The Activity of Self-Discipline

God’s holy calling for the believer in Christ includes personal responsibility for self-discipline, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in a manner worthy of his or her high position as a new creature in Christ. God’s vision of discipleship, moreover, requires recognition of the war that rages within the believer as indwelling sin fights to maintain the dominance it once enjoyed prior to conversion. Therefore, we must recognize that the transformation the Holy Spirit continues to make in our lives involves the renewing of the mind by the Word of truth, the repenting of inner desires by the indwelling Spirit’s power, and the replacing of sinful habits by the practice of godliness. In a nutshell, a return to the apostolic pattern of maintaining a connection between sound doctrine and the discipline of godly living is indispensable to the ongoing process of sanctification. However, the late James Montgomery Boice observedthat Christians are lazy and unwilling to persevere on the hard road of godliness. Instead, we tend to look for the easy way out. As a result, spiritual growth is often lacking. Boice suggested three ways in which we try to avoid the struggle against sin.

  1. We tend to seek out formulas, simple recipes for spiritual success. Slogans such as “Let go and let God” or “Just let Jesus take control” are attractive to our spiritual slothfulness.
  2. We are prone to look for a new experience, a charismatic-type of “second work of grace” that immediately transforms us from being a defeated Christian to a victorious one.
  3. Total avoidance of the struggle against sin is a common response.

All these have one thing in common: they are ways of seeking to find spiritual victory in the Christian life without the daily grind of discipline, but that will never happen. Scripture repeatedly links progress in godliness to the disciplined effort of the disciple:

  • “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).
  • “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge …” (2 Peter 1:5 ).
  • “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Peter 1:10).
  • [Jesus said] “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
  • “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace …” (2 Tim. 2:22).
  • “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

Instead of passive slogans, the Bible uses words like “discipline,” “strive,” “flee,” and “pursue.” In other words, the Christian life is a call to a disciplined warfare against sin—a struggle to resist temptation and simultaneously apply God’s practical righteousness—a battle that will last until the day of the Lord Jesus, when “we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).

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