Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (NKJV)
In our Foundations series, we’re looking at the basic fundamentals of Christian living. Obviously, as a new believer, these are critical truths that need to be taught and instilled as we disciple our new brothers and sisters. If you are a mature Christian, then it is never a waste of time to inventory your own walk to make sure that the fundamentals have not been neglected over time or lessened in importance. Let’s review what we’ve covered so far:
- Obedience – in my opinion, obedience is the fundamental trait of Christianity. Find out what God says, and do it. It is the mortar that holds everything together. Were this simple truth emphasized and practiced in Christianity today, the vast majority of the problems, shallowness and silliness that we see going on, would simply vanish. Obedience is also the source of many benefits: security, assurance, fellowship and blessing. 1st John is a great book to read to discover this truth.
What is discipline? I can start by telling you what it’s not. It’s not taught much anymore, from a Christian, secular or social standpoint. Our society is now based mostly on comfort, entertainment and indulgence of feelings and flesh. Discipline is not taught, it’s not practiced, it’s not understood and it’s not considered important (except, ironically, when it comes to getting fleshly things like money or achievement). That’s hardly arguable. Discipline is:
- Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.
- Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.
- Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.
- A systematic method to obtain obedience: a military discipline.
- A state of order based on submission to rules and authority: a teacher who demanded discipline in the classroom.
- Punishment intended to correct or train.
- A set of rules or methods, as those regulating the practice of a church or monastic order.
- A branch of knowledge or teaching.
It’s no wonder discipline is out of vogue. Look at all those legalistic, stuffy, old-fashioned, judgmental terms in the definition: character, training, control (oooo…. especially bad), obedience, punishment, rules. Just the definition alone could be argued by typical western standards to be outdated and unenlightened.
Desire + Self-Control = Discipline
I see discipline as primarily, and realistically, made up of two main elements: desire and self-control. Why desire? What does that have to do with anything?
We get what we desire. We find a way. We find time. We find energy. We find the money. We find the answer. It is a basic human characteristic (most of the time used selfishly) that we find a way to get what we TRULY want whether it’s good or bad. For instance, how many of you fellas out there will admit that often as husbands we have the “discipline” to tell our wives that we “just cannot afford that right now”… but somehow we can find the money to buy new golf clubs or a new truck? Any hands? Okay, now all the cowards and liars raise your hands.
What’s the difference? DESIRE. Deep down, whatever it is you truly want, you will find a way. This should make us really question our true desires when we don’t “have time” to read our Bibles, pray or help others. Consider this illustration:
A student approaches a Teacher and declares, “I desire to learn from you”. The Teacher responds, “very well, follow me.”
The Teacher leads the student to the ocean and motions for him to follow into the water. When they are about chest deep in the water, the Teacher grabs the student and forces his head underwater. At first, the student is calm, thinking, “this is just part of some test, he will let me up in moment and I will impress him”. After a minute passes the Student begins to worry and struggle. Soon he is desperately trying to surface and becomes frantic. The Teacher holds the student under the water to the point where the struggling ceases and the student almost passes out. Upon releasing him, the student angrily gasping for air shouts, “Are you crazy! You almost drowned me!”.
The Teacher looks calmly into his eyes and says, “when you desire to learn from me, as much as you desired to get a breath, then return, and I will teach you”.
A drowning man will do ANYTHING necessary to get air. True desire is equal only to what you will do (discipline) to get the object of that desire. This desire is what Jesus meant by “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt 5.6).
This is where self control makes its entrance. Self control is the process by which we will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get the object of our true desire. Often this manifests itself in the pursuit of evil. Too rarely, it manifests itself in Christians who are willing to make any change, and any personal sacrifice, to become the holy man or woman God is calling us to be.
Self control is simply a decision making process that considers the choice to do what is right, what is needed and what is necesarry, a higher priority than how we feel about it. Let me say that again because it’s important.
Self control is the process by which “choosing”
is a higher priority than “feeling”.
Choosing to do right over following how you feel. Choosing to obey God instead of doing what you feel. Choosing to NOT do something even if you feel you want to. Choosing to go left when your feelings want to go right because you know that left is what God wants.
It’s flesh versus spirit. The spirit is willing and the flesh is weak. Discipline is your spirit having priority over your flesh. Discipline is your will having priority over your feelings. Discipline is choosing to do whatever it takes to achieve your desire, regardless of what your feelings or flesh want to do.
Of course there is one more key ingredient here: you have to have the right DESIRES. How do you get the “right” desires?
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)
You get the right desires from God by renewing your mind every day. That is why Bible study and prayer are so crucial. That’s why DAILY consistent, routine study of God’s Word is vital to authentic Christian living. You know what God desires by reading what God has revealed to us. As His desires become yours, then you begin to choose those desires over your own feelings. Put it all in the blender, cook it with some prayer, and the next thing you know, you’re serving up discipline.
How many times have you been told “don’t go overboard with Christianity. Everything in moderation. Don’t go crazy”? The idea of moderation certainly applies to every HUMAN thing, but not Godly things. God is the only thing we don’t have to worry about “over indulgence” in. There is no such thing as too much Godliness.
Desire equals discipline. Discipline is the self control to make choices, despite feelings, to gain that which we desire the most. We renew our minds daily in God’s Word and in prayer to make God’s desires our desires. Then we make the willful choice to do whatever it takes to achieve those Godly desires regardless of our feelings, emotions or what our flesh is wanting.
Now, you may think “well, I desire to be Godly, but I still can’t discipline myself”. A person may proclaim a desire (“I want to be close to God”), but until that person is willing to do WHATEVER it takes (discipline; ie,actually spending time in prayer and reading God’s Word), it is a mere statement of sentiment, not true desire. The quality and authenticity of any desire you may have is only as genuine and sincere as what you are willing to do to get it. What will you give up? What will you re-prioritize? What will you suffer? How will you spend your time and money? What actual choices are you willing to make to get that desire? Whatever those choices are; whatever self-control you are willing to exercise… that is the genuine measurement of your desire.
When it comes to Godly discipline, no part of your life is off limits. Your time, your money, your leisure, your entertainment choices, your habits, your language, your friends…. even your family (Luke 14.26) – discipline demands that we choose God (and His desires which our now our desires) and change WHATEVER needs to be changed in our life to obtain those Godly desires.
That is what true discipline is: the willingness to make the choice to obtain God’s desires regardless of what we want to do no matter what the cost.
Lord God, help us to understand what discipline is and to seek it from You. Help us to desire what You desire and we pray for Your strength to make any choice necessary to obtain those desires regardless of feelings or flesh. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: For the most part, we live to please our flesh whether by leisure, sleep, entertainment, food, sex, romance, companionship, etc. Of course, none of those things are bad when done with Godly discipline. To the contrary, they are God-given blessings. But when we live for them to the neglect of God, then Godly discipline is missing. Discipline is a primary key to Christian living – choosing to seek what God desires over our own desires no matter how we feel about it.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?