“Celebration of Discipline”: Introduction – The Spiritual Disciplines Opens the Door

As soon as we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we become open to a new realisation: Inner righteousness is a gift from God that are to be graciously received. The needed change within us is then not our job after all… It is God’s work! Only God can do a job inside of us, so that we are changed from the inside out. We cannot earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God. It is a grace that is given to us. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))

Paul explains in Romans that righteousness is a gift of God. He uses this term 35 times in the epistle of Romans. Each time he uses it, he insists that it is unattained and unattainable through human effort. This is a teaching that is found throughout Scripture, and not only in Romans. At is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))

When we truly grasp this truth, we are in danger to think into another wrong way. We become tempted to believe that there is nothing that we can do. If all human strivings end in moral bankruptcy, and if righteousness is a gracious gift from God, it becomes logical to conclude that we must wait for God to come and transform us. “The analysis is correct – striving is insufficient and righteousness is a gift from God – but the conclusion is faulty.” There is something we can do. God has given us the Spiritual Disciplines as a way of receiving His grace. “The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.” (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))

In Galatians 6:8, Paul writes the following: “The one who sows to please his human nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Paul uses an analogy about a farmer. A farmer can’t grow grain. He can only provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He can cultivate the ground. He plants the seed. He waters the plants. After all of this, the natural forces of the earth takes over, so that the grain will grow. It is the same way with Spiritual Disciplines. In a way, Spiritual Disciplines are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The Disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground – they put us in a place where He can work within us and transform us. The Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing by itself. They can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s way of giving grace. The inner righteousness we seek, is not something that is poured into our heads. God has ordained the Spiritual Disciplines as the way in which we place ourselves where He can bless us. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))

It would be better then, at least in this regard, to talk about “the path of disciplined grace” (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980)). It is grace, because it is free; it is disciplined, because there is something that we have to do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, in “The Cost of Discipleship”, that grace is free, but not cheap. The grace of God is unearned, and it can never be earned. If we expect to grow in grace, though, we must pay the price of a consciously chosen course of action which involves individual as well as group life. “Spiritual growth is the purpose of the Disciplines.” (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))

In the next instalment, we will see the effects of the Disciplines.


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