I think I’ve prided myself in being disciplined. This was actually an “uh-oh” moment for me when I realized it because we need to be careful of being prideful about anything. It wasn’t intentional of course, I simply (1) have that type of personality, and (2) wanted to please God.
But the real uh-oh came when the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart with these words: “Some so-called disciplines aren’t much different than religion.”
I immediately thought about how many times Jesus called out the Pharisees for their strict adherence to rules and religious regulations (can we call it discipline?) that actually stifled truth, love, mercy, and freedom. And Jesus wasn’t soft about it either.
“As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. Then the Lord said to him, ‘You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over. What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.’” (Luke 11:37-42 NLT)
Jesus sat down to eat without performing the customary practices of the religious leaders– and was criticized for it. This should speak to our hearts as well. What are we doing out of religious duty (discipline) that has no faith, no power, and therefore no results?
“’Teacher,’ said an expert in religious law, ‘you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.’ ‘Yes,’ said Jesus, ‘what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.'” (Luke 11:45-46)
What sorrow awaits you… I believe the sorrow Jesus was referring to was disappointment. The dictionary defines disappointment as a failure to fulfill the expectations, hopes, plans, or wishes of a person. In other words, these leaders were going to be sorely disappointed if they thought their acts of religious discipline was going to earn them some kind of favor or reward.
The disciplines God is asking of us involve mercy, justice, and love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we need to throw out all our restraints and live in a free-for-all society. But when our so-called disciplines (regimens, rules, conduct, and practices) are duty-bound with no fruit of God’s presence, generosity, compassion, or love — we’ve missed the mark (big)!
Paul told the Colossians:
“You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.” (Colossians 2:20-23 NLT)
In other words, we don’t need to be guided by the standards and opinions of men, but by the standards and love of God.
The Holy Spirit’s warning was an eye-opener. I know I’m going to continue having a regular quiet time with God, praying over food (especially in restaurants where I’m not in on the washing and cooking), gathering with believers at church, and so much more. I hope you will too. But let’s not call it discipline. Instead I pray we’d practice devotion— the result of an earnest attachment, dedication, and allegiance to the One who loved us first and set the example of what it really means to be free.