As I watch the world around me, I am reminded of last week’s lesson on self-control. Sadly, in this case it is the lack of it that I am reminded of. History shows us that this is not unusual with mankind, including God’s own people. In Exodus 32, because they were impatient waiting for Moses return from the mountain, they asked, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us…” (v1). Controlling, or as the Latin word brought out, the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, is not as easy as it sounds for any of us. Our subject today is something that I believe is intended to go hand-n-hand with self-control. Some may even suggest that it is the same as it. It is this idea of self-discipline.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2nd Timothy 1:7, NIV
There it is, right? Well, your translation may use the word, but it is from the same Greek word translated self-control in Galatians 5:22 (NKJV) and soberly in Titus 2:12 (NKJV). So, is there a difference? Principally speaking, I believe there is and let me explain. Remember the definition of self-control mentioned above. One person explains it as the effort of “removing or managing things that make you ineffective.” Paul exhorted the church in Ephesus saying, “You were taught to leave your old self — to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse, because people are fooled by the evil things they want to do” (Ephesians 4:22, NCV). He would exhort the church in Colosse in a similar manner, “But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk” (Colossians 3:8, NCV). All these things, and the list is longer for sure, are bits and pieces of our carnal man that need management to keep them from making us ineffective. This is the role of self-control.
But like anything else, there is more to it than simply getting rid of things. As someone has told me before, “That is only half the battle.” Here is the other half, and it is called self-discipline. Self-control involves the keeping away or taking away while self-discipline is just the opposite, or as one person says, it is the “adding things to get better.” Let’s go back to what Paul said to the churches in Ephesus and Colosse. He exhorts them to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24). To the church in Colosse he writes, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on” (Colossians 3:12) these qualities that reveal who you really are in Christ. If I understand it correctly, self-discipline is the intentional activity in a Christian’s life to promote the development of Christ likeness which will “help you to be useful and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2nd Peter 1:8). As I write these thoughts, I am once again reminded of this quote, “The new life is now theirs, yet they are to actualize it – not to gain it but because they already have it.” We seek to have self-disciplined lives because we have life in Christ!
So, why is it so important to me to try and understand the difference between self-control and self-discipline? In so many areas of my life, I agonize in trying to rid myself of unwanted behavior (self-control). Yet, often times I do not work as hard in trying to replace it with something healthy (self-discipline). Could this be the reason, at least in part, why we struggle with the old man so much? Something to think about. For I believe both self-control and self-discipline are intended to go hand-n-hand. As one person writes, “In order to live a set apart life, we need self-control and self-discipline…Self-discipline is the habit and self-control the good choices we make to realize this plan in our lives.” To the glory of God, let us live such lives. Have a blessed day in Christ.