“Is it possible for someone to die in the arms of a prostitute and still go to heaven?”
It seems to me that a series on Spiritual Disciplines should begin with exploring why (or why not) we should engage in any Spiritual Disciplines in the first place.
We’ll take the “why not?” question first.
Reason One: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to earn favor from God
You’ll never meet anyone who wants to please God more than me. Really.
The problem is, many times I desire to do so for the wrong reason. As a recovering Pharisee I want to please God because I think I have to do so. I mean I am better about it than I used to be, but I still find my motivation for pleasing God is one of earning favor more often than I care to admit to.
This, of course, is completely contrary to the message of the gospel.
There is nothing anyone can do to make God love them more (or less) than He already does. Nothing.
Reason Two: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to simply acquire knowledge about God.
It’s fine to learn about God. That is what Theology and Doctrine are all about and they are good things. But they are ALWAYS intended to point to God, and never intended to be ends in and of themselves.
The problem with most of us is that we already know too much – more than we can ever put into practice.
The other problem with Theology is that it only goes to a certain point then it poops out. I mean, Theology can answer the question “Can angels fit on a pin head?” (yes) but it cannot answer the question “How many angels can fit on a pin head?” (who knows? no one!). And it never will be able to do so.
When the emotions aren’t there, Doctrine and Theology are the bedrock that keep me sane. But having said that, I will also add that I’ve never been hugged by a Doctrine.
Reason Three: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines as a bargaining chip to manipulate God.
God doesn’t need you.
He uses you, but He doesn’t need you. He was doing fine before you came along and will be just fine after you are gone. Peter in the book of Acts tells us that “God is not served by human hands as though He needed something”.
You can’t make God cooperate by giving Him things He needs because He needs nothing.
Reason Four: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of guilt.
The only good guilt is guilt out of having done something wrong which drives you to the cross to get forgiven. Beyond that guilt serves no purpose.
If you use anything other than the forgiveness of the cross to try to ease your guilt it won’t work and you’ll feel even more guilty.
Reason Five: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of fear.
Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those of us who belong to Christ.
The unbeliever is at enmity with God, but not the believer. There is no condemnation. None.
If you belong to Christ, because God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus on the cross, God will never ever be angry at you. Oh, He might be disappointed with your sin sometimes. He might chasten you (Heb 12) but He will not be angry at you in a wrathful way.
If He ever is, then He didn’t punish Jesus sufficiently for all your sin. And we all know Jesus said on the cross, “it is finished”. That means it was done and all of God’s wrath was satisfied.
So if you are engaging in the disciplines because you are afraid of God’s condemnation then you don’t know Him and you don’t fully believe what Jesus did was enough.
Reason Six: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to “keep up with the Joneses”.
I’ve heard a lot of manipulation used in the past to try to get people to engage in the disciplines. I’ve heard preachers use guilt to motivate. I’ve seen blog posts about so and so who used this reading plan to get through the Bible in such and such time.
And I, myself, am going to suggest some tools you might want to try in a later part of this series.
But be clear of one thing: please do not engage the disciplines just because everyone else is doing it or says you should do it.
Now that we’ve seen some reasons not to engage in the disciplines, in the next part of this series we’ll look at some reasons that we should. Stay tuned.
Questions: So what are your motivations for doing any Spiritual Disciplines? Do you feel guilty because you don’t do what you think you should be doing? Why? Do you feel pressured by others to “perform” in the area of Spiritual Disciplines?
Bible reading, Prayer, Scripture memorization, Bible studies, devotions, journaling and the like are all things we need to be doing. We hear it constantly from the spiritual among us that without building these habits into our lives we cannot grow in the way God wants us to as believers. I hear others constantly tout their favorite Bible reading plan, boast about how much Scripture they have memorized or muse about the day they are going to publish the journal they have kept faithfully for the last 18 years without missing a day.
Does it take pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps to ensure God can “use us”? Do we have to do things we do not like or be people that we aren’t so that God can use us?
I don’t think so.
After all, Scripture is full of stories of the lives of people who were anything but perfect. Look at Abraham, lying to save his own skin. David a man after God’s own heart, but also an (albeit forgiven) adulterer. Peter, who denied Jesus three times, still couldn’t stay out of trouble after Jesus was gone requiring Paul to confront him about his behavior. And Paul. What about Paul who got in such a fight with Barnabas that the two of them split up and went their separate ways?
Scripture is replete with examples of people who were weak and failed to live up to the “standard” quite often. The gospel itself is for people who can’t live up to the “standard”.
Of course the people who speak to us about the spiritual disciplines are, often times, the same folk who tell us that God is Sovereign over everything, which would include our spiritual growth. If God is really sovereign, then can He not bring circumstances into our lives that cause us to grow the way He wants us to without being perfectionists in our practices of the spiritual disciplines?
Sure He can.
Still, there is room for the case to be made that the spiritual disciplines are helpful and are things that we should pursue. We should read our Bibles, get involved in community, memorize Scripture, pray. These are things that are commanded of us for one thing and they may prevent God from having to use other methods to grow us.
Yet, as is so often done, we have a great tendency to hold these things over each other and use them at best, as measures of our spirituality or at worst, as weapons against each other.
You didn’t get through the whole Bible this year in your Bible reading plan? You only memorized 25 Bible verses this week? You wrote only eleven journal entries (eight of which were about how much you hate journaling) last year? Didn’t you know that so and so got through their whole Bible and they still had time to memorize the whole book of John? After all Jesus has done for you and you couldn’t even get through Genesis in your reading plan?
Feel guilty? You might. But you shouldn’t.
None of these disciplines were ever intended to be used as weapons by others or ourselves to make us feel guilty. Sanctification is a process and that process includes failure. And I’ll tell you something else… I suspect that fully 50% or more of the people who say they do all these things are probably ready to sell you some swamp land in the Everglades. They want you to buy into the games they play and buy their worthless swamp too. A friend of mine calls them the “evangelical jet set and theological sophisticates who look down their noses at those of us who are spiritual mortals.”
The question isn’t should we do these things, but is rather, how are we to engage them in a way that leaves room for grace to work in our lives when we do not do them perfectly. And even more important, what is the best form of motivation for doing them?
Over the course of the next few days (or weeks) I’d like to explore these issues in a series I’ve decided to call “Spiritual Disciplines for Slackers.”
Hope you will stick around and join me.
Question: What Spiritual Disciplines do you do? Why do you do them? Have you tried and failed?
We are all familiar with Jesus parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. A man gives ten talents to one person, five to another and one to the third person. The persons with ten and five talents invest theirs and reap returns causing the master to say “well done thou good and faithful servant.” The last person buries theirs in the ground and gets a tongue lashing and then is cast into darkness.
At first glance this parable appears to be a teaching on what will happen to those who don’t invest the gifts God has given them, who waste resources, or who don’t work really hard for the kingdom.
But is that really what Jesus had in mind? Was He really teaching that if you don’t work really hard at it you will be tossed aside? Is He teaching that if you aren’t faithful to work furiously to invest what He has given you that He will reject you?
Many pastors and teachers have used this parable as a stick to beat people over the head about a wide range of topics from giving to obedience to working for the kingdom. And while it is not wrong to give, be obedient and to work for the kingdom of God, I don’t think that is the central teaching of this text.
Jesus is meek and lowly of heart. His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt 11:30). He is gracious and His ministry was about anything but works.
In fact His harshest words were for those working at it really hard.
Those who not only worked at it really hard, but ridiculed those who didn’t work at it as hard. Those who not only worked at it really hard, ridiculed those who didn’t work at it as hard, but didn’t do so hot with it themselves at the same time as ridiculing others. The Pharisees worked harder at it than anyone else. They made the big “kingdom investments” of the day. And Jesus called them snakes and worse (Matt 23 – read it sometime).
So is it correct to say that Jesus will cast people aside who don’t work really hard at it, or could there be more to this parable than we’ve all been taught?
In order to understand what is going on here, you have to remember that Jesus is saying this to a generation of people who lived under the harsh demands of the law. Demands made even harsher by Pharisees and religious leaders who added to the law to where no one could keep it. There were thousands of little things added to the law of Moses – and the law of Moses itself couldn’t be perfectly kept. These people were oppressed. And Jesus of course, came to set the oppressed free (John 8:32). So, does it make sense that He would teach oppressed people that were working hard to keep the law that they should work harder at it?
I don’t think so.
You see this parable says more about the Pharisees than it does about the people they oppressed. This parable was incredibly offensive to the religious leaders. The servants with the ten and the five talents were the Pharisees and religious leaders. And what they were doing was represented by the master’s treatment of the person who buried the talent. The person who buried the talent did so because he was scared. The people in Jesus time were scared too. Scared of the Pharisees and scared of God because they thought God was like the Pharisees.
Jesus was teaching:
1. It is impossible to serve a hard master and do anything but dig holes to protect your stuff (Matt 25:24-25)
The servant in this parable who buried the talent, “perceived” the master to be a hard master. The fact was the master was not a hard master. What is your perception of Jesus? Do you think Him to be a hard master?
2. It is impossible to dig holes and dance with Jesus at the same time (Matt 25:25)
You can’t dance the dance of grace with Jesus when you are spending all of your time looking at your feet. In order to dance the dance of grace with Jesus you must look at Him, not your dancing ability.
3. It is impossible to to live a full life loving Jesus above all else without risk (Matt 25:27)
When you know you are forgiven, and you know you are loved and will be loved even if you screw up, you will be free to risk. If you are scared to trust Jesus you will be sacred of everything else too.
So, though we should be obedient and make investments in the kingdom and we should work hard to spread the kingdom, we must look at our perception of Jesus and our motivation. Are we doing what we do out of fear? Are we doing what we do out of joy?
Where are you in this area today?
“When God is your Father, He never stops being your Father. To put it in theological language, not only is your justification (being saved) by grace, your sanctification (becoming more like Christ) is by grace too. The trouble is that most Christians think they’re saved by grace but grow by sweat. Many of us believe that when we were saved, God took our slate filled with sin and rebellion and wiped it clean. That’s a lie… Listen! God took our slate and He broke it in pieces and threw it away. He does not deal with His family by keeping track on a slate of how we are doing. The slate is irrelevant because of the blood of Christ.”
Steve Brown, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough
“You can’t be self-righteous about the self-righteous without becoming self-righteous.” — Steve Brown