Sailboat Spirituality

Do you sometimes have difficulty understanding or remembering who does what in our Spiritual maturation? We get that it is God who must make us alive to believe (regeneration), and that he gives us the gift of faith to believe, which leads to salvation (justification).  But then what?  Surely there is something we must do.  What about spiritual disciplines? But then, how does grace work? What does the Holy Spirit do?

I love the imagery Jared Wilson offers in his excellent book Gospel-Wakefulness:

As long as we are thinking of achieving the fruit of the Spirit by our own efforts to be more fruitful and joyful, we may be working in their direction, but we’re getting there by the sweat of our brow.  We’ve embraced rowboat spirituality.   But think of the obedient work of the Christian life like a sailboat.  There are lots of things to do on a sailboat. Sailors don’t just sit there – at least, not for too long.  There are lots of working parts on a sailboat and lots of things to pay attention to. But none of those things make the boat go.  The boat doesn’t go unless the wind catches the sail.

What we are picturing here is the work of the Spiritual Disciplines in conformity with the law of God found in Scriptures, not as the means of propulsion, but as the means of setting the conditions for Spiritual fertility. In obedience, we till the soil of our hearts so that they are more receptive for the planting and growth of the Word in our lives.  We obey both in response to the Spirit’s awakening us and in order to raise the sail for the Spirit’s movement.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5.25

Gospel-Driven Sanctification

by Jerry Bridges 

Early in my Christian life I heard someone say, “The Bible was not given to increase your knowledge but to guide your conduct.” Later I came to realize that this statement was simplistic at best and erroneous at worst. The Bible is far more than a rulebook to follow. It is primarily the message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, with everything in Scripture before the cross pointing to God’s redemptive work and everything after the cross–including our sanctification–flowing from that work.

There is an element of truth in this statement, however, and the Holy Spirit used it to help me to see that the Bible is not to be read just to gain knowledge. It is, indeed, to be obeyed and practically applied in our daily lives. As James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

With my new insight, I prayed that God would use the Bible to guide my conduct. Then I began diligently to seek to obey it. I had never heard the phrase “the pursuit of holiness,” but that became my primary goal in life. Unfortunately, I made two mistakes. First, I assumed the Bible was something of a rulebook and that all I needed to do was to learn what it says and go do it. I knew nothing of the necessity of depending on the Holy Spirit for his guidance and enablement.

Still worse, I assumed that God’s acceptance of me and his blessing in my life depended on how well I did. I knew I was saved by grace through faith in Christ apart from any works. I had assurance of my salvation and expected to go to heaven when I died. But in my daily life, I thought God’s blessing depended on the practice of certain spiritual disciplines, such as having a daily quiet time and not knowingly committing any sin. I did not think this out but just unconsciously assumed it, given the Christian culture in which I lived. Yet it determined my attitude toward the Christian life.

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Revised Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

As a young man – a teenager, really – Jonathan Edwards set down on paper a series of thoughts and practices to help cultivate growth in grace.  (See 2 Peter 3.18)  Edwards then re-read this list at least once a week to keep his mind focused and renewed.  The result: A man of humble godliness, who was to become a significant spark used to ignite one of the greatest revivals known to history.  Even many unbelieving scholars admit Edwards may have been the greatest mind to have been born on the North American continent.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards are still a practical and beneficial tool for spiritual cultivation.  But one problem for many is that the early 18th Century language makes it sometimes difficult to grasp what Edwards wrote.   I have taken it upon myself to attempt to translate Edwards’ meaning in hopes that these resolutions might be used by some who might otherwise feel discouraged by the archaic words.  And while I admit that there are a few of these resolutions that I cannot embrace, I will leave it to each individual to pick out anything that might seem worthy for adoption among his/her own personal resolutions.


Aware that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do pray that, by his grace, he will enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are in line with his will, and that they will honor Christ.

NOTE: Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved:  I will DO whatever I think will be most to God’s glory; and my own good, profit and pleasure, for as long as I live. I will do all these things without any consideration of the time they take.  Resolved: to do whatever I understand to be my duty and will provide the most good and benefit to mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I encounter, and no matter how many I experience or how severe they may be.

2. Resolved: I will continually endeavor to find new ways to practice and promote the things from Resolution 1.

3. Resolved: If ever – really, whenever – I fail & fall and/or grow weary & dull; whenever I begin to neglect the keeping of any part of these Resolutions; I will repent of  everything I can remember that I have violated or neglected, …as soon as I come to my senses again.

4. Resolved: Never to do anything, whether physically or spiritually, except what glorifies God.  In fact, I resolve not only to this commitment, but I resolve not to to even grieve and gripe about these things, …if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved: Never lose one moment of time; but seize the time to use it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved: To live with all my might, …while I do live.

7. Resolved: Never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved: To act, in all respects, both in speaking and doing, as if nobody had ever been as sinful as I am; and when I encounter sin in others, I will feel (at least in my own mind& heart) as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same weaknesses or failings as others.  I will use the knowledge of their failings to promote nothing but humility – even shame – in myself. I will use awareness of their sinfulness and weakness only as an occasion to confess my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved: To think much, on all occasions, about my own dying, and of the common things which are involved with and surround death.

10. Resolved: When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom – both of Jesus and of Believers around the world;  and remind myself of the reality of hell.

11. Resolved:  When I think of any theological question to be resolved, I will immediately do whatever I can to solve it, … if circumstances don’t hinder.

12. Resolved: If I find myself taking delight in any gratification of pride or vanity, or on any other such empty virtue, I will immediately discard this gratification.

13. Resolved: To be endeavoring to discover worthy objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved: Never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved: Never to suffer the least emotions of anger about irrational beings.

16. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except if it is necessary for some real good.

17. Resolved: I will live in such a way as I will wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved: To live, at all times, in those ways I think are best in me during my most spiritual moments and seasons – those times when I have clearest understanding of the gospel and awareness of the World that is to come.

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Appropriating the Justifying Work of Christ

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.

Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification. Below the surface, however, they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification….drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity…their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

~ Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life

10 Questions: Are You More Willing to Forgive Others?

Ephesians 4:32 exhorts us to forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Forgiveness is one of the hardest and most unnatural things we could be asked to do. But the more we become like Jesus, who forgave even those who nailed Him to the cross, the more we will be willing to forgive.

Last week I spoke with a hulk of a man wedged in the soul-vise of bitterness. He adamantly insisted that a mutual friend was not a Christian because of something our friend had done to him. When another man became involved in the same incident, he’d even prayed for God to change the man’s mind about it or to kill him. If he doesn’t choose to forgive, his bitterness will crush every tender shoot of growth that sprouts in his heart.

Are you still bitter at someone you were bitter toward six months ago? If so, then regardless of all your Christian activities, you have deceived yourself about having made any real spiritual progress during that time.

Have you forgiven any longtime hurts during the past year? If so, then you have made a measurable advance in Christian maturity.

– This post is 9 of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney.

10 Questions: Are the Disciplines of the Christian Life More Important to You?

Growth in godliness is ultimately a gift from God, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing for us to do. Regarding our role in spiritual growth, God has said in 1 Tim. 4:7 that we are to “discipline [ourselves] for the purpose of godliness” (NASB). As we engage in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, the Holy Spirit molds us more into the character of the Master.

Probably the most common reason for the lack of spiritual growth among Christians is inconsistency with the spiritual disciplines. We don’t grow in grace if we fail to use the God-given means for growing in grace.

It’s a simple fact: Those who grow the most and the fastest are those who place themselves in the channels of grace such as the intake of God’s Word, prayer, worship, service, evangelism, silence, solitude, journaling, learning, fasting, and so on.

– This post is 7 of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney.

10 Questions: Are You More Concerned With the Church and the Kingdom of God?

When we read Ephesians 5:25 —“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”—we say that husbands are to grow in their love for their wives toward the model of Christ’s love for the Church. But this verse also emphasizes that Jesus loved the Church, the people of God, so much that He died for them. The more we grow to become like Jesus, the more we will love His Church, too. We’ll be concerned with our local part of His Church and with the work of His Kingdom as a whole.

Christians who isolate themselves from the Church aren’t growing stronger by their isolation. They are like a body part that’s separated from the body.

In November of 1970 I tore the cartilage in my left knee during the last high school football game of the year. A doctor at Campbell’s Clinic in Memphis put my entire left leg in a cast. I couldn’t move it at all, so in a sense my left leg participated very little with the rest of my body. Even though I was at an age when my body was rapidly growing, the muscles in my left leg didn’t grow because they weren’t involved much with the rest of my body. In fact, those muscles atrophied, and it took a long time to build them back to a healthy condition. In the same way, the more we separate ourselves from participating in the life of the local Body of Christ and working for His Kingdom, the less we will grow.

– This post is 6 of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney.

10 Questions: Are You Governed by God’s Word?

Before we are made alive to God, we’re controlled mostly by what we want.  But after we become alive to Him, we have a new desire to be governed by His will. In other words, the true Christian has a new compulsion to do what God wants him to do. And that information is found in the Bible.

A classic text on the sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian is 2 Tim. 3:16-17 : “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Words like teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training are all growth-related words. When you are growing as a child of God, you can regularly point to how the Word of God has been teaching you, how it has reproved you for sin, how it has shown you how to correct mistakes in your life. And you can point to how the Bible has been training you to live in new ways God says are right.

I hear people who are moving forward in the things of God telling me how they are having new insights into the truth of Scripture, how God has used the Bible to give them direction for a career or ministry, how the Lord has reproved them about materialism or family failures or prayerlessness, and how He has corrected them.

Can you point to specific ways the Word of God has been doing this in your life during the past months? If so, you are growing in grace.

– This post is 4 of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney.

10 Questions: Are You More Loving?


The mark of a Christian is love, especially love for other Christians. “Dear friends,” urged the Apostle John, “let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God” (1 Jn. 4:7). If you are growing in love you are growing in grace.

I have a friend who, early in his Christian life, quickly and openly expressed his disgust with individuals and groups who disagreed with him theologically. But as he has grown in grace he has become more gracious. He is less frequently combative and angry with those to the left of his views, especially if they claim to love Christ.

Can you recall recent instances of Christ-like love in your life? Have there been occasions when you’ve sacrificed your own preferences, plans, or rights for those of others? These are mileposts on the journey in grace. Those stalled in selfishness are stuck spiritually.

– This post is 2 of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney

10 Questions: Are You More Thirsty for God Than Ever Before?

The writer of Ps. 42:1said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” Have you been thirsting for God like that? Is He your passion? If so, your soul-thirst is a sign of soul-growth.

Do you yearn to know Jesus Christ more and more intimately? In spite of all of his maturity in Christ, in spite of all he had seen and experienced, the Apostle Paul declared late in life, “I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:10 ). What was he talking about? Didn’t he already know Jesus better than most of us ever will? Of course he did. But the more he knew Jesus, the more he wanted to know Him. The more Paul progressed in spiritual strength, the more thirsty for God he became.

Is your soul thirsty for the Lord? Do you long to see Him face to face? Like a deer thirsting for water are you thirsting to be filled and saturated with God? That’s a sign of someone who’s growing as a Christian.

-This post is 1of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney

10 Questions to Ask to See If You Are Still Growing

How are you doing, Spiritually?

That is an important question. Scripture, by both direct and indirect statements, repeatedly encourages us to examine our hearts.  And while many are aware that it ought to be our regular practice to take a Spiritual pulse, I suspect that relatively few know how to read the gauges even if we try.

Consequently, if we are not sure what we are looking for, it follows that we are not always quite sure how to answer our opening question.  So, it seems, the typical response we might give, even to those who may genuinely care, is an awful lot like the responses we give to the stranger on the street, or the hotel clerk we see each morning on vacation, when they ask “How are you today?”

“Fine, thanks. And you?”

But this is too important a question to simply perpetuate the standard reflex responses.

Don Whitney, of The Center for Biblical Spirituality, provides us with a helpful tool that we can use in measuring our Spiritual health.  His article 10 Questions to Ask to Make Sure You Are Still Growing, is an excerpt of a short book by the same title.

Below I will provide Whitney’s Introduction, and list the 10 Questions.  In subsequent posts I will publish Whitney’s insights related to each question.  At the end of this series, let’s see how we are doing…


One of the early explorers to the North Pole charted his journey hourly to ensure that he stayed on course through the white wasteland. At one point a strange phenomenon began to occur. As he checked his position, his instruments indicated that even though he had been moving northward, he was actually farther south than he had been an hour before. Regardless of the speed at which he walked in the direction of the Pole, he continued to get farther from it. Finally he discovered that he had ventured onto an enormous iceberg that was drifting in one direction as he was walking in the other.

There is a world of difference between activity and progress. That is as true on a Christian’s journey toward the Celestial City of heaven as it is on a North Pole expedition. The Christian life is meant to be one of growth and progress. We are even commanded in 2 Pet. 3:18 , “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

How can we know that we are growing in grace—that we are making real progress and not merely deceiving ourselves with activity?

It’s often hard to recognize spiritual advance over a week’s time or maybe even a month’s time. Trying to determine the progress of a soul is like looking at the growth of an oak—you can’t actually see it growing at the moment, but you can compare it to where it was some time ago and see that there has indeed been growth. The following 10 questions can help you discern whether you are maturing spiritually. Use them to evaluate the past six to 12 months.

  1. Are you more thirsty for God than ever before?
  2. Are you more and more loving? 
  3. Are you more sensitive to and aware of God than ever before?
  4. Are you governed more and more by God’s Word?
  5. Are you concerned more and more with the physical and spiritual needs of others? 
  6. Are you more and more concerned with the Church and the Kingdom of God?
  7. Are the disciplines of the Christian life more and more important to you? 
  8. Are you more and more aware of your sin? 
  9. Are you more and more willing to forgive others?  
  10. Are you thinking more and more of heaven and of being with the Lord Jesus?