“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
The theme today is extremely important: No discipline, no discipleship.
Discipleship is the process of growing progressively more mature in Christ. It is called various things: spiritual formation; spiritual development; spiritual growth; and the fancy theological phrase “progressive sanctification.” Whatever description you use, it is the process of developing and growing in our relationship with Christ so that we know God more deeply, obey him more consistently, and bear more fruit in the work that we do every day. Paul prayed for exactly this in Colossians 1.9-10:
“We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Spiritual growth is not an automatic process; it’s a disciplined process. Being saved doesn’t magically produce growth. In fact, you can be stuck on salvation.You can be a Christian who doesn’t develop. You can be saved and fail to grow. That is not a good place to be.
The reason some Christians don’t grow isn’t because they can’t. It isn’t because they lack resources. It is because they aren’t trusting God, and they lack the kind of self-discipline the Spirit provides. As Christians, we have all of the resources we need. The Lord has saved and redeemed us through Christ, he indwells and empowers us through his Spirit, and he instructs and directs us through his word. What we need to do is respond with faith and self-discipline.
“We have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1.3)
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1.3)
Ephesians 3:8 says we have access to “the unfathomable riches of Christ.”
Clearly, we have everything we need for consistent, effective spiritual growth. The final element in spiritual formation, then, is how we respond to the riches, blessings, and power that are available to us in Christ. The necessary response is faith + self-discipline. If we do not trust God and exercise self-discipline, then we will not grow.
This is the core message of Galatians 5, and the key factor in the inner battle between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit.” The sin nature wants you to do one thing, but your new nature wants you to do something else. You must choose between the two natures. You must choose between the impulses of your sin nature and the promptings of the Spirit. You must choose between what feels good and what is good. You must choose between what is wrong and what is right.
Self-discipline is both the act and the process of training yourself to make the Spirit-driven choice. This is the heart of what it means to be discipline-driven. To put it another way, self-discipline is all about what you do at life’s decision points. Yesterday I referenced Proverbs 25:28 which says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” When we lack self-discipline, we fail to make the right choices at life’s decision points, and we are “broken into” by the enemy and the impulses of our sin nature.
Let me say it again: Self-discipline is all about what you do at life’s decision points.
Scripture explicitly instructs us to train ourselves to take disciplined action in response to the word of God and the promptings of the Spirit. This “training” is the process of discipleship and spiritual growth. Here is what scripture says:
“Train yourself in godliness.” (1 Timothy 4.7)
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1.5-7)
Disciplined practice is essential for growth and skill-building of any kind. This is the way God has designed his world to operate, and it is also true when it comes to life in Christ. We must train ourselves. Through proper training, we form proper habits; we can intentionally choose those habits that are necessary for the formation of Christian character. Skill — and momentum — are built through a steady obedience.
The bottom line: No discipline, no discipleship.