Bridges likens dependence and discipline to the two different wings of an airplane, both of which are needed to fly. By discipline here he means not God’s discipline of us, which he discussed in chapter 5, but rather “certain activities designed to train a person in a particular skill”as when Paul told Timothy “to train himself, or discipline himself, to be godly (I Timothy 4:7)” (p. 130).
Now we will be looking at the discipline of ourselves, the responsibilities we must shoulder to pursue holiness. But the point of the airplane illustration is that we must not carry out our responsibilities in our own strength and willpower. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit to enable us. At the same time we must not assume that we have no responsibilities simply because we are dependent. God enables us to work, but He does not do the work for us (p. 130).
Bridges then discusses several Scriptural examples of dependence coupled with work, such as Psalm 127:1, Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the city wall (especially 4:8-9), and Paul’s testimony in Philippians 4:11-13 and Colossians 1:28-29. In that last reference, Paul says he labored, striving (or struggling, depending on the translation), using “a strong [Greek] word, denoting toil to the point of weariness or exhaustion,” the word “agonizomai, from which we get our word agonize, and conveys the idea of an athlete straining to win the race” (p. 133). But he labored “according to his working, which worketh in me mightily,” not in his own strength.
Balance comes up so often in the Bible, and balance is needed here as well. People tend to err by leaning too far one way or the other. In this instance, many advocate the passive approach of “letting Christ live His life through me.” I’ve known some very good people whom I greatly respect who advocate this view, and it never set right with me, because of its passivity as opposed to the action verbs in the gospels and New Testament. Bridges clarified the problems with this approach for me. “He does not live His life through me. Rather, as I depend on Him, He enables me to live a life pleasing to Him” (p. 134). “God’s work does not make our effort unnecessary, but rather makes it effective. Paul did not say, ‘Christ shows contentment through me.’ Rather, he said, ‘I have learned to be content through Him who gives me strength’”(p. 134-135).
The other end of the off-balance spectrum is relying on our spiritual disciplines, necessary as they are, as the source of our spiritual strength rather than on Christ’s strength applied in our lives by the Holy Spirit.
There were times in Old Testament battles when God miraculously gave a victory without Israel having to fight or provided food without any effort of the people involved. But more often than not, He worked through the people going to battle and planting and watering and toiling.
As I Corinthians 3:7 says, planting and watering is needed, but God gives the increase. “The truth is, we must plant and we must water if we are to make progress in holiness, but only the Holy Spirit can change us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. Our problem is that we tend to depend upon our planting and our watering rather than on the Lord” (p. 137). Farmers can plow, plant, fertilize, irrigate, cultivate, and harvest, but they can’t control weather or make things grow. So in our spiritual growth, there are things we can and should do, but we can’t make ourselves grow.
We know that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), yet sometimes we can live an act as if we’re doing it all ourselves. One way we can combat that is through prayer, expressing our dependence on God. Bridges brings up several examples from Psalm 119 of the psalmist’s diligence in studying and attempting to obey God’s word while asking for God’s help and direction and ability. Bridges also points out Nehemiah’s times of protracted prayer as well as spontaneous prayer in the moment of need and points out that we need both kinds of prayer as well.
This was a helpful chapter in many ways. I probably err more on the side of relying on spiritual disciples and need to frequently remind myself my strength and ability comes from God alone, yet there are a few “besetting sins” that I keep waiting for God to take completely away without employing the efforts I need to.