Thursday, April 19, 2007

Outward Signs of Inward Godliness - Part IV

I concluded the previous post by saying that a man is godly at the moment he rejects his sinful heart/desires and submits himself to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit:

Godliness is the result of a choice that occurs in the heart, the choice to follow God. The new nature is already godly because it emanates directly from the Holy Spirit. In order to achieve godliness, all one ever needs to do is put it on.

Part IV concludes this series . . .

Unfortunately, putting on the new nature is easier preached than practiced. It is the place where men stumble; the place where the battle is frequently fought and lost if it is even fought at all. It is here that the application of self-discipline is crucial. In fact, the first stage is the only stage in the process where self-discipline can be exercised at all, because it is the only place where a struggle takes place. Most people assume that self-discipline takes place in the last stage, that is, the stage where the activity is actually performed. Self-discipline is not exercised there because it isn’t necessary there. Discipline is only necessary at the point of struggle, and no struggle should be occurring in the last stage. Reading the Bible is no struggle. Reading is easy. Praying is no struggle. Talking is easy. Evangelizing is no struggle. Telling the story of Jesus is easy. The struggle occurs in the heart. Once the battle with the heart is fought and won, the activities become a joy.

A man does not need to discipline himself to do the things that he loves to do. If he loves to play basketball, then he makes time to play. It may be the case, however, that he does not enjoy doing those repetitive, rigorous, and often boring tasks that will make him a better player. The place where athletic discipline is absolutely crucial is at the point of struggle. I know that doing X will help me to do Y better, but I hate doing X. What should I do? I must discipline myself to do X. Given our previous example, the basketball player may say, “I know that running sprints will give me more stamina and help me to play basketball better, but I hate running sprints.” He must overcome his unhealthy desire to neglect that which would work to his advantage. He overcomes that unhealthy desire through discipline. In his pursuit of a healthy desire, he must first repent from the unhealthy desire. His act of discipline, therefore, begins with a rejection of the negative attitude, not the acceptance of a positive one. For the Christian, X is always turning away from the sinful nature, and then submitting to God. For us, that is the point of struggle. We need to exercise discipline in that area. Once the struggle has been overcome, the heart is properly aligned, and we serve God with joy. The activity becomes a desire and a passion, and regimentation a thing of the past.

If we have been victorious in our struggle and have surrendered our hearts to God, then the Holy Spirit filled, God-oriented heart cannot help but perform in the way that He desires. It should be noted that God is neither performing the activity, nor is He forcing the activity to be performed. A properly oriented heart is in place. A godly man is performing the activity with joy for the purpose(s) for which it was intended. It is in this context that the command “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” comes to fruition. If I feel as though I am having to force or regiment myself to perform a particular activity such as Bible study, or if I have no joy while performing it, then I have failed at the first stage. I haven’t turned away from the sinful nature. I haven’t rejected my sinful self in favor of the new nature. This is why Scripture never describes any activity as producing godliness. This is also why Scripture never describes self-discipline in the context of performing activities. Self-discipline occurs far in advance of the activity.

Given what I have said to this point, I can formulate the last maxim:
Maxim 4: The godly man is he who has submitted to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

If we are ever confronted with the question, “How can I be godlier,” we should never respond by saying, “Pray more. Fast more. Study the Bible more.” We should always respond by saying:
You can be godly by repenting of your sins, turning away from your sinful nature, and turning your heart over to God. Godliness comes from submitting to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Submission to Him results in godliness, which manifests itself outwardly in godly attitudes, behaviors, and activities such as prayer, fasting, and Bible study from which you can reap many benefits and rewards as you grow in your walk with Christ.

Now that the fourth maxim is in place, we can reject our initial thesis which was:
If I perform the activities listed above with a properly oriented heart, that is, having yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God prior to performing the activities, then the end result will be godliness.

We can now formulate a new thesis:
Godliness is not achieved through the performance of any activity or set of activities but by turning away from the old sinful nature, turning toward the new godly nature, and submitting the heart to reorientation by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

If this is true, then I conclude that biblical self-discipline can only refer to the continual rejection of one’s sinful heart, desires, and nature in the effort to relinquish oneself to the new man, which is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is the battleground upon which the struggle for godliness takes place. Worship, prayer, fasting, and so forth are merely outward signs of the inward godliness. I also conclude, in response to my initial question, that a man performs the activities listed above because he is godly, not that he is godly because he performs the activities.


Juan said...

Great stuff and I hope you do not mind but I will have to use some of your notes when I preach :). I will give you credit- the fun part will be translating it into Spanish!

Gary Harris said...


Thanks for your kind words both on this post and the previous posts. I have no problem with your using my ideas so long as you check them against the Scriptures and the inner workings of the Holy Spirit to make sure that they are consistent with God's instruction. It sounds like you have already done that, but I just wanted to re-emphasize it.

Good luck on that translation!



Daniel said...

Yet another great post! I have a question with the example of the basketball player though. Couldn't the "other side" use this example as evidence for their position? They would equate "the spiritual disciplines" with running sprints. You do want the end result (to be godly), but you struggle with what they would consider the means of producing it (the spiritual disciplines). I guess my question is what exactly are you equating with the basketball players sprinting (X)?

Gary Harris said...


I am basically arguing that X is not the discipline, whereas (as you said) the opposition is arguing that X is the discipline.

I am trying to say that the act of self-discipline occurs in rejecting the sinful nature and that godliness is the resultant state of the heart. Running sprints results in certain physical benefits, but by the time the guy is running those are the only rewards that are being reaped. The real struggle took place in rejecting the desire to avoid a difficult and boring activity, not in the actual performance of the activity itself.

Perhaps an example would make this clear. Suppose that I ran a prison camp of sorts. Suppose further that I like a good basketball game, and so I force all of the inmates to run drills, sprints, do calesthenics and so forth so that they can then play competitively at a higher skill level. Their bodies (and possibly even their minds) will reap the rewards of the exercise, but the exercise will not change their hearts. Simply doing the activities will not guarantee that they will come to perform activities from an inner desire. In fact, they may come to resent them even more. If prayer, fasting, Bible study and so forth could make a man godly, that is, turn his heart from sin to God, then we should force people to perform those activities so that they will eventually become godly people. Wouldn’t we be doing it for their own good? This, however, is absurd because we know that the activity cannot change the heart. Only God can change our hearts, and once He does, we are godly men. He can only change our hearts if we reject our sinful selves and turn our hearts over to Him. This is where the real battle takes place, and this is where self-discipline is exercised.

I hope this helps clear things up. Thanks for the great question.