Search for the topic of “self-discipline” in books at Amazon, and you will discover more than 100 pages of results. Self-discipline is a subset – a rather large subset – of the general book genre of self-help. For the physical bookstores still left, self-help also was and remains one of the largest selections.
Consider that many business and leadership books are essentially self-help and self-discipline books. Throw in “time management” and you could probably open your own bookstore devoted to these related topics alone.
Self-help and self-discipline are significant topics of interest to our culture.
If we look at the search results on Amazon for Christian self-help and self-discipline, we find another hundred pages of listings. Some of these are undoubtedly meant to encourage and inform, but I have to say the titles suggest there’s little difference between Christian books and secular books on self-help.
And yet it’s right in this area of discipline that we find Christian teaching is countercultural.
What we know, what we have been taught, what we have heard in the pulpit and Sunday School classes and seminars and retreats is this: Faith is not a question of self-discipline, because there are a lot of things the “self” just can’t do.
In fact, the self is the problem. Disciplining the problem is treating the symptoms, not the illness. Some self-discipline is involved, but the story of our journey in faith is not “I did it my way.”
“Discipline is not necessarily a reliance on human effort, or as it is called, ‘a work of the flesh,’” says Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. What he says next is profound.
“We are enabled to do the work.”
It is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith – how exactly does the Holy Spirit operate. We know Jesus promised a “helper” or a gift (Acts 1:4-5), a gift he called the Holy Spirit. And he told the disciples to wait for the gift.
They didn’t have to wait long – about 50 days (the length of time between the resurrection and Pentecost). But it must have at times seemed like an eternity. In the interim, they chose a disciple to replace Judas, they met together, and they likely shared meals, prayed, encouraged, and taught each other.
But they waited. And when the promised help arrived, there was no mistaking what was going on – a sound like a violent wind; tongues of flame appearing over their heads; suddenly speaking in languages they didn’t know but others in Jerusalem could hear and understand; and a boldness in speaking out to the crowds.
The signs of enablement don’t have to be a loud noise and tongues of fire. But the critical fact is this:
We are enabled to do the work.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. To see what others had to say on this chapter, “Dependent Discipline,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.
Photograph by Peter Griffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.