O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10:23).
Okay, if we don’t have it in us to conduct our lives in a way that will lead us to our ultimate destination of heaven, or even to live like a genuine child of God in the present, why do some Christians talk like they do have that ability?
I am thinking specifically of those who talk of self-discipline as though it was an essential quality of Christian life. Funny that the Bible never speaks of such a thing. Or maybe it’s not so funny. What we are actually saying when we talk of self-discipline is that I can discipline my self by myself and my self takes the credit for it. To which the apostle Paul says:
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)
If we live a consistent and orderly Christian life and then take credit to ourselves by claiming it is due to self-discipline, aren’t we contradicting the words of Jesus?
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:5).
Remarkably, when we speak often of self-discipline, we are also apt to speak often of humility. Are we perhaps mistaking the appearance of humility for the real thing? The apostle Paul has a warning for those who would choose an appearance of humility over the real thing:
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Colossians 2:18).
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).
This is Jesus’ recipe for finding direction for our lives: self-denial, not self-discipline; cross bearing, not self-righteousness. This is also the recipe for genuine humility, when we admit that we do not have it in us to direct our steps on the right pathway and depend on our Saviour to guide us each step of the way.
Many of those who speak of self-discipline are simply using the wrong word; their lives do give evidence of self-denial and cross bearing. Yet there may be a snare here for the unwary. Simply by substituting a word we may find ourselves tempted to take a little credit to ourselves, rather than thanking our Lord each day for the gift of His grace that has guided us through another day.