He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. Proverbs 15:32.
To many Christians, “discipline” is almost a dirty word. Mention the need for it and their immediate response is: “I’m not under law; I’m under grace!” Yes, of course you are … But what has that to do with the need for discipline?
Being “under law” (in the sense such Christians use the expression) is about trying to earn God’s favour and acceptance by works of righteousness; but “discipline” is not about that at all. Indeed, far from being opposed to grace, the disciplines of the spiritual life are, says Richard Foster, “the means of grace”. They are, he says, the means God uses for bring us into a growing conformity with Jesus.
Paul, the apostle of grace, certainly saw nothing inconsistent with grace in a disciplined spiritual life. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).
And let’s not ignore what the writer of Proverbs says about discipline: to ignore it is to despise oneself. An undisciplined life betrays the fact that, deep down, we don’t really care about ourselves or about becoming the person God made us to be. Why? Because without discipline our growing in grace will be slow or non-existent!
Of course, the discipline that the writer of Proverbs talks about appears to be discipline from outside, because he parallels it with “correction” … but his words apply equally to self-discipline. Indeed, in today’s world, self-discipline is the only form of discipline available to most of us.
Lord, help me to do the things I do — prayer, study of your word, worship, service and the like — not to score Brownie points but just to grow more like you. Amen.