So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)
If you have ever been water-skiing or knee-boarding, you engaged in partnership with the power of the boat. You carefully positioned yourself behind the boat in the water, strategically held the rope, readied your body, and then gave a nod to the driver of the boat. And the boat pulled you out of the water and took you on a ride on the lake or bayou. You could not, no matter how much you desired or how hard you tried, ski in your own power. Only the boat could raise you. Only the boat could guide you and empower you to ride on top of the water.
Spiritual transformation, becoming more and more like Jesus, is very similar. Transformation is, as Kenneth Boa describes, divine-human partnership. We work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) as and because He works in us (Philippians 2:13).
Just as we can’t pull ourselves out of the water, we can’t transform ourselves. Only He has the power to mold us, to make us more like Himself. But we are commanded to put ourselves in a position for transformation to occur. This is why spiritual disciplines must be present in our lives. The disciplines, in and of themselves, do not transform us but they do put us in a position to be transformed.
Dallas Willard said, “grace is opposed to earning, not effort.” Fueled by God’s grace within us, the diligent practice of spiritual disciplines, put us in a posture of growing more in His grace through the power of the Spirit within us. The disciplines are grace-driven effort at work. Whether a public discipline such as worshipping with the church or a private discipline such as confessing sin or studying the Bible, these are structured activities the Spirit uses to move believers toward maturity.
Without the Spirit, without His grace, the disciplines are religious machinations, empty and powerless – much like attempting to ski without a boat.
As we move into a new year in a couple of weeks, I encourage you to evaluate the spiritual disciplines that are present in your life. Practicing spiritual disciplines is, in some sense, like telling the driver of the boat we are ready to go…ready to grow.