by Elliot Hoeks, Resonate Cheney staff

1 Corinthians 9:25-27 (ESV) - “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.”

Thinking back on my life, my understanding of discipline has always been a partial understanding. As a kid I thought to be disciplined meant not doing something bad when you were tempted. As a college student, I thought discipline meant managing my time well so that I could get all of my assignments done while balancing other responsibilities. Both of these are small examples of what it means to be disciplined, but they are incomplete. Discipline goes much deeper.

Defining Discipline

Leaders, motivational speakers, coaches, pastors and parents all talk about being disciplined, and everyone has their own definition. One of my favorite definitions of discipline is from a pastor named Craig Groeschel who says, “Discipline is simply choosing between what you want NOW and what you want MOST.”

As followers of Jesus, we want MOST to be like Jesus. It is not a coincidence that “disciple” and “discipline” are such similar words. To be disciplined means to be like a disciple. To be a disciple is to be a follower, a student committed to learning as much as possible from their teacher. Discipline in our personal lives is closely related to our ability to grow as disciples of Jesus.

When you think about being disciplined you probably think of things like time management, productivity, healthy eating, reading your Bible daily, etc. All of these are good examples of the fruits of discipline, but they fail to answer the question: Why is it important for us to be disciplined as followers of Jesus?

What the Bible has to say about Discipline

1. The Holy Spirit is the source of our discipline.

The reason there are many quotes, books, and motivational speakers that talk about discipline is because many understand it to be something we find within ourselves. Discipline is said to come from self-determination, self-worth, self-actualization, etc. However, we see in the Bible that we are weak people. In this fallen, sinful world we wrestle and, often, give in to temptation (Romans 7). Relying on our own strength, we will fail.

However, when we decided to follow Jesus, we were given the true source of discipline. Romans 8:11 says “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” When you became a disciple of Jesus the Holy Spirit made his dwelling place within you, making you more like Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

One of the marks of a Christian life should be continually growing in discipline, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes that discipline is one of the fruits of the Spirit in a believer's life (Galatians 5:22-23). Becoming more disciplined is not an option, it’s a must. But it also is not solely dependent on you. Discipline is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit who makes us more like Jesus.

2. We should practice discipline seriously like Olympic Athletes.

Since the Holy Spirit is the source of our discipline, does that mean I can do whatever I want and leave it up to him? Absolutely not! Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, says that we should practice discipline like Olympic Athletes practice their sport (1 Corinthians 9:25-27, see above). God has created us with the ability to make choices, which means we must choose to have discipline.

The Holy Spirit desires to produce discipline in our lives. We must ask for His help and partner with Him in choosing to be disciplined. On multiple occasions, Paul writes to two young church planters telling them to choose discipline (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8, Titus 2:6-8, 1 Timothy 4:7). Jesus himself tells His followers to “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). We must work hard, by the power of the Spirit, to become more disciplined every day.

3. Our personal discipline brings glory to God.

As we grow in discipline, we are living in such a way that glorifies God. Understanding that true discipline is a gift from God, and that to be disciplined is to be more like Jesus, our example is one that will give opportunities to share the source of our discipline. The story of Daniel is one where discipline in honoring God personally allowed him to proclaim God’s glory publicly.

Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were Jews during the time of Israel’s captivity to Babylon. They were trained with other “wise men” of the kingdom to be counselors to the king. During this time they were disciplined in eating food according to God’s Law, despite being offered delectable but ungodly food from the king’s kitchen. They were disciplined in their studies, and excelled beyond the others in their class. They were disciplined in prayer to God, despite the law of the land commanding them to pray to idols.

Through their discipline God was able to use them to show His power and glory to King Nebuchadnezzar, who thought himself to be a god. When the men refused to pray to an idol that King Nebuchadnezzar built, he grew angry with them and threw them into a furnace so hot that the men who threw them in died immediately. Before casting them in, the men said, “'our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18).

They were faithful and disciplined in obeying and honoring God, even to the point of death. But God did sustain them. They came out of the furnace alive, without a single singed hair. King Nebuchadnezzar experienced the power of the God of Israel that day, and declared that no other God is as powerful as He is (Daniel 3:29). God can use our personal discipline to witness of His goodness and glory to others.

What should I do now?

There is no doubt that we should take discipline seriously. If you struggle with being lazy, unintentional, or non-committal you are failing to be disciplined. You need to seriously consider what ways God is asking you to grow in discipline today. But be encouraged! We have a Father who promises to give us good gifts when we ask (Matthew 7:11), and we have the Holy Spirit who is the source of discipline. Ask and you shall receive (Matthew 7:7).  

Strive to be more disciplined, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that you can have maximum impact for the Kingdom and bring glory to the God that loved you so much he sent Jesus to die in your place.