In the last post, I wrote on what happens in the new birth. As a continuation to that, I would like to shed some light on the role discipline plays in our lives as believers. Before I say or write more, let me first of all make it clear that as believers we cannot discipline ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit who does the work but we must open our hearts to that work and submit to His control.
In Hebrews chapter 12, Scripture says that God disciplines His children through the circumstances and situations that He allows to come to them and that as God’s children “we should submit to the Father of our spirits and live (Hebrews 12:9).”
I would like to bring forth the concept of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. God is sovereign. He is in control of everything yet we have a part to play in our sanctification. God does not make all the moves for us. He provides the means for discipline.
A good example I could use is that of waking up early in the morning for devotions. God will not set the alarm for you. You will not hear a voice from heaven telling you to wake up. Well, He can do that- He is well able to do that. However, God wants to discipline us and although He is sovereign, we have a part to play- “beating” our bodies (1 Cor. 9:27).
I am not saying that we wake up by our own strength. We owe our very life to God. Our health is a blessing from God. The fact that we are able to breathe and have life is a blessing from God. God provides the means to aid us in disciplining ourselves but we should know that discipline is not a means to salvation.
DISCIPLINE IS NOT A MEANS TO SALVATION
Worldly or human discipline [that which draws its strength from human will] does not and will never lead to salvation. There are many non- believers who use their own strength and will to discipline themselves by waking up early to look for money and they are indeed prosperous. Such kind of discipline however high it may be is vanity and cannot lead to salvation or sanctification.
The kind of discipline I am talking about in this article is the one that is brought about and made possible by God’s grace, His Word and the Spirit dwelling within us who are believers- those who are born again. Salvation is purely a gift from God and will forever remain so. Salvation is by faith through grace (Ephesians 2:8). Discipline does not lead to salvation but salvation makes discipline possible.
HOW DOES SALVATION MAKE DISCIPLINE POSSIBLE?
Discipline is not our claim on Christ but the evidence of His claim on us. We are therefore going to look at how God provides the means to discipline:
- If we are Christians, we are under grace. We are disciplined by grace. Titus 2:11-12 says, “The grace of God has dawned upon the world…and by it we are disciplined to renounce godless ways and worldly desires, and to live a life of temperance, honesty and godliness…” (NASB).
- If we are Christians, we have a rule book, the Bible, to guide us. We are disciplined by the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “Every scripture has its use…for reformation of manners and discipline in right living.” (NASB).
- If we are Christians, we have the Spirit of God. We are disciplined by that Spirit. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “The spirit that God gave us is no craven spirit, but one to inspire…self-discipline.”(NASB).
We can therefore say that grace makes discipline possible, the Scripture points the way and the Spirit inspires. In addition to that, we need to have faith for discipline to be possible. We have to put our full trust in God and take responsibility.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MAN
“24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
The scripture passage above from 1 cor. 9:24-27 tells us that we need to “beat our bodies”. This means that we should discipline our bodies and keep them under control. In the Bible verses above, Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete. Being in a country that has the fastest runners, we know the kind of rigorous training athletes go through. In the same way, we have to exercise discipline and control over our bodies. We have to “beat” our bodies.
Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” This means that we have a part to play- to “put to death” the desires of our sinful nature. This is only possible through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and through God’s grace that has appeared to us and that trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:11).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control…” (Galatians 5:22). In this verse we see the traits of godly character that the Spirit produces in Christians. Among the traits we see self-control. God has therefore enabled us to control ourselves through discipline.
So far we have seen that it is God who makes discipline possible. Here are some areas in which we can embrace God’s discipline and submit to the discipline of His Word: our body, mind, time, feelings (emotions), work and even possessions.
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE BODY
As Christians, we must discipline our bodies- we only have one. We have been given our bodies for sacrifice. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” From this verse we learn that our bodies should submit to the will and purposes of God.
We should therefore take good care of our bodies. This means ensuring that they are in good condition by being physically fit. You may be wondering what physical fitness has to do with discipline and our bodies being a sacrifice to God. God expects us to be healthy and fit to serve him with our bodies.
We should eat healthy and watch our diet and avoid bad eating habits such as indulging in junk food. We should also avoid over-eating which is a polite word for gluttony. We need to curb our appetite of over-indulgence. This does not mean that we should not eat enough food or not be well-fed. In summary, we must learn not to eat too much of the wrong things.
In this also, we must acknowledge that we are created as sexual beings and that means we have sexual appetites that we must control. Modern advertising constantly makes this hard. The adverts we see on television never let us forget this. The fashion industry thrives on sexual provocation through dress but being sexually equipped is not a license to use the equipment however we please.
Like every other good gift that comes from our Father in heaven, our sexuality is no less a gift. The gift of sexual activity is meant to be used in the way He intended, within the clearly defined limits of His purpose, which is marriage.
To offer our bodies as living sacrifices sexually means offering to Him our sexuality and all that it entails. This includes even our unfulfilled longings. Our bodies were not made for sexual promiscuity; they were made for God and God is the answer to our deepest longings. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says,
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, and not in passionate lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE MIND
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2).
In an earlier post, I shared on spiritual mindedness. A spiritual mind is one that delights in spiritual things. For us to be spiritually minded, our minds must be renewed. We cannot do this by ourselves- it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of renewing our minds. However, we must open our minds to that work and submit to His control.
When it comes to the discipline of the mind, we have to “prepare our minds for action … being sober-minded” (1 Peter 1:13). This means that, as Christians, we should be prepared to fully engage our minds in the service of Christ. We need to get rid of everything that stands in the way of engaging our minds fully in the service of Christ.
We need to get rid of all thoughts that do not glorify God by “taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). This demands thinking of the things that matter to Christ rather than the things that come to nothing in the end- those that yield bad fruit or no fruit at all.
In Philippians 4:8 the Bible says clearly the kind of thoughts we should have. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”
In Romans 8:6-8 it is written, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace” (ESV). To set the mind on the flesh means to constantly desire the things that express fallen, sinful human nature. Once we give our lives to Christ, our minds become a battlefield between the flesh and the spirit. For us to win this battle we must walk by the Spirit so that we do not gratify the desires of our sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).
There is a kind of thinking that is very destructive and that greatly grieves God- that of worry. Matthew 6:34 says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” God is not happy at all when we are worried about tomorrow. We should not let the cares of life dominate our thoughts because God is in control. No one can add a single day to his life by worrying (Matthew 6:27).
WHAT IS YOUR ANSWER TO THE CALL OF DISCIPLINE?
In conclusion, it is clear that it is God who makes discipline possible and that we have a part to play by submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit and to the discipline of His Word. In the next post, I will share how we can trust God for discipline in our time, possessions, feelings (emotions) and even work.
Let us not forget that discipline does not lead to salvation but salvation makes discipline possible. If there is an area you are trusting God to help you exercise discipline and self-control don’t forget to pray about it.
It could be your thoughts, desires, eating habits, anxiety, fear, doubt, weight, time management, money matters. Talk to Jesus about it because every gift is from Him and he is concerned how you use what He has given you, including time.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”