How Do I Know If I’m Doing the Spiritual Disciplines Right?
Welcome back. For the first few days this week we are joined by Dr. Don Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He is well known for writing his classic book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, which was originally published in 1991, and then revised and expanded in 2014. And he’s the author of the new book from Crossway titled Praying the Bible.
Dr. Whitney, on to the next question on my list. This is foundational and important: Why are Christians called to practice the spiritual disciplines in the first place? Or: How do we know if we’re doing the spiritual disciplines right? What is the goal of it all?
New Testament Discipline
We are to practice the spiritual disciplines, first of all, because they are commanded in Scripture. First Timothy 4:7 says, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (NASB). And the practical ways that we carry those out we call the spiritual disciplines. And so, first of all, the Bible commands these things: “Discipline yourself.” And so that is not just some amorphous attitude; there are actually things we are to do and biblical activities that we are to engage in rightly motivated. And so, first of all, the Bible commands that.
Discipline is at the very heart of discipleship in the New Testament. When Jesus invited people to himself in Matthew 11:29 he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” The same is true in this offer of discipleship in Luke 9:23: “He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” At the very least, to be a disciple of Jesus was to follow him.
And as they followed him, they learned from him. If Jesus got up one morning and said, “Men, get up, we are going to Galilee,” they didn’t stretch their arms and say, “Well, Lord, we kind of thought we would sleep in today and go up there tomorrow.” It had to be a disciplined following. Discipline is always at the heart of discipleship. And so to follow Jesus has to be an intentional thing. You don’t follow someone accidentally — not for very long. At the very heart of discipleship is this idea of discipline. Jesus has expected this from us in the Scriptures.
Another reason we should practice the spiritual disciplines is found in Hebrews 12:14, which says to pursue “holiness,” or “sanctification” some translations say.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [or holiness, godliness, Christlikeness] without which no one will see the Lord. (NASB)
Again: pursue this holiness, sanctification, Christlikeness, godliness without which no one will see the Lord. We will not see the Lord because we pursue holiness; rather, those who know the Lord will pursue holiness. Because of their knowledge of God, they can’t help but pursue him.
All those who are born again are given the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit brings his holy presence wherever he goes. When someone walks into a room, they don’t pause at the door and say, “I wonder what nature I will bring with me. Maybe I will bring my alligator nature into this room.” No, we don’t do that, because we don’t have an alligator nature. We only have a human nature, and we take our human nature with us wherever we go.
In the same way, wherever the Holy Spirit goes, he brings his holy nature with him. And when he indwells any flesh-and-blood creature, he brings that holy nature. That person, therefore, has new holy hungers they didn’t have before. They hunger for the holy word of God that they used to find boring or irrelevant. They hunger for fellowship with God’s people. They can’t imagine life apart from the people of God anymore, because the Holy Spirit ministers to them through the people of God. And so to cut themselves off from fellowship with God’s people is, in a real sense, to cut themselves off from so much of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to them, and they can’t bear that.
Anyone indwelt by the Holy Spirit has new holy longings they did not have before. They long for a holy body without sin anymore. They long to live with a holy mind no longer affected by temptation ever again. They long to live in a holy and perfect world with holy and perfect people and to at last see face to face the one that the angels call “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:2; Revelation 4:8
And that is the heartbeat of all those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. They may be nine years old and those things will be expressed in nine-year-old ways, but they will be there, because he is there. And a person may be ninety-nine with the encrusted traditions and experiences of the years over his heart, but pulsing underneath is the evergreen, ever-fresh work of the Holy Spirit. Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, he gives us hunger and longing and aspiration for holiness. You are compelled by the presence of the Holy Spirit to pursue holiness, sanctification, godliness.
Train Yourself for Godliness
So if you are not pursuing that, you won’t see the Lord. And the reason is: You don’t know the Lord. You are not pursuing the Lord if you are not pursuing holiness. Anyone who doesn’t want to be with Jesus has not met the man.
Well then, how do we do that? If we will not see the Lord without pursuing holiness, anyone who wants to see the Lord is going to say, “How then do I pursue this holiness without which no one sees the Lord?” The answer is in 1 Timothy 4:7: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness, holiness, Christlikeness.
So the practical everyday way we pursue the holiness without which we will not see the Lord is the practice of the biblical, spiritual disciplines. That is why it is so important to practice the biblical, spiritual disciplines.