27 March 2009

On Discipline

There are those who would suggest that disciplines are a form of legalism; I have to heartily disagree. Discipline, at least as I have experienced in my life, is rather the condition in which freedom becomes possible. Let me explain.

My lazy body does not wish to exercise. Never has and I suspect it never will. But when the body's desire is over-ruled and I force it three times a week to do what it does not want to do, I suddenly see that I am free and no longer in bondage to my body's inherent laziness.

My heart does not wish to pray. Not as it should, and my mind can always come up with other things that I need to be doing instead. But when the heart or mind is told: Hush, now is the time of prayer, and I follow the discipline of daily matins and vespers, I find myself free again. Freed through the Word that is heard and free to pray, even when I don't feel like it - and just like the exercise, when it is done, I find that I ended up feeling like it a great deal!

My palate never thinks that a single glass of wine is sufficient. Hasn't done so for a long time. I'd like two or three. But when that desire for more is overruled and the thirst is told: this much you get, no more, I suddenly find myself free again. I didn't HAVE to have those extra glasses at all.

I have no idea if this makes any sense to anyone else, but to me in my life disciplines have been anything but legalisms. I don't pretend for an instant that they make me more pleasing to God - how can anyone be more pleasing to God than one already is through the self-oblation of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, our Eternal High Priest? Instead, I see that these disciplines have freed me from behaviors that used to trap me and hold me in bondage. This holds in so many areas of life that I can't even begin to enumerate them all.

My plea: do not mistake disciplines for legalism and leading to bondage. In fact, they lead to the opposite.


Mike Keith said...

I absolutely agree and it makes perfect sense to me. We have a constant battle with our Old Adam. The Romans 7 battle. There are things I want to do but because of sin and weakness I do not. Not only do I want to do them according to the New Man in me, I know they are good for me! Yet I find myself doing those things which are not good for me. This is where discipline comes in. For example, as you mentioned, daily Matins Service has been a great blessing for me. It has kept me in the Word of God and in prayer. The fact that a couple members show up each day also helps me to remain faithful in prayer. This is not a law - you MUST have Matins each morning! No! It is a glorious aid in helping me do what I truly do want to do according to my New Man that my sinful flesh seems too weak to do on its own. Discipline helps to fight the battle.

Perhaps there are those who do not need such discipline to remain faithful. Praise God. I am not such a person. Voluntarily undergoing certain disciplines is not legalistic at all. It is, as you say, very freeing. Judging others according to such disciplines could very well be. And therein lies, I would suggest, much of the problem when peopel perceive disciplines to be legalistic.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

But you know that the Law always accuses therefore there is nothing good about it and you are therefore a legalist.

: )

Great post!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The only caveat I would add to discipline is a question of who sets it. If you say to yourself, "One glass of wine is a good limit for me" - that is fine and good. If I say to you (or vice versa), "You can only drink one" then that is where things start getting dicey.

I'm all in favor of discipline and self-control. When it is applied to others, you need think carefully about:
1) Do you have any business attempting to exert control upon them?
2) On what basis are you setting the standard of behavior?

But with this one caveat - yes, excellent post!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree Pastor. I would love to eat more than one cookie or better yet bypass a healthy apple for a brownie. And discipline is the bridge between what I want to what I want to actually accomplish. In this case, eating healthy because it just better all around.

William Weedon said...

I think Eric's and Mike's point are both essential: if it is imposed from without then it is not a discipline in the sense I'm talking about. It must be freely chosen.

Sarah, for me the sweets hold little appeal; it's the salt. My wretch of a son dares to bring home and crunch on in my presence Jalapeno Krunchers - my all time favorite chip. I'll admit: sometimes I just smell the bag to remind myself of how wonderful they are. But I've decided no more chips for me.

Jim Huffman said...

Defining terms is helpful.

Legalism is fundamentally a belief that a given action or behavior renders one more acceptable to God. Phariseeism is probably related to it. Outwardly, legalism might look like discipline, but they are two entirely different things.

Discipline is related to discipling, and folks should be taught the difference between it and legalism. A life without disciplines is usually pretty unproductive, at best, but disciplines -- like habits -- are useful, helpful, and often essential to ordering what might otherwise be a chaotic life.

Christian Soul said...

Thanks for this post. I often read your blog because it shows the beauty of living a prayerfully disciplined life. This post helps me realize why.

I have to admit that when I read some of your health disciplines I think your nuts, but the discipline of praying to our Father and meditating on His Word is awesome.

I get slapped up the side of the face with the law all of the time, but time spent in the Word is healing balm.

Dr Matthew Phillips said...

Pr Weedon,

A twelfth-century Cistercian abbot could not have written it better.

Have you appropriated the traditional discipline of self-flagellation? Certainly, not to earn God's favor, but simply to keep your physical desires in check. (See I Cor. 9:27) Another idea is wearing a hairshirt or a small metal coil around your thigh.

Yes, Paul, Lex SEMPER accusat, sed non SOLA. (Rom. 3:20; 5:20; 7:12).

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

My plea: do not mistake disciplines for legalism and leading to bondage. In fact, they lead to the opposite.


And if disciplines lead to freedom from bondage, and if salvation is freedom from bondage, then what is the place of disciplines in our salvation?

WM Cwirla said...

I believe it was the Augustinians who said, "Drink one glass of wine to spite the devil, forego the second to honor God."

This is also why red wine glasses are quite large.

William Weedon said...


Disciplines are a fruit and benefit of the living out of our salvation.


You betcha the glass is a BIG one!

Anonymous said...

Pr. Weedon,

I grew up with a friend who lived a couple of blocks down the street from my house. This guy's life was so disordered and reckless that most folks who knew him, when they saw him walking their way, would take leave in order to avoid him. You always had the feeling he was going to hurt you by word or deed. Anyway, surprise of all surprises, he enlisted in the Marines. When he returned from boot camp, he was a changed man. Entirely changed. Noone could believe how well ordered his life had become and how much self-discipline he now exercised. He had no regard for Christ or the things of the Church, but he was a far different man after the Marines got their hands on him.

In my mind, this in no way contradicts what you have written about the benefit of disciplines. It only confirms what you have written about the relationship of such disciplines to our salvation.

Good post. Thanks.

Tom Fast

Susan said...

A friend posted a favorite quote on her blog yesterday:

Willing obedience is a very different thing from coercion. A college dean once observed that the happiest students on any campus are the musicians and athletes. “Why?” I asked. “Because they’re disciplined, and they volunteered to be disciplined.” People sitting in required lectures are under discipline, and people sitting in television lounges are “volunteers,” but athletes and musicians put themselves under a coach or director who tells them what to do. They delight to do his will. They are actually having fun.

God does not coerce us to follow Him. He invites us. If we want to be disciples, we place ourselves, like the football player and the instrumentalist, under someone’s direction. He tells us what to do, and we find our happiness in doing it. We will not find it anywhere else. We will not find it by doing only what we want to do and not doing what we don’t want to do. That is the popular idea of what freedom is, but it does not work. Freedom lies in keeping the rules. Joy is there, too.