The July 13 entry in The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day) is a helpful corrective for many of us Christians. We tend to overemphasize the work of “spiritual disciplines” or “spiritual formation” at the expense of the finished work of Christ—the sole basis on which we’re accepted by God. In which case, as it so often does, the Law rears its ugly head.
Please don’t misunderstand: While it’s hard to imagine how our souls can remain healthy if we long neglect the disciplines of daily prayer, Bible reading and study, and worship, among other Christian practices, they are not the center of gravity when it comes to the “work and rhythm of the Christian life.”
On the contrary, citing Jesus’ gospel proclamation in Mark 1:14-15 (“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”), a pastor named Curt Benham writes the following:
Christianity for many of us has come down to: “Just tell me what I have to do… Tell me the habits I must form in order to maintain my relationship with God.” We can run on spiritual disciplines for a while, but there’s eventually a breakdown between what it was meant for and what it has become.
That’s why Jesus’ words are so comforting… Jesus simply tells us this: repent and believe the gospel. This is the work and the rhythm of the Christian life.
Repentance really just means being honest about who you are. It means admitting there is a giant bedrock of self-centeredness that you can do nothing about. It means being aware of the fact that you’re really pretty into yourself, and you need help if anything’s going to change.
To believe the Gospel means to believe that help has arrived, that Jesus really is who he says he is and really did what he said he did… that, because of Jesus, you are loved and accepted by God, right now, as you are, and not as you should be. Rather than a repeated work through your week, we instead repeatedly return to a work that’s already been done on our behalf. Now there’s a Christians routine we can stick with![†]
The most important spiritual discipline is repeatedly “returning to work that’s already been done on our behalf.” I like that!
† The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day) (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird Ministries, 2013), 243.