The Dark Side of Discipline

Don’t you know that when people run on the race track everybody runs, but only one person gets the prize? Run in such a way that you’ll win it. Everyone who goes in for athletics exercises self-discipline in everything. They do it to gain a crown that perishes; we do it for an imperishable one. Well then: I don’t run in an aimless fashion! I don’t box like someone punching the air! No: I give my body rough treatment, and make it my slave, in case, after announcing the message to others, I myself should end up being disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NTE)

If you’ve read my book, Redeeming Your Time, you know that I’m a disciplined guy. I get eight hours of sleep almost every night, I only check email once a day, and I delete and reinstall Instagram every 24 hours so I don’t drown myself in that infinity pool of content.

Some of you may be thinking, Man, Jordan, it sounds like you might be a little too disciplined. Maybe. But I make no apologies for my disciplined lifestyle. Why? Two reasons.

First, because Jesus himself was crazy disciplined during his time on earth. The first chapter of Mark provides a good case study to that end. After a late night spent healing the sick, Jesus disciplined himself to wake up “very early” the next morning to commune with his Father (see Mark 1:35). Then, after his disciples asked him for an encore of healing, Jesus said no, disciplining himself to focus on his essential mission of preaching the gospel (see Mark 1:38).

Here’s the second reason why I embrace discipline as a gift: As Paul points out in today’s passage, a disciplined life is part of our reasonable response to the gospel. We haven’t been saved to sit around and wait for eternity. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, we have been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works!” That’s why Paul says he doesn’t “run in an aimless fashion” or “box like someone punching the air.” No! Paul exclaims. He ​​exercised “self-discipline in everything” and has called us to do the same.

Jesus and Paul show us that discipline is a virtue—one we should embrace in this New Year. But here’s the problem: As with any good thing, we can easily turn discipline into an ultimate thing and thus make it an idol. 

How do you know when you’ve crossed over to the dark side of discipline? That’s the question we’ll answer over the next two weeks.


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