"No manliness no maturity! No discipline no discipleship! No sweat no sainthood!" (15). This captures the message Kent Hughes delivers in Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway, 2001). In this book he holds up before us the high calling of being a Christian man and helps us to see more precisely how this might look in the practical details of life. He shoots very straight and holds up a very high bar, but his teaching is thoroughly biblical.
Further, while we might wish for more references to forgiveness, grace, and the way that the gospel empowers our discipline, these are the foundation of the book. We see it in the opening chapter which spells out the difference between legalism and godly discipline:
For many, spiritual discipline means putting oneself back under the Law with a series of Draconian rules which no one can live up to—and which spawn frustration and spiritual death. But nothing could be farther from the truth if you understand what discipline and legalism are. The difference is one of motivation: legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, "I will do this thing to gain merit with God." The disciplined heart says, "I will do this thing because I love God and want to please Him" (15).
We also see it in the closing chapter where he speaks of the grace required to obey at all. Citing John Blanchard he says, "For daily need there is daily grace, for sudden need, sudden grace; for overwhelming need, overwhelming grace" (227). Thus, Hughes knows that apart from the grace of God there is absolutely no obedience to be had, and any obedience rooted in an attempt to earn our salvation will ultimately fall flat.
But sometimes we need people to remind us what the Bible requires. There is grace in that as well. Obedience really is required of us. Thus, clear-headed teaching on the different aspects of our obedience is critical to our spiritual growth. We simply need to remember throughout such teaching that my failures in obedience are all covered by the blood of Jesus, and my successes are all empowered by the gospel of Christ through the Spirit (Rom. 6-8). There is no reason to despair or boast when it comes to spiritual discipline. God does it all and God covers it all.
With this said, Hughes looks at seventeen areas of a man's life where God is calling us to obedience. Many of the topics are typical of such books: purity, marriage, family, friendship, work, etc. One would have liked some discussion on the internet in his purity chapter, but it was written before the internet was such an epidemic problem in the church.
Many of the topics aren't typically handled in books of this sort: mind, devotion, tongue, giving, witness. Some of these less common topics were especially good. One of these was his chapter on perseverance. In this chapter he walks us through part of Hebrews 12, challenging us to throw off those things that are sinful, and those things that are not but which are unhelpful to us. We run
our own race, the race God has marked out for us. Your race is not my race, and my race is not yours. You can finish your race. It is God's will (164).
To do this we focus on Christ as our consuming and true joy.
His chapter on the "discipline of witness" was also helpful. Here he explained that while some of us (very few of us, actually) have the gift of evangelism, all of us need to practice the "discipline of witness." This means that we take a real interest in the people God has placed in our lives, and we strategically create opportunities for evangelism. This would have been a helpful place to encourage those of us who are less successful than Kent Hughes himself, but his points are excellent and inarguable.
Each chapter is well illustrated, relatively brief (4-6 pages each, 230 pages total), clear, and includes a set of questions for personal or small group application. It is set up to be easily adapted to a men's meeting.
All in all, Hughes' book is an excellent go-to guide for what God asks of us as Christian men. For a father wanting to disciple his son(s), a men's group looking for some straight-forward teaching on different subjects, or a man trying to sharpen up his spiritual life, it would be hard to do better than Hughes' Disciplines of a Godly Man.