Last week a friend of ours had a medical episode. All indications are that he will need to change a few things in his lifestyle. This will include a healthier diet, more exercise, and less self-indulgence. Those changes will require discipline until they become habit.
I know what that is like. Every time I see a dessert table, I am reminded that too much sugar and too many fats will add pounds and put strain on my heart. When my weight is at or under a certain point, I’ve energy to do things, but any gain zaps me and all I want to do is sleep.
The Apostle Paul had deeper reasons for self-disciple. He compares himself to an athlete rather than a person with heart or health problems . . .
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25–27)
Serving the Lord as Paul did requires the power of the Holy Spirit. However, it also requires the power of a healthy body. This man travelled many miles on foot to take care of the Christians in each church. He also suffered much physical and mental abuse from those who opposed him. Even though he had a “thorn in the flesh” (the Bible does not fully define it), Paul was no wimp.
Chambers says that “God has made us to have government over all the temple of the Holy Spirit, over imaginations and affections.” While we are responsible to keep our minds and our bodies clear from any sort of pollution, it helps me a great deal to remember that my body is the temple of the Lord. That is, because He lives in me and is with me to provide the self-disciple I need, I can do as He asks regarding this self-governing. Yet I must never think this is ‘my’ power; all biblical self-discipline is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and not something that I can produce . . .
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22–26)
I like this passage. It tells me if those things are missing, then I am trying to live the Christian life by myself. Instead of that, I need to be filled with God’s Spirit. Then I can function as He wants. I can say NO to rich desserts and self-indulgence, yes to exercise and good habits.
Keeping in step with the Spirit also means that I will not be conceited and boast about my self-control as if it were mine. Also, I will not challenge others or be in competition with them in any way, nor will I envy anyone, even those who have perfected this discipline and practice it far better than I do.
Chambers often separates God’s work from his work for God. I cannot do that for several reasons. The main reason is that I do not want to even come close to glorifying my efforts. I know that apart from the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, I can do nothing.