It’s funny where life’s little defining moments can come from. It’s so often through words that are so obvious to other people, but somehow they’ve just never stood out to you. As a young man Jerry Bridges was at a Bible study group and heard this: “The Bible was not given just to increase your knowledge but to guide your conduct.” This was a brand-new thought to him. He headed home and that night prayed a simple prayer: “God, starting tonight I want You to use the Bible to guide my conduct.” Just like that. This transformed his whole approach to the Scriptures and his whole understanding of the Christian life. Any of us who have heard him speak or read his books have benefited from this epiphany.
In chapter eleven of his book The Discipline of Grace, Bridges writes about “The Discipline of Choices” and says, “the practice of putting off sinful attitudes and actions and putting on Christlike character involves a constant series of choices. We choose in every situation which direction we will go. It is through these choices that we develop Christlike habits of living. Habits are developed by repetition, and it is in the arena of moral choices that we develop spiritual habit patterns.”
That could easily sound moralistic, like if we just choose the right choice over a period of time, we will eventually train ourselves to do what is right. This has been exactly the approach of many Christian books which, without reference to the gospel or the work of the Holy Spirit, train us to replace old behaviors with new ones (Every Man’s Battle comes to mind). And to some degree it is possible to do that. But Bridges goes to Scripture to show that a retraining of habits is not enough.
It is through righteous actions that we develop holy character. Holiness of character, then, is developed one choice at a time as we choose to act righteously in each and every situation and circumstance we encounter during the day.
We do not become more holy either by discipline or by dependence. Neither do we become more holy by committing ourselves to God, or by developing Bible-based conviction. We become more holy by obedience to the Word of God, by choosing to obey His will as revealed in the Scriptures in all the various circumstances of our lives.
The choices we make, and therefore the habits we develop, are formed by obedience to the Word. “It is only through making the right choice to obey God’s Word that we will break the habits of sin and develop habits of holiness. This is where we desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to make the right choices. So cry out to God every day for His help for that day, and then cry out again each time you are confronted with the choice to sin or to obey.”