207) Discipline and Freedom (part one)

     In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asked the disciples, as he asks each of us, the most important question in life.  “What about you,” he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”  Our answer to that question makes all the difference in the world, because the New Testament tells us that saving faith depends on what we say about Jesus.  Was he just a kind man and good teacher, or was he also the Son of God and Savior of the world?  Peter responded to this question of Jesus with his great statement of faith, “You are the Christ,” he said, “the Son of the Living God;” and then Jesus said to Peter, ‘Blessed are you.”  In John 3:16 Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  It all depends on what we believe about Jesus.

     But to say you do believe in Jesus is not then the end of the matter, as if you passed that test and now you have that part of your life taken care of.  That wasn’t the case for Peter and it isn’t how it should be for us either.  To say that you believe that Jesus is the Son of God is also to say that he is the Lord and Master of your life, and there is never an end to all that means in both demands and blessings.  It is a great blessing to know that God loves you, and it is the greatest wisdom to seek his guidance so you may know how God wants you to live your life.

     So what does it mean to have Jesus as the Lord of your life?  Can you measure that simply by the number of hours you spend in church, so that if you are involved in five activities at church that is better than if you are involved in only two?  Being active in church is a part of what it means to be a Christian, but along with that, being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus in all of life, and being obedient to Jesus in every action and decision.  The measure of a Christian life is not determined by the number of hours spent in ‘church work,’ as if serving on the church council is serving God, but planting corn and raising kids is not.  We also serve God as we serve each other, doing those things that God has called us to do, not only in church, but also in our day to day lives.

     But to say that the quality of a Christian’s life is not to be measured by the number of hours spent in church is not to say that we may neglect those specifically religious practices that are so clearly commanded and modeled in the Bible, practices such as weekly worship and frequent prayer.  The commandment “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” even appoints a specific day for the regular, weekly observance of such worship.  We must discipline ourselves to engage in these basic practices, and then that time spent with God’s Word and in prayer will influence the rest of our lives throughout the week.

     For some folks, any talk of ‘discipline’ in the Christian life runs the risk of undermining the message of God’s freely given promises in the Gospel.  This can be a problem and we do need to be careful of becoming legalistic about these things, but there is also a danger in not saying anything at all about discipline.

     Why must we be so hesitant to speak of the need for discipline in the spiritual life when we recognize, and even insist on, its importance in every other area of life?  We do not hesitate at all to talk about the need for discipline on the job, in the classroom, in sports, and in keeping healthy.  Many people are content to go to church only when they ‘feel like it.’  But what coach would tell the members of his team that they need to come to practice only if and when they ‘feel like it?’  Who can lose weight unless they discipline themselves to change their eating habits, and what diet will work for anyone if they stick to it only when they ‘feel like it?’  Yes, the Gospel is the message of God’s free gift of salvation for you, but the Bible does not talk only about salvation.  It talks about keeping the faith, it talks about repenting, and it talks about living lives of obedience.  And these things come only as we discipline ourselves to obey God, not to earn God’s love, but in response to his grace…    (continued)


Matthew 16:13-17  —  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 
   They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
   “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
   Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
   Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

Proverbs 1:7  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

II Timothy 1:6-7  —  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.


Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer