Faith, Works, and Discipline

Merely confessing to believe in Jesus may not indicate true faith.

The Goal of a Disciplined Life (1)

But I discipline my body and bring itinto subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.1 Corinthians 9.27 

Not without works
It is the consistent teaching of the Scriptures that Christian faith is not genuine until it comes to expression in good works. Jesus taught this (Matt. 7.20), as did the apostles Paul (Eph. 2.10), James (Jms. 2.14-17), John (1 Jn. 2.1-6), Peter (2 Pet. 1.5-11), and the writer of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 6.10-12; 10.24). Good works, works expressive of the resurrection life of Jesus, works across the board into every area of life, good works of love – these are the hallmark of all who have truly come to saving faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 13.35).

Merely confessing with our words that we believe in Jesus and hoping to go to heaven when we die, and perhaps confirming that by church attendance or other Christian activities, may indicate some true inward change, wrought by the Spirit of God (Gal. 4.1-6). But these may also indicate little more than outward conformity to familiar cultural practices or expectations – confessing Christ with our lips but, in reality, having hearts far from Him (Mk. 7.6, 7). 

If all we have to point to as validation of our salvation is some testimony of belief coupled with such minimal cultural requirements as attendance at church, then we may have reason to doubt our own profession, whether it is genuine and sincere. 

Thus Paul, seeing so many inconsistencies among the believers in Corinth, so little evidence of true and lively faith, challenged them to examine themselves: If there were no true works of obedience, holiness, and charity, then the “believers” there may well have been reprobate and without salvation (2 Cor. 13.5).

Practice, practice, practice
This is not to suggest for a moment that salvation is through good works; salvation is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. But genuine faith, Paul and all the apostles insisted, is unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2.8-10).

This being the case, it simply means that unless we practice our faith, by exercising the members of our bodies in specific acts of obedience, in every area of our lives, then we can have but slight assurance that we have any sincere faith in Christ at all. For faith must become visible through particular bodily acts – words spoken, kindnesses extended, help given, sacrifices endured, generosity expressed, and so forth. And our bodies, still to a large extent subject to the inward law of sin (Rom. 7.21-23), are by nature unable to complynaturally with the demands of faith. If we are to manifest those good works which are the evidence that Christ has risen from the grave, we shall have to bring our bodies into subjection and qualify them for service to the Lord in every area of life.

It doesn’t just happen
Hence, the need to discipline our bodies, each of the particular membersof our bodies, so that they learn the ways of the Lord and, increasingly, allow the convictions of our hearts to come to consistent expression in lives of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 

But this doesn’t just happen. If the apostle Paul had to “discipline” his body, working conscientiously and diligently to bring his bodily members into line with the demands of the Kingdom of God, then we may not expect anything other than this to be required of us as well. 

Disciplining our bodies, so that they are under the control of the indwelling Spirit of God, is a full-time calling for all who profess the Name of Jesus Christ. We may talk a good faith all we want, even, as Paul suggests, going so far as to preach it boldly and clearly. But unless our bodies are under the control of the Spirit, so that good works of love consistently issue from them, we will be disqualified – Paul’s word, not mine – from any true claim of saving faith.

Which makes careful, prayerful, ongoing, diligent work in disciplining our bodies a most important facet of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Is this a task easily accomplished? Hardly. There is much to do, and a lifetime of hard work to engage, day after day after day. We shall have to apply ourselves diligently, in a comprehensive manner, and with the eyes of our soul focused squarely on the Lord and His objective, if we hope to realize the promise of good works in the practice of our confession of faith in Christ.

A life qualified to serve Christ is a life under subjection to His rule. And such a life is only achieved through discipline. In this brief series on the goal of a disciplined life, we’ll take a closer look at what is necessary for us to bring forth the kind of good fruit for which our Lord has saved and sent us to the world (Jn. 15.5-7).

For reflection
1.  We’re not saved by good works, but we’re not saved without them. Explain.

2.  Paul says we need to reckonthe members of our bodies to be dead, so that they can be made fit for good works (Rom. 6.1-14). How does that work? How would you counsel a new believer to take up this discipline?

3.  Your Personal Mission Field is where God puts you each day and the people you meet there. Have you identified and begun working your Personal Mission Field? Watch this brief video, then download the worksheet and get started.

Next steps - Preparation: How would you describe the disciplines that guide your life at this time? Are you certain they’re the ones you ought to be pursuing? Talk with a Christian friend about these questions.

T. M. Moore

This study, The Goal of a Disciplined Life, is part 1 of a 7-part series that supports the course, Introduction to Spiritual Theology at The Ailbe Seminary. To learn more about this free course, watch this brief video. Then enroll at the website and register for the course.

If you value ReVisionas a free resource for your walk with the Lord, please consider supporting our work with your gifts and offerings. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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. 

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