We are clear that salvation is by grace through
faith. But that does not mean that believers should allow
passivity to set in. Grace meets us where we are but is
not content to let us remain as we are; it moves us to be
transformed to be like the Lord Jesus. Grace is God
acting in our life to enable us to do what we cannot do on
our own. Paul, in Philippians 2:12, urged the believers to
continue to work out their salvation with fear and
trembling, for it is God who works in them to will and to
act according to His good purpose. This is in line with
the above principle. Grace is not contrary to discipline;
in fact, grace is closely tied up and bound up with
discipline (Titus 2:12).

The apostle Paul, in his ministry wrote,
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching
everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present
everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor,
struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully
works in me.”
Colossians 1:28-29

The aim of the Christian life is crystallized by the
apostle –it is to present everyone perfect in Christ. Paul
labored and struggled to effect this in the believer’s life;
this speaks of discipline, diligence and moral effort.
Nonetheless, Paul made it clear that the energy that
powerfully worked in him was not his own but it came
from the Holy Spirit of God.

The apostle also expected the believers to do the
same for the spiritual formation in their lives. He
exhorted the believers,

“….put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires …put on the new self
created to be like God in true righteousness and
Ephesians 4:22-23

Putting off the old self and putting on the new self
require moral effort and diligence, albeit, in dependence
on the Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we put off and
put on. This means that we continually, in fellowship
with the Holy Spirit, being conscious of His presence in
our lives, co-operate with Him and look to Him for His
enabling to deal with the negative aspects of the old self,
as He brings them to our awareness. Likewise, as He
prompts us to pursue certain positive aspects of the new
self, we need to be obedient to His guidance and
teachings. Essentially, this is what walking in the Spirit
means in actual outworking. Ignoring the Spirit and
grieving Him, and seeking to live by our own wisdom
and understanding would be walking in the flesh. Those
who walk in the flesh cannot please God, for the ways of
the flesh are contrary to the ways of the Spirit and they
will lead to spiritual death.

The apostle James urged believers to be doers of
the word and not just hearers only (James 1:22). Grace is
certainly not opposed to moral effort and moral action; it
is opposed to earning merit and the pursuit of legalism.
The apostle Peter, although he had no doubt about
God’s grace in the believers’ salvation, wrote:
“…make every effort to add to your faith
goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to
knowledge self control; and to self control
perseverance; and to perseverance godliness; and
to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly
kindness love.”

2 Peter 1:5-6

There is no doubt that spiritual formation involves
discipline. It requires effort, diligence, labor and action
but it is done in dependence on God and in reliance on
God’s Spirit. There is no room for self-reliance or human
effort and willpower. Spiritual formation and
discipleship invariably involve intentional action and
commitment on the part of the believers; it does not
happen automatically after conversion. It requires
cooperation with God to make it happen.


God has given His children the disciplines of grace
to facilitate their spiritual formation. These include Bible
study, prayers, worship, special time devoted to the
Lord, meditation and the like. Such disciplines help in
the renewal of the mind such that believers can think the
way God thinks and assimilate the values which come
from the Lord. They prevent His children from being
conformed to this world and being led astray by the
desires of the flesh and the deception of the evil one
(Romans 12:2).

The disciplines of grace also make the believers
available to encounter the presence of God and to
develop and nurture communion with the Lord. This is
essential in transformation and spiritual formation. The
Holy Spirit enables the believers to grow spiritually as
they discipline themselves in cooperation with God to
experience the transformation process in their lives. This
takes place not only personally but also collectively in
the church context. Lacking one of these, there can be no
wholesome transformation and spiritual formation in the
lives of individuals and the church.

At the church level, those in leadership must
endeavour to preach and to teach the Word with all
boldness and accuracy, covering the whole counsel and
purpose of God. As the Spirit enables, comprehensive
preaching and teaching contribute significantly to
spiritual formation and transformation in the life of the

In that light, what Paul wrote to Timothy is so
important for Christian leaders:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one
approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of

2 Timothy 2:15

Disciplines of grace are even more relevant in the
lives of leaders as they can influence many, rightly or
wrongly. Theology is very important, for right
understanding leads to right outworking and living. The
apostle James sounded out the sober warning:
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers,
my brothers, because you know that we who teach
will be judged more strictly”.

James 3:1

Collectively, the reverential approach to worship
and the observance of the sacraments (including the Lord
’s Supper and baptism), the life of prayer and fellowship
in Church-life – all these disciplines of grace help the
church to grow into the likeness of the Lord Jesus.
What is clear is that these disciplines of grace
personally and collectively require moral effort,
diligence and perseverance on a long-term basis. Noble
intentions are not enough if we are unwilling to exercise
effort and exertion.

Paul urged Timothy along this line:
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and
pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of
the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you
were called when you made your good confession
in the presence of many witnesses.”
1 Timothy 6:11-12

Paul himself declared:
“No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that
after I have preached to others, I myself will not be
disqualified for the prize.”
1 Corinthians 9:27

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the
pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
Galatians 4:19

We see the language of discipline, moral effort and
exertion coming through in all these passages in the
pursuit of godliness. Certainly, these do not describe a
picture of passivity and indifference, so rampant in the
lives of many of God’s people today. What is also
implied is a need for a significant investment of time in
such disciplines. We cannot expect much progress if we
just give snippets of time here and there in such an
important pursuit as this. We need to give priority to
invest much time in seeking to be disciples and in
making disciples!