Book Review: “The Discipline of Grace” by Jerry Bridges

Title: “The Discipline of Grace”
Author: Jerry Bridges
Publisher: NavPress
ISBN: 9781576839898
Pages: 256
Release Date: April 28, 2006 (new ed.)
Rating: 4.5/5 (round down)
Purchase: Amazon.com, WTSBooks

In the opening pages of this book, Jerry Bridges states that this is a follow-up to two of his earlier works, The Pursuit of Holiness and Transforming Grace. The former deals with the responsibility we have in our spiritual growth, the latter looks at the necessity of living by grace and not our own efforts (13). Bridges writes this book to address any possible questions and confusions that may arise from what some may perceive to be a conflict between those two ideas. The message of this book is that both discipline and grace are necessary in our sanctification. God will not grow us without us, but neither can we grow ourselves without Him.

Thus a good deal of this book is spent refuting any perceived contradictions in the pairings of discipline and grace, love and obedience, dependence and discipline, indwelling sin and dominion of sin, so on and so forth. In my opinion, this is the book’s strength. Bridges works carefully to show that these are not opposites, but factors that now co-exist in the life of the believer. He draws together many passages of Scripture to make his point, and I feel he makes them well. One should not come away from this book without a clearer picture of the co-existence and necessity of discipline and grace in the life of a believer.

Some of the primary points made in this book are that a tendency toward legalism, or any undue focus on performance, is counteracted by a clear focus on the gospel. The gospel makes it very clear that from the outset of our salvation, any blessing we receive from God is not given based on merit, because we have no merit. The God that blessed us with justification will continue to be gracious to us in sanctification, giving us the ability and desire to fight our sins. The gospel reminds us that we fight sin out of love for the Father and a desire to be holy, not because we think He will bless us more. Chapters 1 to 3 deal with this issue, culminating in an excellent presentation of the gospel, but this idea is central to the book and drives the book through the remaining chapters.

I think the greatest drawback to this book is that it does not focus on the “why” or the “how” of living in grace-led discipline: Why is it important that our pursuit of discipline be fueled by grace? Why are discipline and grace not mutually exclusive? Why did God ordain that it be this way? And how do we live our lives in such a way that we live them by grace, and not by our own efforts? These questions are answered in Bridges’s book, but not to a great extent. As a result, the book is not much more than a collection of biblical truths. This is not a slight on the book, but simply my observation: it presents biblical truth, but without much application. The answer to the questions “How can I live by grace?” and “How can I love God more?” is simply, “Preach the gospel to yourself and pray.” Again, the answer isn’t wrong–it’s a correct and good and helpful answer! It’s just not particularly detailed.

These shortcomings are directly related to the purpose of the book. Says Bridges: “As I sought to relate the biblical principle of living by grace to the equally biblical principle of personal discipline, I realized that it would be helpful to bring these two truths together in one book. That is the purpose of this volume” (7). Quite likely, this book was never meant to be focused on the “why” and “how,” merely in defense of the truth that grace and discipline are both biblical principles. Bridges accomplishes that objective. I was simply hoping for more on how we can reconcile grace and discipline in our lives. This volume is perhaps not as helpful to one who already holds convictions  the necessity of both grace and discipline.

That is not to say that it is utterly unhelpful! Far from it. Despite my personal quibbles with Bridges’s style–it tends to meander, somewhat aimlessly–and despite the minor critique that it focused more on the “what” than the “why” and “how,” I still benefited from this book. It clearly demonstrates that discipline is the responsibility of every Christian, and can only be undertaken by God’s grace. Our failures, our stumbles into sin, are paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, which serves not as a license to sin but as a license from sin. This book reminded me of my need for prayer: I need to pray because I need a strength and a will that only God provides. For this, I am thankful. I recommend this book particularly to anyone who has questions about the co-existence of discipline and grace. If you are looking for a book on sanctification, I might first suggest Future Grace by John Piper, which I feel is just as solid in explaining the link between sanctification and grace, and is clearer on how we progress in sanctification while relying on God’s grace.

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