Focus And Discipline In The Life Of A Christian

Focus And Discipline In The Life Of A Christian

Saying you want to be godly is like saying you want to be a pianist.  It’s good to want, but wanting isn’t doing.  Doing takes discipline, action, and wise choices.  There are three important parts of Christ-likeness: knowing Christ (the truth), trusting Christ (the power), dying to self (the practice).

We will begin with a brief look at trusting Christ because it is the cornerstone of our discussion.  Everything else is built on it.  When a person goes from disbelieving Christ to trusting Christ, we often call this a conversion or the moment of their salvation.

Trusting Christ

This sermon, as you might guess from the title, is about discipline in the life of a Christian.  I’m going to be talking quite a lot about things you and I need to be doing, and if speak honestly and the Spirit’s working in your hearts, many of these things are probably things you aren’t doing and should be.

Anytime we talk about the things you should be doing, there’s always a risk that people might walk away thinking I’ve just handed out a list of how to “get in good with God”, that somehow these things will keep us out of hell or reconcile us with God.

That’s precisely why I want to start with “Trusting Christ”.  To help us begin with the proper context, and to make sure we don’t get the cart (works) before the horse (faith), we’ll start one chapter earlier, in Romans 5.

Romans 5:1-11 “1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

And what I especially want you to consider for our discussion today is that Christ Jesus is the one that brings us power over sin.  “He breaks the power of canceled sin!”—from Wesley’s song Oh For A Thousand Tongues to Sing.  He doesn’t just cancel our sin debt—that’s a positional thing, that’s the just Judge saying “not guilty” when looking at our case because Jesus Christ took the guilty verdict in our place.  He breaks it’s power over us—that’s a practical thing, that’s you and I experiencing victory over sin on a daily basis.

1 Corinthians 15:54 “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

More on that later.

Knowing Christ

Knowing Christ is important before trusting Him, but we continue to know Him more and more even after salvation.  Paul, who penned much of the New Testament was able to say, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

First, you need to see it clearly.  You need to understand clearly what following Christ means.  You need to know what it is and what it is not.  You need to be able to shake off all your inherited conceptions, your presuppositions, and your tunnel vision.  You need to see Christ in the parts of your life where He is least obvious.  You’ll never become a disciple until you know the Master.

Transcending Cultural Norms: By nature, people are a product of their choices and their environment.  If you were raised in a home where gossip featured prominently at the dinner table, that would most likely become a part of your life.  If you grow up expecting government handouts, you probably find the concept of working a job difficult.  If you grew up in the American South in the 1800’s, you probably didn’t give much thought to owning a slave.  If you’ve grown up in a fairly wealthy country like the United State, you might have a very difficult time wrapping your mind around gluttony, let alone considering it a sin.  If you grew up in the Trio indian tribe in Surinam in the 1900’s, you were raised to believe that the fate of a newborn’s life was the choice of the father.  Infanticide was as common as smoking is in our culture.  Nearly 80% of babies born at that time were intentionally left in the jungle to die of exposure or predators.

We all carry some cultural baggage.  We all have things about our worldview that are in some way out of sync with the Bible and it’s prescribed view of the world.

But the beauty of God’s Word is that it brings in an external perspective, something that transcends the status quo, the culture or worldview you’ve been raised to see as normal.  It reveals the absolute truths of God’s Word, truths that define the world as only the Creator the world could do.

This, of course, means that as Christians we must not be in lockstep with our culture.  Sometimes this means standing out among unbelievers like Daniel and the other princes of Israel during the Babylonian captivity when they would not defile themselves with Nebuchadnezzar’s meat or being an abolitionist when the world around you is calling slavery an economic necessity or loving your enemies when the world around you wants to kill them.

Sometimes it means standing out among professing “religious” people like Jesus calling out the Pharisees for hypocrisy or Paul condemning the Judaizers for corrupting the gospel.

But in all of those cases there’s always an element of trust involved—trusting God’s Word, an accurate understanding of God’s Word, above the cry of the crowd.

Understanding God’s Word:

This principle was one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation: sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.  The Catholic church teaches that the Scriptures are not the only infallible source of Christian doctrine and that “both Scripture and Tradition (like Church teaching or papal bull) must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence”; but the Reformers believed (Westminster Catechism) that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”  They believed that through a proper understanding and the Holy Spirit’s insight, any believer could perceive God’s will through His Word.

A simpler way to say this would probably be to echo Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:25, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.”

What a freedom and privilege—the ability to know and understand God’s will made available to even the simplest of believers. Yet more and more, people are ignorant of what God’s Word really says, many of them willfully ignorant.

In 2007, 78% of all Americans claimed to be Christian with nearly 51% identifying themselves as Protestant; but only 31% said that they believed the Bible was the actual Word of God to be taken literally.  I meet people all the time who claim to be Christians but either don’t have a clue about what God’s Word says and frankly aren’t making much of an effort to find out.  This is nothing new: it happened with Israel.

Romans 10:1-4 “1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

They were zealous for God—there was some kind of ardor, enthusiasm, fanaticism for the Divine—but it was ill-informed, it was lacking knowledge.  We are increasingly surrounded by professing believers with this empty kind of zeal, people who are arguing as “fans” and not as people who have been transformed by the truth.  People who have a “concept” of what being a Christian means, but haven’t read the Bible to figure whether or not that concept lines up with reality.  Think about people who say “God Bless America” but whose concepts of God and His blessing are diametrically opposed to what His Word says.

My father always used to say: “You can’t follow Christ where He’s not going.”  And you can’t know what godly living is apart from the Bible.  You’ll never transcend those cultural norms unless you become a student of the Bible.  You’ll never properly understand how to live more like Christ unless you become a student of the Bible.

2 Peter 1:5 “…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge.”

Becoming a Student of the Bible:

Becoming a student of the Bible means you ask questions like:  “What does it say?” To answer that question, what do you have to do?  You have to read it.  “What does it mean?”  Answering that means you need to study it.  You need to look up words, compare scripture with scripture, meditate on its meaning, pray for the Spirit’s illumination.  “What do I do about it?”  Answering this requires genuine honesty and personal evaluation and application.

I do believe that God ordained people in the church to help make the meaning of a text clear, people whose life is dedicated to understanding the Scripture and making that understanding plain to others.  Ephesians 4 says that in a nutshell.

But don’t just rely on someone like your Pastor to figure out what a passage of Scripture means, because guess what?  I probably won’t be there in the room with you when you’re getting questions from your family members or coworkers about why you’re choosing to do something that the rest of the world thinks is idiotic—like loving your enemies, or believing in heaven, or disciplining your children or speaking truthfully even at great personal cost.

If you’re going to be able to deny yourself (which is the next point we’ll be looking at), you need to be intimate with the Scriptures that explain why it matters.  Any seasoned soldier will tell you that one man fighting for his own property is worth 10 hired guns.  There’s a fire in your bones when you own the piece of land you’re fighting for.  In the same way, you’ll never be able “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2) unless you own His Word.  You need the fire in your bones if you’re going to follow Him.

Exercising Yourself to Godliness

Finally, you need to take up your cross.  Carrying the instrument on which you will be put to death is not an intellectual exercise.  There is something intimate and challenging  and profound about this.  People argue about opinions all day, but this isn’t about your reputation, your opinion or even winning an argument.  It’s not even about convincing other people that you’re right.  This is about you, dying to the lusts of the flesh.

Romans 12:1 calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices.  Romans 6 tells us to “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Our bodies are alive, we’re breathing, our life processes still continue on—but we are to “reckon” ourselves dead to sin.  “Reckon” means to give account for an item received.  We are to take the positional truth—that our sin was put to death on the cross with Jesus Christ—and turn it into a practical truth—choosing God’s way every day.  This goes back to what I was saying earlier about Christ breaking the power of canceled sin.

Death is such a personal and intimate thing because it’s a journey that you take on your own.  Even with loved ones around you, they can only go so far with you.  In the same way, dying to your sinful desires and tendencies, those things that would pull you away from Christ, require a personal choice.  Your friends, your family, your church family, your pastors can all help encourage you in this, but ultimately it comes down to you and the Spirit of God which brings true life to those who have died to their sins.

Romans 8:11 “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

What does maturity look like in your life?

Do Not Let Sin Reign:

Romans 6:12-18 “12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.“

3 Ways Of Disciplining Your Self:

1. Discipline Your Thoughts and Your Mind

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”

Captivity… to capture.  When we use the word with an audience (she held the audience captive), it’s about focus.  The audience’s attention is completely focused on the speaker, there are no distractions.

Yes, an important part of disciplining your mind is by being in the Word; but there’s a problem that I think exists on another level.

Illustration: article about parents forgetting about their children.  Quote from article: “The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant,” he said. “The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine... where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted — such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back — it can entirely disappear.”

Making Time, Prioritizing, Slowing Down… It’s entirely possible to love God, but not love Him with all your heart and soul and mind.  If you are serious about following Christ and making His Will a priority in your life, you’re probably going to need to cut some things out of your life that are distracting you from that.  You are a finite being: you have a limited numbers of hours in the week, so you are always choosing how to spend those hours, and some of you are making really poor choices.  And these may not even be bad things, they may even be good things—but if they are causing you to forget the most important things, they need to go.

God demands our firstfruits, but when it comes to our mind, too often he gets the worn-out, haggard thoughts at the end of the day.

If you’re going to profess a relationship with Christ, you need to make time for that relationship.

2. Discipline Your Body

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

And we’re not talking about something that magically happening once you trust Christ; this takes the same kind of time and effort a human relationship does.  You don’t profess your love for your wife and kids and then spend none of your time with them and expect to have a healthy, loving family.  I’ve talked with people who say, “I wish my kids were as good as yours” like we somehow got lucky when we pulling kids out of a goody bag.

Lazy people love to divorce the end result from the process, don’t they?  These are the same people who say “I’d give anything to play the piano well”; anything, of course, except the time it would take to learn how to play the piano well.

That’s what we do with our walk with God all the time.  We say, “it’s so hard for me to trust God with my finances” as if trusting God with our finances should come naturally and require no faith, no exercise, no patience.  Before David fought Goliath he told Saul all about the ways God had delivered him in the past.  Those quiet, private struggles prepared him for one of his greatest battles.  We want to be like David.  We want all of the glorious victories, but we don’t want any of the tedious struggles.

1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

Practically speaking, we need to be going to bed at night and getting the rest we need so we’re ready to be used when a need arises.  We need to be setting aside and spending time in the Word so the Spirit can bring it to our minds.  We need to be setting an alarm and getting up early so we can pray and seek His face.  We need to be leaving the comfort of our homes to reach the uncomforted and needy.

3. Abounding In The Work

1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Some of you just don’t do what you should be doing.  God has blessed you with all kinds of talents: writing, singing, cleaning, building, storytelling, organizing, caring, playing.  But instead of “always abounding” in the work of the Lord with those abilities, we take the money and run.  God blessed us with a unique set of abilities and we run off and use those abilities to further our own goals, elevate our own reputations and satisfy our own desires.