THE WAY OF THE CROSSThe Holiness Project – Discipline is Essential (Law #4)

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23 NIV).

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb 12:7-8 NIV).

7 Spiritual Laws of Success – Discipline is Essential

Focus on YOURSELF, not on OTHERS.

Wait a minute. That can’t be right. Christianity is not about focusing on ourselves but rather on others. That is basic to everything that Jesus teaches, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. It depends on what you mean. Let me explain.

This theme of “focusing on yourself, not on others” is typical of motivational training seminars and teaching. The idea is to take responsibility for your own issues, your own development, your own discipline and not blame others for your situation. So far, so good. But as a general statement, it just doesn’t sound very Christian.

But I would claim the opposite. It is very, VERY Christian in concept and tone. The problem is our weak-kneed concept of Christianity that has been watered down into a justified “spiritual drift” where nothing happens and nothing is expected to happen. What a waste of potential and gifts!

And the problem is exactly here at the gateway to the disicplined life.

Unless we enter into the disicplined life, full of ambition for the Kingdom of God because we are convinced that everything in life is spiritual and therefore what we do in every area of our life will impact our mission and purpose, our Life Ministry….unless we enter into that disciplined lifestyle, all of the other spiritual laws mean nothing. This is the gateway.

The first three laws (Life is Ministry, Everything is spiritual and Ambition is expected) are the three necessary mindset steps we must take to get started in the right direction. The last three laws (Discipleship is Warfare, Stewardship is Simplicity and Leadership is Influence) are the results of our journey and make up the three pillars of our Life Ministry. The gateway is right here. Discipline is Essential.

But let’s start at the beginning. What in the world do we mean by the phrase that we should “focus on ourselves and not on others?” At first glance, it seems to be the opposite of Christianity. But let’s take a closer look. Focusing on ourselves and not on others in terms of what? In terms of blame and responsibility, of course. We tend to blame others, and situations and even God for what happens to us when we need to learn to take responsibility for ourselves, for our response to what happens to us. The shift from blame (justified or not) to responsibility is a key ingredient in maturity (much less spiritual maturity).

With that said, we can agree with this statement. In fact, it is deeply and biblically true that the problem is within us and therefore we need to focus our attention on getting ourselves sorted out. That “attention to ourselves” we call discipline. God disciplines us, the Bible says, because He loves us. If we love ourselves, we should also discipline ourselves.

Let me put it this way.

We need to FOCUS on ourselves so that we can SERVE others.

Now that is more like it. That gets closer to the Christian ideal (although it isn’t quite right yet). We need to FOCUS on ourselves, where sin and temptation and even, sometimes, rebellion can lurk and discipline ourselves and transform our minds so that we can SERVE others for the glory of God. We are the problem. Serving others is the solution. We take responsibility for ourselves so that we can serve and help others with their issues and journey. That is more like it. But we are not quite there yet.

This is really what the gurus are talking about when they say “focus on yourself, not others.” So we can agree. But we actually haven’t entered into the world of Christianity quite yet. We are closer. With this step you can become a potentially better human being, motivated to take responsibility for yourself, deal with your issues and start to provide value by serving others (and potentially getting paid to do it). So far, so good. But again, nothing here is particularly Christian…..yet.

The next step is crucial.

The Bible doesn’t tell us to focus on ourselves. Yes, we need to take responsibility and stop blaming others for our situation. Perfect. But the Bible has a particular solution to the problem of sin. That solution is Jesus Christ. All of the motivational talk is about taking responsibility for ourselves, creating a disciplined lifestyle, having a goal to strive for and so on. All fine and dandy, but it doesn’t deal with the basic problem of our alienation from God which is at the heart of the problem of the human condition.

Does that mean that it doesn’t work without God?

No, it works well. It is a creational truth that a disciplined life toward a worthy goal will produce the best results that can be expected in this life. No doubt. The problem is, as Jesus pointed out, “what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36 NIV).

Christians look deeper and go further into the problem than anyone else. We have an eternal rather than a temporal perspective. The issue, at the end of the day, is our relationship with God. That is at the heart of all of our problems. That can only be solved by Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross to save us from that ruined relationship.

For Christians, then, it isn’t enough to “focus on ourselves” to solve the problem. Actually, that may solve some temporal problems and the advice is still good in general terms but, without a “focus on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV), we aren’t dealing with the heart of the issue.

It starts with our identity which has changed significantly. There is no “me,” only “me in Christ” – a new creation. We actually believe that this is the true, normal state for a human being. Already in our original creation in the Garden of Eden, God created us as a hybrid being of body, soul and spirit – fully integrated and dependent upon our relationship with God as an essential element of our identity.

The idea of “self” (generally understood as independent from God) is not a Christian concept, although it is a daily reality. The “self” without God is not normal (although it is common). The “self” with God is normal. We lost that identity and it is only restored “in Christ.”

If God exists, then he is necessary.

If God is a person, then a relationship with Him is necessary.

If God is a loving person, three-in-one, then a relationship of love (rather than obligation) is necessary.

We lost the ability or the desire to love God as a necessary ingredient to our self-identity, self-worth and self-esteem. It can only be restored through Jesus Christ. This is basic Christianity.

But let’s get practical for a moment.

Why does it matter to get this right? In terms of daily disciplines, what changes, what would be different for a Christian as over against someone who is not “in Christ?” The answer is not much….and everything. It’s like the difference between sleeping with a harlot and sleeping with your wife. On the one hand, it is all pretty much the same in terms of the mechanics. But it is completely different in terms of the relationship. The same is true here. The difference is love and love is the most transformative power that exists in this world.

For example, one of the key issues in personal development is forgiveness. Having the ability to forgive yourself and others is essential for you to have the emotional maturity to move on, change your story, think differently about yourself and your future and your abilities. As I said above, it affects your sense of self-identity, self-worth and self-esteem. All of these things are essential for self-discipline which is the gateway to the better life so many of us are striving for (although the word “better” has to be interpreted correctly as well).

Here is the achilles heel of the whole self-improvement, personal development world.

Some people already have a head start and grew up with a strong sense of self and feel that they are worthy to become all that they can be. From a Christian point of view, we know that they are simply deluded. They are de-sensitized to their own failings, especially in terms of their relationship with God (or they have sanitized that as well by being good, god-fearing folk that go to church).

Other people, in fact, most people, know themselves better than that and live with the constant, lurking sensation that they are NOT worthy of making every effort, of self-discipline towards a worthy goal, of a better life that fulfills all of their potential. That lurking suspicion that all is not well in their own hearts can be just as true of people outside the church as inside the church. It usually comes as a result of trauma done to them (usually as a child) which was self-interpreted as meaning that they were not worthy of better treatment. Or as a result of some selfish or traumatic act that they inflicted on others for which they blame themselves (addiction, abuse and the like) which is also self-interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as meaning that they are not worthy of a better life, fulfilling their God-given potential.

And that is exactly the point. It has to do with God. They are not right with God. They are not right with themselves. They are not right with the world. They see themselves as “not worthy” of the effort or the self-discipline needed to change their life. After all, they think to themselves, God (or the Universe, or themselves) will only sabatoge their efforts in the long run anyway. So why bother. Why should I even try?

Now, there is no point in saying that they are wrong. They aren’t wrong. They are right. We are responsible for our sin (even when it is addiction, abuse or abortion) and there is no way to get out of it. We can’t convince ourselves to just forgive ourselves so that we can move on with our lives. That is the best advice that the world can give us. It is true but it just doesn´t work. We can’t be fooled that easily. Sometimes we try, but we always default back to the ugly truth that we are not worthy.

And there is also no point in saying that all human beings are intrinsically worthy and that we all deserve to have a better life. That is also not true. We were all intrinsically worthy at the beginning of time in the garden of Eden but now? Now we have rebelled against our Creator and have created a world so full of hurt and pain and evil that it is almost beyond belief. Our individual faults, sins and trauma are simply proof positive that we cannot escape the condemnation of a good and loving God on all things evil and hurtful. That includes us. In fact, it includes all of us. Not one of us is exempt (Romans 3:23). There is no escape that way either.

And we know it.

Yes, some people seem to be able to move on. Some people seem to be able to forgive others and restore a relationship sufficiently for them to recoup some semblance of self-worth but forgiving ourselves is still the most difficult thing for any of us to do. Why? Because we know the truth. We know what we intended. We know our motives. We know, worst of all, that we “wanted” to do it. God help us. We actually “wanted” to hurt that person, or fulfill our abusive desires, or solve a problem in the most expeditious way possible, everybody else be damned, doing the right thing be damned, focused on our selfish need or desire above all else. Yes, we know the truth but this truth does not set us free. It enslaves us. And rightly so.

So the utilitarian solution that forgiveness is good for us or the philosophical solution that we are all intrinsically worthy of the effort of self-discipline, neither one works. Not really. Only if we dull ourselves to the reality of the evil within. And we know it. There needs to be a better solution. One that doesn’t deny the act, or soft-sell its implications and effects on others (and ourselves), one that truly heals, truly restores, truly makes us worthy once again. That solution is Jesus Christ.

What sets the forgiveness of Jesus Christ apart from every other effort at forgiveness is that it doesn’t deny the horrid nature of the sin or the destructive nature of the evil inherent in the act itself. It, rather, looks sin and evil square in the face and deals with it in the only way that even remotely has a chance of changing things for us. God, in fact, makes sin and evil WORSE but claiming that the only solution is to have his only son, whom he loved with all his heart, come to earth to die on a cross a horrible death and, in fact, endure hell and the wrath of God on our behalf.

God makes it WORSE (not better) by making the cross the only solution. So much for our efforts to trivialize our moral failures. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Love can never trivialize sin and evil. Love is horrified by it. Love is enfuriated by it. Love goes to war against evil to eradicate it. God does the same. The trick is to eradicate sin and evil without destroying his children who are deeply infected by it. That “trick” was the love of God shown in the cross of Christ.

When we are faced with the need to forgive others or ourselves, God, in essence, is saying first of all that this sin was so bad that the only solution is the cross. Accept that. Don’t deny it but embrace that truth. That is the first step in healing. Confession. We know it is true anyway.

Then God asks us a second question. Will you accept the death of my son, Jesus Christ, as sufficient payment for the sin against you by others or the sin against yourself that you did to yourself? Yes, it is terrible. There is a price to pay. Only Jesus Christ can pay that price. Will you accept that payment? If you don’t accept that payment, then there is no hope and all that awaits you is the moment when you will pay the price yourself, or the other person that sinned against you will pay that price. Remember that if you can’t apply the cross to the sins of others, it won’t be applied to your own sins either (forgive others to be forgiven principle Matthew 6:14).

When you realize that your sin and evil are truly horrible and that the only solution is to accept that Jesus Christ needs to make that payment for you in the presence of God, then you are on the way to healing. There is still a further step and that is repentance. This is not pennance which you must do in order to be forgive. You can´t pay the price. Only Christ can pay the price. It is too expensive, too difficult, too far out of our reach. This is repentance which comes after you are forgiven. Confession is a moment. Repentance is a lifetime. Forgiveness is a moment. Reconciliation is a lifetime. Repentance is not a pre-requisite for forgiveness but rather a pre-requisite for the healing that comes from forgiveness.

Repentance demonstrates to others (and yourself) that you are a new creature, that the forgiveness was real and sincere, that your heart has truly changed. Forgiveness comes with a price (or better put “with a prize.”) Forgiveness is a relational truth. It is not merely transactional, but transformational. Love transforms you through an ongoing relationship. You now belong, body and soul, to Jesus Christ and you now have a restored relationship with God. The “independent from God” you no longer exists and the “in Christ” you is the only truth you need to live by.

Ok, that’s a bit of a long explanation and there is even more to say about Confession, Repentance, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, but you get the idea. Forgiveness based on the cross is a powerful element for transforming lives. Without an ongoing committment to following Christ, that forgiveness cannot be yours. It is only for those who now choose to walk (not perfectly but intentionally) through their life in the presence of God and with the help of Jesus Christ. He is not only the author of our faith but also the finisher. His help is essential in this process of self-discipline that leads to a better life that fulfills all of our potential and gifts. Remember that God has a wonderful plan for your life and that His glory is shown in a man or woman who is “fully alive” in Christ.

Therefore, this transforming power of forgiveness is not available to people who are interested in just doing their own thing, creating their own lives, leaving God out of the picture.

No, this is Christian forgiveness for men and women who are now living out the rest of their lives as a “life ministry” where everything is spiritual, where spiritual ambition is expected and where they know that joy and peace and love await them in a wonderful life that is under the care and guidance of their loving Father focused (in many unique and creative ways) on sharing the great rescue operation that God is carrying out in this world of sin and evil and rebellion.

If you don’t share that conviction, then Christian forgiveness won’t work for you. There is no middle ground. There is no forgiveness without a life of grateful repentance. Sorry.

The point is that the next step is self-discipline.

It is the gateway to this wonderful life that God has in store for you. That is why it is an essential step in the five laws of spiritual success. But now self-discipline is possible. You may have to work on your identity in Christ issues. You may have to remind yourself of your forgiveness, how terrible your sin was (or the sin of others towards you, or both), and how necessary the cross is and how new you are now as a “new creature” in Christ. That’s why you need to focus your attention on Jesus Christ, not on yourself in order to receive the healing, deal with the problem of sin and evil within on an ongoing way so that you can serve others, provide solutions and value for others, in the marketplace, in your relationships, in your life ministry.

Self-discipline is essential. There is no way around it. Verse after verse in the Bible talks about the priority of the fruit of your labor, the harvest of your efforts, the results of your transformation. Why? Because the results rather than “the reasons you didn’t do things” is what tells you that it was real. Our ability to delude ourselves is massive. Results tell the truth. Always have. Always will.

Even God is interested in results. Not because He doesn’t love you but because He does love you. This great rescue operation that He has put all of His effort into isn’t a game to Him. It is a deadly serious business. It is a question of life and death…..eternal life and death actually. Results are everything. Results tell the truth.

There are no results without self-discipline. There is no self-discipline without spiritual ambition. There is no spiritual ambition without a conviction that everything is spiritual and your life is a ministry no matter what it is that you do or how you express it. Discipleship, Stewardship and Leadership are the results of self-discipline and they are essential in co-creating with God a wonderful life of effective ministry. Self-discipline is key to it all.

The Desert Warrior

Lord, I always thought of discipline as a dirty word. It always made my heart sink when I heard it because I know how weak I am and how quickly I fall to temptation. But you promise me that as I focus on Jesus and what he did for me on the cross, my heart will be filled with gratitude and I will be able to take baby steps with your help in the right direction. I realize that I am far more powerful than I knew and that I can do all things that are your will when I have your strength in me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.