Growing up in the church, the resounding exhortation I heard in youth group was, "do your quiet time!" Essentially, what the leaders were getting at was this: read the Bible, and pray consistently! And they're right–right? These are essential spiritual disciplines for all believers. However, I clearly remember the struggle to follow through. I would attend a youth conference and come home fired up. I would stick with a Bible reading plan for a few days or maybe even a few weeks. But then I would fail. Soon, my inconsistency in these spiritual disciplines caused me to question my salvation. In effect, I was using my faithfulness for assurance of salvation rather than wholly relying on God's faithfulness to His promises. I was missing the truth and beauty of the gospel that everything was accomplished in the person and work of Christ!
How many of us do this? We are saved by grace, but then we strive to live a God-honoring life apart from His grace. We distort the gospel by adding our own rules: believe in Jesus, go to church every Wednesday and Sunday, pray without ceasing, and read your Bible every day if you want eternal security. The additions can be so subtle. We know that obedience to God's Word is good (and it is!), but we elevate it to become the means of our salvation (it isn't!).
I did this for years. I knew I was saved by grace through faith in Christ, but I didn't live in light of that truth. Instead, I looked to spiritual disciplines for assurance of salvation. As a young believer, I didn't understand James 2:26 which says, "faith without works is dead" (CSB). I did not understand that obedience to God's Word is an expression of my salvation–a Spirit-produced byproduct of my faith and not part of the means. When we truly understand this, our perspective on spiritual disciplines changes. We understand that it takes effort to consistently study God's Word, but our failure to do it perfectly has no effect on God's acceptance of us. No matter where we are on our faith journeys, we must remember a few things:
Following the plan won't save you.
If you're like me, you're drawn to methodology. Looking back at various experiences in my life, I've seen great success when I carefully followed prescribed methods. If you closely follow a recipe, you're likely to get a successful end product, right? My perfectionist tendencies embrace step-by-step, seemingly fool-proof plans! But here's what I've learned: when it comes to spiritual matters, methodology doesn't save you. Methodology (in and of itself) doesn't foster intimacy or favor with the Lord. Methodology doesn't produce fruit in your life. Salvation and sanctification and multiplication are the work of the Lord. The mere act of sticking to a Bible reading plan will not produce lasting fruit in your life. Is the Bible living and active (Hebrews 4:12)? Yes. Will His Word go out and accomplish what the Lord wills (Isaiah 55:11)? Yes. But our human efforts cannot close the chasm between unrighteousness and righteousness. In response, may we believe in the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and trust in Him for righteousness. From there, may we cultivate a heart that is after holiness. May our desire to obey and glorify the Lord compel us to meditate on His precepts, all the while knowing that our spiritual disciplines won't save us. The Lord is faithful, and He will produce the fruit in us.
Don't believe a false gospel.
The truth is, looking to methodology to bring about God's acceptance and ensuing spiritual growth is a false gospel. Anything other than relying fully on the person and work of Christ is a false gospel. The Apostle Paul was adamant about this in his letter to the Galatians. He said, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!" (Galatians 1:8-9).
In this particular context, the Judaizers wanted to "distort the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7) by adding the law to the gospel. Instead of affirming that salvation was only by grace through faith in Christ, they proposed a false gospel by teaching the Gentile Christians that good works and Jewish cultural customs were also required for eternal security. Now, being far removed from this context by time and culture, we may find their proposition ridiculous. However, ask yourself these questions: have I ever looked to my obedience–my devotion–to feel presentable before God? Have I ever felt like I needed to read my Bible and pray in order to maintain my salvation? Have I ever felt like I needed to dress a certain way on Sundays (or passed judgment on someone who ignored the unwritten code)?
Legalism can be subtle and self-imposed, and it can be a way that we add to the gospel of Christ and distort it. And friends, legalism will never produce gospel transformation. Behavior modification is not gospel transformation. So instead of adhering to rules to find assurance of our salvation, may we recognize our inability to perfectly obey and go to the cross. May we preach the gospel to ourselves every day and fight against our tendency to forget that the work has already been completed by Christ.
It doesn't have to be quiet.
This doesn't mean we should not read God's Word, pray, observe God's good boundaries for our lives, and do good works. We absolutely should do all those things (and the other spiritual disciplines that are for our good and His glory). But the dynamic is different–obedience and discipline are proper responses to our salvation, not the means to our salvation. When we understand the gospel of Christ, our hearts, minds, and lives are transformed. In turn, there are very real implications of the gospel for our everyday lives. Grace should lead to obedience.
But I used to think quiet time had to look a certain way. It had to somehow be painful. You know, it had to be an hour before the sun was up, or it wasn't a real quiet time. It wasn't a time of prayer unless I was on my knees at the side of my bed. However, this misses the point. The beauty of quiet time is spending time in His Word. It's studying Scripture to learn more about who God is–His character and His mission. It's allowing our affection for Him to grow, and in turn, experiencing this greater affection changes how we go about our days. And all of this can happen at any point in the day. It can happen while you wash the dishes with your earbuds in and the audio Bible on. It can happen while you're nursing a baby in the middle of the night. It can happen in the carpool line. It can happen anywhere, at any time of day, with all varieties of conditions. It doesn't have to be quiet for you to have a quiet time. Is it helpful to have a block of time where it's quiet so you can focus and study a passage in depth? Yes. But is it impossible to meditate on God's Word without that kind of margin in your day? No. There are seasons of life, and the Word of God should have a distinct role in each one.
Rehearse the gospel daily.
No matter what kind of life season you're in, you are less likely to get into God's Word if you forget the gospel. If something is a duty, you will typically not want to do it no matter how much free time you have on your hands. The gospel reminds you that getting to know God through the study of His Word is a delight. His Word revives your soul (Psalm 19:7) and causes your heart to rejoice (Psalm 19:8). His precepts are more to be desired than gold and are "sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10). Don't forget that His grace that saved you is the grace that sanctifies you and empowers you to walk in holiness. The gospel is about grace, and this grace leads to obedience. When you forget about the gospel, you're more likely to forget about His amazing grace, and you'll be tempted to walk forward with a propensity to cheapen grace. We're in battle (Ephesians 6:12), so let's prepare accordingly every day. Always start with the gospel.
As we keep these gospel truths at the forefront of our minds, may we experience freedom in Christ. May we faithfully do our quiet times with the aim of communing with our Savior. And may we remember that His grace that saved us is also the grace that sustains us. We don't have to strive to live a God-honoring life apart from His grace! So, by His grace, may we remember that no matter our season of life, there are thousands of things competing for our affections and our time. May we daily meditate on the beauty of the gospel and the astounding grace of Christ, and may we remember that this grace is not without effect.