It is possible to establish convictions regarding a life of holiness, and even make a definite commitment to that end, yet fail to achieve the goal. Life is strewn with broken resolutions. We may determine by God’s grace to stop a particular sinful habit—entertaining lustful thoughts, criticizing our Christian brother, or whatever. But alas, only too frequently we find we don’t succeed. We do not achieve that progress in holiness we so intensely desire.
Jay Adams puts his finger on the problem when he says, “You may have sought and tried to obtain instant godliness. There is no such thing….We want somebody to give us three easy steps to godliness, and we’ll take them next Friday and be godly. The trouble is, godliness doesn’t come that way.”
Adams goes on to show that the way to obtain godliness is through Christian discipline.2 But the concept of discipline is suspect in our society today. It appears counter to our emphasis on freedom in Christ and often smacks of legalism and harshness.
Yet Paul says we are to train or discipline ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). The figure of speech he uses comes from the physical training that Greek athletes went through. Paul also said, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (1 Corinthians 9:25). He said this was an attitude of his life, and one that each Christian should have (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). If an athlete disciplines himself to obtain a temporal prize, he said, how much more should we Christians discipline ourselves to obtain a crown that lasts forever.
As these verses indicate, discipline is structured training. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary lists as one definition of discipline, “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”3 This is what we must do if we pursue holiness: We must correct, mold, and train our moral character.
Discipline toward holiness begins with the Word of God. Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The last item he mentions is training or discipline in doing righteousness. This is what the Scriptures will do for us if we use them. Jay Adams says, “It is by willing, prayerful and persistent obedience to the requirements of the Scriptures that godly patterns are developed and come to be a part of us.”4
We read in Scripture, “You were taught…to put off your old self…to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24). Where are we taught these things? Only in the Word of God. Discipline toward holiness begins then with the Scriptures—with a disciplined plan for regular intake of the Scriptures and a disciplined plan for applying them to our daily lives.
Here our cooperation with the Holy Spirit is very clear.
Bridges, Jerry. 1978. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: Navpress.
Check out our Bible Study on Jerry Bridges classic book, The Pursuit of Holiness. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.