I must confess: I am a bibliophile. In addition to my role in pastoral ministry and academics, I am a librarian. I love buying books, reading books, and even marking up books. It should come as no surprise, then, one of the most bothersome sounds to my ears is of falling books. When books lack the support they need to remain standing, they will fall. What is the solution to this problem of falling books? The solution is simple: bookends. Firm bookends keep books from falling. Firm bookends hold books up in their place.
In their book The Bookends of the Christian Life, Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington liken spiritual disciplines to books. Our Bible intake, our prayer, and our participation in the fellowship of the church are some of the activities that fill the shelves of our Christian lives. However, these activities and disciplines are not bookends. They cannot play the part of holding the Christian’s life in its proper place. They are most certainly needed in the life of a Christian for spiritual growth and for godliness. Yet, they are not the bookends; they are the books.
The First Bookend
The bookends of the Christian life, in all reality, do not focus on what we do but on who God is and what He has done and is doing. In more specific terms, we are talking about the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. The first bookend, the righteousness of Christ, brings out the great biblical truth that “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). As Christians, we are not justified and made right with God by any work of our own. The righteousness God requires is defined as perfect obedience. The only person who can claim to be righteous is the one who perfectly obeyed, Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 2:1-2). The person of Christ shows He is the only one righteous. The work of Christ shows us how we can become the righteousness of God. The death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the only basis and way we can be made right with God. As Christ took our sin upon the cross, we were not only forgiven of that sin but if we repent and believe in Him we are credited with Christ’s righteousness. Our identity and our trust is in Christ’s person and work, not our own. We do not trust in our church attendance or Bible intake for salvation. We lean on the first bookend, the righteousness of Christ, because only by Jesus through faith can we be saved.
The Second Bookend
Upon being brought into God’s family, we are not left to our own for spiritual growth. As God provides us with the first bookend of our salvation, He equips us with the second bookend for our sanctification. We cannot grow into Christlikeness in our own strength. We need the power of God. We receive just that in the person of the Holy Spirit and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are active participants in our pursuit of holiness but we realize it is ultimately God working in us. The Apostle Paul concurs with this when he says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). We grow in our Christian walks and in the spiritual disciplines by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because of the bookends, we have a proper view and motivation behind our study of the Bible, our time in prayer, and our commitment to the church. We do not do these things in order to make ourselves right before God. We lean on Christ’s righteousness for salvation. That means when we feel as if we have done well in these areas that we watch out for self-righteousness. At the same time, when we have failed to be diligent and disciplined, we must watch out for persistent guilt. Self-righteousness and persistent guilt both have self as the focus. Only when we realize we must bring our guilt to Christ and His righteousness will we see the proper view and motivation is out of gratitude to God for the grace He has given in Christ! Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we live this way!
Bible study, prayer, and fellowship with the church are important and essential elements in the Christian life. With that affirmed, we need to remember they are only the books. They are not the bookends. The bookends are what we lean on to give us stability and to keep everything in its proper place. In our justification, we depend on the righteousness of Christ. In our sanctification, we depend on the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the bookends we must lean on.
Join the Conversation
How do these two bookends, the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, impact your understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible intake?