Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Discipline: It’s the Only Way

(Just don’t make it drudgery!)[i]

There is no way around this. To be a man or woman of the Truth demands discipline. Read those last two words again: “demand” and “discipline.” Hearing those words causes some of us to shudder. They sound harsh and undesirable. Others of us grin at the sound of those words, but it is a sadistic grin. Through that sardonic smirk we say to those who sigh at their sound, “Time to shape up, losers!”

As is normally the case, both extremes are foolish.

It is true. Discipline is required to faithfully follow Christ. To be a person of truth does not just happen. Christ calls us to daily sacrifice (Luke 9:23; 14:25-33). Paul does the same thing (Romans 12:1-2). Both the Lord and the Apostle practiced what they preached (Mark 10:45; John 18:11; 19:16-30; 2 Corinthians 4; 11:23-33; 2 Timothy 4:7-8).

But discipline for discipline’s sake is drudgery. There is no joy in it, and there is certainly no spiritual growth. There may be an increase of knowledge. There may be an educational enhancement, and the self-important pride that often accompanies such achievements. Yes, self-discipline is necessary for any believer to become more and more like Christ and that is the key. We discipline ourselves for the purpose of Godliness. Paul told Timothy, “Exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b). Discipline for the purpose of Godliness is not drudgery but is delightful.

Delightful. Not always undemanding and without difficulty. Delightful. Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness and it will not always be easy, but it will always be delightful. Vance Havner said, “The alternative to discipline is disaster.” He was right. The Apostle Paul was also right – inspired by God even – when he wrote, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

As I write about being disciplined in our reading, studying, and doing of God’s Word I realize that it would be easy for the reader to begin feeling guilty about past failures and present struggles in this area (the writer is not immune to this either). Let’s remember, there is a difference between feeling guilty and being convicted by the Holy Spirit. Guilt only destroys. Conviction should spur us to Holy Spirit enthused and empowered action. God’s blessing is ours, not by our works no matter how self-disciplined they may be, but by the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be liberated and strengthened by that truth, and then call Philippians 3:13 to mind: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Developing Self-Discipline

Self-discipline may be biblically defined with one word – obedience. Humble and faithful obedience is necessary if we are to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

Since self-discipline is important to spiritual joy and growth, how is it developed? Here are some practical, common sense suggestions.

  • Start with small things. Learning – and becoming victorious – in the little things of life prepares the way and stimulates a desire for big successes. Do not forget that little foxes spoil vineyards (Song of Solomon 2:15). Besides that, concerning a person’s integrity there are no small issues.
  • Get organized. In the Army we used to say, “Plan your work and work your plan.” Do not be a slave to a schedule, but do not be naïve about your time. If you fail to control it, someone or something else will. Organize your day as well as your bank account (that’s called a budget).
  • Don’t live for amusement. Consider that word for a moment. “A” is a prefix meaning ‘no’ or ‘nothing’ “Muse” means ‘to think about something carefully.’ Therefore, amusement is having one’s mind diverted from serious thought by occupying one’s attention with nothing of substance. As a culture we often live to be amused. We only gain satisfaction from amusements. We cannot be disciplined for the purpose of Godliness and be so inclined. Learn to entertain yourself with things that are challenging, stimulating, and creative.
  • Be punctual. Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” The Apostle Paul also had something to say about time in Ephesians 5:15-16. Redeem the time because the days are evil, and be on time, thereby acknowledging the importance of others and the value of their time.
  • Be true to your word. When you make a commitment, see it through. “Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise,” said the great George Washington. This calls for discipline. First to know what commitments to make, and then to see those commitments through to completion.
  • Finish what you start. This flows from the previous point. If we start something – and we should – let’s be sure to finish what we start. Have the legacy of being a finisher not only a starter.
  • Accept Correction. One trait of the undisciplined is being unteachable. Discipline is required in order to receive correction well (see Proverbs 15:31-32; 19:20).
  • Practice self-denial. Learn to say “no” to feelings and impulses, even ones that are not sinful. Just because we can do – eat – drink – something or go somewhere does not mean we should. Remind your body who is in charge (and that should be your biblically rational self, not your feelings and impulses).
  • Welcome responsibility. Do not be the person who just points out needs. Be the one who volunteers to meet them.

You may be thinking that these suggestions, while practical, are far from spiritual. That assumption would be wrong. Having repented of your sins and trusted Christ to save you means that all aspects of your existence are sacred. In other words, your life is not split into two parts: secular and spiritual. Every part of our lives should be lived for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The secular self of the redeemed is dead and buried. The new man has been raised to walk in newness of (every part of) life. Cultivate self-discipline in the seemingly mundane things of life and it will spill over into all areas.

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

[i] Much of this post is gleaned from Donald S. Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and John F. MacArthur’s The Pillars of Christian Character

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