Daily Devotions and Legalism

Here’s a great section of Jerry Bridges’ fine book, The Discipline of Grace.  Please note that when he uses the term “discipline” in this quote he is using the term in a way that means something like “training” or “teaching.”

“When I was first introduced to the idea of Christian discipleship, I was given a list of seven spiritual disciplines I should practice every day – things such as a daily quiet time, Bible study, Scripture memorization, and prayer.  All of these disciplines were very helpful to me, and I am grateful for every one of them.  They formed the foundation for my spiritual growth.”

“However, while learning those disciplines I came to believe that my day-to-day relationship with God depended on how faithfully I performed them.  No one actually told me that God’s approval of me was based on my performance.  Still, I developed a vague but real impression that God’s smile or frown depended on whether or not I did my spiritual exercise.  The challenge to be faithful in my quiet time, while good in itself, probably contributed to this impression.”

“My experience is not unusual.  A friend of mine who ministers on a university campus told of a student who was exceptionally diligent in having his daily quiet time.  My friend asked the student why he was so rigid in his practice, and the young man responded, ‘So nothing bad will happen to me.’  He was not being disciplined by grace but by legalism.”

“We are performance-oriented by nature, and our culture, and sometimes our upbringing, reinforces this legalistic mind-set.  All to often a child’s acceptance by his or her parents is based on the child’s performance, and this certainly tends to be true in our society.  We carry this same type of thinking into our relationships with God.  So whether it is our response to God’s discipline of us or our practice of those spiritual disciplines that are so good and helpful, we tend to think it is the ‘law’ of God rather than the grace of God that disciplines us” (p. 78-9).

Bridges goes on to say that, in Titus 2:12, Paul teaches that God trains us by grace:  “It means that all our effort to teach godly living and spiritual maturity to others must be grounded in grace.  If we fail to teach that discipline is by grace, people will assume, as I did, that it is by performance.”  At the end of the chapter Bridges notes this great poem (probably written by Bunyan):

“Run, John, run, the law commands
”But gives neither feet nor hands
”Better news the gospel brings
”It bids me fly and gives me wings

Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace.

shane lems

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