I know I say this every time I review a Jerry Bridges book, but I’m going to say it again: I love his books! Every one of them has had a profound influence on me, including The Discipline of Grace. It’s definitely at or near the top of the list for my favorite of his books so far. His writing is very simple and plain-spoken, but he has an incredible grasp on the truth of our life in Christ and what that looks like lived out.
This book is essentially a followup to two of his earlier books. Transforming Grace focused on God’s grace in our salvation and sanctification, The Pursuit of Holiness focused on our role in sanctification. The Discipline of Grace brings the two together beautifully:
“Some years ago I wrote a book titled The Pursuit of Holiness in which I strongly emphasized our responsibility for holiness as opposed to the concept of just turning it all over to God. Thirteen years later I wrote another book, Transforming Grace, in which I urged believers to learn to live by grace, not by performance. After Transforming Grace was published, many people asked me how it related to The Pursuit of Holiness. The question always seemed to carry the suggestion that grace and the pursuit of holiness are incompatible…Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a lifelong pursuit of holiness. Yet many believers do not understand what it means to live by grace in their daily lives, and they certainly don’t understand the relationship of grace to personal discipline.” (p. 13)
Enter The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. Dr. Bridges begins by emphasizing the importance of the gospel throughout our lives, not simply at the point of conversion. We tend to view the gospel as for unbelievers and the duties of discipleship as for believers.
“But there is something more basic than discipleship, something that actually provides the necessary atmosphere in which discipleship can be practiced. The one word that describes what we must continue to hear is gospel.
We need to continue to hear the gospel every day of our Christian lives. Only a continuous reminder of the gospel of God’s grace through Christ will keep us from falling into good-day/bad-day thinking, wherein we think our daily relationship with God is based on how good we’ve been.” (p. 21)
The second chapter, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector”, discusses the two extremes we tend to go to: either dwelling on our besetting sins and failures, or self-satisfaction with our Christian life because we’re convinced we believe the correct doctrines, practice the right disciplines, etc.
In the third chapter, Dr. Bridges exhorts us to “preach the gospel to ourselves” every day. He begins by pointing out that many people, though clearly believers, have only an elementary knowledge of the gospel. Why is this?
“I believe part of the problem is our tendency to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. As a result, Christians are not instructed in the gospel. And because they do not fully understand the riches and glory of the gospel, they cannot preach it to themselves, nor live by it in their daily lives.” (p. 46)
I sincerely agree with his assessment…I was one of those people at one time! He spends the rest of the chapter on a clear exposition of the biblical gospel and it’s implications for ALL sinners (which includes non-Christians AND Christians!).
The fourth chapter, “We Died to Sin”, explores the truth that Christ has delivered us not only from the penalty for sin, but also from the dominion of sin in our lives, which is made a reality through our union with Christ.
“…the gospel is far more than ‘fire insurance’ from eternal punishment in hell…through Christ’s death on the cross, we are given the ability to live lives that are both pleasing to God and fulfilling for ourselves.” (p. 62)
The rest of the chapter is an extended discussion of the concept of our union with Christ and what it means for us. This is one of the best explanations of this truth that I’ve ever read. Chapters three and four form the foundation for all that follows as Dr. Bridges lays out how to practically apply these foundational truths to our everyday lives.
The fifth chapter introduces the surprising idea that God disciplines us by grace. It’s his grace, not his law, that “trains” and “teaches” us. He applies this concept, based on the foundation of the gospel and our union with Christ, to our life and spiritual growth and to the spiritual disciplines in chapters six through thirteen.
Once again, Dr. Bridges has achieved what so many writers and teachers struggle to do: he’s expressed the biblical balance between legalism and license simply and lucidly. He clearly shows how fundamental the gospel and our union with Christ are to our day to day lives. The Discipline of Grace is a book I’ll return to again and again for encouragement and clarity, and one I’ll be enthusiastically recommending to family and friends.