In his excellent book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges reflects on Titus 2:11-12 which says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” and writes these words which must provoke us to examine ourselves:
…salvation and spiritual discipline are inseparable. The grace that brings salvation to us also disciplines us. It does not do the one without the other. That is, God never saves people and leaves them alone to continue in their immaturity and sinful lifestyle. Those whom He saves, He disciplines. Paul said this another way in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
This thought is both encouraging and sobering. It is encouraging because it assures us that our spiritual growth is not left to our initiative, nor is it dependent upon our wisdom to know in which areas and in which direction we need to grow. Rather it is God Himself who initiates and superintends our spiritual growth. This is not to say that we have no responsibility to respond to Gods’ spiritual child-training in our lives, but it is to say that He is the one in charge of our training.
…At the same time this inseparability of God’s grace and spiritual discipline is a sobering truth. One has only to look around at Christendom, particularly in the United States, to see that there is a vast multitude of people who claim to have trusted in Christ at some time but do not seem to have experienced any of the discipline of grace. They may have walked an aisle, signed a card, or even prayed a prayer, but grace is not teaching them to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, let alone to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. Essentially, their lives are no different today than they were before they professed to have trusted Christ.
As I think of these people, I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 12:8, “If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” And Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). It is not those who have merely made a profession, but those in whose lives there is evidence of God’s Fatherly child-training, who are the inheritors of eternal life.
This sobering truth should be reflected upon by each of us. Is God’s grace disciplining me? The apostle Paul said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And the apostle Peter exhorted us to “be all the more eager to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Are you truly trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior as He is presented in the gospel that we studied?…Is there any evidence that you have died to the reign of sin through union with Jesus Christ? And is the grace of God at work in you to discipline or train you so that you are growing spiritually? If your honest answer is “no,” I urge you to come to Him believing His words that “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
Let me be clear at this point. We do not pursue holiness or the evidence of God’s discipline to attain salvation. That would be salvation by works. Rather, God’s discipline in our lives, and the desire to pursue holiness on our part, be it ever so faint, is the inevitable result of receiving God’s gift of salvation by faith. As Martin Luther is so often quoted as saying, ” We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”