We have insatiable appetites for joy and fulfilment, and chase after them in all kinds of ways. But the deepest joy and fulfilment is found only in our creator God and experienced in lives connected with him. He is the source of all that is good and perfect. Due to the effects of the fall, and our present sinful nature, we pursue joy and fulfilment outside of God, even after we’ve experienced his salvation. So we’ve got to work hard at pursuing joy in God!
Enter self-discipline! ‘Discipline’ might arouse in us negative feelings because we’re reminded of being painfully corrected after we did something wrong. But try to see how self-discipline is a really positive thing: just as our body’s muscles need work and training (often painful) in order to maintain their strength and usefulness, so our redeemed minds need appropriate work and training in order to be strong and useful for God’s glory (1 Peter 1:13).
Christian writers speak of spiritual disciplines: deliberate steps we take in order to become more robust Christians. David Mathis has written a really helpful short book, ‘Habits of Grace’, in which he explains how carefully-developed habits are the main way in which we can really enjoy a fulfilled Christian life. Grab a free PDF, or buy the e-book, from DesiringGod.org.
We cultivate habits by repeated action. Practicing regular Bible reading, prayer, and serving together with other Christians are tried and tested ways that satisfy our appetites for joy. Through a combination of these we connect more deeply with God.
God saved us by grace and he wants us to live every day by his grace, experiencing the power of his loving, undeserved, intervention in our lives. To know his power and grace we discipline ourselves to listen to him, speak to him, and serve with him. Self-discipline, by God’s grace, shapes us to look more like Jesus. It’s like on-the-job training.
‘For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age’ (Titus 2:11–12).[perfectpullquote align=right]Practicing regular Bible reading, prayer, and serving together with other Christians are tried and tested ways that satisfy our appetites for joy.[/perfectpullquote]
Paul encourages Timothy by telling him, ‘train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.’ (1 Timothy 4:7–8).
It makes me smile that Paul’s chosen Greek word for ‘train’ (gymnazo, γυμνάζω) in 1 Timothy 4 evokes images of athletes training in the nude! That’s what athletes did back then: they removed anything that would restrict them, and their strength was clear for all to see. They exercised self-discipline for the joy of victory.
God has begun a good work in us (Philippians 1:6) and by his grace will bring us into ever-deepening joy and fulfilment. But it requires self-discipline on our part too. ‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’ (Jude 21). The rewards will be clear for all to see, in this life and in the life to come.