The first people to be called Christians were first called “disciples” of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26). A disciple can be best defined as a student/follower of a Teacher/Leader, who studies a discipline (profession) to gain mastery over it and become equipped to pass on the training to others. The term is mostly used in a religious or philosophical context.
Every person that chooses to be called a Christian is saying that they are disciples of Jesus Christ. As disciples, they are submitted to the discipline of Christ, to follow Him as He leads and trains them in the knowledge of His ways. A Christian who is not a disciple of Jesus is not truly a Christian. When one becomes a Christian, they are submitting themselves to be led and disciplined, by Jesus Christ or those to whom He has given authourity to train others, and who continue to be submitted to His leadership (1 Cor 11:1).
The practice of discipleship seems to have been forsaken by the Church now, and most people who regard themselves as Christians are not disciples at all, and do not necessarily live disciplined lives as to be expected of disciples of Jesus Christ. Part of the problem is probably the lack of unified understanding on what it means to be a follower of Jesus and the disciplines such a person should be subjected to.
Many people buck at the idea of discipline in Christianity. Discipline looks too much like salvation by works. It looks too much like religiousity or legalism. Discipline is so easily abused by those who feel authourised to lead and teach others, so that many run at the first mention of discipline. Christ, they reason, was much too loving to expect us to submit to discipline. He was against the status quo and religiosity, so how could he expect us to follow a set of rules religiously?
Discipline is actually a gift in disguise to those who are submitted to it. Discipline is the kind of thing that divides people…those willing to be submitted to it and those who are unwilling to submit to anything and rather do as they please. Those who submit themselves to a discipline soon learn the benefits of that discipline, and are more able to continue in the discipline, having experienced the benefits and developing a certain toning, which makes the continuous discipline bearable and even enjoyable.
An example is the discipline of exercise. The rewards are numerous for those who submit to it, not limited to more energy, longer life span, better health and fitness, toned muscles and body, improved physical appearance and more. I am no proponent of exercise. In fact, I’ve known the benefits, but decided not to burden myself to submit to it. The benefits didn’t seem all that worth it to me, compared to the liberty to sleep in as late as I want, and not to exert too much energy, when I would rather ‘veg out’. Even knowing the dangers, I did not have enough inclination or willpower to be submitted to this discipline…and I’m the loser for it.
Just the other day, I went to a resort with my husband for our anniversary, and we thought we would play a game of Tennis. Tennis used to be one of my favourite sports in school. I wasn’t all that good, but good enough to do a few rallies. Well, I was out of breath after the first couple of swings of the racket. Running after the ball was like running up a hill! I was exhausted after barely ten minutes, and was hardly able to keep a rally going with my husband. I couldn’t believe how unfit I was. I knew I had put on weight since pregnancy, but I’m not overweight, so I was very surprised. The next couple of days, as my arm muscles ached, I realised just how weak I really am.
The discipline of exercise is its own benefit. Same with the disciple of dieting (which I have also bucked at). Of course there is a tendency to abuse any discipline, to loose sight of its intent and to do them for a prideful motivation. That can happen with Christianity too. We can be so engrossed in the discipline of living a Christian life that we loose sight of the benefits of our relationship with our Leader and Teacher, Jesus Christ.
However, fear of abuse is not sufficient reason to avoid a discipline. You have to discipline yourself to tow the path of discipline, and not to become slack in it…nor proud in it. The goal with our Christian discipline is to help us have the right balance in this life, a right attitude to money, relationships, pleasures, health and more as we navigate it, so that we will make it to the other side, with our minds, bodies, hearts and spirits trained in wisdom, and dwell in love, peace and joy with God forever.
If we despise the discipline, we are working against ourselves, and will certainly be captivated by the world and fall off the path of righteousness, as we give in to our sinful passions for money, sex, pleasures and more. We won’t grow in wisdom, power or love… We will be unable to cope with the attacks of the enemy, unable to gain mastery of the Faith and unable to lead others to the knowledge of the Truth. We will be as pathetic as I was on that Tennis Court…and at that point, our professed Christianity (as my professed fitness) will be evident to all, including us, as the lie that it is.
I am one of those who has resisted discipline in Christianity. I am among those who has despised tradition and for fear of abuse, have not submitted myself to Christian leadership. But the truth is, Christianity is a discipline. It isn’t merely a “Get out of Hell” free card, that you keep in your wallet to tell people you are saved. You have to learn and study, grow and work, and ultimately teach and lead others to know the Way, the Truth and the Life!
Christianity will cost you like any true discipline should… There is a need for endurance if we are to be saved ultimately (Matt 24:13). Are you ready, willing and able to submit to Christ’s discipline?
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:28-33).
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