I have been pondering the difference between discipline and discipleship lately. I won’t presume to have a solid grasp on the answers to any of the questions this has produced in me, but it has certainly opened my eyes to some destructive tendencies that have come out of a life overly focused on discipline alone. I find that discipline alone tends to lead toward legalism, and legalism sounds the death knell of faith. Before I go on let me be clear about the issue of discipline. I do not believe that exercising discipline is wrong or unwise. God even expects us to be disciplined (orderly) in how we approach our faith and our lives. But as I observe people, and especially take inventory of my own life, I find that many of us have crucified faith on the altar of discipline. In other words, we worship our discipline(s) rather than the Divine One.
This is not what God designed us for. The more I study God’s Word and engage in conversations with Him, the more I realize how deeply passionate He is about my devotion to Him. He wants (and deserves) every part of me to be in total submission and surrender to Him. He desires this, not only because He is deserving of it, but because He understands the benefits that such devotion brings to my life and relationships. Single-minded focus on God produces the fruit of abundant life. So I believe a shift in focus must occur if we as Christians are going to experience this abundant life that Jesus’ spoke of so long ago. This shift in focus must move us from seeing discipline as the “end all” of our Christian faith to embracing discipleship as our process for becoming what God designed us to be.
Discipleship focuses on God in the context of relationship; first with Him, then with others. This is a forever changing, forever growing, forever exploring adventure. Discipline alone, on the other hand, tends to draw our focus toward the “task” of relationship rather than simply interacting with God and others. How does such a shift in focus affect our struggle with sexual temptation? Shouldn’t we be more focused on discipline so we can resist each temptation we face? I would argue that when we lock in too intently on discipline alone as the answer for resisting temptation, we actually end up more frustrated and defeated. Discipline often deceives us into thinking that our resisting of temptation has something to do with our own power or strength. It doesn’t. The truth is that only God can defeat the temptations in our lives and cause us to walk away. Therefore, it is through discipleship, or a growing intimacy and connection with God, that we are truly set free to live a daily life of sexual purity.
A final significant difference I must mention between discipline and discipleship is that discipline can often be pursued in isolation, whereas discipleship requires relationship. This is key in understanding the immeasurable value of becoming a disciple of Christ. We were never designed to live in isolation and disconnection; from God or others. This is where discipleship takes us out of our comfort zone, but this is ultimately for our good. In fact, God has mysteriously designed our accountability relationships with others to act as a hedge of protection, helping us fight the battle against sexual lust. Our discipleship relationships form a sort of “purity team” that aids in strengthening our individual fight for purity. We need godly teammates in order to win this ongoing battle. What’s the bottom line here? Discipline is important, but it is through discipleship that your life is transformed.
Where can you begin in shifting your perspective to developing more of a balance between these two? Take a look at your relationships and see if there are some individuals with whom you can go deeper, inviting them to be part of your purity team. Also, evaluate your relationship with God and ask Him to show you how to grow in your intimacy with Him. In the long run, you will be glad you got serious about discipleship. As I promised, I don’t have all the answers. Just some thoughts rattling around in my head about some contrasts between discipline and discipleship. Maybe they are helpful thoughts. I know they have helped me to be more aware of the moments when I have preferred to grasp onto discipline rather than grow in my relationship with God. By God’s grace, I pray we will become the faithful disciples He desires us to be.
by Jonathan Daugherty