Gospel-Centered Spiritual Formation: Spiritual Disciplines

So far in this series, I have provided a little background, the triperspectival framework, and the role of gospel forms in the development of the diagram I created to illustrate what I’m calling gospel-centered spiritual formation.

Role of Spiritual Disciplines in Gospel-Centered Formation

Now we have come to the role of spiritual disciplines in gospel-centered spiritual formation. What I’ve done with this approach is create subsets of disciplines that correspond both to the triperspectival framework and particular “form” of the gospel.  The reason spiritual disciplines are intrinsically connected this way is to correct the bifurcation of gospel centrality and formative spiritual disciplines. The former tends to focus on delight (gospel), and the later tends to focus on duty (disciplines). But duty can been an overflow of delight when we discover how spiritual disciplines are cultivated in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In other words, they are not exercises of spiritual growth as much as they are exercises in gospel application (leading to spiritual growth).

The three subsets of spiritual disciplines are individually centered around prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.  The subset of disciplines under Holy Spirit are intended to highlight the Spirit’s work of magnifying/glorifying Christ (John 16:14).  The subset of disciplines under Scripture are intended to highlight the Scriptures work of revealing Christ.  The subset of disciplines under Prayer are intended to highlight the work of prayer to desire Christ. The Spirit disciplines draw us into Christ as King, seeing how the reign of His kingdom governs our lives.  The Word disciplines draw us into Christ as Prophet, seeing how the Incarnate Word authoritatively renews our minds.  The Prayer disciplines draw us into Christ as Priest, seeing how our engagement with God satisfies our hearts.

Regarding the gospel forms, the Spirit disciplines draw from the “gospel of the kingdom” because it is the Spirit in us who works repentance and faith, the daily reorientation to the gospel where our kingdoms go and His kingdom comes.  Only by the Spirit can we put sin to death (Rom. 8:13).  It is only by the power of the Spirit that we are compelling witnesses (Acts 1:8).  Paul made it clear that the instrumental means of God-glorifying worship is “by the Spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3). And the life of service is fueled not by our energy, but by the Spirit of God at work in us (Col. 1:29). In all of these ways, the Spirit is bringing the kingdom of Christ to bear and glorifying Jesus as we move from selfishness to service of others, from alive to sin to being dead to sin, from seeking first our kingdom to seeking first the kingdom of God, from indifference about the souls of others to a white hot passion for sinners to be saved. God is establishing His kingdom in the hearts of His people as the gospel is applied by the Spirit to magnify Christ.

The Word disciplines draw from the “message of the gospel” because it is through the Word of God that we rightly understand the nature and content of the gospel message. It is correct to say that all of the Bible is not the gospel. But is also correct to say that all of the Bible is about the gospel. Through the Word disciplines we plunged deeper into the mysteries hidden now revealed in Christ, how all the themes climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The Word disciplines intend to bring sustained concentration to the gospel message, primarily because we are always in danger of forgetting who we are in Christ.  We are in danger of thinking wrongly about God, about ourselves, and about the sufficiency of Christ so that something else becomes normative for us.  Through regular Bible intake, biblical meditation, Scripture memory, and journaling, we are confessing our need to remember and disciplining ourselves to have Jesus set before us in all of His beauty and glory.

The Prayer disciplines draw from the “story of the gospel” because the story of our lives is rewritten through our engagement with God through His story in redemptive history.  In other words, we experience greater degrees of transformation as we experience God through the gospel.  The narrative of our lives is no longer written by the script of the Fall but the story of redemption. Prayer, fasting, silence, and solitude are formative disciplines that serve the purpose of reviving our hearts as we continually rediscover the realities of the gospel. They are intended as a means of grace to help us “come alive” to who we already are, as often our hearts have been captured by lesser stories and unworthy heroes. The Prayer disciplines dig down to the subtext of our lives, getting to the heart motivations and giving expression to new affections birthed from intentional exposure of the priestly ministry of Jesus.

In summary, the Prayer disciplines press the gospel inward, creating space for our hearts to experience Jesus. The Word disciplines press the gospel upward, clearing our perspective to see Jesus. The Spirit disciplines press the gospel forward, changing our lives as we follow Jesus. In order to have a healthy, holistic Christian life, we need to be spiritually disciplined with a gospel-centered focus.

In my next blogposts, I intend to break each subset down and address the disciplines specifically in light of their larger role in gospel-centered spiritual formation. I’d love to get your thoughts as I attempt to articulate this vision for discipleship and Christian growth.

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4 Comments on “Gospel-Centered Spiritual Formation: Spiritual Disciplines”

  1. Jimmy Davis Says:

    YES! YES! YES! This is wonderfully helpful Tim! Can’t wait for more!

  2. John Says:

    Hey Tim,
    I’ve been a long-time reader of your blog and appreciate your ministry. But I’ve also been befuddled by the triperspectival stuff I’ve seen you from and others and wonder if you can help me be clearer in my thinking.

    Part of the problem, I think, comes down to a confusion of categories for me. I see prophet, priest, and king and think of the biblical offices. But as those things are seen as fulfilled in Christ, then filtered down and applied to us in triperspectival writings with divided duties, roles, and emphases, it seems that the original roles get glossed over at best, mixed up at worst.

    When I see your breakdown in the graph, I get the logic you’ve laid out, but when I try to connect it back to the original roles of prophet, priest, king, it seems to fall apart for me. For example, Bible intake, scripture memory, meditation, and journaling would be under the king category more than prophetic one, in my mind. They were one men who had to write out their copy of the Law, reflect on it, live it out themselves, lead the people to do the same, and use it to wisely determine how to govern (e.g., Solomon, Josiah, etc). Likewise, this Word ministry would also fall under a priestly role as they specifically were tasked with teaching the Law to the Israel (Lev 10:11; Ezra 7) though the emphasis on prayer and confession makes sense with the priesthood. But it also seems to me that evangelism, worship, and mortification of sin would be characteristic of a prophetic function: they identified sin in Israel, calling them to repentance and faith. Some, like Jonah and Daniel, even declared God’s saving reign to the pagan nations.

    So, I guess what I’m asking this is: are these three roles meant to be closely tied to the activities you (and others) are laying out for us today or are they meant more to be broad, simple shorthand for larger categories? If it’s the former, then I simply don’t see it working the way it’s laid out. Or, I may just be wrong in my connections of the three roles and the corresponding activities!

    Either way, I’d love any light you can shed. Thanks for the help, brother!


    • John,

      Great questions, and I appreciate your thoughtful engagement with my blogpost!

      Let me begin first by saying that the triperspectival approach is theologically-driven methodology or framework that I (and others) have explored and employed for the purpose of being Christ-centered in all areas of church and life. As such, there are limitations to this framework, as do all frameworks, and it is intended to serve as a guide and not so much as a prescriptive mandate for the Christian.

      With this particular focus on gospel-centered spiritual formation, all of the smaller triangles are intended to be an outworking of the larger triangle (gospel). The three offices of prophet, priest, and king are mediatorial offices of Christ, and I argue that we enjoy/experience Christ’s work in those offices as we appropriate our union with Christ by faith.

      As for each subset, you are correct in that there is overlap in determining which disciple accords with which office. As I attempted to argue in the blogpost, the division is according to the function of the discipline in the life of a Christian moreso than the function of the discipline in Scripture (and I base this off what I see in Scripture). So the goal is the outworking of the gospel through disciplines that tie into triperspectival framework. I know that sounds confusing, but the goal is to encourage people to see spiritual disciplines directly connected to gospel centrality, not as a completely alternative approach to spiritual formation or Christian discipleship.

      Having said that, this is a process which I have been hashing out publicly and seeking to employ personally. It is literally me thinking and processing out loud and not intended to be a polished or finished approach(!). I also realize that, as clear as it may seem to me, that it may not be suitable for other Christians (who might think the whole triperspectival stuff is wrong). If I can stimulate thoughtful consideration on the subject, as you have demonstrated, then I am encouraged and hopeful this series will be useful to others.

      Thanks again for the feedback, and I hope the next blogposts on this series will be clarifying and lead to further discussion!

      • John Says:

        Thank for the follow-up comment. It is much appreciated. I also appreciate the humility of the response–that you are still working it out. I get that. As I said earlier, just because it doesn’t quite connect in my mind, it certainly doesn’t make it wrong.

        And I do very much appreciate the way you are not only thinking hard about our life as disciples of Christ but that you are seeking to connect each discipline to the gospel itself. That goal has been my own pursuit ever since I heard Mark Dever comment on a prominent speaker at his seminary who spoke on spiritual disciplines completely disconnected from the gospel!

        Brother, I look forward to your future blog posts on the subject.


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