I love the foundation that Teri Lynne and Kathy have set for us this week as we start our month focusing on spiritual disciplines. But before we go any further, I’d like to put a little disclaimer on being disciplined about the disciplines. I speak from experience on this issue and have really had to confess my sin and receive His grace to move forward. We must not let what we do (even when what we’re doing is good) become areas of legalism in our lives.
Let me give you a personal example. Prayer is a spiritual discipline. We are commanded to pray, we are given examples of prayer in Scripture, and we all know how important it is to spend time in prayer. So I pray. And I check it off my to-do list.
The Pharisees had a to-do list. A long one! Jesus spoke to them about their actions and their hearts in Mark 7. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus’ disciples were not following their traditions. Jesus answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…. ‘” (Mark 7:6-7a). Like the Pharisees, I was doing what I was supposed to do, but my heart was far from God.
But I thought I was doing good. I was praying, right? Tim Keller writes in his excellent book, The Prodigal God, “As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough for him. You simply aren’t sure God love and delights in you” (63).
The temptation in adding the spiritual disciplines to your to-do list is that you focus so much on the fact that you are doing them, you forget why you are doing them.
So how do we avoid the temptation to become legalistic in this area? Paul sets a good example. He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…. ” (Phil. 3:7-9, emphasis mine).
Paul combated the sins of pride and entitlement (root causes of legalism) with the power of the cross. Like Paul, my to-do list (or have-done list!) pales in comparison to the life of Christ. When I compare all my good deeds to His death on the cross, I am reminded of what a sinner I am. I’m also reminded of His grace and love. I must continue to preach the gospel to myself.
My prayer–Please God, continue to reveal to me my sinfulness and your holiness. Meet me there with your grace. Remind me that my motivation to practice the spiritual disciplines is to conform to the likeness of Your Son.