The term “habit” refers to a settled or regular tendency or practice.23 It can be used in a negative way in reference to bad habits, such as ignoring people when they’re talking and consistently failing to do what one has promised. We say, “he/she has the bad habit of never following through”; in Paul’s language such as person has a habit of being “unfaithful.” But the term “habit” can also be used in a positive way, in reference to good exercise habits as well as good eating habits and a host of other attitudes and practices. Obviously we want to develop the latter and forsake the former. For here we are talking about building good habits and practices into our lives. We are talking about forsaking the acts of the flesh and cooperating with the Spirit in his quest to transform us. It is largely through “habits of holiness” that the Spirit transforms us.24 But you may ask, where is this truth taught in Scripture? Let’s look at two passages:
6:7 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, 6:8 because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 6:9 So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.
1:22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 1:23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 1:24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 1:25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.
Habits of holiness or spiritual disciplines as they are sometimes called, are not, however, the mere product of human strength and desire. Godly habits are initiated, carried on, and matured through the sanctifying work of the Spirit who indwells us. They are the fruit of the Spirit, but they are worked out in our lives—not as erratic psychological and sudden impulses, but growing, settled dispositions and attitudes, showing forth and leading to the transformation of character. We are to cooperate with the Spirit in striving to see these traits developed in us.
Paul is very clear about why we discipline ourselves to live out certain godly habits. There is a goal. It is not just drudgery, as one author put it.
4:7 But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness (Γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν). 4:8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 4:9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 4:10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 2:12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
Thus the reason we develop and struggle with habits of holiness is to cooperate with the Spirit in the development of a holy and Christ-like character—”godliness” as Paul refers to it here. In short, this is what the grace of God aims at, as Titus 2:11-12 makes clear. Further, the quest for godliness and Christ-like virtues, through the practice of the disciplines, is the only logical response to God’s mercy and grace (cf. also Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 7:1).
When we refer to the “world,” we are not thinking about people only, but rather sinful habits, relationships and systems which fallen people erect in opposition to the will, works, and ways of a holy God. The world system, which lies in the lap of the evil one, is often used by him to lure and arouse us to sin. We are to realize that the death of Christ is God’s judgment on unregenerate man’s sin and sinful systems. We are to have no part in it, lest we become a “friend of the world and an enemy of God” (James 4:4). But note, we are not talking about ceasing relations with non-Christian people (1 Cor 5:9-10). God, just like he showed us in Christ, wants us to be in the world as salt and light, just not of the world, lest we lose our saltiness and no longer be any good to the Master (1 John 2:15-16)..
The “flesh” in Scripture is used several times to indicate “physical flesh,” “frail humanity,” etc., without necessarily referring or alluding to, sinfulness. But it is also used numerous times by Paul to refer to that fallen power living within us, that anti-God impulse that powerfully drags us down into sin. In fact, the “flesh” lusts against the Spirit in order to bring us into bondage to the reign of sin and death. Paul makes several very derogatory comments about the flesh in Romans 7. He says that nothing good lives in him, that is, in his flesh (7:18); that it rears its ugly head right at the point that he would do good (7:21), and that it is so powerful that it is as a law to him (7:23). The good news is that the flesh with its desires and lusts has been crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6).
The Devil is a personal, spiritual being (a fallen angel) who tempts the saints to sin. He uses the propensity of the flesh and the evil in the world to harden our hearts and lead us astray. Some sins he is particularly famous for inciting, include: (1) the sin of pride, leading to divisions of all sorts among God’s people, and (2) the damning sin of changing the gospel and /or detaching it from a lifestyle which adorns it. He also works strenuously with non-Christians in order to blind their minds to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor 4:4).
We are told in Scripture that God has crucified the flesh with its desires and lusts. Now, insofar as the flesh was the touch point for temptation and sin, he has thus freed us from sin’s reign (Rom 6:4-5). The saints, quickened by the Spirit and armed with the sword of the Spirit and faith in Christ must daily resist Satan. James promises us that if we do resist the Devil, he will flee (James 4:7-8). And, because he who lives in us is greater than he who lives in the world, we have victory over the Devil and the evil, rebellious systems he sponsors. Some of the primary means by which the Spirit gives us victory over the three enemies of the world, the flesh, and the Devil, include: (1) the Spirit of God; (2) the word of God, and (3) the people of God.
Our objective in this section is simply to outline some habits of holiness, not to delve into them in great detail. We will do that later. For now it is sufficient simply to mention them and include a few brief comments.
The habit of holiness that the Spirit wants to lead us into here involves an understanding of the sufficiency, authority, clarity, and necessity of Scripture through regular and meaningful exposure to the Word he inspired. His goal is to deepen our pleasure in God’s word and give us an ability to rightly understand and apply it. He wants to train us to consistently turn there to nourish our souls, orient our lives under Christ’s Lordship, and equip ourselves for fruitful ministry (2 Tim 3:14-17). We will seek to develop a regular and systematic intake of God’s word including reading, hearing, studying, meditating, and applying the Bible.
Through prayer we enjoy vital communion with God. To pray consistently is a habit of holiness. We strive to pray and the Spirit works the virtue of faithfulness and godly desire in us. He must enable us to see our dependence and total need to be with the Father. The disciple of Christ needs to understand, then, the necessity of prayer and its relation to growth in the Christian life and fruitful ministry in Christ’s name. He/she also needs to appreciate the power of prayer by praying and watching God answer according to his will and in his timing. Most importantly, as a habit of holiness, the disciple will need to understand that prayer, like any discipline or habit, must be developed and strengthened. Therefore, the maturing disciple of Christ will seek to invest consistent time in prayer, to pray relying on the Spirit, and to pray according to a pattern (Matthew 6:9-13).25 We are urged to pray in all circumstances and to make this a habit. We are also urged to make daily prayer a habit of holiness in our lives.
Worship is the natural expression of the regenerate heart. It involves love and single minded devotion to God and is as natural and necessary in the spiritual life as breathing in the physical life. Indeed, where there is physical life, there is breath; where there is spiritual life, there is worship. All of our lives are to be seen in the context of the service and sacrifice of the worship of our tenderhearted Father, “Abba” as Paul refers to him (Gal 4:6). It involves a Scripturally informed recognition and a Spirit wrought, settled disposition concerning the worthiness of God. He alone is to be joyfully worshiped and exalted. The Christian is to persevere in the discipline of worshiping God alone, for this is a habit springing from a holy heart and one that is clearly led by the Spirit.
The habit of holiness referred to as the Quiet Time is related to, but distinct from prayer and Bible reading. Both of them can be done without a set time each day to be with God, but both of them are integral to a meaningful Quiet Time.
The quiet time involves living with intention in a “hurry-up” world. It is the habit of quieting your soul before God for an extended period of time (more than just saying a prayer or reading a verse). People who lack virtue can never be quiet long enough for they are at odds with themselves and the world. They often lack the Spirit inspired virtue of inner peace and to come before a holy God is a troublesome (meddlesome?) thought. This habit, however, is designed, after the model of Jesus himself who often withdrew alone to be with God (Mark 1:35). In these “quiet times” we receive grace from God’s presence, clarity of calling, a sense of commission, and new found perspective and strength. Therefore, we are going to develop a plan in order to sit at the Master’s feet each day.
Fasting food and other good and necessary things is an excellent discipline that, when done out of love for God and animated by the Spirit, develops the Christ-like virtue of temperance and self-control. We do not do it—or any of the habits of holiness, for that matter—in order to gain favor with God, but rather as an expression of our love for him and our desire to remain free from idolatry. We also do it in times of major decisions because we want to experience our dependence on God in the process of seeking guidance. And, since character is key to receiving and understanding God’s guidance, fasting helps in this regard. Again, a regular habit of fasting develops the excellent virtue of self- restraint. The Spirit uses it in order to transform us.
Jesus describes his life as that of a willing and obedient servant (Mark 10:45). If we call him Lord and Master, we too must follow in his path as willing and obedient servants. By the power of the indwelling Spirit, we must strive to nurture the virtue of others-centeredness and service. Let us become known as other-centered “givers” and not self-centered “takers.” I am not saying that it is always wrong to receive; it certainly is not. But, let us also be known as those who consistently make a contribution.
Our lives should not only be characterized by an overall servant attitude, but they must also be characterized by service in specific areas—areas consistent with the gifts the Sovereign Spirit has willed to give us. We serve others in a variety of ways, but we also strive to develop our spiritual gifts in order to better serve the body in specific roles. The habit of serving others in a general fashion, as well as specifically through our Spirit given gift(s), stems from and nurtures the virtues of humility, wisdom, and conscientiousness.
Christ-like disciples realize and value the fact that they have not been called to be lone rangers, but instead to interrelate within the body of Christ. They have been called to loving, nurturing relationships that transcend spiritual gifts and are given by God for encouragement, protection and discipline. Thus we are to learn to make deep and satisfying relationships—through wise transparency—for it is in this context, i.e., being rooted and grounded in love (a love that is increasingly knowledgeable about its object) that we personally grow in Christlikeness, encourage others to do the same, and come to understand the breadth and profundity of Christ’s love for us (Eph 3:14-20). Thus, it is both a responsibility and blessing to share all things in common with God’s people. Therefore, the virtuous Christian seeks to fellowship with other Christians on a regular basis, opening his/her life to trusted friends, expectant about what God wants to do through them by way of love, encouragement, rebuke, and instruction (Rom 15:14).
The consistent discipline of sharing the gospel is foundational in the Christian life and is a key expression of the virtues of faithfulness, wisdom, and thankfulness. Therefore, the virtuous Christian makes it a habit to be sharing the gospel with various people, doing it with graciousness and love and in a variety of ways suitable to the circumstances. Thus a maturing disciple of Christ has a clear understanding of what the gospel is and what it is not. Further, he/she has experienced the gospel’s life transforming power and are constantly learning new methods for sharing it. They have disciplined themselves to search the scriptures so as to give careful answers in evangelistic discussions. They have a habit of thinking through the gospel and its relationship to unbelievers.
Another key “habit of holiness” is the spiritual discipline of “giving.” Again, the Christian virtue of graciousness, others centeredness, mercy, and faithful stewardship of all that God has entrusted to a person, come into play here. Very few activities in the Christian life demonstrate and unveil the true heart of a person more than his/her willingness to freely give of their time, money, and resources to see another person helped, encouraged, sustained and strengthened. Indeed, very few disciplines more clearly demonstrate a person’s command of the gospel—and its control of them. Giving of ourselves, our money, time, etc. is to be a foundational attitude, virtue, and practice in the Christian life. It is generated by thankfulness for Christ’s grace and mercy, exercised in holiness (i.e., we are to give freely and not to hold people in our debt), and consistently practiced according to godly wisdom (2 Cor 9:6-8).
The normal way in which God develops holiness in and through us is as we, by the Spirit, establish “habits of holiness” in our lives—habits that reflect the godly virtues found in Christ himself. The “bread and butter” of spiritual growth, then, is the development of Christ-like character through the heartfelt, sincere, and ongoing practice of certain God-centered disciplines (Gal 5:22-24). These disciplines do not exhaust Christian responsibility, but are a Scripturally oriented, practical response to the grace of God in our lives (Titus 2:11-12). Some of the most important include the disciplines of worship, the word, prayer, quiet time, fasting, serving and intentionally using our spiritual gift(s), sincere and truthful fellowship, evangelism, and giving.
1. Before you studied this lecture, what did you perceive Christian growth to be? Was it more mystical? Less ethical?
2. Define a habit and relate this to Galatians 6:7-8.
3. What are the three sources of struggle and temptation in our lives? How important then is it to know ourselves well and the schemes of Satan? Can we live well in the world and not think about the relationship we sustain to it?
4. In a couple of sentences each, define the various “habits of holiness.” Think about how you could practice each one. Applications will very greatly from person to person.
5. How is the practice of the spiritual disciplines or “habits of holiness” related to growth as a Christian? Do they automatically cause us to grow? How are they related to the Spirit’s ministry of transformation (2 Cor 3:18; Gal 6:7-8)?
23 The Oxford Dictionary of Current English.
24 Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 5:21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice [i.e., habitually do] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!
25 We are not to repeat this prayer, necessarily, though if done with understanding and love for God that is fine. But really the prayer Jesus outlines is a model of how to pray, beginning with a recognition of the holiness of God and a seeking after his kingdom, and then followed with requests for others and ourselves.