Self-Discipline

Self Discipline…the painful word most people don’t like, but an essential key element to a successful and satisfying walk with God.

I’ve been doing an exhaustive and long study on the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and they are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  I have labeled Self-Control as Self-Discipline and all of the other Fruits of the Spirit hinge on one thing to be carried out faithfully and effectively and that is Self-Discipline.  None of those will work without it.

Author Malcom Gladwell used the term “outliers” to paint a picture of some successful people and what made them that way.  Whether it was sports, music, I.T.-Computer skills, or the ability to make money in business there was one thing all of them had in common:  They had all invested more than 10,000 hours of time to become successful in their profession!  They obviously had mastered self-discipline in their lives.  It seems that self-discipline is the “outlier” as to why some Christians seem to take off and others barely get off the launching pad or never even take off.  In Paul’s nine Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 the last character trait is self-control.  As stated before above, it’s placement at the end of the list is possibly to remind us that it is the key to the previous other eight listed by Paul.  Jesus said that self-control “denying yourself” was the first step in becoming His disciple in Mark 8:34-35.  All throughout our Christian lives is about choosing Christ over everything else and that requires discipline.

Legendary NCAA basketball coach Bobby Knight whose teams won three NCAA Championships, one NIT championship and eleven Big Ten Conference Championships was controversial, but successful.  He had a definition for self-discipline that went like this:  “Doing what you have to do, and doing it as well as you possibly can, and doing it that way all the time.”  The New Testament word for self-control is a word used for “governing.”  Simply put, self-control is about governing our wants, desires, and impulses, governing our thoughts, emotions, actions in a Godly fashion.  The Bible suggests self-control touches our moods in Proverbs 25:28, our speech in Proverbs 13:3, our reactions in Proverbs 19:11, our time in Ephesians 5:15-16, our money in Proverbs 21:20, and our body in 1 Thessalonians 4:4.

Self-control is not something we do in our own strength, but is a talent from God and directed by the Holy Spirit.  Just like all of the other Fruits of the Spirit, self-control is a talent we must form and actively pursue.

Here are a few Building Blocks to a Disciplined Life:

  1. Enlist Your Dissatisfactions:  The Apostle Paul discovered that he hadn’t reached his goal of following Christ as he really wanted to in Philippians 3:12-13.  He was faithful and had done so much, but he was still dissatisfied in a righteous point of view.  You see, the more he accomplished for Christ, the more he wanted to do as his relationship grew with Christ as time went on.  Paul used his dissatisfactions to spur himself on to even greater self-discipline for the Glory and the Gospel of Christ.  Paul created a hunger and thirst for righteousness that Jesus described in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” in Matthew 5:6  We will never see the need for self-discipline if we think we have arrived spiritually, regardless of the areas of our lives we are dealing with.  Those who want more continually and see room for improvement will drive themselves to the demands of self-discipline.  I have read that “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
  1. Beware of Good Intentions:  It can be easy to think that wanting to do better at something or to have an idea of improving as the same as doing better.  I have many favorite authors, teachers and wise people I look up to and have learned so many valuable life and ministry lessons from them.  I have come to realize that I cannot yield a Godly lifestyle like them by simply reading their books or listening to their sermons.  Proverbs 12:11 and 28:19 warn against living in a fantasy world.  A person like that “is devoid of understanding” and “will have poverty enough!”  We cannot just think good thoughts or make declarations on what we hear.  We have to take that wise and Godly knowledge and put it into practice daily and in a disciplined fashion.  All of us have heard or seen people with incredible and amazing plans for the gospel and as time goes along they sadly never materialize because of a lack of self-discipline.  Some people have even had a prophetic words spoken over them powerfully that when heard encourages all of us to want to accomplish more for Christ and to then never see that person act on that prophetic word is a tragedy.   One of my mentors in the ministry once said something I’ll never forget.  He said “The book of Acts is called the book of Acts!  Not the book of Good Intentions!”  The church in Acts was a church on the move.  Not a church of dreams.  No one ever reached any eminence, and no one having reached it ever maintained it, without discipline…
  1. Start working out:  Exercise yourself!  Paul gave Timothy some insightful advice concerning his spiritual growth: Reject worldly distractions and “exercise yourself toward godliness.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8.  Exercising yourself sounds like the self-discipline that musicians, bodybuilders, soldiers and athletes use to reach their goals:  practice and improve, practice and improve!  Paul obviously wanted Timothy to exercise himself to be godly.  Exercise comes from the Greek word from which we get gymnasium.  So you could say that spiritual growth and becoming godly is no easier than becoming an athlete.  Paul also wrote to the Philippians…”work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in Philippians 2:12-13.  Working out your salvation doesn’t mean physical exercise, but it is just as relevant.  It means producing results, achieving a goal in the ministry and keeping on plan all the way in reaching that goal.  All of those require self-discipline.  Tom Landry, who was a longtime coach of the Dallas Cowboys once said:  “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.”  That is a pretty good illustration of our Christian lives.  We do want to be like Christ, but it takes a lot of self-discipline to do that.
  1. Fast forward your life toward a goal:  Goals can be strong motivators.  They can pull us out of the rut of our present and rocket us into the future of reaching that goal.  In Hebrews, the writer moved from the present to the future in Hebrews 12:1-2 saying “Let us lay aside every weight and let us run with endurance the race looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”  As Christians, Jesus is our goal, Jesus is our future.  In the now, we lay aside sin and its traps so we can keep pressing forward into the future to be conformed to the image of Christ as in Romans 8:29. Such final completion of this will not happen in this life, but we get closer each day to we press toward it don’t we.  Just like Paul, we don’t want to fail to finish our race faithfully for Christ.  It is knowing that we will “see Him as He is” in 1 John 3:2 that propels us forward into the future.  We can’t make it without a goal and the hope of reaching that goal that that gives us a very good reason to live a disciplined life.  We all battle against the flesh daily so we should consider the blessings and use these building blocks listed to build Godly lives that we all hunger for through the fruit of self-discipline.

Alex Fulton
Discipleship Pastor
New Covenant Worship Center

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