The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges

Before I so much as opened this book, I suspected I’d like it. As a former Catholic, now Evangelical, I am compelled absolutely by the dichotomy of truth and grace. The Law and the Savior. I have a lot of thoughts on James 2:20.

So I was pretty sure that this was going to rock. I don’t think I was wrong.

At it’s core, this book is about the difference between justification and sanctification, and it does a really good job explaining what that even means. To condense, justification is what happens to us BY grace – we are justified by grace through faith, washed of sin. It is and was finished on the cross. However, that’s not the end of sin or the story – then there’s sanctification, which is the part where we are made to be free of sin; we can, with God’s help, stop listening to sin.

On one hand, Christians often face a problem upon conversion: we no longer believe we need to be preached the gospel. While the process of sanctification is happening, we haven’t stopped sinning, and so the need for grace is ongoing. The answer, Bridges suggests, is to preach the gospel to yourself continually, because the gospel begets grace.

A natural response to the gospel is, of course, “Won’t people be irresponsible with all that grace?” Paul famously responded “By no means!” Christ has freed us from the stain of sin, but the voice of sin is ongoing, and as children of God, we’re not obligated to listen. All too frequently we do, anyway. John Murray wrote, “To say to the slave who has not been emancipated, ‘Do not behave as a slave’ is to mock his enslavement. But to say the same to a slave who has been set free is the necessary appeal to put into effect the privileges and rights of his liberation.”

That’s where discipline and sanctification come in. Bridges reminds us that grace began something in us (justification), He will finish it (sanctification). The perfect picture of grace is justification and sanctification, a relabeling from “sinner” to “child” as well as the discipline to be free of sin.

Bridges likens sin to a civil war in the hearts and minds of believers. When we are justified through faith, Jesus wins the war on sin. It’s done – but sin doesn’t leave. Sin starts a “guerilla war of harassment and sabotage.” Amen. He reminds us that sanctification can take many forms (including ones we don’t control like exhortation), but it’s on our heads to take the initiative to pray and be in the Word. That’s the discipline part of grace.

We know that the rules of the Bible are impossible to follow perfectly. That’s the trouble with legalism, Bridges suggests: the law is available, but not the ability to follow it. Grace-initiated sanctification brings discipline to transform us; that we might follow the law because we are freed from the bondage of sin.

We must discipline ourselves (or try) but without Him, we are doomed to fail. We have to balance discipline with dependence. But what does that look like? Bridges makes a list of several disciplines he finds important: commitment, convictions, choices, watching and adversity.

By the discipline of commitment, he means the discipline of committing to holiness. Examining our lives, identifying sins, and working to rout them with His help, and repeating even after we fail.
To do that, we must discipline our convictions – and that can mean having some! He reminds us that we can’t just take the convictions of those around us, of course. We must develop biblically-based convictions. Memorization, meditation and study of scripture are the only way to do that.

The next thing to discipline is our choices – put off the bad and put on the good with each individual choice. He reminds us that taking off sin is never enough, we must also put on Christ. Here, too, grace is key – we will fail. Accept His grace, over and over and over again.

The discipline of watching is also important. We must be constantly on guard against sin entering our lives in ways we don’t expect, never be certain that we are free of a sin. David, after God’s own heart, did not expect a naked woman on a rooftop that day. We shore up our weak places, but also be constantly on the lookout for the little sins, the unexpected sins, the surprising lapses in judgement. And never, ever, ever, be too proud to admit them!

The last discipline is adversity, that all hardship is discipline.God treats us as children, and we will therefore be disciplined. If we are not experiencing a need to be disciplined we are not growing as his children; therefore we are illegitimate sons. Failure is expected and tolerated from your kids as they grow, how much more so with you and your heavenly Father who loves you?

First printed in ‘94, this book is definitely older, but it hasn’t gone out of date. Do keep your amazon wish list open – he quotes a lot of theological heavyweights, and you might be inspired to read their stuff while you’re at it! Seriously, he does justice to the truth and grace balance and is generally inspiring. You’ll also find yourself more conversant in your five-dollar church words – justification vs. sanctification, mortification, and so on. Not a bad use of your time!

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Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 8:01 am  Leave a Comment  

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