A Guide to Spiritual Formation - Lesson 9

How to Put on Christ (pt 1)

It is important to do spiritual disciplines from the heart in the Spirit. The Christian life is what you do when you realize you can do nothing. In discussing spiritual disciplines, it is helpful to emphasize the importance of how we hear the commands of God.  It is not in our power to change ourselves, but we can choose to practice spiritual regimens and rhythms that help us open up to what God wants to do. Spiritual intentions are how we respond to the Word of God.

John Coe
A Guide to Spiritual Formation
Lesson 9
Watching Now
How to Put on Christ (pt 1)

A. How we hear the commands of God.

B. Theology of obedience and spiritual disciplines.

1. According to Paul, our whole life is training in obedience to the will of God.

2. The call of God to obey is a general call of God and a specific-circumstantial call of God.

3. What is the relationship between this training in Godliness and the spiritual disciplines?

4. How to identify a spiritual discipline or an opportunity for training.

5. How do we decide what kinds of training to do?

a. Ask yourself whether you are being called to put off the former manner of life or put on the new.

b. Ask whether I am to give myself to an intention, rhythm or regimen

1. Disciplines of regimen

2. Disciplines of rhythm

3. Disciplines of intention

c. How do we hear and respond to a word from the heart?

  • We become moralists when we try to do good things in order to please God and relieve our guilt.
  • Parenting by guilt and shame encourages a child to do good to avoid consequences and cover their bad, rather than pursuing a relationship with God in order to let Him change their motives by transforming them from the inside.

  • What is in our heart determines how we act. There is more going on in our heart than what shows on the surface. In our hidden heart, we often have negative beliefs and desires that affect our actions.

  • When we sin, it's often the result of sin in our heart that has deep relational and historical roots. God wants us to pursue Him so he can transform us from the inside.

  • When we choose to become committed followers of Christ, we are one spirit with Him, but we still experience times when God seems distant. Sometimes this is a result of going through a developmental stage in our spiritual growth. God gives us the "bottle" of consolation. At first, we seek God in order to get pleasure. God's goal is to make our heart His home. The next stage is the love of God for love's sake.

  • The point of the dark night is to cure us of wanting God on our terms. It is an intensified movement of the indwelling spirit to fill us, rather than to just give us consoling love. When we experience dry times, God is showing us where our treasure really is and is calling us to a journey of the soul. It will often feel more psychological than spiritual.

  • God wants us to move from the love of God for love's sake to the love of God for God's sake. Our training in virtue and character helps us lead a life that is beneficial to ourselves and others. God wants us to rely on the Spirit, not just patterns of behavior we have learned. God sometimes uses the experience of dark nights to help purge us of our virtues as well as our vices.

  • In a dark night experience, we realize that even though we have good character, we are more filled with ourselves than we are with God. God may be more present to us when he seems absent than when he seems present. It is often helpful to have a mentor to walk with us through dark nights.

  • It is important to do spiritual disciplines from the heart in the Spirit. The Christian life is what you do when you realize you can do nothing. In discussing spiritual disciplines, it is helpful to emphasize the importance of how we hear the commands of God.  It is not in our power to change ourselves, but we can choose to practice spiritual regimens and rhythms that help us open up to what God wants to do. Spiritual intentions are how we respond to the Word of God.

  • How do I listen to God's voice? What do I do when I walk away from reading the Word or hearing a sermon? The prayer of recollection is to remind me of who I am in Christ so when I hear the Word, I am open to Him. It's also to help focus my thoughts by detaching from false identities and attaching to my true identity. Lectio divina brings together the commands to "be filled with the Spirit" and "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."

The Christian life is not fundamentally about being a moral person, obeying a set of principles, or doing spiritual disciplines. The Christian life is about opening our heart to a relationship with the living God. As we depend on the indwelling Spirit and experience abiding in Christ, we will learn an obedience that comes without the burden of guilt and shame.



This is our last time together and it really has been an honor for me to be here. I want to carry on talking about spiritual formation and there are so many things to talk about. I want to talk tonight about spiritual disciplines and what this whole training is all about. And so, I entitle this, “How To Put On Christ: Doing Spiritual Disciplines From The Heart and the Spirit.”

I remember a Rosemead student I had was reading a book on spirituality and spiritual disciplines and talking about obedience. And at one point she said – She just threw the book across the room and then screamed out loud, “I hate this stuff. It feels like a bunch of works.” That’s, in part, why I didn’t start with the spiritual disciplines, because some of you would hate that stuff, depending on where you are. 

But there are some of you, if we started there, would go, “Yeah. This is good. This is how I’m going to change.” And so, we didn’t want to start there. We started with, as I put on the quote at the top of the page, from Dallas Willard, and of all individuals, the individual who wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines some years ago – He said, “the Christian life is what you do when you realize that you can do nothing.” That’s really where we started, and that’s really where we’ll still end because when I talk about spiritual disciplines, I want to talk about it in the light of – That spiritual disciplines are not something we’re going to use to try to fix ourselves. 

So we’ve read books on fasting, on Lectio Divina, on the meditation on the Scripture, prayer. And what we’ve said from the very beginning, these are not things that we’re trying to fix ourselves. These are not things we’re trying to use to generate spiritual experiences. Rather, these are things that will open us up more deeply to what Christ wants to do in our life.

And so, where we really began was, we talked about the temptation of moral formation, the concern of being a good boy or good girl. Then we talked about putting off the old man. And then we spent really two times talking about the dark nights. So a lot of this has been about kind of what not to do and about to how to experience what God is doing, but you might begin to wonder and my students do because after they’re with me for two semesters, and basically what I’ve taught here so far in four weeks, it takes me, you know, 30 weeks to do with my students. And at some time they begin to wonder and you might begin to wonder to, “Well, John, is there anything I’m supposed to do? Is there anything I’m supposed to become? Am I to do anything? I mean, isn’t the Bible filled with commands? What about all those commands?”

And, you know, I have found in my travels now talking about spiritual formation and churches inviting me, I have found sometimes churches who have seen this insight about moralism and legalism and they’ve really wanted to open deeply to grace. And then sometimes, they have even perhaps lost the vision for the commands of God. They’re not sure. In fact, I’ve talked to preachers who say, “You know, I’m not even sure how to talk about the commands of God, because the Bible is riddled with them. And how to talk about them and not to feel like I’m just putting another to do on someone and just kind of, you know, filling them with guilt and shame doing something.” 

And so sometimes, having lost a vision, they’re not talking about it as much. And so I want to say right up front, that we are to put on Christ. I just want to say straightforward that obedience is crucial to the Christian life. In fact, obedience is a given. Obedience is expected. Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that that’s your reasonable service to present yourself.

We haven’t quite hit the notes yet, but in John 4:34. This is a verse to really ponder. John 4:34. When Jesus is telling his disciples and the people, what is my food? What is it that makes me go? What is it that makes me run? What is my meat and my drink? He doesn’t say it’s conscious fellowship with the Father. He doesn’t say it’s religious experience. You all know what He says. He says, “My meat and my drink is to do the will of the Father.” 

And so we, as little Jesuses, are to put on Christ. And this is Ephesians 4:22-24. If you want to turn there, you can. I’ll read that. Remember in verse 22 He said that, “…with regard to your former way of life, you need to put off the old man because it’s being corrupted.” And then He says, “You who are being renewed by God in the spirit of your mind.” Those of you who have the Spirit, where the Spirit of God is committed to changing and transforming you. And where’s the transformation? It’s in the spirit of your mind. It’s in the deepest part of your person. 

And now the command: “Put on the new man,” put on Christ, “which is created,” and then in the Greek text it doesn’t say in the likeness of God. It says, “which is created in God,” meaning this is a creation of God. This is a work that He’s doing, not by us. It’s a creation He’s doing, but we’re to put this thing on. And it’s created in God “in righteousness and holiness.”  That means, that’s the sum of all the virtues of Jesus. I am to put on all the virtues of Jesus and not by the desires of deceit, but He says, the truth. The truth of what I am and the truth of what Christ has done. And so, this is what we’re to realize. So how are we going to do this? What’s our part in this? Here’s where the spiritual disciplines come in.

Now, to some of you that might be a funny phrase and it was to me, spiritual disciplines. I wasn’t spiritually raised in that. When I came to the Lord at 19 I didn’t hear my pastor who was really an excellent teacher of the Word – I didn’t hear him talking about spiritual disciplines. In fact, it sounded, when I discovered this language – It sounded rather Catholic to me. It sounded rather monastic. It sounded even a little legalistic. And to be honest, even once I became immersed in this spiritual formation movement, I didn’t like this language. And there are other people who are writing in the area of spiritual formation who don’t like it either, because it brings up certain connotations of perhaps legalism, or work, or the self-training.

Well, I want to tonight to demystify it a little bit for you. Perhaps even to normalize it. This is where Dallas Willard personally has had a real impact on my life to help me begin to see the place of this training. That, in fact, when I came to the Lord at 19 I was involved in all kinds of spiritual disciplines and it was an incredible training that was going on. So it turns out that spiritual disciplines are really rather mundane normal things. I think this is where the notes are. They’re just going to be merely intentional ways to respond to the call of obedience. That’s all spiritual disciplines are. It’s going to be called a discipline because it’s going to be an intentional way that I’m going to give myself of how to respond to the Word of God. And that’s what we’re going to talk tonight: Obedience to the commands of God.

Again, the Scriptures are full of commands. And so, one of the things I want to focus – I mean, there’s – I teach a whole course on the disciplines and I hardly even have a chance to get to the disciplines, because I spend time talking about what kind of – is going on in these things - A kind of theology and the psychology of the spiritual disciplines so we would need, literally, a whole year of class to talk about this. So, I’m just going to introduce some things. And what I’m especially going to talk about tonight is the importance of how we hear the commands of God, because we hear the commands of God all the time. Every time we have a quiet time. Every time you hear a sermon, you’re hearing something of what to do or to become and I’m going to be interested – how do I hear that? And how does God want me to hear and respond?

A. How Do We Hear the Commands of God?

And so I begin in A just by asking the question, “How do we, in fact, hear the commands of God? Not how are we to, but just how do we hear the commands of God? Once Dallas Willard was talking about this very issue. And he said this. He said, “There is much magical thinking that goes on in Evangelicalism.” There’s much magical thinking. And here’s what it is: The magical thinking is that if we just hear good teaching long enough, if we just continue to come to the Scriptures, and if we continue to come to the church, and if we continue to hear the truth being taught over and over again and believe it, and say we’ll do it, that it will transform our lives. 

And Willard, he says, “It doesn’t seem to be doing that.” In fact, we all come week after week and we hear sermons. We hear sermons with certain amount of points in them, good points, and then application. And then we come to our quiet time. We come to Bible studies. And we might have noticed after a while, “Am I getting transformed by this?” I’ve heard this one before. I’ve heard that I’m to love my wife as Christ loved the church. Okay, what am I going to do with this? And I take it most of you here have heard certain commands over and over again. And Willard says this, “What we must do is we must do certain kinds of mental gymnastics or mental manipulation or something about how we hear that, because we hear it and we’re not sure what it’s going to do now that we’ve heard it again and yet, we go on.”

Another way of thinking about this is how we hear what is called the sanctification gap. I don’t know if you know what the sanctification gap is. As I’m hearing the Word of God, as I’m reading the Word of God, what often I’m being put forth in the Word – is I’m being put forth what we should be. What we should be or what we should do. High goals. I should be filled with the Spirit. I should be praying without ceasing. I should love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. We’ve heard these a thousand times. Whoa. Those are big goals. And then we know where we are. “Yeah. That’s where I want to me. There’s where I am.” 

And now comes the Word of God. The Word of God comes and it points out: This is where you should be. Now here’s the question. How? How am I to hear the Word, and especially, how am I to hear the Word when I’ve heard it many times? And what am I going to do with it walking away this time because I’ve heard it four times now? I’ve heard Chuck Swindoll talk about it. And now I hear Pastor Dale talk about it. What is this to do?

I want you to just ponder for a moment. Just right now. How did you respond to the last time you heard the Word or a command? I want you to just take a moment. I just want you to take a moment in just the quiet of your own mind and just ask the Lord, “God, how did I respond?” Think of the last time you read the Scriptures or heard a sermon and there was a word or a command. I just want you to open your heart to think of that. What did you do? How did you experience it?

Let me give you some possible ways that people can hear the Word. This isn’t necessarily how they should, but as I am a teacher and you are leaders, some of you teach, we’re all hearers, what are some of the ways we can hear the Word. Here’s one way. This is how I think beginners hear this. And this is why I love beginners in some ways because beginners as we talked about with John of the Cross, these are people who are excited to hear the Word. They might be hearing it for the first time. It doesn’t matter. It might be the third or the fourth, but they’re excited, because right now they’re developing their theology. They’re developing their worldview. They’re developing their mind map. They’re starting to develop their character map. And God right now in consolation is reinforcing all of this. And how cool that is for those individuals. There are some people on Sunday mornings when they hear the Word of God, “This is so good. Mmm.” And they’re taking notes and they’re, “Oh yeah, that is so good. Oh yeah.” And they’re in their quiet time and, “Oh, God, this is so good.”

Here’s another way someone might hear the Word. This might be someone who’s a little gone on in the faith a bit. They’re at a place in life where they’re just hearing it in love. They hear Pastor Dale speak. They’re in their quiet time and it’s, “Oh God, I love You. Oh God, this is so good. God, I need You. Oh, this is so good.”

Here’s a third way someone might hear the Word. This is an individual who may feel a little satisfied in their faith. People on the outside would look and see – Well, there’s a fair amount of leaks and holes in their life, but the leaks and holes aren’t so bad that their gushing. And so, they’re doing okay. There may be a certain amount of worldliness in their life. There may even be a sneaky suspicion that they are not all they can be, but as they hear the Word, they feel like, “I’m doing okay. I’m doing okay.” And these people are probably not going to be leaders amongst you. These might be the ordinary Joes and Jills who come to church and, “I’m doing okay. Just fine.”

Here’s another person who might hear the Word. These are ones who are in pain. You can bank on it, those of you who teach. There’s some who are in great pain and feel very weak. And when they hear the Word or when they read the Word, they know they’re a mess. They know they’re a mess internally and externally. And they feel desperate and they want someone to help them and they want someone to rescue them. They are just - ahh – and so as they’re listening to a sermon going on, “Oh God, what’s going on in my life?”

And then there’s another person. I can think of a fifth way. This is a person who I think has despaired a little bit. This is what I talked to you earlier about was the gentle Christian. This is the one who says, “I’ve heard this before. I know this. I don’t get it. God, what’s wrong with me?” This is a person who probably wouldn’t care that much if maybe they came on Sunday morning. They probably don’t even mind if maybe their wife would stay home a little more often. They’ve just kind of despaired but they’re not willing to say it. And so, they become what Kierkegaard called the gentle Christian and as they hear the Word it’s, “I don’t get it. Okay. It’s true, but I don’t get it.”

The last two ways are what I talked last time. This is for the dedicated neurotic. These are for those of us who’ve gone on in the faith who are older. This is the person who has been faithful over the years and they have benefited from their faithfulness with spiritual disciplines. And they’ve benefited others. And they look mature. And they look together because they’re actually are solid people in their character. But like we talked about last time, the Lord has brought them into a new place in their maturity. Right? These are the ongoing dark nights we talked about that I am so concerned about. 

And in this ongoing dark nights nobody else knows what’s going on in their soul because you don’t see it. From the outside that person Doug – He looks together. Look at him. He gives his life to people. He’s a kind person. He’s a loving person. Only Doug would know if something else was going on in his soul, unless he shared that. And I know a number of individuals who are like this and what they begin to have an awareness of in their heart is that they know on the inside they’re not quite what they are on the outside. There’s a deeper hunger. They begin to see even more vices that are deeper of pride and arrogance and other things. 

And they know, “God, my character isn’t good enough anymore. It doesn’t satisfy me. My mind map doesn’t satisfy me.” That’s what we talked about last week. “My theology isn’t of God. I’m longing for the rivers of living water. And now I’m hearing this sermon again.” And, you know, for this person it is a great quandary. “What do I do with this again? What do I with this, God? I’ve just heard a sermon on praying without ceasing. And, God, I do pray but to pray without ceasing and with all of the love and the height and the depth, God I don’t know that.” Or, “God, I just heard a sermon about loving my wife and, yes, I do love her. But God, what would it be to love her with life overflowing, in love with my Lord?” And now this is a quandary.

And the last way someone might hear the Word. It’s the same kind of person. But this is the person where hearing isn’t so much a quandary because they kind of gave up on that. They’ve kind of felt, “You know, Lord, I guess where I am is where I need to grow. This is as far as it kind of goes in this life. And now I’ve just turned and serve and give myself to others. And that’s what the maturing life is. And so they hear sermons – They have quiet times and they say, “Yeah, that’s good. And I – That’s good. I need to continually grow.” And then they go on because for them, the life of maturity now is turning to others to give. 

And the fact is, as Willard says, “We come week after week to hearing sermons. We come week after week to quiet times and we walk away thinking, “What do I do with that?” And the older you get in the faith, the more it is a question: “What do I do? Do I just say yes I’ll do it one more time? Is there anything more?” How many times have we left sermons or quiet time and we say, “That’s good.” Or we said, “That’s a problem. Oh yeah, I agree with that. I need to work on that.” And then we go to work. And then we go have fellowship time. We can get to a point where we’re wondering, “God, what do I do with this stuff? Is this a good way to listen?”

B. Theology of Obedience and Spiritual Disciplines

And so our task as the people of God is to listen well. And our task as teachers and leaders is to help others listen well. And that’s what I want to talk about tonight. And again, if you look at the notes, only a neurotic like me would have all these pages of notes that we can’t get through. So we’re going to kind of move a little. I really want to get at how can I hear the Word of God and respond in light of all the things that we’ve talked about. So we’ll just begin with a little theology of obedience and the spiritual disciplines. Some of this you’ll know and we’ll just keep moving.

1. According to Paul: the whole life is a training in Godliness or obedience to the will of God.

The first one is just this. According to Paul, when he thinks of the Christian life – He captures it in many terms, but one of them he thinks the whole Christian life is a training. It’s a training in godliness. It’s a training in obedience. This is 1 Timothy 4:7. He says, “Bodily discipline is of some value, but if you’re going to do anything train yourself. Train – Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness for this is profitable for all things in this life and in the next.” If you want to know something that is going to help you in this life in all things, give yourself to a training. 

You know, I used to be an athlete. I used to train. I mean, I really did before – my children don’t believe it, but I worked all year round. Running. Running distances. Running sprints. If you can believe it, I used to run as a football player – I could, you know, run five, ten miles at a time. I used to lift weights two to three times a day for eight months out of the year. I was in a training, because I thought it was going to be helpful for something I wanted to do in the game. I don’t train myself like that anymore, as you can tell. I’ve become a nerd and a pear. 

But I have another training that’s even better. This is the training of life. And when Paul thinks of how I’m to respond to the Word? I just want you to put this on your mind right now. It’s a training. It’s a training. Now we have to think about what kind of training that should be, but when we hear the Word, we have a quiet time. I don’t want you think of it as having a gentle walk with Jesus. We live in a world of warfare right now. The demons do not like you. This is a training. And I want to open a little up to this training.

And the training in number two is going to be around the issue of obedience. Again, I think of that text by Jesus in John 4:34. The training is not about having religious experiences. The training is not fundamentally about even trying to grow as a person. Now we’re going to see – You’re going to have to grow as a person to fulfill this training – But, you know, you can have a focus on growth as if your and my growth is like the end of all, as if God existed for my growth. As if spiritual formation – It all exists so that I can grow and be happy with my growth. 

Jesus is the model in this life in the Fall. My meat and my drink. As long as in this life, when demons are here. They’re doing their thing. They’re accusing the brethren. They’re going before the throne like with Job. My meat and my drink is to do the will of the Father. That’s what I’m giving my life to. Now, I will say you’re – that’s a long road because I know right now that’s not my meat and drink. I’ve got a lot of other food I like to gnaw on. Anybody else? Yes. But this is the food I want God to open my heart to.

2. The call of God to obey and train to become Godly is of two kinds:

And so, I think of number two. This is the call of God to obey, to train. And I think of it in two ways. And you’ve just got to think with me here for just a bit. The first is what I would call the general call of God, the general call of God to obey. And the second one is the specific-circumstantial call of God to obey. Now what’s going on here?

a. General call of God (Word-command) to obey

Take the following commands: To love God. To love your wife. Wives respect your husbands. Be patient when wronged. Be kind. Abhor what is evil. There’s thousands of commands. Here’s what the general call of obedience is. The general call of obedience has to do when you hear the Word of God, you hear the command, you hear the sermons, quiet time, Bible study, and you may not be called up right then to act on it. You may not be called right then to act on it, but rather you’re to become that kind of person. 

For instance, tomorrow you may have a quiet time and you’re reading Ephesians 5. You’re a woman and it says, “Wives respect your husbands.” Well, your husband’s not in the room right now. And so, you can’t actuate that command. In fact, that’s going to be what the specific or circumstantial call of God is. The general call is, while you’re in your room, and you hear, “You know, Greta, respect your husband, John.” I like that one. You know how the general call of God comes? See, Greta can’t per se obey that right at that moment. She can’t actuate an action to me. But here’s how the general call of God comes when we hear the Word. It is asking us to become that kind of person who will then live out that command when called upon.

b. Specific-Circumstantial call of God (Word-command) to obey.

And so, the specific or circumstantial call of God to obey is when we’re called in particular circumstances. Most of the calls of God that you have when hearing sermons and in quiet times are general calls to obey. They’re general calls of, “That’s what I’m to become.” So that when you’re in that moment with your – When I’m in that moment with Greta, and I’m to love her as Christ loved the church and she’s bugging me, the command of God comes and now I’m to actuate this. 

And the point here according to Willard – Now think about this point. I didn’t write it down for you. I’m getting lazy. But here’s the point. Willard says, “It’s magical thinking to believe that just by hearing the call or the Word of God, in general, that you will have the character or disposition to obey it in the specific circumstance.” Did you hear that? It is magical thinking to believe that just by hearing the call of God when everything’s fine and I’m sitting in my room. I’m sitting and hearing a sermon. It’s magical thinking that just by hearing that word that when I’m in the situation and I’m called to love Greta, from the heart by the Spirit, that that’s what’s going to come out of me. 

And so here’s the general principle. This is what’s leading Dallas Willard in his thinking and this is how it’s impacted me. The general principle here – And I wrote this one out for you – We are to train ourselves in the general call of God. I am to train myself in this general call of God. When I’m taking the Scripture in, when I’m hearing the commands of God, I’m to see it as a training for the sake of developing a character that is ready to obey when called upon in the specific circumstantial calls of God. I am to give myself to a training. 

And so, this Sunday I’ll probably be here and I’ll be hearing Pastor Dale. My task is to hear, is to hear it in the context of training. And it’s peace and prosperity. I’m just sitting here. You know, nothing’s bothering me or aggravating me. I’m just hearing the Word of God and the call will come. And my task is, “God, I’m in a training.” Think back John, 16 – 17 – 18 years old. The training. You’re in a training now. It’s a bigger training. You’re hearing it in a training so that John, you’ll become a kind of person so that in the circumstances when the call of God comes in a particular circumstance – I’m talking with my daughters, that I’ll act in such a way from the heart by the Spirit that won’t exasperate them. And so I want to know what that training is.

3. What is the relationship between this training in Godliness and the spiritual disciplines?

Tonight, I really want you to get away from thinking of spiritual disciplines as a certain kind of esoteric list that you’ve read perhaps in a Dallas Willard or Richard Foster book: fasting, meditation, prayer, Lectio Divina, retreat, solitude, silence. When people mention the spiritual disciplines, that’s what they think of. And I’m introduced in many environments when I speak now and they say, “Well, Dr. Coe’s going to come and – Dr. Coe’s kind of an expert on the spiritual disciplines. He’s going to talk to us about solitude and silence.” They’re always disappointed, because I’m not going to them about that.

You know what spiritual disciplines are? I give you – Now later on we’re not going to have time for it, but there’ll be a – There’s a definite definition on the back of this thing about what a spiritual discipline is, but let me just give you a generic one. A spiritual discipline – This is all it is. This is all it is. I want to demystify it. It’s just a specific training of the heart by the Spirit to the general call of God in order to develop that habit of heart to obey the specific call of God at all times. That’s all a discipline is. You give me any command of God and I’m going to develop a spiritual discipline, because what I want to do is I hear the Word of God. It’s a training. That’s all we mean by a spiritual discipline. It’s a training. It’s a training of the self so that I have a character that can respond to God.

Now what I’d like you to do is, I want you to skip four for a moment. I want you to go to number five. This is on your page three I think. If that’s all a spiritual discipline is, it’s going to turn out there are tons of disciplines. In fact, for every command of God there will be a corresponding discipline, a training that you can give yourself to.

5. How to identify a spiritual discipline or an opportunity for training

How do I identify these things? How do you identify when you have an opportunity for training? This is going to be very simple. Not simple necessarily to give yourself to, just like lifting weights – If I try pick up training again for football. Oh goodness. Oh goodness. I’d have a heart attack after the second lap. Here’s the structure of it. Very simple. A little schema. Take any command of the Bible – Love your wife. Respect your husband. Love God. Be anxious for nothing. Those are commands. You can take any command of the Bible. 

But now, as I say here, you can take any vice trait to put off. You’re reading the Bible and it says, “Don’t worry.” Well, that’s a putting off discipline. And so now, the Word of God comes and says, “John, don’t worry.” Okay that’s a command. Or maybe it’s a virtue that the Scripture talks about: Joy. I’m to put on joy. So I’m going to be able to take any command of God. I’m going to be able to take any vice or virtue – anything about that – and I’m going to turn it into a spiritual discipline. 

Another thing I say is I can take any reality to be experienced in the Bible. For instance, I have a full part – We’ve talked about this. I have a full pardon in Christ. I am to experience that deeply. I can take that reality now and I can turn it into a spiritual discipline as we’ll see. Or another thing I can take is any example to be modeled. I can take Jesus, Him fasting, Him going on retreat, Him going into solitude. And here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to take any these vices, realities, examples or commands and number two. I’m going to first consider what Willard says that it’s magical thinking that just by a good intention this will be kept from the heart. It is magical thinking that just by your intending that you will keep this from the heart by the Spirit. Wouldn’t it be cool. This Sunday you hear a sermon and it says pray without ceasing and you said, “Self, pray without ceasing. That is my intention” And all of a sudden. “I am praying without ceasing. I want to pray without ceasing.” Wouldn’t that be cool? Willard says that’s magical thinking. It’s magical thinking just by intending to love your wife, you will. Anybody who thinks that hasn’t been married very long. 

And number three. Here’s the question you ask. Here’s the major question you have to ask when you’re thinking of the text and you just heard the command of God. If you think that just by intending that – Imagine hearing, love your enemy. If you think that just by intending to do that you’ll be doing it, that’s magical thinking. 

Here’s the first thing you need to do. Number three. The question you have to ask is this: What kind of person must I become to live out that command from the heart by the Spirit? That’s the question you ask. Love your enemy. Okay. What kind of person do I have to become if I’m going to live out that command? 

That’s the same thing when I trained in football. I see what a person does. When I used to play quarterback what he does and then when I played offensive guard, I see what they do. And now I have to ask the question. Well, I just can’t get out there and do it. I can’t say, “You know, I want to do that.” In fact, I met a lot of guys who thought they could. “I think I can do that.” No, the question was, “What kind of a person must I become if I’m going to be able to do that?” Wow.

And then number four is this. This is just a simple schema right now. It’s going to get more complex. And if you take this seriously – That number three you should be asking all the time. Number four is the serious question that I want to talk about as we go on. But three, it’s always, “What kind of person do I have to become if I’m really going to love Greta as Christ loved the church from the heart by the Spirit? Oh my gosh.”

But now number four. If I take that seriously I must now have to discern with the Spirit what I’m going to have to do. What kind of training am I going to have to give myself to? What do I need to do to become that kind of person? Notice, I want to move away from thinking, “What do I have to do to obey that command?” because it turns out obeying that command is going to require becoming a certain kind of person. And so the real question is we hear the Word and the commands of God are – What do I have to do to become that kind of person that will then obey that command from the heart? And I’ll just say this by – And this is what the spiritual disciplines are all about – This is what a training is all going to be about. Is I’m going to take commands and generate a training of this, as we’ll see in a little bit.

Let me just make a note here. First of all, just recall that you cannot do this on your own. Whatever training you’re going to give yourself to, this is a little different kind of training than lifting weights. This is a training where you’re going to present yourself to another Person. It’s a relational training. It’s to open up to what the Spirit wants to do.

And secondly, you’re going to need some wisdom. You’re going to need some wisdom to discern what kind of trainings you should give yourself to and what kinds of trainings you shouldn’t, because you know something? You can’t give yourself to all the training of all the things you’re going to do. Think about it. This next week you’ll hear at least one sermon and there will be a couple of things to do in there. Something that you can realize. Something that you can experience more deeply about what you are in Christ. Some commands. You’ll have quiet times. You might have Bible studies. 

In this next week you will probably hear anywhere from five to 10 things, at least, about what you can do or become. And you know something? You are to obey them, but remember this – You are to obey them. Whatever you hear you are to obey. But, you cannot give yourself to training in every single thing. You can’t. You are going to have to, by wisdom, discern with God’s Spirit: “What am I give myself to a training about?” Or else your life is going to be scattered and non-focused in this training.

6. What kinds of trainings can we give ourselves to, how to decide which to do?

I hear so much. So as you hear the general call of God – That’s what I’m going to be talking about now. You’re hearing the general call of God. You’re just hearing the Word. You’re hearing truths in your quiet time, in sermons, in reading books. Love God. Pray without ceasing. Abhor what is evil. Be filled with the Spirit. These are all good things.

a. Ask yourself whether you are being called to put off the former manner of life or put on the new.

Couple of things I want you to keep in mind. Here’s the first one. This is A. Now this is just something to consider. I’m not going to make much of this here, but you might just ask yourself as you’re hearing that word coming to you, whether you’re being called to put something off or whether you’re being called to put something on. It’s good just to know where you are in the logic of the Word, because as you hear the Word coming, there are going to be some things that you’re going to be asked to now shed. That’s what the Scriptures will say. Abhor what is evil. Whatever you loved it before, abhor that thing now. 

And so, there are some spiritual disciplines that are designed for putting off. And you know what these spiritual disciplines usually are? They’re ones that are going to be, in part, exploring what is going on internally. These are disciplines we detach form things we love. And so if I’m not to worry, well now as I ponder that in the Lord I might discover, “God, I’m a very worrying person.” Well, now I know that if I want to give myself to a training, it’s going to involve at least some searching of why I’ve become a worrying person. And it’s just good to know where we are.

But then as I said in the next bullet, there are some disciplines - And these are probably the ones we practice the most – They’re the putting on ones. These are things like worship, meditation on the Word, adoration, silence. These are what are called disciplines of attachment. These are things that we say, “You know, I want to give myself to that. I want to give myself to celebrating.” So let’s do that. And so we’ll talk about a little later how to actually do a training, how to put yourself through a little training. But this is just something to know right now.

And the last bullet there is even with the putting on disciplines, if they feel purgative – Remember the dark night stuff? If they feel purgative, then you probably know God is now, by His Spirit, making this a putting off discipline. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, let’s say you just want to spend the next week praising God. That’s a spiritual discipline. “You know, God, I want to develop this part of me to praise You. You know, I’m a grumpy person. I’m a, you know, focused on myself. 

I just want to praise You.” So I’m going to turn to the Psalms and for the next week for five days I’m going to read a psalm that praises You. And then after that psalm is done, I’m going to spend ten minutes a day – That’s my training. That’s it. One week, God. I’m going to train myself. After I read a psalm I’m going to give myself ten minutes. I’m going to praise You. I’m going to use my mouth to praise. Well, while you’re doing that if it’s praise, cool. That means God in consolation is showing You pockets of your heart that are consonant with that – that training to praise. 

But, you know, some of you if you did that and you’re praising God for things in your life, you might sit there and really if you’re honest – And that’s a spiritual discipline – “You know, God, I’m bored. I praise you, God. You know, whatever. I had a long day today.” And then you know what that discipline has become? Yum yum. Eat them up. In desolation, that discipline has now become a putting off discipline. And now, part of the discipline isn’t just to muster up praise. Part of the discipline is now – the Spirit’s got your attention so that now you say, “You know, Lord, you know what the truth is? I don’t really want to praise You. God, that’s so good to know. That’s so good to know. That’s why You died for me. God, just for the next three minutes now, just take me on a little journey in this training of why it is that right now my heart doesn’t really give much a rip about praising.” 

See, if you’re going to be a good little boy or girl, you know what you’ll do? “No. I’ve got to hunker down. I’ve got to praise.” Yes, you’re already offered yourself to praise. And now you see what’s in your heart. That’s what the Spirit wanted to show you this morning. What a wonderful, humbling experience to see what’s really in the heart. This is just something to keep in mind.

b. Ask whether I am to give myself to an Intention, a Rhythm, or a Regimen.

But now, B, and this is where I’m going to park on for a while. You’re going to have to ask yourself now as you hear the general call of God, you’re hearing the Word, you’re hearing the commands, you’re hearing the virtues and the vices. You’re going to have to ask yourself if you want to be involved in a training, “God, what am I to do with this?” And I’m going to give you three kinds of things. Am I to give to myself to an intention? Am I to give myself to a rhythm? Or am I to give myself to a regimen?

And if you turn to the next page, there you will have an overhead. I’m going to talk about the disciplines. And if you want to look at the next page, you can. You can tear that one out, if you want, or even look at it up here. I want to talk about – I’m not going to have time to go through all the ways we can think of spiritual disciplines cause there’s a gazillion of them. But I want to talk about three kinds of disciplines that we can give ourselves to.

Spiritual Disciplines

1. Description of Each

c. Regimens for Transforming the Character in the Spirit

And I want to start with regimens. In fact, for you, that will be a  - I’m going to skip around again. I want you to go to the next page to number C. This is a regimen. You’re now hearing the Word of God and you’re saying, “God, what should I do with this thing?” I’m to love my wife. That’s what it says. Or I’m to give myself to loving you. Now that’s a general call that’s all the time. 

Well, notice about a regimen. This is the top. Spiritual regimens are going to be specific plans for obedience. They’re going to be short term. This is if you want to give yourself to a training. And you’re going to have to discern this. A regimen is when you’ve heard the Word of God and now you want to give yourself to this short-term project to train yourself in them. And so the structure of it is – I give it here again. You hear the command: Love your wife. Again, I’m going to remind myself – So I don’t know what Dale’s going to teach on this week, but let’s say it was that. Well, I’m going to remind myself number one, what Dallas Willard just said, “It’s magical thinking that just by a good intention I’m going to keep that one from the heart by the Spirit as a disposition forever.”

And so number two. Here’s the question I’m going to ask: “God, what kind of person must I become to live out this command from the heart?” That’s the question I ask. What kind of person do I have to become to live it out?

And then number three. From there you’re going to set forth a short-term plan to begin to practice, with the Spirit, what it is that you think you might do to help build that as part of your character. Now first, we’re going to come back to this. We’re going to have to discern, “Is this what I am to do?” But this is one of the things that you can do. When you’re listening to your quiet time tomorrow, there might be some things that you read and you go, “God, this is important, but you know, Lord, I’m not going to make this a regimen. I’m not going to give myself to, because you know something? I can’t become a great computer analyst and a great football player and a philosopher and a theologian all at one time. I have a finite body.” And so I’m going to have to open to the Lord, “God, is this something I’m going to give myself to a training of a regimen?”

Now, you know, something in this size of a room? I’ll bet there’s two or three of you that in this next week, if you open to the Spirit about what you’re hearing in your quiet time or from the Word or from teaching, the Spirit might want you to develop exactly this. “God, I just heard that and right now my wife and I are having struggles. I know it. I know I just haven’t been really opening my heart to her. God, this is important. Lord, what kind of person do I need to be that would really love her and what could I do? Babe – Remember that movie What About Bob? Remember baby steps? Baby steps out the door. Baby steps in the elevator. Ah. Right, when he gets in the elevator he freaks out? This is baby steps. And some of you, the Spirit of God may say, “You need to give yourself to a short-term regimen.” 

These are so simple. You know what it might be? It might be something like this, “You know, Lord, what I’m going to do is for the next two weeks I’m going to take four – This is just one of a million –  For the next two weeks I’m going  to take four hours of my life in each week. Eight hours and I want to give myself now – I want to think with You for the next two, three minutes in this quiet time or at the end of this sermon. I want to think with You of what would be a good use of four hours to bump start a little bit of training in relation to my wife. 

Well, I can just think off the top of my head. I could say, “Well, you know Lord in this next week of four hours – I want to spend four days for half an hour – That’ll be two hours – I just want to pray for her. I just want to open my heart deeply in prayer about what’s going on in her life and my life. And Lord, in the next four hours or the next two hours, you know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to spend – I’m going to spend an hour two nights of this week – You should try this husbands – where I’m just going to listen to my wife. I’m going to listen to my wife with You, Lord. I’m just going to open deeply. I’m just going to let her talk and I’m not going to ask questions. Whatever. But I’m just going to listen.” You know, that’s nothing. It’s minimal. But you know something? It’s so much better than saying, “Huh. That’s good. I need to do something about that. Hey Bob. How’re you doing?” Something got lost. Something got lost. You must hear the confrontation when you hear the Word of God. You must do that. “God, here I am.”

Now this is just one thing you can do. But you give me any command. You give me any reality that I have in Christ and I can develop a 20-hour, a 50-hour, a three-hour, a 20-minute little regimen training just to bump start and open my heart to this. I’ll say this. This is in your power. It is not in your power to change yourself. It is not in your power to change yourself, but it is in your power to open up to something as simple as that.

b. Rhythms of the Classical Disciplines

A second thing, and we’re going backwards here in the notes, B. These are what we call spiritual rhythms. Regimens are short-term. You know what rhythms are? Rhythms are the long-term seasons and ways that I want to experience my spiritual life. In the history of Christian spirituality, this is where the classical spiritual disciplines have been. Lectio Divina, that is the divine reading of the Word. Meditation on the Word. Prayer. You know what the evangelical rhythm is? What do we call that? It’s the quiet time. I mean, that’s universal. I go to Westmont. Quiet time. Everybody knows it. Biola. If I go to Harvard they probably wouldn’t. “Quiet time? You mean, you take a nap? Ah, yes, that’s what I do.” 

What these spiritual rhythms were, these are disciplines that the church thought should be constants in our life. And you know what these rhythms actually do? They protect regimens by love, because what spirituals rhythms are constants in our life where we’re trying to develop love and openness to God. This is the place where I’m connecting to God and that’s what these disciplines of silence and solitude generally were. They were to ensure that regimens don’t just become ways that I use to transform myself. 

Do you know pagans can do this? They do it all the time. You can give yourself, as an unbeliever, to a regimen of training. People do it all the time. Even spiritual ones. Character ones. But these rhythms are the ones that you have determined before the Lord. And some of you, I’ll have to say, you probably need to kind of take an inventory in your life. “What are my rhythms? Do I have rhythms that are protecting my love life?” Because over time, you know what our tendency is? It will be idolatry. We start getting attached to things. I’m 50 years old. I’m attached to all kinds of stuff. And these rhythms are the ones that check, what are my loves. And they develop loves.

Here’s questions you need to ask. “Lord, for the purpose of ongoing love and attachment to You, do I need more silence?” You can just think about this right here. “Do I need more silence? Do I need more silence in my life so I can open to You?” Here’s another one: “Do I need more solitude just to be with You?” Do you need that? I don’t know. “Lord, do I need to hear the Word more? Do I need” – This is something you must confront or else spiritual rhythms will die. And as spiritual rhythms go down, you know what happens? Our attachment to the finite comes up. We’re going to attach to something. That’s the law of or heart. 

“God, do I need to pray more?” You know, that’s something that I don’t want you to knee jerk react to out of guilt. You need to ponder this with the Spirit. “Do I need these rhythms?” Let me just say this again. This is Dallas Willard’s point: Doing spiritual disciplines here as rhythms this is in your power. It is not in your power to transform yourself. It is in your power to ask the question, “God, what do I need? What are the constant, ongoing patterns, rhythms that I need if I’m going to maintain a decent love life?”

a. Spiritual Intentions

And then the last one. The bottom. This is another category. We can call them spiritual intentions or disciplines of intention. Disciplines of intention. These are the most important of all. These are the bedrock spiritual disciplines. They’re really more ways of being a Christian than anything else. In fact, these are going to be the ways that we do all these other disciplines: rhythms and regimens in the training.

I’ll say this about these spiritual rhythms. This is what beginners should be assigned when they’re having times of consolation. When things are going well and they’re excited about their faith, I as a discipler, I’m going to move them right into these rhythms, because I want them to begin to develop these long-going patterns. And I might move them into regimens, but especially rhythms. And I’ll only begin to open up beginners to these spiritual intentions. 

But as we go on in the faith, these spiritual intentions or disciplines of intention, they become the heart of our mature faith. They become the heart of what it is to be a Christian. These disciplines down here – these four that I’ll talk about briefly – they are the very logic of Biblical thinking. They’re the very logic of what it is to hear the Word of God as a mature believer. And so I present here four disciplines of intention.

Presenting Oneself as a Sacrifice

The first is the discipline of presenting oneself as a sacrifice. This is just part of the logic of obedience. The first discipline – the bedrock of to everything is I present myself. So, remember, here’s the context. I’ve just heard the Word of God. I’ve just read the Word of God and how do I respond? These four disciplines are how you respond to the Word of God. This is how you respond. 

And the first one is I present myself. This is Romans 12: 1-2. I present myself as a living sacrifice to God. Romans 6, I present the members of my body no longer as instruments of unrighteousness but God I present them to You. And so as I hear the Word of God, “Don’t exasperate your children, John.” 

First spiritual discipline: “God, I present myself to You. And I do this for the sake, because I don’t want to fall asleep to Your Word.” As I say here, this is the spiritual discipline of allowing the self to be confronted by the Word. 

This is the spiritual discipline that protects the will from falling asleep to the will of God. It is so easy to hear another command, “Yeah, Love my wife as Christ loved the church. I need to do that. No. I need to wake up, John. Wake up. God, I’m here.” 

The last thing you want in your life is to develop the discipline of numbness to the Word of God. That is a killer to the spiritual life. You must arouse yourself. This is within your power. It’s not in your power to transform yourself, but it’s in your power to say, “God, here I am. God, here I am. I hear.” That’s presenting.

Now, you know something? As you go on in the faith, that spiritual discipline is what should be going on all the time. “God, I’m here.” My daughters come to me and …, “God, I’m here. God, I’m here.” My first response is not to fix my daughters. My first response – God. “God, I present myself to you. God, I’m here.” This is a discipline for life, but this is the first discipline we do when we hear the Word of God.

Prayer of Recollection

The second one is what we call the prayer of recollection. Now, if we have time at the end I’ll teach this, but it’s a very simple thing. It’s simply the spiritual discipline of reminding the self of its true identity. We do this all the time. This is now the heartbeat of my life at 50. Reminding myself, “God, I’m in Christ. There’s full pardon. There’s full acceptance. And Christ is in me now. The Spirit’s here.” 

And so, this prayer of recollection what it does is it protects our life from moralism. It protects my life from making decisions by false guilt or shame in my own power. And so as I hear the pastor teach the Word or the quiet time: Love your wife. “God, you know what I want to do? I present myself, but God I want to remind myself right here I’m in You. And I’m not going to obey this to try to be a good little boy. I’m not going to obey this because I want to get the monkey of guilt off my back. I don’t want to do this just to please my wife.” 

And so the word here is, “God, I want to do this in You.” This is the prayer of my heart throughout the day. And this is the prayer of my heart to hear the Word of God. “God, I want to do this in You. I don’t want to do this in my power. I don’t know how to do it, except in my power usually, but God, that’s what I want.”

Honesty or Truth-telling in the heart

And the third: It’s the spiritual discipline of truth telling. It’s the spiritual discipline of truth telling. This is how we hear the Word of God. This is what I want to do all through the day. This is what the mature person does. This is the logic of their faith. This is the spiritual discipline whereby, upon presenting ourself to God, we now want to open to what’s truly going on inside. 

“God, I just heard, love my wife as Christ loved the church. God, I present myself. Here I am. God, I don’t want to do this in the power of me. I want to open to what I am in Christ in this. And God, what’s the truth in my life? What’s the truth? Is that true? Am I loving my wife as Christ loved the church?” 

I want to truth tell. You know why? Because this protects our obedience. It protects our presenting ourselves from arrogance. It protects our presenting ourselves from closed heartedness and superficiality. It let’s the Spirit teach us what’s really going on in your heart. And so the cry of the heart just is, “God, what’s going on in my heart?” It’s reality testing.


And the fourth one is discernment. This is the fourth of what we would call, we can call these meta-disciplines. These are the key spiritual disciplines that should be going on all the time. Or we can call them disciplines of intention. 

And discernment is this. It’s a spiritual discipline. It’s just a training where I want to watch what God is doing. I want to learn from Him. I want to discern what the Spirit’s doing and what He wants me to do, what His will is versus what my will is or what the devil’s will is. And how I can better cooperate. And here I’m going to seek wisdom on how to respond to the work of God.

See, you know what this is going to protect me from? This is now – in my own spiritual life at 50 – These ones, God has working in my life. This one is one that I feel like a baby in. I want to learn to grow in discernment of what His will is and not jump to what mine is, even in this training. See, this protects from responding to false calls. See, I might hear the Word of God about loving Greta, and Greta might have just – We might have an argument last night and I might want to do this just to please her. That’s really funky obedience, then. You find yourself in the middle of it and it gets all kind of messy. 

I want to protect myself by discernment from false calls of guilt. Fantasy. Thinking that you’ll be able to obey that discipline and just make it work. You know, I don’t know. “God, is that something I should be giving myself to?” It’ll protect me from grandiosity. It will teach me how to wait on God.

You know, as we get older in the faith, these bottom disciplines here, they become central to our life. They’re just part of the logic of our life. When I hear the Word of God, present myself. “God, here I am. Lord, I want to do this in Christ. God, what’s really going on in my heart? What’s really taking place? Open me to this. And, God, help me to discern what I’m to do. What am I to do?”

2. How to Hear and Respond Reasonably to the Word from the Heart

Number two. This is skip over a couple of pages. How do we hear and respond to the Word form the heart? How does this take place? What has to happen to do this? I’ll just say this, and then maybe we’ll take a break. I’ll just give a little bit. The next time that you hear the Word of God, I want you to give you some ways of how you can hear.

You know the greatest difficulty in hearing sermons or teaching or preaching? You know it’s always the last five or ten minutes? It’s always the hardest. For the preacher, it is always the hardest. He’s just been sharing good words for an hour and now like Doug says, “He’s got to land the plane.” You know, preachers and teachers, we have problems landing the plane. Partly because we just – We love it so much, but you know the other part of it is? Is we just don’t want to blow the landing. We want to make sure – God – because it is the hardest when you prepare a sermon or when you teach. 

Here you’re talking about great things. Now what do I say for people to do?  You know, how many times have I talked to preachers at Talbot program when the come back to the D.Min. program, that’s not the “demon” program. That’s the Doctor of Ministry program. The D.Min. program. And they say, “You know, those last minutes of a sermon and when I’m about to give three principles of application, I just sometimes feel like it …. And do this.” Oh, goodness. 

And so we don’t want to land the plane because we’re just feeling like it’s going to sputter then. It’s painful sometimes for a teacher to want to say something meaningful at the end. But, you know, it’s also painful – I’ll say this, too, about teaching and preaching – I remember I was around a preacher, a real great expositor of the Word. But you know what I heard every week? This great teacher, “This is the key to the Christian life!” And the next week: “This is the key to the Christian life!” Well, he had 80 keys. Which one is it? We as teachers can get so excited that we think, “This is it! This is the key!” And our task must be to help you folks decide and craft out with God to discern in the presenting of yourself: “What should I give myself to? Is this to be a training? Is this not a training?”

And that’s is what we’re going to talk about. Because for you, the listener, think of the things that you hear. You’ve heard so much. What do you do when you hear it again?

Log in to take this quiz.