Knowing the Truth:
An inquisitive look into freedom
Once More from the Top
I have maintained for some time now that I learn more from teaching than I ever reciprocally provide in the form of knowledge to others; of that I am fairly certain. Such is the case already in this first week in a study of spiritual disciplines that I am teaching for Baptist Bible Graduate School.
A Thesis: There is an inordinately strong link between Truth (the capital ‘T’ truth of scripture) and the Spiritual Disciplines.
Donald Whitney, an author on the subject of Spiritual discipline wrote, “There is freedom in embracing the spiritual disciplines.”[i] Whitney follows the writing of Richard Foster to argue that the Spiritual disciplines, rather than being restrictive and binding are the means to spiritual freedom. Foster goes so far as to call them the “Door to Liberation.”[ii] There is a quantum leap between the idea of the spiritual exercises or the acts that Christians do, (not so much as apart from God but as a requirement of God in living out their daily life as a Christian) and Jesus’ own words recorded in John 8:32. In one of the longest interactions that Jesus has with the Pharisees recorded for us by the Disciple John, brother of James; Jesus explains to them that “If you abide in My word then you are truly disciples of Mine and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”[iii] He goes on to say in a correlated statement; “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”[iv] There is, then an apparent relationship between the singular freedom of which Christ speaks in John 8:32 and the escape from death in 8:51. In explaining to the Pharisees who He was; He described Himself as the ‘Son’ and He declares that if the “son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”[v]
It is important at this point to identify and perhaps define the ‘Freedom’ about which Christ refers. Clearly it involves a freedom from death and extrapolating the fact that Christ, Himself, died a physical death not long after this conversation; then it is not from physical death that this new found freedom provides an escape. It most certainly effects then the spiritual death, a death which leads to an eternity separated from God in a place called ‘Hell’ prepared by God for Satan and his angels; an eternal abode for those who do not receive Christ as Savior.
Another Bible teacher, Elisabeth Elliott is quoted by Whitney as saying that “freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive when in fact freedom is not at all opposite but the final reward of discipline.”[vi] If one is a connoisseur of ‘B’ Westerns then the term ‘final reward’ will strike a familiar chord as often used in conjunction with ‘the last round-up’ which was, of course, a synonym for heaven. Having heard Mrs. Elliot teach on several occasions, I do not believe she is advocating that by keeping the spiritual disciplines, a Christian will receive the freedom from spiritual death that Christ refers to in John 8. That would equate to a works received entrance to heaven. It is more likely that a better turn of phrase would have been that freedom is the end result of discipline rather than final reward. Regardless, though, of Mrs. Elliot’s soteriology, there remains a clear link between spiritual discipline and freedom; whether that is freedom from spiritual death or perhaps another type of freedom such as a freedom to live a fuller Christian life or have the freedom for a closer Christian walk with Christ. These are ideas worth considering! When one recalls that Richard Foster made a link between the disciplines themselves and spiritual freedom, to what specifically was he referring?
Defining Spiritual Disciplines
It is appropriate perhaps to define the ‘spiritual disciplines’ that are referred to here. A short list just to give the reader an idea of them includes, prayer, fasting, quiet time or solitude, intake of God’s Word which is more than simply reading but, reading is one method of intake; memorization, and meditation. The purpose in each is to grow in Christ-likeness and they are not linked in series, as such to one another, that is one need not do every type of discipline in order to gain this closer walk with the Lord but that a focused exercise of some combination of them is required; hence the term discipline. It is a required work, an exercise with an end goal in mind just as Paul described a boxer who trains and does not flail at the air but disciplines himself to be good at what he has chosen to do, or a runner who trains to compete for the prize by keeping his focus on the goal. If the authors quoted earlier are correct then, a part of that goal in becoming more Christ-like is freedom; a release, perhaps from what Paul, again, called the ‘sin that so easily besets us’. By keeping our focus, our thoughts, our attitudes on the things that are above and keeping our whole-selves trained in spiritual growth, we put behind us the preoccupation with sin and its temptation.
As quickly at the concept of completing or exercising the spiritual disciplines can devolve into a ‘works’ mentality – that is – it is what we do that matters in our relationship with Christ; it is important to stress that the Christian can do nothing apart from Christ. It is the Holy Spirit abiding within the Christian that enables the human part of us to do anything at all that is remotely spiritually inclined. Apart from the power of God, the Christian has no ability to even consider the effective exercise of the disciplines. To attempt such an endeavor without the Holy Spirit would be to flail at the air like Paul’s fighter. The person would become exhausted in the actions but the exercise would have had no effect whatsoever.
The Capital ‘T’ Truth
In what some have labeled America’s ‘Post-Christian Era’ it would be difficult to get a majority consensus that even the Bible holds absolute truth. Many mainline Protestant churches will not be uneasy with the idea that there could be error within the biblical manuscripts. To say that the Bible is authoritative in everyday life, requires a background in Evangelical Christianity. There are some faiths that will hold that Truth can be found in the Bible but not go as far as saying that the Bible is Truth. Jesus, Himself said, in His great Priestly prayer to His Father that, “Thy Word is Truth.” There can be no greater witness to verify that God’s Word is Truth than Christ’s own statement. It is then, as we follow the logical if –then connection: If the Truth Will Set You Free and the Bible, God’s Word, is Truth; then the Word of God will set you free. The Primary role of the spiritual disciplines is to come to a deeper more abiding understanding of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. The extrapolation leads to the conclusion that if Spiritual Disciplines lead to a deeper understanding of the Bible, God’s Word, then those Disciplines lead to freedom.
Spiritual Disciplines and Truth
The final analysis brings the investigator back to the primary conclusion that it is not that completing the spiritual disciplines brings one to Freedom by way of a works mentality. Rather, it is that completion of the spiritual disciplines which brings one to a fuller appreciation and comprehension of the Bible. That deep and abiding knowledge of the Scriptures that comes from exercising the spiritual disciplines brings one to Truth, the Truth that sets you free. You are free from the Spiritual Death that is the result of sin because the Grace of God has given you that Freedom through Christ’s sacrifice which the Holy Spirit will bring you to trust through God’s Word. Freedom, too, from the daily onslaught of sin’s temptation. Not that the temptation will not rear its ugly head, but that you will have received the tools by which the Holy Spirit working within you will dismantle those temptations and bring you to victory over them.
A classic song from the ‘Revolution’ days of the sixties by Janis Joplin titled ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ has the standard refrain, “Freedom’s Just another Word for Nothing Left to Lose; Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ if it ain’t free.” As cynical and discouraging as those ‘blues’ lines are, they pose a dramatic disconnect to what Freedom in God’s Word is speaking about. What does fit is that the Holy Spirit brings to the believer the grace of God which, for the believer, is free… That’s somethin’ that means somethin’