Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of our day as Christians is the ability to live a self-disciplined, self-controlled life. What is it that makes this practice so difficult? I would suggest at least two things. I want to be frank without sounding critical. So here goes…
1) We don’t live in a culture where this character trait is accentuated much. Americans are not known for their strict eating habits, their commitment to physical fitness, or any sense of “doing without” something. Culturally speaking, many people from foreign countries label us as rich and lazy, and so I think it is safe to say that the “quick and convenient, fast food, serve me attitude” that often can pervade our culture is not conducive to a lifestyle where self-control and self-discipline is encouraged, valued, and modeled. But when we see it, (like in the concentration level and intensity of Tiger Woods), we marvel at it.
2) Christians often struggle with the idea of what it means to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). There has not been widespread teaching on how to apply Romans 8 to the daily Christian life. But self-control is listed in Scripture as a Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). So in a sense, this makes true self-control a spiritual issue. If a Christian is walking with God and is relying on the Spirit through prayer, meditation, worship, putting off sin, etc., then God will naturally produce the kind of life that is bent towards practicing self-control. To be sure, it is very cyclical. The more you practice prayer and meditation the more the Spirit empowers you to practice prayer and meditation in a disciplined manner. This in turn will saturate the rest of your life (in many areas) so that you will then begin to notice the ability to be disciplined. They key is to start small. Take baby steps, pray about it often, find some brothers or sisters who will come alongside to encourage. But generally, simply ask God for help here, and then get started in small, tangible ways, and then the snowball will start rolling.
It is no mistake that the words discipline and discipleship come from the same root word. They are inextricably linked. As one follows Christ, the Spirit-empowered self-discipline will take hold.
A self-disciplined life is the key to freedom. That might sound contradictory on the surface, but it’s not. The life that reaps the rewards and benefits of self-discipline is truly invigorating. It is fulfilling, joy-filled, less swayed by outside circumstances (mostly because self-control gives such internal strength and stability), and is honoring to God. Self-control puts boundaries on the desires of the self, something that we fight all our lives on this side of glory. Therefore, the more we practice it the more like Christ we will become. It’s part of shedding the old and putting on the new.
On a side note, if a church is committed to practicing church discipline when necessary (in a restorative sense), then it also by nature has to be a church that emphasizes formative discipline in the lives of its members (in a constructive, discipleship sense). Be what it may, self-control may seem hard, but the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes…if you are leaning on the Holy Spirit.
Here’s a pray that we might want to pray together:
Lord, you know how hard it is. So please empower me with the strength to embrace a life of self-control. Apart from you I can do nothing. May the Spirit discipline my mind and heart. Help me to start small. Grant me the consistency to stay with it. In fact, please bring people into my life who will serve as encouragers and even role models for me in this area, so that I may glorify you with a self-disciplined life. Lord, I need victory here, and I know that it comes from a daily mind that is fixed on you. I want to experience the fulfillment that comes from this life, and I need your Spirit to help me. For as Scripture says,
“The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”
I pray in Christ’s Name, Amen.
As always, I look forward to your comments.