Embracing Godly Discipline: Are You a Fan or Follower?
March 21, 2016
The other morning, I logged on to Facebook. In my curiosity I searched for Jesus. I wanted to know whether He had made it onto Facebook. I found his page. There were approximately 3.5 million followers. This raised a question: Are all these people actually followers of Jesus the Christ or are they merely fans of the pop-culture icon known as Jesus? When I talk to non-Christians, generally they explain that they like Jesus, but are not thrilled with many Christians in the world. They eschew organized religion because of constant hypocrisies played out in the media. Thus they choose to not attend church, let alone read the Bible, because they believe the church has nothing relevant to offer them. Ironically, when I tease their knowledge of Jesus, invariably they tell me, “I like Jesus because He teaches love and forgiveness.” “How do you know that,” I ask. “I don’t know,” they reply, “because the Bible tells me so?”
Followers of Jesus are often caught in the middle of ridicule and responsibility. On the one hand, the world quickly points to the bloody history of the Crusades, the history of enslavement in the United States and the many other instances where humans have perpetrated suffering in the name of Christ as reasons why Christianity is irrelevant and inconsistent. On the other hand, the message of hope, love and forgiveness has been brought to the world through some of the greatest thinkers, believers and missionaries who built their influence and beliefs upon faith in Jesus. As easy as it has become to accept the story of the Historical Jesus (i.e. – teacher, philosopher, community advocate, promoter of justice), the world needs to hear about the Jesus of the Gospel (i.e. – Redeemer, Healer, God Incarnate). To hear this message, the world needs Christians to be true to their faith, authentic to the message of the Cross – ever embracing but never compromising. The world needs Christians to stand out. Godly discipline is the key.
Why should Christians embrace Godly discipline? Godly discipline eliminates distractions so that people can witness the authenticity of the Gospel in our daily living. For the world, authenticity is the bridge that leads to the hope of Christ. Thus, Godly discipline distinguishes those who merely like Jesus because of his humanistic qualities from those who love Jesus because of His transformative love. Those who have been disciplined by God are committed to living life by faith in Christ, and their commitment to this faith demonstrates the realness of the transformation that Christ makes in all believers. Followerscommit to the cause, even when the costs are ever so great. Fans merely follow without commitment. As historic British Baptist Preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, has said, serving Christ requires “that you follow him…Cross and all. What do you crave, a crown? Then it must be a crown of thorns…Do you want to be lifted up? So you shall, but it will be on a cross.”
Having grown up in North Carolina, I am keenly familiar with the intense rivalry between Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Often dubbed “the battle of the blues” because of the two shades of blue which are in intense competition during basketball season, people often find themselves picking a side when the two teams meet – even when there is no connection to the schools. Generally, we dub those who embrace a team with no commitment “bandwagon” or “fair-weather” fans because when things are well, they proudly wear the colors, sing the songs, cheer for the team; but when things turn sour, they quickly abandon ship. This isn’t the way God wants us to approach our relationship with Him. More than a fan, a follower wears the colors, sings the songs and cheers for Christ when it’s least advantageous or popular. The difference between being on any other team and Christ’s team is that the latter experiences suffering but never defeat. Discipline is the way God distinguishes followers from fans.
What does Godly discipline do for us? Godly discipline fortifies our foundation in Christ. There are two reasons why God chooses discipline for the purpose of fortifying our foundation: 1) to express the message of God’s love in the world; 2) to prepare us to do Christ’s mission in the world.
Hebrews 12:3-9 explains how Godly discipline evidences God’s unrelenting and uncommon love for humanity. God’s love draws us closer to Him, and through adoption, we are become sons and daughters of God (Galatians 4:4-6). That God would want to draw closer to us ought to clue us in to God’s purpose: God wants us to be our very best. We are at our very best when we are closest to Him.
This closeness also legitimizes us as children, which is an important part of the inheritance God promised (Galatians 3:29). However, getting closer to God is a process, and the process is not always pleasant. Hebrews appeals to our human sensibilities to explain how God works. “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live” (Hebrews 12:9). If we trust God, then why are we not surprised in the depth of God’s love for us, in that He chooses to correct us when we have gone astray? “Don’t be stupid,” Proverbs declares, if we desire to grow and mature into righteous people seeking after the heart of God, then let us accept Godly discipline as a pathway to success (Proverbs 12:1).
My parents often disciplined me, and through their discipline I developed a personal “Switch-ology.” The study of “switches” is really a study of love and grace. As a child, I was disciplined by “spankings.” It was never abusive but always done because the proverbial time-outs were simply ineffective. My parents gave me choice as to which stick they could use for the task. I never picked the right stick. It was either too thin or too short. My parents, knowing my proclivities to decrease the likelihood of pain upon impact, always picked the stick which could communicate the message most effectively. This often meant a larger and longer piece of wood. At the time of correction it hurt, but as I matured, I saw the purpose: to mold me into the Godly young man who my parents knew I could become. But their knowledge of who I would become was finite. God’s knowledge is infinite, and this is why God disciplines us. We are disciplined not because He is a vengeful God seeking to exact punishment for everything mistake in our lives. Rather, His discipline demonstrates His love, and it’s this message that He wants to convey to all people. The Creator desires the best out of His creation.
Hebrews 12:10-13 explains how Godly discipline prepares us to do the work of Christ in the Earth. Hebrews 12:10 tells us that Godly discipline comes “for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Note that the purpose is not so that we would stand out for our own piety. Rather, God’s holiness means integrity. We live life a life that speaks to an inward transformation of the invisible God, and the transformation stands on its own merit. The world does not see God, nor does it recognize God’s work in the earth, but His disciples are those who have been called to follow Christ so that others may come to the Gospel of Salvation. Quite literally, holiness means being set a part for the mission of Christ.
The President never sends an ambassador outside the Country unless that ambassador has been screened, vetted and it is determined that they are adequate to represent the interests of the Country. The job warrants distinction so that the world knows that the ambassador legitimately carries the message of the people because the leader has seen fit to distinguish them for this purpose. Likewise, God sets His disciples a part so that the world will know that His followers are authentic in their representation of the Gospel, and have the power to carry out the mission of Christ in the Earth. 1 Peter 1:13-16 calls for us “to be holy” for the Lord is holy. The late American evangelist, D.L. Moody once said, “God does not seek golden vessels….but He must have clean ones.” Godly discipline doesn’t necessarily make one perfect, but it does make one usable for the mission of Christ in the earth.
As a Christian, what steps can I take to embrace Godly discipline? There are three steps which any believer can take.
First: pray for Godly wisdom (James 1:5). God is seeking to dispense His wisdom to those who are willing to endure hardship as a pathway to peace. The more wisdom you gain, the more effective you will be in how you apply your knowledge of the Gospel in your daily living. Wisdom tells you how to apply God’s Word in your life, but you cannot apply to your life something of which you have no knowledge.
Second: read God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16). Whether it’s correcting, encouraging, admonishing or instructing, all scripture has been inspired by God. This means that your knowledge of the Word is sure to provide an unshakable foundation. The Word prepares us for the mission Christ has given us. God’s word is the message that must be preached to the whole world. God’s wisdom illuminates the path to accomplishing the task.
Third: imitate Christ (Luke 6:46-49). Having wisdom and knowledge are futile unless you are committed to actualizing the message in the world. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus declares that “the one who hears [His] words and does not put them into practice is like [one] who built a house on the ground without a foundation” (Luke 6:49). Therefore, we must actually put into practice what has been given to us. Merely listening to the word does not advance the message and mission of Christ in the Earth. Thus, it is important that we live life as Christ lived life so that the world we see the difference and turn to everlasting hope.
Hebrews 12:12-13 shows us what’s at stake here: the world is depending on us to make a difference. Godly discipline strengthens us; it conditions us as a trainer conditions an athlete for competition. We must be firm so that we can bring strength to the weak. We must be bold so that we may bring sight to the blind. We must be real so that we may bring hope to the lost. Let us get prepared for the work ahead because there is much work left to do, and others who are depending on you and me to get it done!
God needs no bandwagon or fair-weather fans on this team. He seeks those who are with Him through the ups and downs of life, the ones willing to sing their song in a strange land, the ones who are unembarrassed to show their light in the midst of darkness. Although it hurts, discipline makes this possible.
-- Reggie Mathis
Reggie is a third-year law student at North Carolina Central University School of Law. In 2006, Reggie graduated from Wake Forest University where he majored in Political Science and Religion. He is also a 2009 graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Reggie is a member of King’s Park Raleigh.