Lately I’ve picked up a number of books on biblical masculinity in preparation for a retreat I’ve been asked to speak at in early Spring. One book I’ve purchased and have been reading is The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits by Darrin Patrick. Without taking the time right now to give a review of the book, that’s not my purpose, I wanted to comment on a very helpful distinction Patrick makes in one of the chapters. It’s the distinction between trying and training.
There are many things that cannot be accomplished without training. You can try to do them but you won’t be able to do them if you’ve not been engaging in the discipline of training. For example, you may try to run a marathon but you won’t be able to, no matter how hard you try, if you haven’t been training for it. Spend six to twelve months training for it and you might be able to do it in a decent time. Running long distances requires the discipline of running on a fairly regular basis to build up your stamina. You may try to bench press 250 pounds but most men are not able to do that by simply walking into a gym one day and giving it a try. To get to the place where you can bench press 250 pounds normally requires the discipline of regular weight lifting to build up your strength. I may try to lose weight but, again, if I really want to lose weight and keep it off in the long term I must train to lose weight. I need to develop disciplines of exercise and proper eating.
So the point is there’s a big difference between simply trying and training. In the book Patrick gives this very helpful quote from John Ortberg, “Discipline is any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort”. That’s a great definition. By direct effort I can begin to train. I can run at least some distance. And as I continue to do what I can do now by direct effort, I’ll eventually be able to what I cannot do now by direct effort.
Now what we all need to understand, as Christians, is that the same is true when it comes to godliness. Paul writes to Timothy and he says in 1 Tim. 4:7, “Exercise yourself toward godliness”. Or it could be translated, “Discipline yourself toward godliness”. We grow in godliness, not merely by trying, but by training. Of course, as Christians we’re not left to ourselves in this. We’re not merely left to our own resources. We have the Spirit of God dwelling within us to enable us to do what we could never do of ourselves. However, at the same time progress is only gained in the context of spiritual discipline. We must train and not just try. This involves, for example, the regular use and the diligent application of ourselves to the means of grace. There are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts to godliness. There’s not some magic pill, some spiritual steroid. There’s not some second work of grace or some spectacular spiritual experience that we’re to hope for that will somehow suddenly catapult us into a new level of godliness. No, this is not the way God has ordained for His children to grow in godliness. We must discipline ourselves for godliness. We must develop the regular disciplines of prayer, bible intake, involvement in and faithfulness to the church, sitting under the ministry of the word, applying ourselves to it and taking it in, together with regular thoughtful, prayerful participation in the Lord’s Supper. These are the means of grace. Neglect the means or be careless in your use of the means and you won’t grow in godliness. Though you may try really hard, you must not only try, you must train. We must do it, yes, trusting that God is working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure and that united to Christ all of the resources of his grace are there for us. But from that perspective and in that confidence we also must work at it and train and discipline ourselves for godliness.
Increasing godliness and spiritual growth doesn’t come simply by trying. It’s the result of training and of the ministry of the Spirit who is promised to make that training progressively effectual in the heart and life of every true Christian. So are you trying for godliness or are you training for godliness?