The Apostle Paul was fond of using athletic metaphors in his call for distinctly Christian lives. Romans 12:1 is just one example: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” But there is an important difference between the commitment of an athlete and that of a Christian: An athlete’s commitment is to himself or to his team, while the commitment of the Christian is to God.
Jerry Bridges addresses this in The Discipline of Grace and warns of one way that we can completely miss the mark: “When we commit ourselves to the pursuit of holiness, we need to ensure that our commitment is actually to God, not simply to a holy lifestyle or a set of moral values. The people of my parent’s generation were generally honest, chaste, sober, and thrifty. They were committed to those values, but they were not necessarily committed to God. Many of them were outstanding moralists and even church people, but they were not committed to God.” These people were committed to their values, but not to God. Could the same be true of us?
“As believers we need to be careful that we do not make a similar mistake. We can be committed to a set of Christian values or to a lifestyle of discipleship without being committed to God Himself. But Paul said, offer yourself to God, and in doing that commit yourselves to the pursuit of holiness in order to please Him.” This is a warning we do well to heed. Bridges continues: “We should not seek holiness in order to feel good about ourselves, or to blend in with our Christian peer group, or to avoid the sense of shame and guilt that follows the committing of persistent sin in our lives. Far too often our concern with sin arises from how it makes us feel. Sinful habits, sometimes called ‘besetting sins,’ cause us to feel defeated, and we don’t like to be defeated in anything, whether it’s a game of Ping-Pong or in our struggle with sin.”
Here’s the important application: As we commit to the disciplines of the Christian life, our first commitment is to pursue a life that is pleasing to God, which is to say, a life of obedience. We commit to obey which means “we must make it our aim not to sin.” That is our base-level, fundamental commitment: We will obey God by not sinning.
Bridges wants us to take a deep look at our intentions in all of this. “It is the intention to please God in all our actions that is the key to commitment of a life of holiness. If we do not make such a commitment to obedience without exception, we will constantly find ourselves making exceptions. We will have a ‘just one more time’ syndrome in our lives. But the truth is, the ‘one more time’ manner of thinking undermines our commitment. Every time we give in to a temptation, even though it may seem small and insignificant to us, we make it easier to give in the next time. Sin has a tendency to exert an ever-increasing power on us if it is not resisted on every occasion.” I think every Christian can attest to this, that sin’s power grows when we allow ourselves to continue to give in to it. When we allow ourselves to sin just that one time, it is just that much easier to sin the next time.
And here is one thing Christians too often neglect: When we make a commitment not to sin, we also need to make a positive commitment to do something else–something better. “It is not enough to stop cheating on our income tax returns; we must also learn to share with those in need. It is not enough to avoid being bitter against those who have wronged us; we need to forgive as God has forgiven us. It is not enough to pray that God will enable us to deal with a volatile temper; we must also ask Him to help us put on compassion and kindness.”
Bridges has a lot of other great things to say in this chapter, but let me close with the way he ties this into the commitment of preaching the gospel to yourself:
An all-out, unreserved, nothing-held-back commitment to the pursuit of holiness may be exhausting, but it will not be oppressive if it is grounded in grace. But to be grounded in grace, it must be continually referred back to the gospel. So don’t just preach the gospel to yourself every day merely to experience the cleansing of your conscience. You certainly need to do so for that reason. But as you do so, reaffirm, as a response of love and gratitude to God, your commitment to Him. And do so in reliance on His Spirit that by His grace He will enable you to carry out your commitment.
For next Thursday please read chapter ten (assuming that you are reading along with me).
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.