The point of discipline is not to be disciplined for discipline’s sake. That’s religion and will lead to self-righteousness.
The point of discipline is creating space for God to work and to make what is unnatural natural. Godliness is totally unnatural for sinners like us. But through training and creating space for God to work, the unnatural becomes natural.
Most of you probably watched some of the World Cup. Soccer is one of those sports you can tell right away whether or not someone played when they were a kid. Because if you didn’t play, then you look like an uncoordinated brute. You can fake it in many other sports and look half decent even if you’ve never played on a team. Not soccer. The real soccer players who’ve been playing for years are bouncing the ball off their feet and knees and weaving gracefully through defenders. You can’t fake that.
Soccer to me is amazing because I never grew up playing soccer at all except in the 4th grade. I was a chubby little kid (I know that’s surprising) and we were at recess and everyone else obviously had played AYSO for years and I had zero skills so what did my teammates do? They made me the goalie.
And so I am standing there in the middle of the goal and the captain of the soccer team who was one of those freak of nature white dudes whose a head taller than the rest kicked the ball as hard as he could right at me and I fell down and had the wind knocked out of me, but I held onto the ball. That’s the extent of my soccer skills. If the ball is hit directly at me and I don’t need to move, then my stomach can stop the ball.
I see a ball and I just want to grab it and run with it. Controlling it with my legs feels so unnatural. But through years of training, these soccer players have trained their bodies to control a ball with their legs. And when you see these pros at the World Cup, their movements seem so effortless, so natural.
The same principle applies spiritually. We discipline ourselves so that when it’s game time, we’re ready to play. When the whistle is blown, when times of testing comes, while the world is watching, we act Christ-like and it flows out naturally. Not forced. Not arm twisting and dying to ourselves every time. Not being overly religious. But genuine love and humility and compassion and gentleness flows out of us naturally.
How does what is unnatural like godliness become natural?
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
By constant use. Not temporary use. Not use when I feel like it. By constant, consistent, regular use, we train ourselves to be godly, mature Christians who can display Christ and his character.
The Bible says God gave us the spirit of power, love and self-discipline. The verb is in the past tense — ‘gave’ — that means God has already given these things to us. Do you believe this? What then is holding us back from obeying Him? The ball is in our court.
Power is God’s – do you want his presence more than anything else? Love is both God’s part and ours – are you committed to it? And finally, self-discipline is up to us – what are you going to do about it?