Disciplining the Body

We work out our salvation, not for it.

He averted his side’s softness.
His body’s desire, he destroyed it.
He destroyed his meanness:
truly the boy is a son of Conn’s offspring.
He destroyed the darkness of envy,
he destroyed the darkness of jealousy.

  - Dallán Forgaill, Amra Choluimb Cille, Irish, 6th century[1]

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members
as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

  - Romans 6.12, 13

Sanctification is a mystery. It is the will of God for all who believe in Jesus, but how it actually comes to pass is beyond our ability to understand.

That is, we don’t know exactly how the Word and Spirit of God bring us to higher stages of Christ-likeness (2 Cor. 3.12-18) – how sinful desires are replaced by good ones, wicked thoughts overwhelmed by noble, base values undermined by holy, selfish desires ousted by love for neighbors, or wicked works replaced with good works.

It’s not necessary that we understand all the secret workings of God in our souls. But we can plainly understand what our part is in this ongoing struggle for holiness. We must discipline the members of our bodies to forsake all unrighteousness, and turn them instead to every good work of righteousness for Jesus’ sake.

This is work. Not work to be saved, but work because we are saved, and unto greater degrees of our gracious salvation. We must apply ourselves energetically and consistently to working out the salvation we have received, so that sanctification proceeds in us unto good works of love (Phil. 2.12; Tit. 3.8, 14). We must work, but the work of sanctification will only be accomplished by the power of God’s Spirit within us (Phil. 2.13).

This working out of our salvation requires clear understanding of what the Scriptures teach about the way of righteousness, beginning with the Law and commandments of God (Rom. 7.12; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). If we’re not willing to work at this, we’ll never grow beyond where we are. Indeed, we’ll probably just drift along in the faith, thinking we’re doing fine, and never realizing that our love for Jesus is becoming tepid, if not cold.

Working out our salvation also demands that we exercise continuous vigilance against the wiles and snares of the devil, who can capture our eyes, tongues, or hands and put them to sinful use almost before we know what’s happening (Prov. 1.17).

Our sanctification also requires daily, deliberate effort on our parts to tame the members of our bodies and make them obey the way of righteousness. We must bridle our tongues for grace and edification (Col. 4.6; Eph. 4.29). We must teach our eyes to discern true beauty and goodness, and to eschew all that is wicked or worthless. We must insist that our bodies make time for spiritual disciplines, and wean them away from squalid and squandering ways. We must yield our strength to the work of loving God and our neighbors in every area of our lives.

The taming of our bodies is our part in the work of sanctification. But we can only tame our bodies for good to the extent we store up goodness in our hearts (Lk. 6.45). And this can only come by setting our minds on Jesus, and considering Him in all His beauty, goodness, majesty, power, and truth (Col. 3.1-3; Heb. 3.1; 12.1).

If we will be faithful to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, then God, Who is at work within us, will show us His glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4.6), and grow us in His grace in new, exciting, wondrous, and glorious ways. His grace, refracted through us, shines the light of Christ’s love on the people to whom He sends us every day.

Colum Cille struggled to subdue his body all his life, and he was the holiest man of his day. He and those who associated with him became the means for many to enter the Kingdom of God – ladders, as Dallán elsewhere wrote, into the heavenly city.

Should we settle for anything less?

Psalm 5.7, 8 (O Jesus, I Have Promised)
O Lord, Your lovingkindness escorts me in this place.
I bow before Your highness and praise Your glorious grace!
In righteous ways You guide me; Your pathway I will know.
No good will be denied me as I with Jesus go.

Teach me to be holy, O Lord, and give me the strength and focus to discipline my body for righteousness!

The Disciplined Life

If you’re serious about improving your practice of the disciplines of Christian life, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I’ll send you our seven-part ReVision series, “The Disciplined Life.”

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Clancy and Márkus, p. 111.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore