Discipline and Dependence

Is the Christian life about grace or effort? Is it about working hard and being disciplined, or about living in dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit?

I love the following illustration from Jerry Bridges:

Think of yourself as seated in a jet passenger plane flying 35,000 feet above the earth. Suppose (I know this can’t happen in real life) the pilot were to say through the speaker system, “Folks, we’re in real trouble. One of our wings is about to break off.” Which one of the wings would you rather lose, the left one or the right one? It’s a silly question, isn’t it? No plane can fly with just one wing… Both are absolutely necessary.

Bridges suggests you visualize looking down on the plane from above:

“You see the fuselage, where you are sitting, the two wings, and the tail assembly. As you look at the two wings you see the words dependence on the left wing and discipline on the right wing. This airplane illustrates one of the most important principles in the Christian life. Just as the airplane must have both wings to fly, so we must exercise both discipline and dependence in the pursuit of holiness.

Bridges concludes:

The point of the airplane illustration is that we must not try to carry out our responsibilities in our own strength and willpower. We must depend on the Holy Spirit to enable us. At the same time we must not assume that we have no responsibility simply because we are dependent. God enables us to work, but He does not do the work for us.
— Jerry Bridges

All of this reminds me of the apostle Paul’s own testimony in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

The Christian life is not a choice between being active or passive, working or praying, etc. It is about living in dependent discipline.