Are You Trying or Training for Godliness? by Jeffery Smith

Lately I’ve picked up a number of books on biblical masculinity in preparation for a retreat I’ve been asked to speak at in early Spring. One book I’ve purchased and have been reading is The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits by Darrin Patrick. Without taking the time right now to give a review of the book, that’s not my purpose, I wanted to comment on a very helpful distinction Patrick makes in one of the chapters. It’s the distinction between trying and training.

There are many things that cannot be accomplished without training. You can try to do them but you won’t be able to do them if you’ve not been engaging in the discipline of training. For example, you may try to run a marathon but you won’t be able to, no matter how hard you try, if you haven’t been training for it. Spend six to twelve months training for it and you might be able to do it in a decent time. Running long distances requires the discipline of running on a fairly regular basis to build up your stamina. You may try to bench press 250 pounds but most men are not able to do that by simply walking into a gym one day and giving it a try. To get to the place where you can bench press 250 pounds normally requires the discipline of regular weight lifting to build up your strength.  I may try to lose weight but, again, if I really want to lose weight and keep it off in the long term I must train to lose weight. I need to develop disciplines of exercise and proper eating.

So the point is there’s a big difference between simply trying and training. In the book Patrick gives this very helpful quote from John Ortberg, “Discipline is any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort”.  That’s a great definition. By direct effort I can begin to train. I can run at least some distance. And as I continue to do what I can do now by direct effort, I’ll eventually be able to what I cannot do now by direct effort.

Now what we all need to understand, as Christians, is that the same is true when it comes to godliness. Paul writes to Timothy and he says in 1 Tim. 4:7, “Exercise yourself toward godliness”. Or it could be translated, “Discipline yourself toward godliness”. We grow in godliness, not merely by trying, but by training. Of course, as Christians we’re not left to ourselves in this. We’re not merely left to our own resources. We have the Spirit of God dwelling within us to enable us to do what we could never do of ourselves. However, at the same time progress is only gained in the context of spiritual discipline. We must train and not just try. This involves, for example, the regular use and the diligent application of ourselves to the means of grace. There are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts to godliness. There’s not some magic pill, some spiritual steroid.  There’s not some second work of grace or some spectacular spiritual experience that we’re to hope for that will somehow suddenly catapult us into a new level of godliness. No, this is not the way God has ordained for His children to grow in godliness. We must discipline ourselves for godliness. We must develop the regular disciplines of prayer, bible intake, involvement in and faithfulness to the church, sitting under the ministry of the word, applying ourselves to it and taking it in, together with regular thoughtful, prayerful participation in the Lord’s Supper. These are the means of grace. Neglect the means or be careless in your use of the means and you won’t grow in godliness. Though you may try really hard, you must not only try, you must train. We must do it, yes, trusting that God is working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure and that united to Christ all of the resources of his grace are there for us. But from that perspective and in that confidence we also must work at it and train and discipline ourselves for godliness.

Increasing godliness and spiritual growth doesn’t come simply by trying. It’s the result of training and of the ministry of the Spirit who is promised to make that training progressively effectual in the heart and life of every true Christian. So are you trying for godliness or are you training for godliness?

Why Does God Not Perfectly Sanctify Us at Conversion? by Jeffery Smith

Why are believers, while still in this world, left to struggle with indwelling and remaining sin? Certainly God has the power to make us perfect and sinless from the moment of our conversion. The Holy Spirit could so work within us that we are totally liberated from the remains of sin the moment we are born again. He’s going to do that when we are glorified at the end, so why not now? If God has the power to make us perfectly holy the moment are born again, why doesn’t He do it? Why are we left to struggle with remaining sin until our dying day? Let me offer some answers to this question. After reading them you might wish to add to them by offering some comments of your own.

1. Of course, first we must say that this is God’s will.

Therefore, even when we may struggle with understanding why, we must trust that it’s for our good and for His glory.

2. God has left us to this ongoing conflict with remaining sin to promote our humility.

Thomas Brooks, “partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes

3. Also to teach us how dependent upon God we are.

4. In order to make Christ more precious to us.

5. To make us more patient and compassionate toward others.

Arthur Pink, “It should promote a spirit of forbearance to our fellows: we ought not to expect less failure in them than we find in ourselves”

6. To make heaven more precious to us and to help us keep our affections on things above.

Thomas Brooks, “that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven may be more sweet to them in the close”

 7. To further display in us, and through us, God’s grace, power and perfections.

Listen to this quote from Charles Spurgeon:

“Just as God permitted Job to be tempted of the devil, that all the world might see how God can enable a man by patience to triumph, so he keeps us here to let the devil and all men know what his grace can do for his people, and also to let angels, and principalities and powers in the heavenly places behold what saints God can make out of guilty sinners. He takes those who had gone far away in sin, and brings them nigh by the blood of Jesus. He fashions the rough, knotty timber that did not seem as if it ever could be shaped, and uses it in the building of his temple. He makes wonders of grace out of sinful men and women, such marvels of mercy that the angels will stand and gaze at them throughout eternity, as they say, ‘How could God make such…beings as these out of sinful material?’ All this will be ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved’(Eph. 1:6).

 

8. Our conflict is God’s school by which He is perfecting our faith and preparing us for  the world to come.

Think of how it was with the children Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. He didn’t bring them into the Promised Land immediately. They must wander in the wilderness for many years and face many trials and temptations and the land itself must be conquered after much fighting. So it is with the Christian. God said through Moses in Deut. 8:2-3:

“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. So he humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”

So, you see, the Christian’s life in this world is his wilderness wandering. This is the period of the trying and the strengthening of our faith; the period in which we are being trained to be no more children, but to grow up into spiritual maturity and wisdom. And this is the period in which, by each of our unique experiences in this world, we are being prepared and fitted each for our special place in the glory of the world to come.