▶️ Prefer to listen? I discuss this topic on the podcast in RPS #61 — You Need to Learn Discipline
We all know believers that seem just so put together. Sure, we know they must have their struggles, but they are consistent in their walk with the Lord. They casually share what they were reading in the Bible that morning and all we can think of is that we overslept and scrolled TikTok for 30 minutes before rolling out of bed. They ask us for prayer requests and follow-up later because they actually remembered to pray for them. We want to grow in our walk with the Lord like that. But where to begin? We need to learn discipline. Because discipline is the gateway to Christian maturity.
Well, there is good news. While some might be more naturally disposed to being disciplined, discipline is not an innate quality some have, and some don’t, like blue eyes or male-pattern baldness. Discipline can be cultivated, it can be grown, and by it we too can grow into Christlikeness. Let’s look at exactly what Christian discipline is, why we so desperately need it, and the practical steps we can take to cultivate discipline in our lives.
What is Discipline?
Discipline is that stalwart, steady determination to keep going come hell or high water. Discipline is what makes us choose to do what ought to be done, when our flesh tells us to do what we want. Discipline is not an optional side-virtue, it is part of being a Christian. If your true desire to grow into Christlikeness, the best thing you can do is learn to cultivate discipline. For it is by discipline that we take hold of the means of grace God has provided for our spiritual flourishing. The disciplined man or woman of God opens the Word daily, fights for times of secret prayer, and does not forsake the fellowship of the saints.
When Paul writes to Titus about selecting elders, he tell him to look for men who are disciplined. According to Titus 1:5–9 mature Christians are not “open to the charge of debauchery,” “or insubordination,” not “drunkards,” or quick tempered. Instead they are “self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Those are the marks of qualified elders precisely because they are the marks of Christian maturity. An undisciplined believer is an immature believer.
Thankfully God has given us the source of discipline by giving us His Holy Spirit. Self-control, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–24). Every Christian is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and He causes us to produce these virtuous fruits (Romans 8:9). That means not only has Christ called us to self-discipline, He’s given us the power to actually be disciplined. That does not mean this fruit is obtained without having to climb the tree, though. We need to “make every effort” to cultivate these virtues in ourselves (2 Peter 1:5).
Why Do We Need Discipline?
We need self-discipline in order to grow or achieve anything of significance. Consider this: If two people set out to run their first marathon, why is it that one succeeds and another fails? Why is it that one person’s New Year’s resolutions succeed while another’s fall flat by February? What is the difference-maker?
We need discipline if we want to see consistent results in any area of life, spiritual or otherwise. Discipline is often the difference between success and failure. The undisciplined person may accomplish great things, but only as flukes. Their “wins” are inconsistent at best because they are the result of luck not discipline. Show me a man with a pattern of success and productivity, and I will show you a disciplined person. Likewise, show me a woman who walks with the Lord, and I will show you a disciplined person.
We need self-discipline because temptation is everywhere. We live in a world full of temptations. Not all of them are overtly sinful, but an otherwise benign diversion, if left unchecked, can turn into an unhealthy indulgence or even an addiction (take watching football or playing video games, for example). This has made discipline all the more valuable in modern life. Because discipline is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity in this pampered age, the person who has it enjoys nearly limitless opportunities. But through media, advertising, and affluence, self-gratification is always dangled before us like a carrot on a stick. There is always an easier path the world wants us to lead us down, discipline helps us to say “yes” to the harder path even when the carrot might not come until much later. We need discipline if we are to resist temptation and rise above the water line and be the mature and productive Christians God created us to be.
Conversely, consider that many of the sins we fight against are merely the fruits of an undisciplined life. Gossip is the fruit of an undisciplined tongue, lust an undisciplined mind, and anger an undisciplined pride. We need discipline to overcome these besetting sins in the Spirit’s power. If we would not be mastered by sin, we must learn to master our souls (1 Corinthians 6:12). For this great task we need discipline.
Most importantly, we need discipline because Christ has called us to it. In Mark 8:34 our Lord said, “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” This call to radical self-denial is the call every Christian heeds when he turns from sin to Christ. And it is the call we daily take up as we walk the path of sanctification. Self-denial requires self-discipline. See the apostle Paul’s words in, 1 Corinthians 9:24–27,
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
If you want to grow as a Christian, you must learn discipline. Because self-discipline is the gateway to Christian maturity. In the next article I will talk about how we can practically cultivate self-discipline and dispel some common misunderstandings about it.