Over the past fall semester I took a class called Personal Spiritual Disciplines. The class was taught by Dr. Donald Whitney, whose site can be found here. It was a highly profitable class that all of the seminary students at Southern must take within one year of being enrolled. The following post is a little bit about what I learned in this class:
The main thing I took away from Dr. Whitney’s Personal Spiritual Disciplines class was that God sanctifies His people through the spiritual disciplines. In Dr. Whitney’s class we studied disciplines like Bible intake (meditating, reading, listening), prayer, journaling, fasting, silence and solitude, and practicing the Lord’s Day. However, in our first lecture Dr. Whitney did something very important for the rest of the class’ lectures. It was then, at the beginning, that he gave the theological underpinning for the rest of the class. He taught the theological ideas that our practice of the disciplines are rooted in. The central idea is as stated above: God sanctifies His people through spiritual disciplines.
That sentence breaks down into two phrases: (1)”God sanctifies His people” and (2) “through the disciplines”. The first phrase asserts that it is indeed God who sanctifies His people. It is His grace that saves us, and it is His grace that grows us. It is His grace breaks the power of sin when we become Christians, and it is His grace that slowly but surely removes the presence of sin as we walk with Jesus.
But God’s work to grow us does not happen like magic. He has established means by which we receive His grace and grow in our faith. Those means for receiving the Lord’s sanctifying grace are the spiritual disciplines. As we devote ourselves to all the spiritual disciplines we get to know God better and subsequently become more like Him.
A verse that captures this idea is found in Philippians 2:12-13. It is there that the Apostle Paul states, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In the first part of this verse Paul tells the Philippians to “work out” their salvation. He is telling them to get busy growing. But he tells them to do so humbly in “fear and trembling” because more ultimately “it is God” who is working in them “to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So, God sanctifies His people through the spiritual workouts/disciplines.
This idea also shows up in the writing of the apostle Paul in Titus 2:11-12. Paul says that “the grace of God…[trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” So Christians are in training; Christians are sweating off sin. We are meditating on Scripture; we are praying; we are going to church; we are seeking accountability, etc. Still, with all of our exertion it is the empowering, enabling grace of God that is our lifeline in this effort to be conformed to Christ.
This truth (God sanctifies sinners through the spiritual disciplines.) is humbling and encouraging. It is humbling because it reminds me that I am dependent on God for His gracious help. It is encouraging because it reminds me that God is gracious to give help, and He is gracious to have established the disciplines of the faith to help me grow.
I’ll write about another major “takeaway” from Dr. Whitney’s class next week.