After I first became a Christian, when I would become convicted of some sin, I’d make a commitment never to do that again…and of course, fall flat on my face. So I began to think making a commitment was not the way to go about it and was, in fact, setting oneself up for failure. And since it is better not to make a vow than to vow and not fulfill it, I began to just pray that the Lord would help me not to do that particular thing.
But Jerry Bridges makes a compelling argument for making commitments against sin in the chapter “The Discipline of Commitment” in his book The Discipline of Grace. For one thing, in Scripture we see people like Job (“I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” Job 31:1) and Daniel (“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank” Daniel 1:8) do so.
But before we get into making specific commitments against specific sins, we’re called to commit ourselves totally to the Lord. Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Bridges says, “When we commit ourselves to the pursuit of holiness, we need to ensure that our commitment is actually to God, not simply to a holy lifestyle or a set of moral values” (p. 148).
Also, “We should not seek holiness in order to feel good about ourselves, or to blend in with our Christian peer group, or to avoid the sense of shame and guilt that follows the committing of persistent sin in our lives. Far too often our concern with sin arises from how it makes us feel” (p. 149). And we need to guard against being “more vexed at the lowering of our self-esteem than we are grieved at God’s dishonor” (p. 149).
Plus, our commitment should not but just to avoid sin, but to pursue Christlike virtues. Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”
Psalm 119:106 says, “I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.” Bridges quotes Stephen Charnock as saying, “Frequently renew settled and holy resolutions. A soldier unresolved to fight may easily be defeated” (p. 151). “If you do not commit yourself to the pursuit of holiness in these specific areas of your life, you will find a tendency to vacillate in the face of these temptations” (p. 159).
Perhaps the hardest thing for me in this chapter was Bridges’ consistent urge to allow no exceptions. “If we do not make such a commitment to obedience without exception, we will find ourselves constantly making exceptions” (p. 153).
But how can we do such a thing? Bridges says one way is by intention. “Is it our intention to please God in all our actions?” (p. 152). He quotes William Law as saying that our lack of holiness often is due to a lack of intention. Law goes on to say, “This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of divine grace, or that it is in our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the [lack] of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace, we should have power to avoid” (p. 153). Or as I saw quoted somewhere else recently, “Drift is almost always away.” When we don’t have a daily intent to please God in everything, we’re going to find ourselves allowing those things that don’t please Him.
What about grace? Doesn’t this all sound a little legalistic?
“Is God really this strict?” Yes…because he cannot compromise His holiness the least bit. His goal is to conform us to the likeness of His Son, and Jesus was completely without sin, though He was tempted every way we are (Hebrews 4:15). No, we cannot, or perhaps will not, keep these commitments perfectly, but keeping them perfectly should at least be our aim. In a battle, some soldiers will always be hit, but every one of them makes it his aim not to be hit. To have a lesser aim would be the height of folly. (p. 160).
“It was in view of God’s mercy that Paul urged the Romans, and us today, to commit our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (p. 160). Paul had spent the preceding 11 chapters of Romans detailing God’s grace in the gospel. Bridges has several paragraphs, too long to repeat here, bringing out some of the truths of grace from the first part of Romans.
“It is this mercy that is reveled to us in the gospel and that we believers have experienced that is the ground for our commitment. Such a commitment as Paul called for would indeed be a legalistic and oppressive commitment if it were not grounded in love. And the only way Paul would stir up our love is to remind us of God’s love for us, revealed through His mercy and grace. What Paul asked for from us is only a response of love and gratitude, which expresses itself in loving commitment (p. 161).
God provides the grace for the commitment He calls us to (Romans 6:11-14, Hebrews 4:15-16). We need to remind ourselves of the gospel frequently not just to cleanse our consciences, but to reaffirm our commitment to Him as a response of love and gratitude (p. 162-163).
On a personal note…in the course of reading this chapter, I became convicted of a bad driving habit. You wouldn’t think to look at me that I’d be guilty of “road rage,” and as a general rule I am not an angry driver, but when other drivers do something particularly dumb that impacts me, I can get pretty hot under the collar. Just recently I had been stuck behind not one but two different pokey drivers on roads where I couldn’t pass, and I was in danger of being late for church, so when the second one finally turned off the road, I gunned the engine and veered around him before he was totally turned. Then I noticed a car behind me, and hoped it wasn’t someone from church…but it was (and interestingly, after this incident, Bridges shared a very similar one, driving the conviction even deeper.) I always feel guilty about these incidents and think, “I really shouldn’t react that way.” But while reading this chapter I began to feel that I should go further than that. I made a commitment that, God helping me, I would not react in anger while driving for several reasons: It’s dangerous (I could hit someone else while angrily reacting), it is a poor testimony to the driver I’m reacting to as well as anyone watching, and it is not demonstrating the self-control that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, I’ve been tested on this about 3 times since then…but God has used the commitment, or intention, to remind me and help me not to respond in a fleshly way. Bridges urges us to make a general commitment as well as commitments in specific areas….I think if I did that I’d have a very long list to work on, but this is a start.
“The Discipline of Commitment” is the 9th chapter in the book The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, which we’re discussing every Thursday in the “Reading Classics Together” challenge at Challies‘ place. More discussion on this chapter is here. I had to miss Thursday, but wanted to go through the chapter anyway for my own edification.