worship: these are the primary disciplines required for spiritual formation. I encourage you to work out your salvation (Philippians 2:12) in the power of the Holy Spirit by participating in these spiritual disciplines for the Christian life.
1 All Scripture references are from the Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
2 The word commonly translated as "discipline" in 1 Corinthians 9:27 literally means, "to beat black and blue."
3 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 277.
4 Ibid., 83.
5 Donald S. Whitney, Praying the Bible, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 27.
6 Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), comments on Jude 20, as found in eSword Bible Study Software, Rick Myers, copyright © 2000 – 2017
7 Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 144.
8 Ibid., 152.
9 Ibid., 105.
10 Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 21-78.
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