Charles Stanley - A Life of Self-Discipline
Do you want to do your best, be your best, and live a life that is fulfilling? Well, you can, but there is a price to pay. But on the other hand, if you don't live that kind of life, there's still a price to pay. You see, the Christian life's not easy. Nowhere in the Bible does it say once you trust Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, life will get easier. There are difficulties, there are hardships, there are trials, but it's still the best way to live. And oftentimes people do not realize how very important a particular aspect of the Christian life is, because you see, the real secret or the real key to living an extraordinary Christian life and the real key to living a life that you do your best, be your best, and fulfill the dreams or the goals that God has set for your life, there is a key. And the key is self-discipline.
The reason we're so sick is because of our lack of discipline. And the reason prisons are overflowing is because people will not bring their desires under control. Why is it that students are dropping out? Because they're not disciplined enough to complete the task. And why are people so in debt? They can't walk through the malls, they can't watch all the advertisements and commercials without yielding to the enticement to have one more of this or something larger, something better, or something like my neighbor has. Self-discipline is an absolute essential in the Christian life. The truth is, it's essential in any kind of life, but especially in the life of a person who wants to live a godly life.
So I want you to turn, if you will, to First Corinthians chapter nine, and I want you to look at this passage of scripture when Paul discusses this whole issue of discipline. Now, I know that you had rather hear a message about how to increase my finances. How can I have peace, joy, and contentment? And now, here we are talking about self-discipline, because without self-discipline, these things are not going to happen. And so they're very, very essential. So let's think about this in this ninth chapter, beginning in verse twenty-four, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win".
Now, he's talking about the Christian life here. "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things". He says, "They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable". Then he says, "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air," we'll explain that, "but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified," or cast away. Now, think about this for a moment. He's talking about the Christian life being a race, and he simply says that we run in a way that we ought to win. That is, we ought to live our lives in such a way that we win; that is, that we fulfill the purpose for which God created us, that we fulfill his will and reach the goals and the dreams that God has set for us.
Then He says, "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control," and notice, he says, "in all things". Because in those days, just like today in the Olympics, a person trains for years and years and years in order to win a gold medal. And he says, "They exercise control in all things". That is, a person who is running a race or competing in some goal, they couldn't be very disciplined, for example, in what they eat, but then stay up all hours of the night and not get enough rest. So that's just one example. He says, "in all things". So, let's think about, for example, why is it necessary for you and me to live a disciplined life? Because the truth is, most people don't.
Now, here's what I want you to do in order to get the most out of this message. I want to challenge you to do something. I want you to look at your life for a moment and ask yourself the question: What area of my life is undisciplined? What area of my life is out of control? What area of my life is really giving me a difficult time? What area of my life do I find myself almost a slave to that desire? It could be one of a number of things. I want you to think about just a moment: What area of your life is out of control? And with that in mind, let's look at the rest of this message. Because you see, if you can identify something, then all the things that we say, and I'm going to give you two or three lists of things that will be helpful.
Then you can apply it and you can be thinking about, how does that relate to what is a problem in my life? So what are the essentials? Well, and why is it necessary? First of all, it's necessary because God calls us to a life of holiness, a life of discipline. He calls us to live that kind of life. Look if you will in First Peter for a moment, and I want you to notice what he says in this fourteenth verse of First Peter. He says, "As obedient children," watch this, "do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance," that is, don't let the world pour you into the mold you used to be in before you became a Christian when you were living in ignorance, "but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'YOU SHALL BE HOLY FOR I AM HOLY.'"
Somebody says, "Well I can't be holy". Let's define what that means. To live a holy life does not mean that you live a sinless life. It means that our heart is bent toward God. It is our desire to walk obediently before Him. We desire to please Him. We make decisions to please Him, but there will be times in our life when we falter, moments of weakness, but we don't just give up and stop and stay there. And so a holy life is a life bent toward God, committed to Him, exercised in that direction and a life, listen, that is in the process of bringing every desire under control by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us in order that you and I may live a godly life and be pleasing to Him. And see, it's very evident, he says in this passage, that we are called to live a holy life.
Second thing I want you to notice here is this, and that is that you and I are confronted every day with a three-fold enemy: the world, the flesh, and the devil. That is, first of all, the world system in which we live. The world system in which you and I live is indeed opposed to the Christian life. Secondly, he says the flesh or our naturalness. So, when we talk about the flesh or carnal, that means those desires that we have that, unless they're under control, they enslave us. Listen, someone who is addicted to drugs is a slave to drugs. That drug absolutely controls them. He desires that you and I live a godly life. And the question is, what happens? Why don't we? What is it? So we say we have a threefold enemy, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Now, think about this for a moment. When you were saved, God pardoned you for all your sin, but He did not remove you from the presence of sin. When you were saved, the Holy Spirit came within you to live in you and to seal you as a child of God, but He did not eradicate, listen, He did not eradicate, remove from you, listen, that tendency that can be brought under control that causes a person to yield to temptation. It's still there. Anyone and every single one of us can yield to temptation. There's no such thing as a person who says, "Well, I can't be tempted by anything". You just got yourself set up for failure because Satan loves to hear somebody decide that they now have arrived at this stage. And so what is He saying to us? We have a responsibility to live a godly life.
We're saved, we know that we're saved, and we know that we're indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but we still have to do what? He says in First Peter, those things that war against your soul, this temptation, that temptation, this desire, that desire. Ask yourself the question: What is it in your life that wars against you, that wants to pull you down, that wants to separate you in your relationship and fellowship with God? That wants to pull you away from the house of the Lord, pull you away from serving God? God's called you to some form of ministry, and something inside of you is pulling and tugging or you're listening to somebody else and Satan is using somebody else to pull you away. To begin with, it may be just a very gentle temptation, but the ultimate goal is your defeat and your enslavement to some form of sin, whatever that may be.
That's why He sent the Holy Spirit to enable you and me by the power of the Holy Spirit to do, what? To bring those things under control, because if eating's out of control, what happens? You become fat, and it hurts your health. If, for example, sex is out of control, you become immoral and you find yourself in this pit. And you could just go right down the line of different things. It's enslavement. More people are enslaved than realize that they are. And most of the time they'll be the ones who boast that they'll, well, my life's under control and don't tell me about Jesus and don't give me all that stuff because I don't necessarily need all that.
Let me just say this to you, friend. If you're not a child of God, if you have not trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are enslaved by something. It could be doubt, it could be unbelief, or it could be something that you desire in your life that you know that if you become a Christian you may have to lay it down. So, we all need self-discipline. And the truth is, when we live an undisciplined life (and we're going to talk about all the things that happen when we do that) we pay a penalty. So let's talk about that for a moment. What can we expect when we do not live a disciplined life? And if you see yourself in this area in some place, then you mark it down.
You say, "Well, that's where I need to work". Well, number one, if you do not live a disciplined life, you can expect, listen, to find yourself indulging in things that are not right, or things that are good but they're out of control. Watch this: things that are the will of God, but God has said, "Listen, it's not bad, it's my will for your life later, but not right now". Listen, we want everything we want now, we want all we want as quickly as we can get it because we think, well, listen, when I hear people say, "Well, I deserve it," well, you just mark it down. They have a problem. Let me say this to you. You and I don't deserve anything. It's the grace of God that gives us everything we have, the breath to breathe, the beating of our heart.
So, first of all, we will indulge ourselves fleshly, and here's what'll happen. Not only that, we will defend it. And here's what we'll say, we'll say, "I just can't help myself. I've tried and tried and tried; I can't help myself". Or, we'll say, "You know, I just don't feel like it". And so when a person says "I can't help myself," what that means, listen, if you say "I can't help myself," you have just confessed being a slave to whatever that is. Now we say a lot about slavery. Nobody likes slavery. We talk about people being enslaved; we don't tolerate that. Listen, the very people who don't tolerate the enslavement of human beings yield to the enslavement of themselves. But we don't see it that-a-way, but that is exactly what the scripture's saying.
Then of course, what else is affected is our health. When a person lives an indulgent life, then what happens? It affects their health. You cannot eat the wrong thing over and over again, you cannot overeat over and over again without it affecting your body. When it affects your body, it's going to affect your health. That's just one thing. But for example, when a person is indulgent, there's something else you're going to find. You're going to find, for example, they're going to have financial problems, why? Because here's what they do. They love to float through the malls and look at this and look at that and look at the other, and it's Friday afternoon. They've worked hard all week long, they deserve to go spend their hard-earned money. The only problem is they spend more than they can afford. They gotta have this and gotta have that and gotta have the other. You know what? That's indulgence.
Then, of course, another issue here is the whole idea of slothful habits. Now, slothful habits means a person just sort of does what they can get by with. For example, let's just say a person that's slothful: when they get up in the morning and they throw their pajamas or their gown over here somewhere, or they come home in the afternoon and they drop their trousers over here and their shirt over here, don't pick them up, lay them around. When they get through eating, they just leave the dishes on the table or put them in the sink, and the sink gets fuller and fuller and dirtier and dirtier until finally you don't even want to look at it. You can just go on down the list of simple things that indicate slothfulness.
Do you realize that you and I represent, listen, we represent the Lord Jesus Christ? We represent Him. Listen, He has a right to expect our best and a right to, listen, to present our best. And here's what happens, watch this. When you do the best with what you've got, if I know anything about God, He increases your potential. Listen, He will help you move up when you do the best with what you have. But you see, if you're indulgent, that's a whole different story.
Then, of course, another area is recklessness in our speech. A person who's undisciplined is usually undisciplined somewhere in their speech; say things they should not say, talk about things they should not talk about, make criticisms they should not make. A disciplined lifestyle, a disciplined life is in tongue, mind, heart, soul, body; every aspect of our life. Listen, Jesus was a disciplined man, listen, He wasn't a legalist, He wasn't rigorous, He was just disciplined. He was out there early in the mornings with the Father.
And see, I've talked about all these other things, but think about this. Disciplined in our reading the scriptures every day. Disciplined in our prayer life, to spend time with Him. Disciplined in our time of meditation. Discipline in our giving so that every week we don't have to say, "Well, what am I going to give this week"? I just know automatically it starts with a tithe, and it begins and goes on beyond that. And so a disciplined life is a life, listen, that makes a difference.
And then the last thing I'd mention about that is simply this: it's a poor testimony. When a person lives an undisciplined life, it's a poor testimony. We represent the Son of God! It's very important. Now, let's ask the question here and answer this question. That being the case, what are the requirements for living a disciplined life? We don't want those things to be true in our life. What are the requirements for living a disciplined life? Well, first of all, very important, you have to have a definite, specific goal for doing it, an aim for doing it.
And that's why Paul said, and he made it very clear. He says in this passage, "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim". I have a purpose, have a goal. You're not going to live a disciplined life just because I said so. You're going to live a disciplined life because you have evaluated your life, you look at the goals you have, you look at the dreams you have, you look at to see what God says, and God says it is His will, it is His good pleasure that you and I live a disciplined life.
So, my first aim is because I want to please the Lord. The second aim may be 'cause I want to reach that goal or I want this to come true in my life or I want to be able to enjoy this in life. So, you've got to have a definite aim. You have to have a specific purpose, and without that, it's not going to last. That's absolutely essential. Then of course, identify and detach. It means identify that place or those things in your life in which are warring against your soul, those areas of your life that you know that you're undisciplined in or that you're a slave to, and then here's what you do. You know what? You choose to walk away from it, detach yourself from it.
And this is why I say, you know, if you don't want to eat certain things, don't go to the grocery store, buy them and take them home and put them in the refrigerator and say, "Well, just in case". No, you've already planned to fail if that's what it is. Or it may be some relationship, and you don't want to get too involved in, you better walk away. So, you have to identify what the issue is, and then as we said, detach yourself from it. A third one is this, and that you have to pursue it with diligence. A person isn't sort of disciplined. In other words, you can't be sort of disciplined. What that means is, "I'm really not but I'd like to be". Discipline you have to pursue with diligence. That means you have to keep your focus on the goal.
If your focus isn't on a goal, no particular aim, no particular purpose, it won't last. There has to be an aim. And to do that, you have to pursue it diligently. Listen to this. You can't go by your feelings. "I don't feel like it". You've got to just eliminate that phrase. Eliminate that phrase. There are a lot of times I don't feel like studying or I don't feel like preparing and this, that, and the other, but you know what? I have to ignore the feeling. Most of the good things, the best things in life have been achieved by people who did not feel like it. So you can't go by feelings; you have to pursue it diligently.
Then you have to be consistent. You have to be consistent. And I think about people... you're going to think I'm against food. I promise I'm not, I'm not against food. But people say, "Well, I'm starting on my diet". Second diet, third diet, fourth diet, fifth diet, sixth diet, seventh magazine, eighth plan, ninth plan, tenth plan. You know what they're doing? Still starting and stopping. When you start and stop anything, what you do is you fail. You've got to be consistent. That's why you have to have an aim that is valid, that is valuable enough to you that you're willing to pay the price, you're willing to be consistent no matter what. Then you have to practice self-denial.
Nobody likes that word, self-denial. But it's interesting what Jesus said, and He said it for a little different purpose here in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, and here's what He said, twenty-fourth verse: "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If any one wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.'" Now, when He said "deny himself," that is, not allow self to control his or her life, but that the Spirit of God control their life. If you and I are going to live a disciplined life, we, listen, we have to deny ourselves of certain things. I may have to deny myself of something that I may desire, but if I know that that will interfere with my relationship to Him or interfere with what I'm supposed to do the next day, I have to decide, what's most important? Doing my best the next day or spending time doing thus and so, whatever that might be.
So, I have to practice self-denial. I have to deny myself of whatever, listen, watch this, "Whatever wars against your soul," he says, "deal with that". Then we have to learn to say no, and some people just can't do that. For example, let's say that you're with your friends and they want you to do thus and so, but your spirit tells you, don't do that. And so what do you do? All of a sudden, you're caught in this temptation to do what they want you to do. You know it's not right, but you don't want to hurt their feelings, and so you say, "Okay, well, all right". What you've done, watch this carefully: you have chosen to please your friends rather than please the living God. That is not right. And so we have to learn to say no.
And remember, somebody says, "Well, I just can't do that". Yes, you can, because here's what the Bible says. The fruit of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us, he will enable us; it's his job to enable you and me to do whatever God wants us to do. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I have the power within us at any time to say no to anything that's not of God. God isn't going to call us to live a godly life and then say, "Well, do the best you can". He knows how these things war against our soul. He knows the strength of temptation. That's why He sent the Holy Spirit. He sent Him to enable us, listen, to say no when we need to say no.
Then, last thing I'd mention here is to, listen, to allow yourself for failure. Now, watch what I mean by that. Not going to be perfect; nobody is. So here's what happens when we fail in a given area. We look at what we did, we ask ourselves the question, "Why? How can I avoid this the next time"? If it's a sin of some sort, then you ask God to forgive you and, listen, watch this, then you refocus on, "What's my goal"? And in such a fashion, you will find yourself being very disciplined.
Now the last question is, what are the rewards? What can I expect from God? And you know what? I don't even have time to tell you all the rewards, but I just want to give you a few of them, things that you know in your life and you know already how God will reward you if you live a disciplined life, and the first one is this: a lifestyle that is orderly and far less stressful. Stress is killing our nation. There are so many people who have heart attacks because of pure stress. Their life is disordered, it's sort of helter-skelter kind of doing this and whatever the day calls for and so forth.
God wants us to live an orderly life. Likewise, there's a sense of achievement, that you have achieved something. I disciplined myself today, I made a step forward, I'm stronger now that I overcame that temptation today in this area. And so there's this sense of achievement, this moving on. Then, of course, it contributes to your good health. When you and I are living a disciplined life, it's going to contribute to good health because an orderly life that has its priorities, and you're living by those, listen, that contributes to good health. Because much of our ill health is worry and anxiety and fretting and concern and looking around us and thinking about all the things that could happen, and insecurities that people live with.
We live with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our security. Our life is ordered and our life is disciplined; then what happens is you're going to be more productive, more fruitful in your life, because you save time by living an orderly life. You save time by living a life that is guided by the Spirit of God. And so you're going to be more productive, more fruitful; therefore, more opportunities open up. God sees your diligence in what you're doing. What does He do? When you fulfill one opportunity well, He opens up a second one. When you're on level one, He opens to level two, three, four, five, the rest of your life, why? Because He's going to reward you for, listen, being diligent and disciplined.
Not only that, when you live a disciplined life, it's going to contribute to your intimate, personal relationship with God, why? Because you're going to spend more time with Him. You're going to love His Word. You're going to love sharing your testimony of what God's doing in your life. It contributes to your personal, intimate relationship with God, which is the most important thing in the life of any single person no matter who they are. That's the most important thing at all because, what? Our whole life flows out of that. Our relationship to Him affects every single aspect of our life. And when you and I commit ourselves to living a disciplined life, God's going to honor that in many ways.
Now, let me say this to you. If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a problem. You may be very wealthy, you may seemingly have everything under control, but the truth is you do not. And I want to encourage you to consider what the Word of God says. It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment. Without Christ, you do not want to die. And I want to encourage you to ask Him to forgive you of your sins, and tell Him that you're placing His forgiveness in your life on the basis not of your conduct, but on the basis of the cross where Jesus died and shed His blood and made full payment for your sin.
The moment you ask Him to forgive you, you're forgiven, and your life can change. You're a Christian, you've heard all of this, and God has pointed out the one or two or maybe many areas of your life in which you are enslaved. And you never thought about being a slave; you thought about being free. You can become a free man, a free woman living in the will of God, becoming the person God wants you to be, doing the things that God wants you to do. It is a choice you make, and He will enable you if you'll make the choice and trust Him to do it.