I am currently making my third attempt to read The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. Ironically, I simply have not had the fervor or the perseverance the two previous attempts, but the old cliche proves true in this situation, as I am now approaching the end.
It has been a very challenging read on multiple levels. For one, it's about spiritual discipline... which by definition isn't easy.
It's also been difficult because theologically I am very uncomfortable with the idea that we progress in our sanctification through human effort- albeit sincere and pious. This is where I am more Lutheran: sanctification is growing in your understanding (and I would add experience) of your justification. So when Willard writes that we can become like Christ by doing things I am very hesitant to say the least.
However, when Willard provided a concise definition, I was very much in agreement:
"In the simplest possible terms, the spiritual disciplines are a matter of taking appropriate measures. To reject them wholesale is to insist that growth in the spirit is something that just happens all by itself."
In more Reformed terms, spiritual disciplines are God's ordained means of sanctification. We use hammers to drive nails into wood; we become more like Jesus when we study the scriptures, pray, fast, and exercise numerous other disciplines. Agency is no threat to divine sovereignty.
Nevertheless, even as redeemed persons we still struggle against God's plan. The following quote captures this incredibly well.
"The persistence of evil rests upon the general drift of human life in which we all share. It rides upon a motion so vast, so pervasive and ponderous that, like the motion of the planet earth, it is almost impossible to detect. We delude ourselves about the sustaining conditions because we wish to continue living as we now live and continue being he kinds of people we are. We do not want to change. We do not want our world to be really different. We just want to escape the consequences of its being what is truly is and our being who we truly are." (p225)
Instead, the Christian life offers an alternative to the complacency and self-indulgence of sin. In this sense, the spiritual disciplines are a means of experiencing God's grace.