A Few Thoughts to Consider
What comes to mind when you think of the word “discipline?”
If you’re like most, you’re not thinking happy thoughts. Discipline feels like a whole lot of work and not very much fun. But to paraphrase one of my spiritual mentors, “You will never enjoy the fruits of the Christian life until you embrace the rhythms of a disciplined life.”
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul gets specific and says,
24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. 26 So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
As fifth-century Christian writer John Chrysostom notes, “Paul says this not because he thinks that only one person will be saved but because he wants to point out how much diligence is required to succeed.”
What is the prize? It’s the gift of eternal life only found in Christ. This means we live in this constant paradox, striving for a future reality but also delighting in a present experience. We strive for a present power and future glorification.
Paul’s discipline went back to his early years studying under an influential Pharisee named Gamaliel. Before encountering Christ, Paul was about as disciplined as they come. In Galatians 1:13-14, Paul reflects on his life before he met Jesus and says, “13 For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”
Paul’s discipline was always great. But when he combined his love for Christ with his love for discipline, that’s when everything changed. The imagery Paul has in this passage is a runner competing in a stadium race. And just as runners discipline their bodies with one goal in mind, so we should discipline ourselves to believe and act like Christ.
 James Keaton
A Meditation to PRAY
Praise | God, thank you for the joy of discipline. I praise you that your Word is good, and I can delight myself in it.
Release | Guard my heart against laziness. You see how I’d rather sleep in, watch mindless media entertainment, or distract my mind with everything that is temporal.
Ask | You see how discipline is tough, so help me this year to remain disciplined even when I’m tempted to slack off.
Yield | I rest in you today and will trust you to give me the strength I need to live the way you have called me to live.
A Challenge to Act Like Christ
For some people like Paul, it’s easy to adopt discipline as a substitute for a relationship with Christ. If this is your story and you’re new to faith, you’re a step ahead in some ways. You know how to get up on time, guard your mind, eat right, sleep well, and exercise hard. These are invaluable disciplines.
But if you’ve come to faith in Christ and you’ve never disciplined your body for the race of life, you’ve got some work. Unfortunately, we live in a Christian era where discipline is often undervalued. Sometimes Christians speak as though discipline is synonymous with legalism. But as Dallas Willard says, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning.” We don’t discipline ourselves to earn God’s favor. We discipline ourselves to live from his favor.
“It is not from the one who wills nor from the one that runs but from God who has mercy that we obtain what we hope for and reach what we desire.”
Without discipline, our spiritual life is going to struggle. But combine discipline along with love for God and we discover a powerful combination.
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