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Godliness And Sanctification Through Discipline

Godliness And Sanctification

Through Discipline


Practical guide to spiritual growth

There is usually only one difference between Christians who are not making progress in sanctification and those who are, namely lack of perseverance and discipline, the will to really apply themselves to it. Although God chose to work through the Bible and our own efforts, He must get all the credit for our spiritual growth. “… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Phil 2:12,13).

Sanctified Christians repent their sinful conduct and choices, and are disappointed if their prayers to commit fewer sins are not heard. The fact is that we must do more than just pray.

True conversion in respect of our conduct will bring spiritual growth, and this involves three things:

  1. Renewal of the mind
  2. Disciplined practice
  3. Substitution of the wrong with the opposite right


1. Renewal of the mind

Conversion lies in thinking differently about sin. Conversion is a decision of the mind. (Thus it is that conversions which take place during emotionally charged church services seldom endure.) God wants us to change ‘by the renewing of your mind’. (Rom 12:2).

This can happen only when we continuously think about God’s Word. ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16). We must thus continuously memorise and ponder on the Word, and we can use song as an aid in this.

From Proverbs 4:23 we can deduce that we shall act in a holy manner only when we continuously think in a holy manner. We must take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). We must replace sinful thoughts (wrong motives, selfishness, without God) with thoughts of justice, thankfulness and faith in God. It helps if you prepare and memorise thoughts on God and Jesus in advance, so that when the sinful thoughts surface, you can actively redirect your mind and think of God. This often calls for strong willpower and hard work, at the cost of your feelings.

Every time we choose to exchange a thought for a more Biblical one, we renew our thinking process. Before long, you will find the Biblical thoughts coming more naturally, and Biblical choices occurring more and more easily.


2. Disciplined practice

1 Timothy 4:7 (NIV) tells us: ‘…train yourself to be godly.” The Amplified version translated it as: ‘Keep yourself spiritually fit.” This is not a recommendation or a request, but a commandment! In other texts God says very clearly: “Be holy as I am holy“, and “… be complete as I am complete“.

We shall never attain completeness in this life, but we must make daily progress along this path. Out entire life must be attuned and organised to this end. We must live and think and speak and act in such a manner that we make step-by-step progress along the path. Many people however find that although they really would like to live like this, they don’t walk this path because they continue to fall back into old habits and thought patterns.

This can be changed through hard work, discipline and sustained daily effort, with the help of the Holy Spirit and trust in the power of Jesus. In the course of time it will come naturally, like driving a car – which after the initial learning phase, becomes “second nature”. When you start trying to control your thoughts, you find yourself having to exercise strong willpower. Later, when the sins concerned have come under control, it becomes crystal clear to you that you have received Supernatural Help, and actually contributed but little yourself. There is only one Supernatural Power that can conquer sin, and that is God.

If (1) your life is attuned to holiness, (2) the objective will constantly be in your thoughts, and (3) you will be able to discipline yourself (4) on a daily basis.

A number of texts tell us that sin is no more than a habit that has not been broken or overcome. “Some people are still so accustomed to idols...” (1 Cor 8:7), “… as some are in the habit of…” (Heb 10:25), “… if you rescue him (a hot-tempered man), you will have to do it again.” (Pro 19:19), “…accustomed to doing evil.” (Jer 13:23), “… they are experts in greed…” (2 Pet 2:14).

Sinful habits are learned just like other habits are learned. They can also be shaken off, with effort, just as one learns to ride a bicycle, initially with wobbles and some falls, but later without error. In the same way, we acquire spiritual power by practising the habit of distinguishing between good and evil (Heb 5:14).

The ability to acquire a habit is thus there – in the past it has just been used the wrong way round. The Word says it can also be used the right way round.

Jesus’ command is very clear: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). Taking up the cross means that you must go to a place of the dead, a place where old habits are going to be killed, a self-denial – you now live differently from the way you would have lived. The cross is the instrument with which you will kill the old habit. It is thus the killing of your old human way of doing things, the old pattern, the old habits that were acquired prior to your conversion. And just as these old habits were learned, so new ones can and must be learned.

In Jay Adam’s book, Godliness through Discipline, he gives advice on how to carry out this command of Jesus, in three steps:

1. Self-examination
Examine your every thought, your every characteristic, and determine if it is God-orientated. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of this, and He is painfully trustworthy in it.

2. Crucifixion of the old habit
This means saying ‘No’ every day, and actively combating the pattern.

3. Follow Christ
Through the guidance and power that the Spirit gives through the Word, He makes it possible to follow Christ. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act, according to His good purpose.” (Phil 2:13).

It takes at least three weeks of vigorous daily input to be able to practise a new habit with ease. And a further three weeks to make an established pattern of it. If it is important enough for you to acquire this new habit, you will persevere and do it. We can continue on our own until we learn to ride a bicycle, but we cannot continue alone in sanctification. Here, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us – the same Holy Spirit that guided David, Peter, John and Paul.


3. Replace the evil with the opposite good

In Ephesians 4:17-32 Paul explains this important matter in very practical terms. It is mentioned again and again that when one sin is overcome, the gap must be filled with the opposite good characteristic to prevent the old sin from returning with another seven even worse sins (Luke 11:26).

Refer to the texts in Ephesians 4:

  1. Verses 17-19 as against verse 20: heathen life compared with Christ
  2. Verse 22 as against 23,24: sinful old person compared with the new person
  3. Verse 25: lies compared with the truth
  4. Verse 26 as against 27: do not give the devil a foothold
  5. Verse 28: stealing as against work
  6. Verse 29: unwholesome as against helpful speech
  7. Verse 31 as against 32: anger as against compassion

Take note: It always refers to ceasing the one form of conduct and its replacement with the opposite good.

To combine the above three points, study the following table, from Stuart Scott, The Exemplary Husband, Focus Publishing, USA.

Sinful Thoughts to Replace
Put Off
I need to stop…
Put On
I need to start…
I need to practise when…
I need to renew…
Where Temptation Begins
I need to avoid…
Being angry Being gentle and self-controlled I am very tired “This is my time to rest and relax!” A lack of sleep
Speaking mean words Speak with words that edify The children are disobedient “I can’t handle this!” Being slack in training my children
Raised voice
Harsh tone
Gentle tone of voice I need to do something and I’m being hindered “Leave me alone! I can’t do anything anymore!” Over-committing myself
Angry face Kind face Someone sins against me “How dare they!” Expecting good treatment and respect
Ps 37:8
Eph 4:31
Prov 29:11a
1 Thess 2:7
Eph 4:29
Prov 29:11b


Also use the “Spiritual Breathing” of Campus Crusade (slightly adapted here) to get rid of the evil and adopt the good:


Breathe out

  1. Examine your thoughts and deeds until the Holy Spirit reveals something specific. Agree with God that this sin (name it) is wrong in God’s eyes and saddens Him. The sin is against God in the first place and your fellow people in the second place.
  2. Acknowledge that you have already been forgiven on the grounds of Jesus’ death
  3. Resist it in repentance by saying “No” every day and actively fighting the habit.


Breathe in

  1. Replace this sin with the opposite habit that leads to sanctification.
  2. Believe that the help of the Holy Spirit is available to you in acquiring new habits.
  3. Be strengthened in this through prayer, study of the Scriptures and reflection.


Breathing is an ongoing action: it must be done every day. Be warned, also, that you will always have to be vigilant that the old sins don’t return.

It is possible to win! No sin is too great – just get started!


From: Toucstone of Sincerity @

  • Posted by Charl Coetzee
  • on July 15, 2014
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