“The Discipline of Choices” is the 11th chapter in the book The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, which we’re discussing every Thursday in the “Reading Classics Together” challenge at Challies‘ place. More discussion on this chapter is here.
This was a hard chapter for me. Not hard to understand so much, but hard to come to grips with. As “spiritual” as it sounds to want to fight sin by “giving it all to God” or asking Him to take it, what it comes down to is my choice. I can’t make the right choices without Him, but I have to yield either to righteousness or unrighteousness. But it was also a helpful and hopeful chapter.
I’m not going to outline or summarize the chapter this time, but I will just share a few key points that stood out to me:
“We obey one choice at a time” (p. 191). That was a major relief to me. Looking at a lifetime of fighting sinful tendencies sounds exhausting, but I only have to focus on one choice at a time.
Whichever way we yield ourselves, we’re training and developing our character either further in righteousness or further in sin.
We might agree with what the Bible says about a certain sin, “and even make a commitment of sorts to put it out of our lives…..We would like to be rid of that sin, and even pray to God to take it away, but are we willing to say no to it?” (p. 194).
Most of us have at least a couple of areas we struggle with, have made commitments about, memorized applicable verses about. “We need to be especially vigilant in these areas to make the right choices. We have already made too many wrong choices; that is why these sin patterns are so deeply entrenched in us. It is only through making the right choice to obey God’s Word that we will break the habits of sin and develop the habits of holiness. This is where we desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to make the right choices. So cry out to God every day for His help that day, and then cry out again each time you are confronted with the choice to sin or to obey” (p. 194).
There were several standout statements about “mortification” from Romans 8:13: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
“Mortification, or putting sin to death, is our responsibility. Paul said, ‘You put sin to death’ (emphasis added). This is something we must do. It is not something we turn over to God. Rather, it is our responsibility, as Paul also emphasized in Colossians 3:5” (p. 196).
“Although mortification is our responsibility, it can only be done through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Paul said, ‘But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live’ (emphasis added)” (p. 196).
“To mortify a sin means to subdue it, to deprive it of its power, to break the habit pattern we have developed of continually giving in to the temptation of that particular sin. The goal of mortification is to weaken the habits of sin so that we do make the right choices” (p. 197).
“To mortify sin we must focus on its true nature. So often we are troubled with a persistent sin only because it disturbs our peace and makes us feel guilty. We need to focus on it as an act of rebellion against God” (p. 198).
After explaining that the word for “mortify” is used several times in the NT of putting someone to death in the context of hostility (as when Jesus was put to death), Bridges says, “Now apply that sense of hostility toward the sin you wish to mortify. See it for what it is and what it stands for — a rebellion against God, a breaking of His law, a despising of His authority, a grieving of His heart. This is where mortification actually begins, with a right attitude toward sin. It begins with the realization that sin is wrong, not because of what it does to me, or my spouse, or child, or neighbor, but because it is an act of rebellion against the infinitely holy and majestic God who sent His Son to be the propitiation for my sins” (p. 199).
“Think of an unusually persistent sin in your life…You say you cannot overcome it. Why not? Is it because you exalt your secret desire above the will of God?” (p. 199).
Just as in past chapters Bridges has emphasized that the pursuit of holiness is not just against sin but towards Christ-likeness, so he applies that truth here as well. Our choices are not just to avoid certain temptations but to grow in holiness.
“Just as it is ‘by the Spirit’ that we put to death the misdeeds of the body, so it is by the Spirit that we put on the virtues of Christlike character. That is why Paul could say in Colossians 3:12-14 that we are to clothe ourselves with these qualities (emphasizing our responsibility), while in Galatians 5:22-23 he refers to Christian character traits as the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (emphasizing our dependence on the Spirit). The same Spirit who enables us to mortify sin also enables us to put on godly character” (p. 203).
“There is a fine line between using grace as an excuse for sin and using grace as a remedy for our sin,” but we do need to understand that we will often fail, especially when fighting long-held and deeply engrained habits, and to remember “that we stand before God on the basis of His grace rather than our performance.” (p. 204).
“The solution to staying on the right side of the fine line between using and abusing grace is repentance. The road to repentance is godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is developed when we focus on the true nature of sin as an offense against God rather than something that makes us feel guilty….Dwelling on the true nature of sin leads us to godly sorrow, which in turn leads us to repentance” (p. 205).