Few issues are as important or as controversial as the role of discipline in the Christian life. When we hear the words discipline, we might first think of the soldier out preparing for battle. We might also think of the athlete training hard in the weight room or working on their craft. Still, also, we might think of discipline as something primarily we do. If we’re talking in these ways about discipline, we get discipline partly right. There’s also more to discipline than our effort. As Christians, when we begin to talk about discipline, we must emphasize that it begins not with ourselves or our efforts. Instead, we start to understand discipline, when we first see it as a gift from the Lord. In Hebrews, we are instructed in Hebrews 12:6 that the Lord, “disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” We must ask ourselves, “How do we know whom God loves?” Thankfully, the Bible is not silent about this question. Instead, it speaks loudly to this issue.
In this series entitled Dear Seminarian you are learning as a Bible College and Seminary student about how to prepare for your studies, to be a good student in seminary, and how to grow as you are out of seminary. And all of that is good. Today, I hope to provide help to all three categories of people because a) I’ve prepared for seminary, b) been in seminary, and finally, I’ve been out of seminary now for five years.
Prepare to Read a Lot as a Bible College or Seminary Student
Even as a Bible college student, I read a lot. And that amount of reading doubled at least as a Seminary Student. From reading for research papers, Bible reading, and more, I am thankful I prepared myself by reading a lot before I started Bible College and Seminary. And out of seminary, I continued to be served well by this practice as I continue to read quality Christian books regularly.
Whether you are preparing for, in seminary or out of seminary, we all need to understand how to discipline ourselves for godliness. Soldiers spend months, even years in many cases, preparing for battle. Their commanders know that if they are going to win the battle, they must have their soldiers prepared well, physically, emotionally, and mentally for the challenges ahead. Soldiers also spend a significant amount of time preparing for the conflicts they engage. As Christians we’re soldiers too but not of any earthly army. Instead, we are the saints of God. As such, we have been suited up in the armor of God and are to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). The Word of God cuts deeper than any automatic weapon ever could. While a bullet can go through and through, no bullet can ever pierce the soul as the Word of God can. Only the Word of God cuts to the quick, sees all, knows all, and will one day judge all (Hebrews 4:12). While the greatest sniper in the world can shoot a mile or more off, the Word of God pierces the hearts of man from sight unseen and outside of time.
Discipline Begins with a Right Understanding of God
As Christians, we discipline ourselves for godliness, not because of our greatness (1 Timothy 4:7). Instead, we discipline ourselves because we have a right understanding of God. You are in seminary not only to get more knowledge. Many of you already have a greater knowledge base than the vast majority of Christians today. You have a great need to be invested in and to continue to sharpen your understanding of doctrinal and theological issues; especially if you desire continued effectiveness in ministry. With that said, we discipline ourselves as Christians because of God’s grace. After all, God has sovereignly removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart, with new desires, and affections for Himself. We don’t discipline ourselves out of duty; instead, we discipline ourselves as Christians out of delight in God.
View Your Education as an Investment
Here’s the rub: In seminary you are going to be faced with a mountain of homework. You will be required to read vast swaths of Scripture and theology. You will also drink deeply and quickly from the firehose of God’s Word. Can I plead with you for a minute? Please don’t view this as a chore. Instead consider your education now as an investment into your future. See it as a precious gift from our Lord to you; given so that you can invest in and pour into others in the future.
When you view your education as a duty, you will not enjoy it. At various times in seminary, I didn’t enjoy it. Instead, I saw it as a job. Sure it’s a job; especially if you are a full-time Seminary Student. But if you see seminary in this way your studies will be impacted. For example, your Bible reading and prayer life instead of being full of life will become a chore. When your engagement of the spiritual disciplines is done more out of duty than out of delight you will often find your new affections cold when they should be white hot.
Stir Your New Affections Through Your Study
As Christians, we discipline ourselves for the sake of godliness. We have One in the Lord; we cannot fake out. Instead, He sees and knows where we are. And He also knows where the actual delight of our soul is. He knows the calling He has placed on our lives. He also knows what motivates our discipline. This is why we should discipline ourselves for godliness not because of our own greatness or our self-sufficiency, but because of God Himself. We discipline ourselves not out of duty but out of delight in God. We do so because Jesus has removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart, with new desires and new affections for Himself.
And at the end of the day, seminary is a good and worthwhile pursuit. With that said, it is also dangerous. It’s dangerous to read and study the Word of God and come away unchanged and unaffected. The longer we remain unaffected by the Word, the duller our walk with the Lord will be. And the duller our walk with God is the more we are likely to not discipline ourselves out of delight but instead do so out of duty. And the longer that happens, the more we will be apathetic about our own sin and take less seriously the ways of the Lord.
As Christians, may we not remain unaffected by the Word of God or by the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Instead, understand that at the heart of disciplining yourself for godliness is God. Through Jesus, He has made you a new creation and is conforming you into His image. One reason, the Lord will take His rod upon you and discipline you is because you are not your own. Instead, you were bought at the high price of the blood of Jesus and given new life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:9). Since your life is not your own, and costly grace has redeemed you; let us stop living as if this grace is not costly. Let us stop and repent of cheapening the grace of God and living, however, we want, doing whatever we want. Instead, let us live for the pleasure of God which is the fount of our hope in Jesus.
Discipline yourself not for yourself but for growth in godliness. You are His, and He is yours. Now discipline yourself as a good Christian soldier because your delight is truly in the Lord. Repent of your callousness. Repent of your apathy. Repent of your spiritual lackadaisicalness. And now return to the Lord. Go back to His Word. Return to the lover of your soul who calls you Beloved. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). You are as loved and as accepted as you can possibly be through Christ. And at the heart of why you can discipline yourself is just that – God loves you now through Christ and calls you His Beloved.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to his wife, Sarah. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021), The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022), and Contentment: The Journey of a Lifetime (Theology for Life, 2024). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.