“Train yourself for the purpose of godliness, for bodily training is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:7b–8a)
The apostle Paul invokes an athletic metaphor to describe the necessity of spiritual discipline for the purpose of godliness.
1. Spiritual Disciplines Follow 1 Timothy 4:7.
Spiritual disciplines are the biblical activities that Christians engage in order to train themselves for the purpose of godliness in accordance to 1 Timothy 4:7.
There are a variety of spiritual disciplines delineated in Scripture, and they can be organized into three main categories:
A. Bible Intake
- Hear God's Word
- Read God's Word
- Meditate on God's Word
- Memorize God's Word
- Apply God's Word
C. Corporate Gathering
- The Lord's Table
- Encouragement, Rebuke, and Correction
2. The Goal of Spiritual Disciplines Is Godliness.
- The purpose of spiritual disciplines is not to gain a right standing with God. The imputed righteousness of God is appropriated wholly by the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- We don't do spiritual disciplines for personal satisfaction, although we do reap many blessings.
- The goal of spiritual disciplines is to cultivate godliness.
3. Spiritual Disciplines Are Activities, Not Attitudes.
Spiritual disciplines are activities, not character qualities. They are things that we do even though the goal of the discipline is not doing, but being.
The Bible commends and commands the Christian to partake in certain activities that lead to Christian growth and godliness. The activities that are explicitly stated in Scripture are the means for our growth in Christlikeness. We do not need to engage in activities that are not described in Scripture to deepen our knowledge and worship of our God.
It’s also important to note that spiritual disciplines are activities that are derived from the [gospel].
“Spiritual disciplines are those personal and interpersonal activities given by God in the Bible as the sufficient means believers in Jesus Christ are to use in the Spirit-filled, gospel-driven pursuit of godliness, that is, closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ.” (Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life p.9)
4. Spiritual Disciplines Are Powered by God.
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work bfor His good pleasure. (Phil 2:12–13)
Our progressive sanctification is wholly empowered by God. Just as salvation is a monergistic work of God, though God works through the means of gospel preaching, our pursuit of godliness is enabled by God's power alone through the means of spiritual disciplines.
5. Spiritual Disciplines Are a Means, Not an Ends.
The Christian's ultimate goal is not the successful completion of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are a means, not an ends. The final destination we are targeting is godliness. We can define godliness as "closeness and conformity with Christ."
Godliness, as denoting character and conduct determined by the principle of love or fear of God in the heart, is the summing up of genuine religion. There can be no true religion without it: only a dead “form” (2 Tim 3:5). The term is a favorite one in the Pastoral Epistles. The incarnation is “the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16).
We cannot be godly without the practice of spiritual disciplines, but we can practice the spiritual disciplines without being godly. A man or woman must come to spiritual maturity through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.
6. Spiritual Disciplines Are One of Three Catalysts for Change.
God can use both good friends and enemies to sharpen us to be more like Christ.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
In his providence, God will use every situation and circumstance to conform us to be more like Christ.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
C. Spiritual Disciplines
Spiritual disciplines differ from the first two in that when He uses spiritual disciplines, God works primarily from the inside out. When He changes us through people and circumstances, the process works mainly from the outside in.
Spiritual disciplines also differ from the other two in that God grants us a greater measure of choice regarding involvement with the disciplines. We often have little choice regarding the people and circumstances God brings into our lives. We can decide whether we will read the Bible or fast today.
“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:29)
The desire and the power for spiritual disciplines are produced by the grace of God. But Christians themselves must practice the spiritual disciplines.
7. Spiritual Disciplines Are Commanded.
“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7b NASB)
The verb “discipline” is in the imperative. This is a command, not a suggestion. The pursuit of godliness through spiritual disciplines is not optional, but compulsory.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
8. Spiritual Disciplines Are Modeled by Christ.
Jesus commands His disciples to practice spiritual disciplines. He is also the perfect model of these disciplines. Jesus was the most disciplined man who ever lived. He was also the most joyful.
We need to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ as we practice these spiritual disciplines. We also need to depend on God’s supply of grace and mercy through faith as we practice them.
9. Spiritual Disciplines Are Both Personal and Interpersonal.
The Bible prescribes personal and interpersonal disciplines.
- Personal spiritual disciplines can be practiced alone like personal Bible reading and personal prayer.
- Interpersonal spiritual disciplines are to be practiced with others like corporate Sunday worship service at a local church. Both are important.
Christians should worship God privately, but they should also engage in family worship at home and public worship with other Christians in the local church.
As an example, Jesus went to pray alone (Matthew 4:1; 14:3; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42), but he also went to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16).
10. Spiritual Disciplines Give Christians Freedom.
Spiritual disciplines should not be burdensome. They should not be viewed as bondage. Spiritual discipline without purpose is drudgery. Spiritual discipline with the purpose of godliness brings joy and freedom.
Discipline is the price we must pay for freedom. Freedom is our reward. There is freedom in being able to quote Scripture. There is freedom from spiritual lethargy through fasting. There is freedom in doing what God is calling us to do through Bible intake.
“And knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness.” (2 Peter 1:6)
“The bridge between Spirit-empowered self-control and godliness is perseverance. Occasional self-control results in occasional godliness. But self-control with perseverance results in more consistent Christlikeness. True godliness requires a lifetime of perseverance.” (Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p.19)
James Orr, “Godliness, Godly,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 1270. ↩︎