The most important “spiritual discipline”

July 14, 2016

The July 13 entry in The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day) is a helpful corrective for many of us Christians. We tend to overemphasize the work of “spiritual disciplines” or “spiritual formation” at the expense of the finished work of Christ—the sole basis on which we’re accepted by God. In which case, as it so often does, the Law rears its ugly head.

Please don’t misunderstand: While it’s hard to imagine how our souls can remain healthy if we long neglect the disciplines of daily prayer, Bible reading and study, and worship, among other Christian practices, they are not the center of gravity when it comes to the “work and rhythm of the Christian life.”

On the contrary, citing Jesus’ gospel proclamation in Mark 1:14-15 (“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”), a pastor named Curt Benham writes the following:

Christianity for many of us has come down to: “Just tell me what I have to do… Tell me the habits I must form in order to maintain my relationship with God.” We can run on spiritual disciplines for a while, but there’s eventually a breakdown between what it was meant for and what it has become.

That’s why Jesus’ words are so comforting… Jesus simply tells us this: repent and believe the gospel. This is the work and the rhythm of the Christian life.

Repentance really just means being honest about who you are. It means admitting there is a giant bedrock of self-centeredness that you can do nothing about. It means being aware of the fact that you’re really pretty into yourself, and you need help if anything’s going to change.

To believe the Gospel means to believe that help has arrived, that Jesus really is who he says he is and really did what he said he did… that, because of Jesus, you are loved and accepted by God, right now, as you are, and not as you should be. Rather than a repeated work through your week, we instead repeatedly return to a work that’s already been done on our behalf. Now there’s a Christians routine we can stick with![†]

The most important spiritual discipline is repeatedly “returning to work that’s already been done on our behalf.” I like that!

The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day) (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird Ministries, 2013), 243.

4 Responses to “The most important “spiritual discipline””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I think it is necessary to be careful here. First of all, for those who believe you can “fall from grace,” continued “devotion” to God would certainly appear to be important, if not essential, lest, failing such, you might “make shipwreck of the faith.” So under such theology one could not “rest assured” simply based on Christ’s sacrifice. See Pilgrim’s Progress.

    Also, under any view of salvation theology, it is important to consider what is meant by “repentance.” I don’t believe that, in most cases at least, it is enough just to “admit you are a sinner in need of salvation” (but cf. the tax collector). Instead, there must be a decision to “turn around” and “head in the right direction.” You can’t change your destination without changing your direction. Of course, no one can do that without “slips along the way,” but the “effort” must be there. See Hebrews 11; James 2. The Cross makes salvation possible in the first instance and makes up for the “slips,” but we must, nonetheless, make the “change.”


  2. Discipline without faith is striving against the wind. John Wesley is the paradigm.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    I agree with Tom (I think). I believe that one must repent AND turn in a new direction. That turning is evidence that something has really happened in your life. Without it, your conversion may not be real. Then, being “giant bedrocks of self-centeredness”, we will have to constantly call on the Holy Spirit the help us hold fast and persevere.

    I’m not sure what I think about “backsliding”. On one hand, it sure seems to happen a lot. On the other, the Scripture tell us to have confidence in certainty of our hope in Christ. For myself, I pray everyday for the strength to stay the course, because the temptations of this world are real and ever present.

  4. bobbob Says:

    I was talking with a friend about the Nice attacks and his comment about there is ample evidence in OT about it being ok for Christians to use violence eye for an eye and all that. He was trying to compare us with Islamists in our rationalizing violence. I told him that no true Christian thinks like that, instead referring and deferring to the words of Jesus, He that most potent proponent of non-violence. I said that those who, in the past or now, derive rationalizations from OT for current violence in Jesus’ name need a deep rethink of their Christianity. Our savior went to the cross naked–if ever there was an appropriate time for vengeance that was a good time.

    So the work has been done; it does not need to be redone. again and again. repeat. that’s why I left the Roman church. at least one of the reasons.


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