“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” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV emphases mine).
If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time—or even read the subtitle: Musings of a Mindful Disciple—it should be reasonably clear where I stand on the topic of discipline. But to look at the concept with fresh eyes can be a little daunting. There’s the whole question about where our faith puts us in relation to the Law. Are we under the Law, or are we free from it? And if we are free from it, does that mean that it’s of no concern to us? Just what does God expect from us when we believe?
In Romans 5-8, Paul goes into detail about our relationship, if we are in Christ Jesus, to the Law. He points out that the Law was put in place so that we would understand what sin is, and realize that we needed God. Before we came to faith, we could do nothing but sin (Romans 14:23)! Christ’s sacrificial death, and our subsequent faith in Him, set us free from the penalty of the Law and made it possible for us to obey the Law. See this clearly. We could never obtain salvation through conformity to the Law; it is impossible. But we have now, through faith, obtained the ability to not sin.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, ESV). Jesus made it clear that the Law is good by taking it further. He pointed out that outward obedience to the Law was insufficient; He internalized the Law by showing us that our thoughts also are a violation of the Law. Paul recognized that Law served to point him to God and that it is good (Romans 7:12).
Whether we had a great childhood with great parents, and learned from the greatest example, or whether we came from a broken or abusive home, we all have an understanding of the word discipline. For some it was gentle, patient encouragement aimed at developing strong and godly character. For others it was violent and painful rebuke for failing to live up to some unknowable and unattainable standard. Some have the understanding that discipline positively shapes us into whomever God desires for us to be. And others see only judgment. No warning. No mercy. No grace. Only pain.
Most of us live somewhere in the middle. While it can be incredibly difficult to identify with God as our Father if our earthly father was less than loving, it is imperative that we understand the discipline of God from the heart of what a father should be.
Even if our earthly father was terrific, he was imperfect. God carries no such flaw. His love abundantly and joyfully provides for us, not simply what we think we need, but that which is actually best for us. When He looks at us, he sees us with boundless love.
Such love must necessarily provide discipline. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8, ESV). Jesus said, “…unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, ESV).
For most of us, as we grew and matured we received greater freedom and greater responsibilities. We started making more of our own decisions. We moved out. We became a law unto ourselves, no longer shackled by the house rules. We may have felt that we no longer needed discipline.
But, we never outgrow our need for discipline. If we desire to become more like Christ, we must be open to discipline. We need the external discipline that we get from God directly through His Word and prayer. We need the external discipline that comes from an accountability partner or partners. And we need the internal discipline to recognize in ourselves the things we need to change, and the internal discipline to choose to follow God’s leading.
So, what about self-discipline? Do we think that because of Christ’s sacrifice we no longer need to work toward holiness? As Paul would say, “By no means!” As we mature we train ourselves to be obedient. Obedient to what? Righteousness and godliness!
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14, ESV emphasis mine). “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7, ESV emphasis mine). “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV emphases mine).
If you have ever trained for a sport you understand that training can be painful. In order to become better, faster, or stronger, the body and mind need to be pushed to their limits. Our muscles actually must be damaged in order to become stronger. Training for righteousness and godliness can produce pain and stress as well. “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” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV emphases mine). We train ourselves not so that we can earn anything, rather we train because we have been given so much!
Some closing thoughts. Legalism is only bad when we apply the standards to which we hold ourselves to other people, and when we obey God for any other reason than the love of Christ.
As a beginner golfer would not be expected to shoot par, nor a little-league batter expected to be able to hit a 90-mph slider, we can’t expect others to live to the standard to which we hold ourselves. God is the judge.
Finally, we obey God because we love God. We love God because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). Obedience for the sake of getting something in return is misappropriated.
Discipline is good. It may be difficult, and painful at times, but it bears good fruit. Don’t be afraid to discipline yourself. God cannot force you to grow.
Blessings on your weekend!
Each week, Skipping Stones looks at a new topic or scripture with the purpose of growing in discipleship. Monday through Thursday the posts are shorter and provide a thought or two for you to mindfully consider as you go through the day. On Fridays I offer a longer post that looks at the subject of the week with a little more detail; and you have all weekend to read and reflect on your own walk with Christ!
As always, if something you read touches your heart and points you toward a deeper walk with Jesus, please Like, Comment, and Share.
Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay.