A while back, several people posted about spiritual discipline. About nineteen hundred years ago, Paul posted about spiritual discipline as well. Here is what he said;

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but {only} one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 NASB

It seems Paul wasn’t too concerned about discipline being akin to legalism, doesn’t it? In fact, it looks as though Paul was a regular practicer of discipline, enough so to be able to mention it in this letter to the Corinthians openly, without fear of rebuke.

To start this post, I mentioned that a while back, several bloggers wrote about spiritual discipline. The range of comments they received for their efforts was vast. Some wholeheartedly agreed with them, while others chastened them for being legalistic, and for seeking to be under some kind of law.

Here is a spiritual truth I have learned. No one who is of Christ is any longer under any law. There are two commandments we live by, to love God fully, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But to be placed as being under the law for practicing spiritual disciplines is impossible. The Law no longer applies to those who believe, therefore, whatever they do, they do in freedom. And in scripture, we are told to make sure that we do not use this freedom as a license for evil.

Yet there are many who would say, “But practicing spiritual discipline is legalism”. I would answer, “So long as the one practicing it is in Christ, no it is not. Who are you to judge your brother?” This might start arguments, but sometimes, arguments are necessary, so that the truth will not be suppressed.

Paul disciplined his body, and he had no misgivings about any sort of legalism. Yet in the verses above, don’t we see some sort of desire of Paul’s to earn that which was already given freely?

“so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Is Paul trying to earn something here? Most assuredly not. He is speaking from his heart, and his heart’s desire is to discipline his body, to make it his slave, not under compulsion from any sense of duty to the law, but under freedom to be made more free.

See, this is the great lie of our time, that discipline is slavery and legalism. We hear this all over the place, and it is said in the face of what Paul said in this letter to some Corinthians. Paul, a spiritual giant. The one who was taken up to the seventh heaven, and received special revelations, the likes of which no one in this world has received since. Would we call Paul a legalist, too? I wonder what kind words he would have for anyone who dared call him a legalist.

What are spiritual disciplines? I would say spiritual disciplines are those things we practice on a daily basis, not because it is required, but because we want to, and because we know it will yield results bearing fruit.

There is the danger in these disciplines, of beginning to worship our disciplines more than we worship God. This would be Pharisaical. But to simply practice discipline? No, that is not legalism.

Spiritual disciplines will free you, not enslave you. Of course there also is the fear that we will be judged as being legalistic. If that is our fear, may I venture to say that we are enslaved to more than just legalism, that maybe we are enslaved to our own image, our own ego? And if we fear to discipline ourselves, to buffet our bodies and minds, are we maybe also enslaved to our bodies, and to our minds?

Here is a truth, the flesh will always do something. It may be good, or it may be evil, but it will always be doing something. Flesh that is disciplined, and made as our slave will do our bidding. Flesh that is not disciplined, will enslave us. So, we have a choice, we can discipline our flesh, and our mind, and make these things our slave, or we can be a slave to our flesh. There will be no in-between.

So why the fear over discipline leading to legalism? Is it possibly that it’s because discipline brings to mind discomfort? Ever hear someone say, “When I pray, my day just goes better?” What is that? I have to speak honestly here. Some of the greatest, most intense meetings I have shared with the Lord have been followed up by the worst, most discouraging, uncomfortable days I have known. It doesn’t always happen that way, but it has happened enough for me to know that praying is no guarantee of a comfortable day, neither is not praying a guarantee of a “bad” day.

Do we do what we think will make us the most comfortable? And if so, why? What has our comfort got to do with anything? If all we seek from the Lord is comfort, we are living in the wrong age.

This age is hard. There are temptations around every corner, and our flesh yearns for these temptations, it yearns for release, and for comfort. The flesh will gravitate toward that which will bring it the most comfort. But we are not to be slaves to our flesh, rather, our flesh is to be our slave, doing our bidding.

I was asked just yesterday, what four or five things do I do everyday to ensure that I will live a free and empowered life? I did not answer, but I know what they are. And I know, if I do not discipline myself, my self will enslave me. The only way I can be free of my flesh, free of its cravings and lusts, is to discipline it, to make it my slave, to make it obey me. And I have this power through Christ to do just that, and it is not legalism, rather, it is freedom.

Our flesh is all about slavery, to disdain the discipline of it is to disdain freedom from it.

Theory tells us we are free, and this is true. But real life tells us that our flesh will constantly try to enslave us, if we do not discipline it. If I wanted to live in La la land, I might believe that discipline is a bad thing. But I have memories. Memories of being enslaved to my flesh, and these memories tell me all I need to know about the reality of the flesh. I can live my life in theory, or I can live my life in reality. Reality tells me that the flesh, left unchecked, will enslave me. I want to be free, and thus, I will do whatever I have to in order to get there.

Simply believing that I am free will help, but it will not get me where I want to go. I cannot sit in this chair, and do nothing, and expect to accomplish great things. Even if I believe that I will accomplish great things, still, I have to leave this chair to do it. Faith is not merely believing. Faith is moving because we believe, it is doing and acting out that which we believe. But to simply believe will not accomplish anything. Our faith LEADS us to action, and so also, our faith will lead us to discipline.

That is what Paul was talking about when he said this;

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 NASB

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