“Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.”
What this verse calls “good sense” is right thinking, and it is like “a fountain of life” for those who have acquired it, exercise it, and share it with others. Right thinking and good sense makes your life more effective, more fulfilling, and more successful.
Fools, on the other hand, are impaired by ineffective thinking. They lack good sense.
The word for “instruction” in this verse is our word musar, which Proverbs has used multiple times to refer to the disciplined work that godly people do to acquire wisdom. Here, however, musar is used to refer to the process that foolish people use to become foolish. Foolish people acquire foolishness by listening to the wrong people and applying the wrong standards and doing the wrong things. The message here is that foolishness is learned.
The verse can be translated, “Fools are foolish because their process of daily learning is foolish.”
Please understand that the source of success and the source of failure is the same: The cumulative impact of daily behavior repeated over time. It you engage in daily discipline-driven thinking and action, you will grow in wisdom. If you engage in daily default-driven thinking and action, you will grow in foolishness. You can musar your way to wisdom, or you can musar your way to foolishness.
Here is a warning to every Christian: You can be saved and foolish. If you do not walk in the Spirit and commit to discipline-driven musar, you can be saved but continue to be dominated by default-driven thoughts and action.
The NT tells us that God gives us his grace through Christ to both save us and teach us. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2.11-12).
Note that this Titus passage says that the grace of God not only saves us, it also “trains” us. In other words, the disciplined process of musar. Spiritual maturity isn’t given, it is learned.
"Training" in Titus 2.12 is the Greek word paideuo. It is the NT equivalent to the OT word musar. It means to teach, instruct, or discipline. It is derived from the Greek word for "child," and it's literal meaning is "to educate, discipline, and train a child." It describes the process of moral and spiritual development, as well as the process of skill-building. It includes:
- Instruction, as in a classroom.
- Doing repetitive drills, as in athletics or language-learning.
- Discipline, as in rebuking to bring about correction.
We could accurately call this training process "the discipline of grace." That phrase may seem like an oxymoron, but that is only because many wrongly think of grace as associated primarily, even exclusively, with forgiveness and salvation. And because grace means "unmerited favor" apart from works, it is common for Christians to mistakenly equate grace with the absence of human effort or self-discipline. Such a perspective reveals a poor understanding of both discipline and grace.
Grace brings more than a pardon; it also brings the process of spiritual formation. It brings the power of the Holy Spirit to energize our growth so that we are progressively conformed to Christ's image, and we bear fruit for God's kingdom. The same grace that appeared to all men and brought salvation -- the very same grace -- also teaches and trains us to say "no" to worldly impulses, and to live self-disciplined lives of godly integrity in the midst of the present evil age.
The mature Christian life is not given, it is learned. It takes time and training. It is difficult, demanding, and disciplined. And God's grace guides and empowers us the whole way.
The Christian life is a life of grace. We experience grace as the Holy Spirit brings both the desire and the discipline required to learn to do God's will (Philippians 2:13). The presence of the Holy Spirit calls us to be proactive in participating in God's purpose. The work of God will not be accomplished in our lives by merely 'letting go and letting God'.
The Holy Spirit will not do the work that he commands us to do. He enables us, for sure, but we must do the work.