The more I understand God’s Word and the further I advance in my walk with the Lord, the more I realize the Christian life is a disciplined life. Discipline is doing what I ought to do, whether I want to do it or not, because it’s right. Christian discipline is living as God wants me to live, as an obedient-to-the-Word believer who walks by faith and not feelings. The proper Christian life glorifies the Lord, edifies others, and creates in me a personal sense of destiny that is connected with the God who called me into service.
Paul, when writing to his young friend, Timothy, says, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Paul does not deny the benefit of bodily discipline, but, when compared to godly discipline, says it “is only of little profit” (1 Tim 4:8a). Godliness (εὐσέβεια eusebeia) denotes devotion to God and a life that is pleasing to Him. Paul prioritizes godliness, declaring it “is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8b). The word discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7 translates the Greek verb γυμνάζω gumnazo, which we bring into the English as gymnasium. In secular use, the word originally meant “gymnastic exercises in the nude: to exercise naked, train.” It referred to how athletes trained in the ancient world. However, in the New Testament, the word was used figuratively “of mental and spiritual powers: to train, undergo discipline.” The focus is on inward development of mind and character rather than the outward discipline of the body. And the discipline is to be ongoing (present tense), carried out by each believer (active voice), and executed as a directive by the Lord (imperative mood). The training is for godliness. According to Wiersbe, “Paul challenged Timothy to be as devoted to godliness as an athlete is to his sport. We are living and laboring for eternity.” For Paul, godliness does not happen accidentally, but is connected with “the teaching that promotes godliness” (1 Tim 6:3 CSB). It is learned and lived on a daily basis.
The disciplined Christian develops over time, as biblical thinking leads to wise actions, and wise actions develop into godly habits, and godly habits produce godly character. This brings us to the place of spiritual maturity, which is God’s desire for us (Heb 6:1). The writer to the Hebrews references mature believers, saying, “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb 5:14). Maturity (τέλειος teleios) in this passage denotes one who has attained a level of spiritual growth, which glorifies God, edifies others, and is witnessed in the one who daily learns and lives God’s Word. Concerning maturity, Thomas Constables states, “A person becomes a mature Christian, not only by gaining information, though that is foundational, but by using that information to make decisions that are in harmony with God’s will.” According to Wiersbe, “As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our “spiritual senses” and develop spiritual discernment. It is a characteristic of little children that they lack discernment. A baby will put anything into its mouth. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures.”
A baby believer may be spiritual because he is rightly related to the Holy Spirit and operating by God’s Word to the degree he knows it. Because of limited knowledge of God’s Word, he often defaults to human viewpoint in many situations and falls under the control of his sin nature, thus making him a carnal Christian (1 Cor 3:1-4). In contrast, the mature believer has a greater depth of knowledge concerning God’s Word and utilizes it often as the Spirit leads. The word practice (ἕξις hexis) refers to “a repeated activity—practice, doing again and again, doing repeatedly.” The daily practice of learning and living God’s Word will train believers to discern good and evil, which allows them to make good choices. God’s Word is the standard for right thinking and conduct, and learning and living His Word by faith is the key to spiritual advancement.
As a growing Christian I want to be wise in the ways of God and His Word. But this requires commitment and many choices throughout my life. I realize the wise are wise by choice and never by chance. That is, no one is accidentally wise. This is also true for being just, loving, gracious, kind, and merciful, for these and other godly virtues are the product of many good choices over the years. Some of our spiritual disciplines include:
- Bible study – “Study to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 3:18).
- Meditation on God’s Word – “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh 1:8). “His delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2; cf. Phil 4:8-13).
- Managing our thoughts – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3). “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5; cf. Col 3:1-2).
- Living by faith – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38a; cf. 11:6).
- Devotion to prayer – “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col 4:2; cf. 1 Th 5:17).
- Controlling our speech – “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Prov 17:27). “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” Col 4:6; CF. Jam 1:19).
- Encouraging others to love and good deeds – “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).
- Committing ourselves to Christian fellowship – “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb 10:25).
- Serving others – “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10).
- Worshipping God – “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15).
- Doing good – “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). “Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16).
- Expressing gratitude – “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).
- Living a simple life – “Be on guard that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life” (Luke 21:34a). “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim 2:4).
- Making time for rest – “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:6). Jesus said to His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) (Mark 6:31).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Gospel Explained
- Bible Studies for Christian Growth
- Advancing to Spiritual Maturity
- Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks
- Our Spiritual Blessings in Christ
- A Role Model for Believers
- Walking with God
- Enjoying the Spiritual Life
- Biblical Self-Talk
- Knowing and Doing the Will of God
- The High Calling of God’s Servant
- The Life of Faith
- The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, published by the Lockman Foundation.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 208.
 Ibid., 208.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 226.
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Heb 5:14.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 295.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 511.
 The Bible is a special book, as it gives me insights into realities I could never know, except that God has spoken; and what He has spoken has been inscripturated and is available for personal study. Furthermore, I have God the Holy Spirit as my teacher, who helps me to understand biblical truths, and recalls it to my mind when I need it (John 14:26; cf. John 14:16-17; 16:13; 1 Cor 2:10-15). Sometimes the Spirit illumines my mind immediately when I’m reading the Bible. At other times, He works through the agency of gifted teachers He’s placed in my life.