In November 2019, I decided to write short summaries of each chapter in Thabiti Anabwile’s great book: “What Is A Healthy Church Member?”, which discusses 10 character traits of a healthy church member. This is part 5 in that 10 part series. If you would like to read the other blogs in this series, please visit our blog.
A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER SEEKS DISCIPLINE
When the average person thinks about discipline today, they usually think about losing freedoms, rigid consequences, or some form of punishment. All of these thoughts begin from the assumption that discipline is bad and undesirable. And while discipline can mean punishment or consequences, it also refers to having a life that is well ordered, which we would all agree is a good thing.
For instance, an athlete has to implement great discipline in all areas of life so that their goals are attainable and so that they will be in unity with the team. This is called formative discipline. It is that kind of discipline whereby a person submits their life to the teaching, training, and rigor of the sport so that growth may occur. This is essential in team sports because an undisciplined, unformed, athlete will rarely if ever become a champion. Their life will become disordered to their goals and out of alignment with the purposes of the team. In circumstances like these, corrective discipline is in order to bring the wayward athlete back into unity with the mission and athletic community. In this we see that discipline is both formative, corrective, and for our good.
In the same way, a person who believes in Jesus is called a “disciple” of Jesus. That word, disciple, comes from the Latin word discipline, which lets us know that the Christian life is not just a momentary decision to believe, but a disciplined life committed to following and growing in Christ. For instance, Jesus says anyone who would follow Him must be willing to give up everything including their life (Mt. 16:24) and must be willing to learn and orient their lives around everything that He has commanded (Mt. 28:19-20). This is the kind of formative discipline that God expects from His followers! And, just like the wayward athlete is sometimes punished, when we become disordered from Scripture or the community, God reorients us back to Him with corrective discipline.
This also can be seen in Paul, when he talks about the purpose of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16. He says:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”
Again we see both forms of discipline here. Formative discipline comes from the Word of God which is there to teach us the information needed to think rightly about Him. It is also there to train us up in righteousness so that we will be better equipped to live out that truth in our lives. But, we also need the kind of corrective discipline that Paul calls correction and reproof. This kind of discipline is not punitive for the sake of punishment or pain, but restorative by nature. The Word of God corrects you and reproofs you, not because you are good the way you are, but because you are actually the problem. Your life in various ways is out of alignment with God and His plan for your life. So the Word of God graciously corrects you and reproofs you, with redemption and restoration as its primary focus. Like a good Father who disciplines his kids, so the Lord disciplines all that He calls His own. Either we will be disciplining ourselves toward Christ or we will be disciplined by the Father to reorient us to Christ and His community. Both are grace.
From this we see that both forms of discipline are essential to the healthy Christian. We need to be constantly formed, trained, taught, and encouraged to submit our lives to Christ so that we may follow Him more fully. And, for those times when we choose disorder and sin, there must be a mechanism in place to restore us and reorient us to the plan and purposes of God.
In this sense, all discipline is for our good!
While this list is not exhaustive, below are a few examples of the kinds of things you can and should be doing to be disciplined in your relationship with Christ. Remember, these disciplines will not gain you any favor with God, but will help you become more like Christ, more in love with Him, and more capable of serving Him. We do not do these things to please God, we do them because He is already pleased with us because of Jesus.
- Bible study and memorization
- Preparing to lead the family in devotions
- Studying a Biblical topic
- Pursuing a discipleship relationship with an older believer
- Meditation on Scripture
- Practicing simplicity
- Fellowshipping with other believers
- Chastity and purity
While the above list focuses on what we can do to be more disciplined for Jesus, the following list involves correction for the sins and failures that bring distance with Jesus and His community. And while it is easy to agree that some sort of corrective discipline is necessary, it is usually something we resist, recoil, or repine at when it is happening to us.
The key for us to understand is that this kind of discipline is also Biblical, it is for our good, it is there as evidence of God’s love for us, and it is not for our guilt, shame, or rejection, but for our redemption. Here are a few examples of healthy and humble corrective disciplines.
- Submit humbly, graciously, and joyfully to God’s discipline in your life (Heb. 12:5-6)
- Acknowledge discipline is one of the ways God loves us (Heb. 12:7-8)
- Humbly and lovingly accept correction from others (Pr. 27:5-6)
- Humbly and lovingly correct sin in others (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20)
- Do not forget to rejoice!
The long term health and viability of a congregation is intrinsically tied to their view of discipline. If a church is filled with people who are not pursuing Christ, not interested in being formed as disciples, and only show up to be entertained or to check off something on their list, then the church will sputter along in perpetual immaturity, selfishness, and will warrant the discipline of God. But if a church is filled with men and women who are eagerly growing in their disciplined pursuit of Christ and humbly receiving correction when they err, then that church will be a thriving and vibrant community that grows, multiplies, makes disciples, and soon plants more churches!