The Discipline of Grace

Twenty five years after its release, I finally read Jerry Bridges’ classic The Pursuit of Holiness (you can read my review here). I am glad to say that it only took me twelve to read The Discipline of Grace which has recently been republished by NavPress. A former ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award winner, this is a title I’m sure I will read again before another twelve years have elapsed.

The Discipline of Grace is, in many ways, a continuation of the teaching in two of Bridge’s previous titles, The Pursuit of Holiness and Transforming Grace. “As I sought to relate the biblical principal of living by grace to the equally biblical principle of personal discipline, I realized that it would be helpful to bring these two truths together in one book. That is the purpose of this volume.” The product of much meditation upon Scripture and much self-examination, this book challenges the Christian with the simple but profound truth that “your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

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At its heart, The Discipline of Grace is a book examining the shared responsibility of God and the believer in the pursuit of holiness or the process of sanctification. Being transformed into the image of Christ is a long and difficult process and is not one that is done by God alone. Rather, God enables us to pursue holiness and helps us achieve it. The grace of God and personal discipline must go hand-in-hand. Where “discipline without direction is drudgery,” so also we cannot depend only on God to sanctify us as if sanctification were an act rather than a process. There must be a balance.

Bridges continually takes issue with the unbiblical view that the gospel is solely or even primarily for unbelievers. Rather, he says, the gospel must be the foundation not only of justification but also sanctification. The believer must preach the gospel to himself every day. “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” He later says, “This is the gospel by which we were saved, and it is the gospel by which we must live every day of our Christian lives…If you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.”

The heart of the book, chapters seven through thirteen, discusses how God matures us through obedience, dependence, commitment, convictions, choices, watching and adversity. Each topic is examined in light of Scripture. Bridges depends often on some of the church’s greatest teachers, quoting often from John Owen, Charles Hodge, John Murray and others. He clearly has a particular affection for the Puritans and often relies on their understanding of sin, repentance and mortification.

Few books have challenged me as deeply as The Discipline of Grace. Few have provided so much fodder for meditation and journaling. I would recommend this book to any Christian as I cannot conceive of a believer who will not be edified by Bridges’ clear, pastoral, biblical teaching. I commend it to you and trust it will prove as beneficial to you as it has to me.

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