Self-discipline is very important in life. As a kid growing up I never liked the tough discipline that was imposed on us at home and in school. Though I wanted to live outside of those rules as much as possible, I found that it was hard and had some unpleasant consequences. I was afraid to break rules not merely because of the punishments I would get, but primarily, because of their authority and the relationship I had with them. When I look back, I see that those disciplines have established a pattern in my life, which yielded many rewards later in my human-side of life.
When we come to the Word of God, we also find that there are principles and rules, about the spiritual side of self-discipline. As for Christians, growth in personal holiness is largely determined by our progress in the spiritual side of self-discipline.
The word “discipline” comes from the Greek word “enkrateia” which means, “lordship“. Self-discipline means to exercise power over one’s self. It is the ability to keep one’s self under control. The word indicates self-mastery over one’s inner desires, thoughts, actions, and words. It is the control a believer must exercise over his life.
Peter the Apostle, addressing the believers in chapter one of his first letter, talks about the inheritance that is reserved for us. He says there will be all sorts of trials for a short period, but in the end, once our faith is tested and proven genuine, there awaits praise, glory, and honor when Jesus returns. Now, this is what he says in v13,
“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” – 1 Peter 1:13
That’s precisely the idea of self-discipline: ‘Girding up the loins of our minds’. Here is the imagery of someone ready to go for a long hike, pulling up their tunic and tucking them into their belt, and tying things down. What it means is to pull in all the loose ends in your thinking.
Then he says, “Be sober”. He is not talking about alcoholism. Sober mindedness in the Bible has to do with a disciplined mind. A disciplined mind avoids the intoxicating elements of the world. Peter is saying simply, “Fix your priorities, exercise spiritual loyalty, and exercise self-control in your thinking, and rest your hope in the grace given to you.”
05 foundational priorities
Here are 05 foundational priorities, which we need to establish in our lives in order to cultivate the disciplined mind. Without this foundational discipline, there can be no advancement in grace.
Our behavior is a direct result of two things: the information we have, and the level of our commitment to that information. In other words, we behave in accordance with what we know, and what we believe about what we know. As Christians we know the Word of God, we have the foundation for our belief. So, our action then is a product of what we know to be true, and what we believe. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price…”
Here are 02 very strong statements about who is in charge of us:
First, we are children of a FATHER who has complete authority over us.
“As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance”
– 1 Peter 1:14
Christians are called by many names in the Bible. But the most common name by which we are ever called is that of children: the children of God, the children of the Lord, the children of promise, the children of the day, the children of light, beloved children, dear children. And John called believers in Jesus Christ, ‘little children’. The idea is we belong to God who is our Father.
Secondly, we are slaves of a MASTER who bought us at immense cost.
“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and spot”
– 1 Peter 1:18-19
This whole matter of self-discipline starts when I realize who owns me. I am not my own, I have been bought with a price. When you begin to understand what God has gone through to purchase you, to make you His servant, and to adopt you as His son, and that He is in charge of you, that is going to have an impact on the way you order your life. Our obedience to His lordship, our submission to His fatherhood is not grievous, because it brings about blessing in this life, and the life to come.
Remember the covenant of salvation
Do you remember that when you were saved, it wasn’t just a one-sided thing? Do you remember that you came to Christ turning from your sin, asking the Lord to forgive your sins and save you from hell? And you came in faith and said, “Yes, God, I receive your gift of salvation, I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” Do you remember at that time you confessed Jesus as your Lord? Paul, in Romans 10:8-9 says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. In vs 3, Peter in fact reminds us this very thing:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” – 1 Peter 1:3
We need to look back to the covenant of our salvation. In other words, there was a promise on God’s part to forgive us and bless us. But, we should not forget that there is a promise on our part as well –the promise of obedience.
We confessed from our mouth that He is our Lord. The Greek word for ‘Lord‘ Kurios (κύριος) refers to a person exercising absolute ownership rights. It means “one who has power, ownership, and absolute authority” -that is our confession, that is our pledge. He is Kurios, sovereign, absolute ruler. When I say, “Jesus is Lord,” I am not identifying Him merely as a deity. I must understand that He is the one who is giving me orders now. I must understand the cost of my confession. I have died to myself (Luke 9:23). I am not in charge anymore. I am not in control anymore. My ambitions, desires, possessions, relationships, plans, and goals all set aside. The promise of obedience is binding upon all the believers.
But as time goes on, we forget the pledge that we made, and we begin to forfeit our integrity and fail to keep the covenant with the Lord. If Jesus is Lord and I call Him Lord, then He has the right to ask me the question, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord,’ and do not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46). So, remember the covenant of your salvation; the pledge you made.
Recognize all sin as a violation of a relationship
“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear” – 1 Peter 1:17
When we sin, we are not simply breaking a code, we are sinning against a person. Sin has implications in all kinds of directions, but it is primarily against God. “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Sin is an active rebellion against God’s Holy Character. If you are God’s child, act like it. Don’t violate that relationship.
You need to understand the Father’s heart. He loved you, saved you, cared for you, provided for you, protected you, and treated you with kindness. And now, is it too much for Him to ask that you would respect Him, honor Him and obey Him? Sin shatters the heart of the father. When my children disobey, and reject my love, and violate my rules, I don’t cease to be their father, but the relationship is wounded. You must see sin like that, which ruins the relationship. So, do not abuse His kindness, His mercy, His compassion, and His grace.
Learn to control your imagination
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” – 1 Peter 1:14
Peter alludes to this issue, when he says, ‘before you become a believer, you didn’t have the capacity to control the thoughts of your heart, your desires, and imaginations in your mind. But, now you have that capacity, so do not live like ignorant people.’
The word ‘desires’ the New Testament comes from the word Greek ‘epithumia’. In the Old Testament, you will see another word ‘yetser’ (Hebrew) translated as imaginations, intent (Gen 9:5, 8:21). When the Bible talks about the heart it means the mind (will, emotions, reasoning). When it says, the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful -that’s the mind. Imagination is the place where sin is conceived, where sin is fantasized, and where sin is energized.
“Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). Sin is not an act; sin is the result of a process.
- It starts with imagination – Desire
- You rationalize your right to have that longing – Deception
- Now you plan to do it – Design
- You engage in the act of sin – Disobedience
Now, if we are going to control sin, at what point we should deal with the process? At the level of imagination or desire, before it conceived or settled in the mind! In dealing with sin in our lives, we don’t deal effectively at the end of the line; we need to go way back to the beginning. The battle has to be won there, in the imaginations of our mind. You win the battle inside, and you’ll win the battle on the outside. You lose the battle inside, and you’ll lose the battle on the outside.
Hide the Word of God in your heart
“And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” – 1 Peter 1:25
The Word of God activates our conscience. “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” (Joshua 1:8). Conscience is not in itself a moral law; it is merely an internal rational capacity that bears witness to our value system. It is like an “early warning system” built-in to our lives. It is a trustworthy guide only when informed by the revealed Word of God. However, it can be subdued by the acts of disobedience.
In 1983, there was a tragic plane crash in Spain -a Colombian Avianca Airlines Flight 011. The airplane was equipped with a digital flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder, both of which were recovered on the day of the accident in good condition. The investigations found that the crew did not respond properly to the ground proximity warning system (GPWS). Just a matter of minutes before the crash the synthesized computer voice in the voice box said, “Pull up, pull up, pull up” Inexplicably, the pilot said, “Bueno, Bueno” (“okay okay”) and shut off the autopilot. And in a matter of minutes, the plane crashed into a mountain approximately 7.5 miles southeast of the Madrid Barajas Airport, killing 181 people.
The warning system of the plane was stored with real information, and the radar recognized that the plane was heading for a collision. Now, that’s how conscience works. Sound doctrine is real information stored in our hearts. When conscience says, “Pull up, pull up, stop, don’t do that”, it is simply reacting to the information deposited in it, like that airplane.
Now, the reaction of our conscience depends on the information that we have fed into your mind. If we are feeding our mind with worldly moral codes our warning system does not activate to the reality of God’s truth. The society has come up with new moral codes. Sex outside the marriage is ok, gay and lesbian practice ok, killing the unborn is ok, cheating income tax is ok, etc. If we feed our mind with these worldly codes, we flip off the switch of your true early warning system and head for the inevitable collision.
But as believers, we have the Word of God. We have a fully informed conscience with the reality-driven radar system. When the conscience says, “Pull up, don’t do this, stop, do this” that is a God-given gift. We must pursue sound doctrine. The more we feed our conscience with real information, the more accurate our early warning system is. The more accurate our early warning system, the less we sin and more we spiritually disciplined.
If we do not discipline ourselves, God Himself will discipline us (Heb. 12:5–11). One way or another, there will be discipline in our lives. Like an elite athlete who subjects his body to a rigorous exercise and self-denial hoping for a perishable prize, a Christian must also exercise spiritual discipline focusing on the imperishable prize that has already been reserved. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Steven Lawson
Fundamental Christian Attitudes, by Dr. John MacArthur