“The first and best victory is to conquer self”
I’m gonna start this post out today with a quick exercise. Unfortunately for you it requires reader participation, but don’t worry, I’m not gonna ask you to stand and do jumping jacks or anything crazy.
Just do me a favor.
I’m going to say a phrase and I want you to think of just one word, phrase or thought when I say it…this is one of those first thing that comes to your mind kinda things ok.
Here we go: SELF DISCIPLINE.
Ok, now lock whatever word or phrase you came up with in your mind for a second. Now I’m not going to ask you what your word or phrase was, but let me have you think about something…was the word or phrase you thought of positive or negative?
Now if you’re like most people, it was probably negative. There are some exceptions to this of course, but as a general rule human psychology around the phrase “self discipline” is…well not so good.
Now do me one more favor. As you read the kind of life I’m about to describe, try as hard as you can to picture this life being your own. Picture it as graphically as you can including feelings, emotions, scents, sounds, activities and situations. K, here we go…as you read, remember, this is YOU:
- You experience complete freedom now in a way that you could only previously imagine; a freedom that literally leaves you utterly care free,
- You unknowingly experience an increasing amount of humility on a daily basis,
- You are aware of a fresh zest and exhilaration with living,
- You are amazed at the stunning new confidence that marks your activities.
- Fear, worry, and anxiety no longer have a place in your life. On the rare occasion these feelings start to arise in you, you are able to bind them in the name of Jesus and restore peace that surpasses understanding almost immediately.
- Although the demands on your life are as great as ever and seemingly intensifying, you live in a new sense of unhurried peace and tranquility.
- You are now aware, on a nearly continual basis, of an intense and indescribable fellowship with God.
- You are always seeing things in and around your life with an eternal perspective.
- Your relationships are deep, meaningful and lasting.
- You are used often and effectively by God to edify the body of Christ and reach the lost by breathing life, encouragement and hope into others
- You are an inspiration to people around you, not because of you, but because of who you are in Christ.
- You are a mighty warrior for Christ against the powers of darkness and the Evil One
- You are able to tap into the unlimited power of God that lives inside of you at a moments notice and God uses you to accomplish the same miraculous things that Jesus did and “even greater things than these”.
Now I don’t know about you, but even as I was writing those things to you, from deep within me I longed for that kind of life. And wouldn’t you say that the kind of life I just described is the farthest thing from something negative or bad as is possible?
Well I would submit to you that the kind of life I just described can ONLY come from true intimacy with God and a Holy Spirit led life that can only be attained through self discipline.
In other words, I hope you see today that the only way to enjoy the full Christian life God intended is through disciplined living.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New Living Translation)
24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
Recognize the Race & Your Part
Andrew MacLaren, a Protestant commentator, states, “There are few things more lacking in the average Christian life of today than resolute, conscious concentration upon an aim which is clearly and always before us.”
In other words, Christians today lack focus and direction
If you look at verse 24, you’ll see how Paul is telling us 2 important things.
- You are in a race
- You should want to win that race
I think people gloss over this when they read this passage (at least I did) but I think Paul is saying here to the Corinthian church is run the race of your life with focus and intensity. Run it in such a way that second place is just not good enough.
In other words, don’t coast.
Dave Ramsey says that if you don’t tell your money where to go it won’t just stay put nice and safe in your account or wallet…it will go somewhere away from you!
Likewise, if your life isn’t focused on goals (the prize) and girded by underlying principles and values, Satan will literally steal your time away from God with busyness and steal your joy with stress.
The sad part of this is I’m not sure if Satan steals it or if we just hand it over to him by doing this.
Self Discipline Allows For True Transformation
So how do we prevent this? Enter self-discipline. Look at verse 25 with me. 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.
The New Kings James Version says it this way: “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown”.
So thinking there may be more to this whole crown analogy than meets the eye and having a hard time imagining a shiny Heisman trophy like statue being awarded for first century champions, I researched it and found that the crown first-century athletes won was a laurel wreath typically worn on the head as an emblem of victory.
This is a wonderful parallel for the temporary treasures of this world that we attempt to reach.
You see a laurel wreath wilts in just a few hours. It would never be worn a second day. The prize for us as Christians is the amazing gift of eternal life and living your God-given purpose while on the earth.
Consider the analogy of the runner used by Paul. Serious athletes, runners included, follow extremely rigorous programs that dictate
- rising early,
- eating a restricted and carefully planned diet,
- exercising intensely pushing his body to new heights with each passing day (some would call this torture too).
- When not resting, fueling his body with the proper nutrition or exercising, he is meticulously working on honing his technique and skill or enhancing his endurance.
- At the end of the day he goes to bed at a planned and precise hour as to ensure the proper amount of rest while ensuring he’s up early the following day to start again.
Throughout the runners day, day in and day out, he not only avoids sensuous indulgences, but he must also abstain from perfectly legitimate things that simply do not fit into his program or would threaten to crowd out some aspect of it.
You see the runner is not just concentrating with intense focus, planning and discipline while he’s running. He understands his whole life impacts the race.
So with that understanding of the race we’re in and how we should be intensely focused on the prize, let’s look at what self discipline is and is not.
What Self Discipline Is
Now for the remainder of this post, I’ll be referring to self-discipline and self control synonymously.
Self-control is the 9th and last of the fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22 –23. Let there be no doubt, even though it is listed last, at the importance of self-discipline to living the empowered Christian life.
In that passage, “self-control” (temperance, KJV) is the translation of the Greek word enkrateia, which means
- possessing power over oneself,
- having mastery or possession of ones desires and impulses.
Along with the idea or understanding of discipline, there is also a notion of moderation and soundness of mind associated with this word. So of course, it would stand to reason then that self discipline is going to keep us from indulging in selfish desires or impulses that could be described as sinful.
But self-discipline is more than just avoiding sin though. Is avoiding sin at all costs important? Of course. Sin separates us from the Father and pains Him greatly. But merely avoiding sin in our life will not make us grow spiritually.
There is a proactive nature to our Christian living, which I believe Paul is pointing out in this passage and encouraging us toward.
Just as with the athlete above there are many legitimate things – things that would NOT be considered sinful – that distract our focus or weight us down so as to not run the best race possible. These can be things that are so time consuming or mind consuming that they literally pull us away from or distract us from our goal.
Again, we must first look at what our aim and goal is in this life, the prize that Paul talks about, and then, through a deliberate and conscious set of actions and decisions, discipline ourselves to stick to the plan and win the race.
Now that we know what self-discipline is, let’s look at what it is not.
What Self Discipline Is Not
First it’s important to understand that self discipline is NOT a matter of you willing to be perfect; true self-discipline is a fruit of the spirit not an outward result of your trying harder. So for example, plants don’t produce more fruit from trying harder. Transformation is Gods job, ours is to place ourselves in the soil and let the Holy Spirit change us. This is what Paul is telling us in Gal 6:8; 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature[a]will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
You see a farmer is powerless to actually grow grain…all he does or can do is provide the right conditions for the growing to occur. He prepares the ground, plants the seed, and cultivates the ground waters the seed for sure, but then the natural forces over which he has no control take over and up comes the grain. This is the way self-discipline will help you sow to the Spirit. The discipline itself gets you to the soil and puts you in a place where God can transform you as He sees fit.
Also, self discipline is NOT a collection of laws or rules that are used to imprison us. This one is important…self discipline taken too far or perverted, turns into the truly ugly monster of legalism. Now we could spend a whole lifetime of posts on the topic of legalism…but suffice it to say legalism brings bondage and leads to death.
So hopefully if I’ve done my job…even a little, you will be asking yourself where and how to get started with more disciplined living especially as it relates to your faith and walk with Christ.
Where Do I Start With Disciplined Living?
Well the first place to start is a thorough study of the Spiritual Disciplines – 3 of which are the discipline of study, the discipline of meditation and the discipline of prayer. Through these disciplines you can begin praying for the Holy Spirit to direct you into further discipline and change in your life. I HIGHLY recommend Richard Foster’s book on the spiritual disciplines called Celebration of Discipline. It’s a classic and also rated by Christianity Today as one of the top 3 books of all time outside of the Bible.
If you’re looking for someplace to start, start there.
Here are some other practical suggestions:
- First and foremost, pray about your level of discipline across all areas of your life and ask God to show you were you could stand to tighten your belt a bit.
- In all areas of life, begin to try to live in a spirit led way more often. The goal is not perfection at all costs here but we are modeling the only perfect life ever lived which of course is Jesus who clearly said this about Himself: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does”. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to the Father “I have shown your glory on earth; I have finished the work you gave me to do.” Make sure you finish what God wants YOU to do on this earth!
- Take a class or speak to your pastor about learning how to find your gifting if you’re not sure of what it might be. This is so you can learn how God has uniquely gifted you and to how He intends you use that gift in your life.
- Don’t get caught up in the discipline itself but in placing yourself daily where God can transform you (remember once your in the soil, the Holy Spirit takes over, but your job is getting yourself to the soil).
- Don’t get discouraged at failure or setbacks; this is a lifelong process and behavior pattern you’re after. Setbacks may come, but don’t let the enemy take you out of the race by quitting.
In conclusion, let me just say this; I believe with every thread of my being that many Christians unknowingly miss out on Gods best for their lives and that’s sad indeed. But I believe there is something much more profoundly sad than that.
Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA once said this: “Jesus certainly didn’t die that awful death on the cross so we could go to church and tithe”. In Jesus’ last words to his disciples He told them this: “I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my Father has told me. You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name”. How sad indeed would it be for the people who call Him Lord of their lives to completely miss knowing Him on an intimate level and accomplishing all He wanted them to.
Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”; let’s make sure He is able to use us to whatever capacity He desires to bring life and hope to a lost and dying world, Amen?
So change the world by starting with yourself!
Filed Under: Spiritual Disciplines