The Christian is a servant of the Almighty God. The Christian’s life, then, no longer belongs to himself/herself. Instead, as Romans 12:1 instructs, Christians must present their bodies as living sacrifices to God! Therefore, self-discipline is going to be a crucial part in living the life of a Christian. The term “discipline” (as applied to our own spiritual lives) simply refers to our ability to control our decisions, thoughts, words, and actions in such a way that they will be found to please God.
The Need For Personal Discipline
In order to live our lives in a way that will please God, we will be required to practice self-discipline. Certainly, just allowing our lives to follow the currents of our own fleshly desires and the influences of this world will not lead us to make decisions that are always pleasing to God. In fact, following the ways of this world and our own physical desires will lead us away from Him (see 1 John 2:15-17)! Therefore, the Scriptures teach the value of self-discipline. Consider the following passages as examples.
(1) Proverbs 25:28. This passage contains a sad picture of an ancient city that has been broken into – and its walls destroyed. In ancient times, the wall around the city was its first (and often best) line of defense against the enemy. Without it, the city would lie as an easy target for the enemy! In the same way, the person who has no control over his/her own spirit presents himself/herself as an easy target for the devil, who searches for those he can devour (1 Peter 5:8-9). Without self-discipline, there is no good “first line of defense” against an attack from the enemy. Instead, he/she will go along with whatever is easiest, most comfortable, most enjoyable, etc.
(2) Galatians 5:16-26. This text helps us to understand the conflict between the ways of the flesh and the ways of the Spirit. They are said to be contrary to one another – and are demonstrated to lead us to two very different places (both in the way we live on this earth and where we spend eternity). Therefore, this passage demonstrates the need to discipline ourselves so as to live according to God’s ways (the ways of the Spirit) rather than living according to the ways of the flesh.
(3) 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In this text, Paul demonstrates the need to discipline ourselves by bringing the need for self-discipline in athletic events to our attention. Certainly, those who are competing for earthly prizes in athletic events recognize their need to discipline their own bodies. Athletes must train for the events themselves and generally discipline their regular habits so that they will be prepared to win in the event. And, Paul’s point is that if these athletes do all this to obtain an earthly, perishable prize; certainly, Christians (who are striving for an imperishable prize) must practice self-discipline! For, as Paul demonstrates, without practicing self-discipline, Christians (even those who have done great works for the Lord in the past) can become “disqualified” (i.e. lose their salvation).
(4) 2 Peter 1:5-11. Do you want to grow as a Christian? If so, 2 Peter 1:5-11 provides a list of characteristics you should be supplementing to your faith. Peter lists virtue, knowledge, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love – and self-control. Now, the real power in this list of characteristics is seen in verses 8-11. In this text, Peter says that if these characteristics are yours and are abounding, “you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 8). Then, Peter indicates that these things are involved in making your “call and election sure” and says that if you live according to these characteristics, “you will never stumble” (verses 10-11). So, these characteristics are the necessary qualities which will be involved in living your life pleasing to God!
Clearly, each one of these four passages helps us to appreciate the necessary place that self-discipline has (generally) in the life of a Christian. Yet, as we consider self-discipline in greater detail, we will see that there are two ways in which we will need to discipline ourselves – not to do what God forbids and to do what God commands.
Disciplined Not To Do What God Forbids
As we strive to live in a way that pleases God, there are many instructions in God’s word about things God forbids us to do. They are simply not things God wants His people to be involved with. They are things which are contrary to His holy nature. Consider the following.
(1) Galatians 5:24. Again, this passage in its context demonstrates that the ways of the flesh are contrary to God’s ways. Therefore, God expects us to discipline ourselves, crucifying the passions and desires of the flesh.
(2) Titus 2:11-14. This text teaches that there are things we must learn from God’s grace (which brings salvation). Among the lessons “the grace of God that brings salvation” should teach us is that we should “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” in order that we might live “soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
(3) Romans 13:11-14. In this text, Paul teaches that we have spent enough time living to please ourselves. Now, we need to focus on the salvation that is near! To do this, we will need to be disciplined and “cast off the works of darkness” so that we can “put on the armor of light”!
Disciplined To Do What God Commands
Not only will we need to be disciplined to refuse to do the things God forbids; but we will need to be disciplined enough to do the things God commands (as also seen in the three passages just discussed). There are some things God expects His people to be doing. Consider the following.
(1) 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. This passage emphasizes the need to bring every thought into the captivity of Jesus Christ. Certainly, a well-disciplined life begins by properly disciplining our minds. For, as Proverbs 23:7 teaches, “as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” So, if you want to discipline your actions to be acceptable to God, you must first discipline your thoughts to be acceptable to God!
(2) Revelation 2:10. This text identifies Jesus instruction to some Christians who were about to be severely persecuted. He tells them to be faithful until their deaths – and promises that they would be given the “crown of life.” Therefore, this text teaches us that we will need to discipline ourselves to endure whatever trials, persecutions, temptations, etc. are experienced in our lives so that we can be found pleasing to God in Judgment!
Cleary, the Christian must be self-disciplined in order to please God. Though this study has not identified specific things we must not do or things we must do, I hope it has encouraged you to think about the need for discipline in both – as doing both will require a determined effort and resolve to follow the Lord!