The Way of Death: Turning the Disciplines into Laws

The Spiritual Disciplines are intended for our good.  They are meant to bring the abundance of God into our lives.   It is possible, however, to turn them into another set of soul-killing laws.  Law-bound Disciplines breathe death.           

Jesus teaches that we must go beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes (Matt. 5:20).  Yet we need to see that their righteousness was no small thing.  They were committed to following God in a way that many of us are not prepared to do.  One factor, however, was always central to their righteousness: externalism.  Their righteousness consisted in control of externals, often including the manipulation of others.  The extent to which we have gone beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is seen in how much our lives demonstrate the internal work of God upon the heart.  To be sure, this will have external results, but the work will be internal.  It is easy in our zeal for Spiritual Disciplines to turn them into the external righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees….           

 As we enter the inner world of Spiritual Disciplines, there will always be the danger of turning them into laws.  But we are not left to our own human devices.  Jesus Christ has promised to be our ever-present Teacher and Guide.  His voice is not hard to hear.  His direction is not hard to understand.  If we are beginning to calcify what should always remain alive and growing, he will tell us.  We can trust his teaching.  If we are wandering off toward some wrong idea or unprofitable practice, he will guide us back.  If we are willing to listen to the Heavenly Monitor, we will receive the instruction we need.             

Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people.  Leo Tolstoy observes, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.”  Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort. –Richard Foster


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