The Goal of a Disciplined Life (2)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which isyour reasonable service.Romans 12.1
Get up on that altar!
Genuine Christian faith comes to expression in good works, which by definition, must be wrought with our bodies. Beginning in our born-again souls – how we think and feel, our values and priorities, the intimacy and consistency of our communion with the Lord – we must bring our bodies into submission, so that we may do those works of love which give evidence of the life of Christ in us.
Paul talks about this process in the language of sacrifice. He says that we are to give our bodies to the Lord as a kind of living sacrifice, so that we deny our own selfish interests and needs and devote our bodies to works which are pleasing to God and expressive of His saving presence in us. Paul says it is “reasonable” for us to do this because, after all, our bodies have become members with Christ; we have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood, and we are not our own (1 Cor. 6.15, 20).
In 1 Corinthians 9.24-27 Paul likens this effort, at bringing our bodies into submission to Jesus, to that of an athlete who disciplines his body so that it can perform according to the demands of his particular race. He says that accomplishing this discipline is “agonizing,” and that’s as true – indeed, more so – for the life of discipleship as it is for that of an athlete.
As an athlete “sacrifices” his body to his chosen area of competition, so we as believers get up on the altar of God’s cleansing and renewing mercy, where we will find the grace we need to help us throughout our day.
All our members
One of the reasons this is such a difficult undertaking is because it is comprehensive. It leaves nothing out – no member of our body, no relationship or role or responsibility, not a moment of time. As we practice what we believe, all the members of our bodies become engaged in the works of the Lord. The Scriptures urge us to train our eyes to see what they should, as they should (cf. Pss. 101.3; 119.37); to guard our ears against listening to false and sinful notions (Lk. 8.18); to tame our tongues for the purposes of godliness and edification (Jms. 3.1-12; Eph. 4.29); to dedicate our hands and feet to the service of the Lord (Ps. 119.59, 60; Zeph. 3.16; Heb. 12.12, 13); and to preserve all the members of our bodies pure from every sinful involvement (1 Cor. 6.18-20).
Paul writes in Romans 6 that, in order to do this, we must continually “put to death” every fleshly inclination of all the members of our bodies, and train them instead to seek and follow the path of righteousness at all times.
In practical terms, this means training the members of our body to employ their peculiar powers in the direction of Kingdom righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. Whatever powers our bodily members engage – whether in relationships, work, cultural activities, or community life – those powers will be harnessed, directed, and deployed for the glory of Christ to the extent that we are able to bring the members of our bodies into subjection to our Lord and King.
New skills, continuous effort
Further, this “agonizing” effort requires that we learn new skills in line with the virtues the Spirit of God is engendering in our souls. We who are prone to folly, selfishness, and indifference to others will need to learn what it means to show kindness or to extend a hand of generosity to a neighbor in need. We will have to train our eyes and ears to be alert to the needs of others, so that we might serve them as Jesus would, and to direct our tongues in words of grace unto edification. When the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good works – to think and plan and encourage one another accordingly (Heb. 10.24) – he offers good advice as well for how we must approach this challenge of disciplining our bodies for the practice of Christian faith.
Disciplining our bodies will require determined and ongoing effort on our parts. Our calling to God’s Kingdom and glory is a full-time job (1 Thess. 2.12; Eph. 5.15-17). Each day we will need to seek the Lord – in prayer and in His Word – to help us discover new ways to employ the members of our bodies in the cause of righteousness. We’ll have to think ahead to the people and situations we anticipate each day, and prepare our minds and hearts to direct the members of our bodies in acts of loving service to the people around us (Ps. 90.12, 16, 17).
Disciplining our bodies to live out our Christian faith is a daunting challenge, but one for which God has called and equipped us. His Word can guide us in every area of discipline (Ps. 119.105). His Spirit, dwelling in our souls, can make us willing and able to bring our bodies into submission to the love of Jesus (Phil. 2.12, 13). If we seek help earnestly from the Lord, God will fill us with His determination and strength, so that, in the power of Jesus we may discipline our bodies for His glory (Lk. 11.1-13; Eph. 5.15-21).
A disciplined life that issues consistently in good works of love doesn’t just happen. We must work out this glorious salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that, as we exert ourselves in subduing every bodily member for the cause of Christ, God will be at work within us to will and do according to His pleasure and power (Phil. 2.12, 13). He will accept the sacrifice of our lives and make us a fragrant aroma of Jesus to the world (2 Cor. 2.15, 16).
1. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 indicates “Fully Confident,” how confident are you that all the members of your body are presently being offered as living sacrifices to the Lord each day? Why did you choose the number you did?
2. What can you do to bring more prayer and more of God’s Word into your daily life, so that you are always guided by God’s truth and empowered by His grace to serve Him in good works of love?
3. What is the alternative to the kind of disciplined life we’re examining in this series? Why is this not an acceptable life for Christians?
Next steps – Transformation: Everyone leads a disciplined life, but not always according to the disciplines of the Lord. When someone says he doesn’t “like discipline” all he’s really saying is he prefers the disciplines he’s already settled into in life. Everyone lives a disciplined life. It’s not a question of whether, but of which. Share this thought with a few of your friends, and talk about how you can help one another in becoming more disciplined for the Lord and His Kingdom.
T. M. Moore
This study, The Goal of a Disciplined Life, is part 1 of a 7-part series that supports the course, Introduction to Spiritual Theology at The Ailbe Seminary. To learn more about this free course,watch this brief video. Then enroll at the website and register for the course.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.