In “The Discipline of Grace”, Jerry Bridges teaches us how God and the believer share responsibility in the individual’s pursuit of holiness.
Grace is an overwhelming concept, though it’s inseparably tied to the idea of holy living. We understand it, and don’t. We preach it, but fail to live it. We believe in our minds that God pours this [unmerited favor] into us, but still try to obey Him in the phantom strength of our flesh. These truths and more are why Jerry Bridges penned the deeply theological book, The Discipline of Grace. I say deeply theological because I must admit to having had difficulty digesting some of what Bridges attempts to explain. I suppose that’s no surprise given the unsearchable and deep ways and knowledge of God. I will nonetheless do my best to briefly describe the wonderful teachings of this book.
The Discipline of Grace is written in two halves. Chapters 1 through 7 deal with the theological details of grace, at least those Jerry chose to discuss. The proceeding chapters then delve into the practical arena, where Jerry begins by teaching us how grace enables Christians to be disciplined in holiness, and finishes by drilling down into the specific disciplines of commitment, conviction, choice, watchfulness, and adversity.
What I love about The Discipline of Grace, as I do about most of Bridges’ books, is how it encourages the believer with gospel truth, essentially that Christians are never beyond the reach of grace, nor the need of it. And though we struggle mightily to be less sinful throughout our lives, the disciple of Jesus Christ is never capable of influencing that grace. (Amen?) The Bible in fact guarantees that grace will make us more like our Lord Jesus Christ. We may sadly be more like the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18 than the humble tax collector at times, but grace is still greater than our sinfulness, no matter what. In Christ, we have died to the dominion (i.e. mastery/rule) of sin, which is why we are able to practice the specific disciplines mentioned in the previous paragraph. Yet the law/principle of sin remains in us, which is why grace is the key to holy living. If sin was eradicated, there wouldn’t be a need for grace.
Jerry doesn’t pretend however that the daily battle to be disciplined is easy. Grace is our critical enablement, though God never does the work for us. He will never force us to make godly choices. We must make godly choices in acting upon God’s grace. That’s the theme of The Disciple of Grace. It’s about God’s responsibility, and ours, in the pursuit of holiness. I also happened to read it in tandem with Kevin DeYoung’s The Hole In Our Holiness to see if the two might tie together. They do, and I encourage reading both.
Most interesting I think is Jerry’s airplane illustration. On one wing you have the disciplines; on the other is grace. The point is that you can never have one without the other. Grace enables Christians to work toward holiness, and to be obedient to the Scriptures. Any attempts to do this work in the flesh meet with sure failure.
Nonetheless, Bridges begins describing the “grace disciplines” with that of commitment. And it makes sense; without commitment you’ll never start to learn discipline. In that chapter, Jerry emphasizes that commitment must always begin with God. And by following that, we will be far more eager to put on the Christ’s character, rather than want to just merely avoid giving in to our besetting sins. Bridges claims that Christians typically stop at the latter, and miss putting on the various fruits (kindness, humility, love, etc.), and I think there’s something to that.
The disciplines chapter that provoked my thinking the most is the one that follows, about convictions. Simply put, the Christian is either becoming more like those in the world, or more like Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground. And to avoid the worldliness, we need convictions. Not mere beliefs, but convictions shape how we actually think and act. When we’re convicted, we make choices (the next chapter). We must hate sin, not just the consequences/guilt that comes from committing it. Jerry presents the narrative of Stephen in Acts and his stand for Jesus Christ as an example for how we ought to stand against sin. Perhaps most important is the understanding that we can’t destroy indwelling sin, but we can kill the patterns of our sinfulness. And again, this requires grace.
The chapter that most fascinated me discusses the idea of watchfulness. Jerry likens our flesh to an antenna that constantly scans for signals in the airwaves, whereas the flesh is always looking for opportunities to indulge sinful lusts. The idea is that no believer should ever think they aren’t capable of a certain sin. How true that is!
And finally, Jerry offers a much-needed reminder that adversity isn’t a bad thing, not to mention it is not a punishment. God uses adversity to make His children more like Jesus Christ. You see that all throughout the New Testament. Though it is never pleasant, which we thank the book of Hebrews for acknowledging, the result is always for our good and God’s glory. That doesn’t mean we have to like it, but we are to be thankful for it.
You might be wondering what I meant at the beginning about having difficulty digesting some what of Jerry Bridges writes. What I’ve pointed out above may seem relatively straightforward after all. Well, as I said, it was my best attempt to explain what The Discipline of Grace teaches. There are details about Christ’s death that I had a hard time wrapping my mind around, among others, but I’m confident that the Jerry’s comments are true. He is always very careful with his books. If nothing else, I was challenged by the need to put forth effort to be more holy. I was also encouraged that the power to do so does not reside within me, though I do need to act upon it. If you’re struggling to live in holiness at all, please allow The Discipline of Grace to aid you in your pursuit of it!