Choices change our lives…
By Barbara Dahlgren
In our last blog we discussed self-control, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. On the surface it may appear that self-control and discipline are the same thing. However, there are certain nuances of these two traits that can differ.
Self-control usually involves restraint. Most of us need self-control so we don’t mess up our lives, make fools of ourselves, or hurt others. We usually need to stop ourselves. In other words, don’t do it! Restrain!
Discipline can involve restraint, but it usually involves action or being proactive. So being disciplined means to be “doers of the word, not hearers only” (James 1:22). You might say that while self-control protects us, discipline actually trains us to do what we need to do. The dictionary says that discipline as a verb means to train someone by instruction and practice. This training is vital in the Christian walk.
The New Testament speaks about Christians disciplining themselves in forming godly habits. Paul said that mature Christians have “trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 NIV). Timothy was told to train himself in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). So this self-discipline is about spiritual training. Spiritual discipline submits our worldly desires to the will of God. We control our bodies and minds to do what they should do, rather than what they would like to do. Discipline is training ourselves to do the right thing when we don’t feel like it.
We, like Timothy, should be training ourselves to have godly character. John MacArthur wrote, “Godly character is not the result of good intentions, wishful thinking, some mystical zap, or even sheer Bible knowledge. It’s developed through the self-disciplined application of God’s Word at a very basic level, enabled and empowered by God’s Spirit.”
How do we accomplish this? Paul tells us: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice” (Philippians 4:9 NIV). Practicing spiritual principles is how we train ourselves. God will not automatically give us good habits. We get good habits by consciously and consistently using what we’ve learned from Christ – in other words, through developing discipline.
Spiritual disciplines are good habits we practice that bring us closer to God. Remember that God is always with us. He remains constant – the same yesterday, today, and forever. We, on the other hand, have a tendency to drift away from Him. Developing discipline in spiritual areas of our lives keeps us from drifting.
Most Christians today do not like the idea of spiritual training which requires drawing close to God, studying His Word, meditating on how to apply it in our lives, and asking God to guide, direct, and motivate us. They would rather God funnel His godly character into us. Some want to change, but not put any time or effort into the process. They don’t want to participate with what Christ is doing in their lives, they would rather just “be” or just call themselves Christians.
Consider this… We can call ourselves lightbulbs, but we won’t shine without turning on the electricity.
One final thought… Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”