Being disciplined and being spontaneous seem polar opposites. How can a person be self-controlled and at the same time impulsive and do things on the spur of the moment? It seems impossible, but it happens. I think I know how it works.
First, the discipline has to be the kind God gives through the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5, this fruit of the Spirit is called “self-discipline,” yet it is not ‘self’ doing the discipline or the controlling. This characteristic only happens in the lives of those who are filled with the Spirit of God and allow Him to guide and direct their lives.
This discipline comes in an interesting form that is more flexible than rigid. It is not about saying ‘no’ when I want to say ‘yes’ or about ‘self-denial.’ Instead, the Holy Spirit gives puts in my mind the attitudes and thoughts of Christ so that my head and heart think like He does. This replaces the ways of the old me, the sinful and selfish person that wants to be the boss. Self-control is more like “old self under God’s control.
With the Holy Spirit alive and well and living in me, I am set free from a number of things. One is the desire to sin. Another is the desire to have my own way all the time. If that sounds “restricted” or as if it isn’t much fun, there is more. With the Spirit in control, I’m not afraid of anything. I don’t worry about “what will people think” nor am I always second-guessing my ideas and plans. The Holy Spirit gives great confidence, and with that confidence comes the ability to be spontaneous. I can act on impulse, trusting that God is giving me the ideas, those ideas are good, even important, and I can confidently run with them.
So being disciplined and being spontaneous do go together, but the discipline comes first. In a passage from the Old Testament, God spoke to His people about His power and what He had done in their lives. In this middle of this passage, He speaks of discipline. Look for it . . .
“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:32–36)
After alerting them to all He had done for them and the unique situation they were in as His people, God points to their privileged understanding that He is God; there is no other AND that He allowed them to hear Him speak — why? That He might discipline them.
This ‘discipline’ is a strong word. It is about reinforcing obedience, doing whatever it takes so His people will do as He says. In this context, and with the end result God has in mind, being disciplined by God could be uncomfortable, to say the least.
Yet His discipline has great value; it sets me free from sin, from fears and anxiety too, but from sin and its bondage. The disciple of God is an incredible gift, vital to my well-being and freedom. I love the idea of being a spontaneous person, free from all fear, but God has an even bigger picture in mind when He works on me to produce obedience. He spells it out in the next few verses . . .
“Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:39–40)
When I respond to His discipline and obey Him, I benefit, my children benefit, and He prolongs my days, proving what His Word says: “The Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.” (Deuteronomy 6:24)