LCN Article
Godly Discipline

March / April 2021

Richard F. Ames

Exercise the gift of God’s Spirit and build godly discipline through these four steps!

As you examine yourself, preparing for the Passover, can you say that you have grown as a Christian in the last year? Or are you treading water, or even going backwards? The good news is that God not only wants each of us to grow, but also gives us what we need to grow. But it is up to us to use what He gives. 

One valuable tool He gives us, which He wants us to develop more and more, is discipline. We all need to develop godly discipline in our lives. As followers of Jesus Christ, this is especially significant. As Dr. Jeffrey Fall wrote in Successful Parenting: God’s Way, “Christ’s early followers who were being trained in the Way of life were called ‘disciples.’ The word ‘disciple’ is derived from the word ‘discipline.’ Christ taught the disciples; He encouraged them, and sometimes corrected them. His goal was to train disciples who could live and teach the Christian discipline (the Way of life)” (p. 16). 

Mr. Herbert Armstrong knew the importance of discipline. In his “Seven Laws of Success,” the first law is to set the right goal. To set the right goal requires discipline so that you don’t just go from fad to fad, but focus on your real priorities. The second law is to educate yourself. Education requires discipline so that you apply yourself to your studies and learn what you need to learn. The third law is to maintain good health—again, requiring discipline. The fourth law, “Drive yourself,” is another way of saying “Stay disciplined!” The fifth law is to apply resourcefulness, which is a kind of discipline. The sixth law, to persevere toward your goal, also requires discipline. And the seventh law, to seek God’s continual guidance, is the most important discipline of all. Do your best, but always trust in God and put Him first. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Armstrong’s seven laws of success, you may want to read “Seven Laws of Success” in the March 2021 Tomorrow’s World magazine. 

What Is Discipline? 

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary says that discipline is “to train by instruction and control (1 Cor. 9:27). The biblical concept of discipline has both a positive side (instruction, knowledge, and training) and a negative aspect (correction, punishment, and reproof). Those who refuse to submit to God’s positive discipline by obeying His laws will experience God’s negative discipline through his wrath and judgment.” 

As Christians, we gain discipline as we learn to practice God’s way and obey His laws. We have our part in God’s plan of salvation. We need to persevere, we need to have discipline, and we need to trust God to complete the work that He has started in us. As the Apostle Paul wrote: 

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). 

Yes, discipline helps us form good habits in our lives. Athletes are very disciplined. One golf instructor at the Summer Education Program in Big Sandy, Texas, taught a principle for success at golf: “Rhythm, pace, and balance.” That principle has been helpful to me ever since—not just in golf, but in other areas of life. 

We also need to be disciplined about our health. Dr. Meredith wrote The Seven laws of Radiant Health many years ago. What were the seven laws Dr. Meredith enumerated? Eat a proper diet, get the exercise your body needs, get enough sleep, get sunshine and fresh air, wear clean and appropriate clothing, avoid bodily injury, and maintain a positive attitude. Are you following all of those laws? It takes discipline to do so, but the benefits are well worth it. 

Discipline is also necessary to succeed in the fine arts, in business, and in our education. The different areas of study in school are often called “disciplines”—they each have specific standards, practices, and measures of success. 

Sometimes it can be hard to maintain the focus, the discipline, that we need in order to succeed. But we need to remember that discipline is a positive characteristic. In Dr. Fall’s booklet on child-rearing, he stresses the importance of discipline. As parents instill discipline in their children, they are giving them a foundation for a life free of the unnecessary pain and suffering that come with an undisciplined life. 

Spiritual Discipline 

The most important area of discipline, of course, is the spiritual. We know Christ’s promise that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Jesus Christ endured terrible suffering in order to become our Passover Lamb. What about us? Are we becoming weary, or are we developing the discipline to endure? “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him’” (Hebrews 12:3–5). 

Not be discouraged when He rebukes you? That can be hard—I know that I sometimes don’t like to be corrected. But remember what Jeremiah wrote: “O Lord, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:24). We shouldn’t hide from correction, but we can pray that God delivers it with mercy so we can learn our lessons the easy way, not through suffering. 

In fact, we should feel encouraged when we receive God’s correction. Remember that “whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” (Hebrews 12:6–7). God is letting most of the world go its own way in this age, and most aren’t listening to any warnings He does give them. But God loves His people as a father loves a son. You are special to Him. If you are feeling discouraged, you may want to go to LCG.org and watch Mr. Gerald Weston’s inspiring sermon “Be of Good Courage.” 

As Christians, we know that it is our duty to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior (2 Peter 3:18). To do this, we discipline ourselves spiritually by being consistent in prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditation. We read, “As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:16–17). Are you praying consistently? We should have an attitude of prayer without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Even facing the threat of the lion’s den, Daniel prayed three times daily (Daniel 6:10). If we spend time every day in wholehearted prayer, we can be confident of bearing the spiritual fruits of God’s Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). 

We also need to discipline ourselves to fulfill the mission of God’s Church—to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and to fulfill the Great Commission of preaching the Gospel to the world. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). 

Character and Discipline 

When I served in the United States Army more than 60 years ago, we had a song: “For the hardest blow of all, is to hear the bugler call; you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up this morning!” You don’t want to get up, but you’re in the army and the trumpet sounds—you’ve got to get out of bed. We all need to have that discipline and drive. We look forward to a different trumpet, but the idea is the same. We need to stir ourselves now! 

Spiritual discipline is vital if we want to develop God’s holy and righteous character in ourselves. Who in the Bible had godly character, and how was it demonstrated? Abraham was going to follow through with his obedience to God by sacrificing his own son, “But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:11–12). God knew Abraham and called him His friend. What does God know about you and your character? Does God know that you fear Him, as He said about Abraham? How predictable are you, and are you striving to attain righteous character? 

To achieve God’s character is voluntary. You need to want it and you need to understand that you have surrendered totally. Sometimes when I counsel individuals for baptism, I say, “Look, you are giving your whole life to God, and you’re giving your time to God. If you’re going to be baptized, you are totally committed, you are totally surrendered. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I am totally committed, but I want five seconds of my own time to do my own thing.’ And you can’t say, ‘Well, yes, I’m going to give You, Holy Father, my whole body—except for my little finger.’ No, it’s got to be 100 percent of your time, 100 percent of your body, 100 percent of your will.” 

Yes, character itself is a gift from God, but we have our part in the process of developing that godly character. How often do you think about David’s prayer of repentance? “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:10–11). This should be our approach as well. 

Four Steps to Godly Discipline 

We can break down into four steps the process of developing godly discipline. The world around us basically dismisses the whole first step, and as a result cannot go further. But we can go further—and, as Christians, we must. The first step in developing godly discipline is to be willing and able to know what is right and what is wrong. There are absolutes in our lives, values on which we should never compromise. When God opens your mind, you see that the Ten Commandments are the framework for godly life and Christian growth. 

The second step is to commit to doing what is right. As we discussed above, that’s a 100 percent commitment, not that we can decide to only commit “around other people” or “on the Sabbath.” We won’t succeed perfectly, especially at first, but we must commit to the goal and strive to do our best—with God’s help and His indwelling Holy Spirit—to do what we know is right. 

The third step is to resist temptation, just as Jesus resisted Satan (Matthew 4; Luke 4). You may have heard the saying, “Character is what we do when no one is watching.” Of course, God is always watching and we cannot fool Him. If we have a proper fear of God—awe and respect for His power, majesty, and unmerited love for us—we will not think that we can reject God’s guidance yet still develop His character. 

The fourth step is to practice what is right until it becomes part of our very nature. God created you to reflect and radiate His holy and righteous character. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). 

It is interesting that the Greek word translated as “workmanship” is poiema—we are His “poem,” His work of art, His masterpiece. Yes, we are the masterpiece of God’s creation, and we are finishing a work God has begun in us. He cannot by fiat create His holy and righteous character in us without our cooperation—but with godly discipline, we can cooperate with Him to develop that character. 

Overcome Through Discipline! 

Admiral William H. McRaven, a Navy SEAL for 36 years, wrote in his book Make Your Bed, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” It is easy to talk about the importance of discipline, but it starts with the smallest details. If we fail to develop discipline in how we handle the small things in our lives, we won’t develop the discipline to handle the big things (Luke 16:10). 

Thankfully, if we practice it daily, we will grow in godly discipline, which will lead to the abundant life Christ has promised us (John 10:10). We can shine our light in a dark world and turn many to righteousness by our example (Daniel 12:3). If you haven’t already seen it, you may want to watch Mr. Weston’s powerful sermon “Faith to Be a Light in a Darkened World.” 

No, God has not called us to change the world now, but rather to proclaim the coming of the time when Christ will establish the Kingdom of God on the earth to bring about the real and total change it needs. But in our individual lives, as we recapture true values in all we do, others will see in our discipline, in our character, that we in God’s Church are experiencing the very Kingdom of God in embryo. Dear brethren, as you examine yourself in preparation for the Passover, ask yourself how well you are growing in godly discipline. Pray for the gift of godly discipline and then strive to implement it in every aspect of your life! 

As the Days of Unleavened Bread approach, brethren, I hope you are reflecting on Christ’s awesome gift of salvation! The Passover powerfully reminds us of that gift and the awesome sacrifice of His Son. The Days of Unleavened Bread reveal our part in God’s plan of salvation and teach us the ongoing need to overcome self, Satan, and society. Through His Spirit, God gives us the power of discipline to aid us in the process of overcoming. Romans 8, often called the “Holy Spirit chapter” in your Bible, encourages us that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v. 37). 

God has called us to be overcomers and conquerors, a destiny He emphasizes seven times in the second and third chapters of Revelation.  

Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:11–13). 

Brethren, let’s rejoice in God’s awesome plan of salvation revealed through the annual Holy Days and Festivals. Let’s “stir up the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6) and exercise the gift of spiritual discipline. Let’s follow the example of Paul: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Thank God for the gift of discipline and strive to practice godly discipline as we prepare for the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and beyond!