Sometimes in church, we have this idea that in order to be a “good Christian” we need to regularly (and daily) practice the spiritual disciplines–prayer, reading the Bible, solitude, fasting, etc. However, this kind of motivation for “doing the disciplines” only focuses on conduct as a means to attain holiness, as if the sole purpose of the Christian life is to reach a lofty, elevated perch of sinlessness and right behavior that pleases God.

Though holiness is indeed a desire of God for all of us, the key to holiness and the goal of all spiritual discipline is actually intimacy–a deep love relationship with the Trinity. Holiness without intimacy with God will only lead to religiosity (and perhaps worse, hypocrisy), and practicing the spiritual disciplines without the goal of intimacy may just increase our spiritual pride in our own good works. Unconsciously, we may drift farther and farther away from our Lord, even as we dutifully engage in the disciplines. The spiritual disciplines can turn into a formula and a law that we bind ourselves to. We can imprison ourselves in these disciplines, forgetting that Christ has already set us free from the bondage of the law! (Gal 3:1-3)

When we have intimacy as the proper motivation for practicing the spiritual disciplines, our time spend in prayer, solitude, fasting, etc. becomes more of a joy and a divine embrace, and not a dry, tedious chore to be checked off. Rightly motivated, we lose track of our “spiritual accomplishments” as we fall more and more in love with Jesus, and we find ourselves immersed in His desire as we eagerly enter His presence every day.

If we portray the goal of Christian life as merely living out “right conduct” and obtaining heavenly rewards for our righteousness, we have reduced our faith to the level of every other earthly religion. Our salvation has never been about us being good or seeking to become better by our efforts. We are saved so that we can know our God!

And this is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. [John 17:3]

So, as we exhort and encourage one another to practice the spiritual disciplines, let us not imply that it is necessary so that we can become good and proper believers. Let us express clearly that these disciplines are for the purpose of encountering Him in intimate fellowship. As we draw closer to Him and behold His face, we will become like Him.

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