To live a transformed life in Christ means to change. Jesus does not call us into relationship with Him to just remain watching on the sideline as we continue living in the same way we always have. To become a disciple of Jesus, we are called to bring Him onto the playing field, accept Him as our referee, coach, and star player, and allow Him to lead us to victory. But like sports, growing closer to God requires discipline, time, and effort; someone does not just become a professional athlete (or even a collegiate athlete) simply because they wish it to be so--they have to put in many hours, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. What makes us think following the God of all creation would be any different?
If this is already sounding like too much to handle for you, then I’m sorry to say, but you WILL NOT be able to maintain a life-long, powerful, and world-changing relationship with God, if you do not understand the discipline He wants from you. But take heart; Jesus has already provided all of the answers for us. It is only through the power and love of Jesus Christ that we can walk the path He calls us on, and it is through the Holy Spirit that we understand His discipline.
Before continuing to the rest of the blog, if you do not fully follow Jesus Christ or believe in Him (which, in your heart, only you and God truly know), then I challenge you to take a few moments--maybe five to ten minutes--to pray this prayer, and/or seek Him honestly on your own:
“Dear Lord, please open my eyes so that I may see you. Let your presence be known to me, and enter into my life. I come before you, Jesus, as a sinner, but by your blood I am made free. Raise up faith within me, and help me get to know you more. I set before you my doubts, my worries, my pain, my questions, my desires and wants; and ask for only You in return. Forgive me, God. Make me new. I pray this, Lord, because I want to grow in relationship with You and walk with You. Show me the goodness of Your love. In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”
1) God's discipline brings us closer to Him through the difficulties we face, not around them
God is a provider and will provide if we call on Him, but do not confuse God’s supreme compassion and grace with weakness and enabling. God, as the good Father that He is, disciplines us out of His perfect and good love, because it would be unloving if He did not do so. Discipline helps us grow through the struggles and challenges that we face, not around them. And sometimes growing through difficult situations in our life is painful and involves a lot of suffering; but God’s vision is set on our potential. He looks at us from a perspective that sees what we are meant to become; the highest and most true form of who we are, which can only be found in Him.
On our own, we can never fully be who we are meant to be, due to the reality of sin. Sin is the ultimate impediment to all advancement within humanity, in every regard--and included within this is our potential and destiny. Because of sin, we have separated ourselves from God, and since God is the source of all life and goodness, we cut off our connection to the power that bears fruit within us. As Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Jesus does not mince words: apart from Him you will not bear Godly fruit. But why is this “fruit”--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--so important to our potential and destiny?
The fruit we bear encompasses our destiny because it ultimately defines our relationship with God and with other people. The ultimate ethic of life--no matter who you are, no matter what you think of yourself, no matter how much money, power, or influence you have, no matter how highly or lowly others may think of you, no matter what your race, ethnicity, belief system, cultural background, or upbringing is, and no matter whatever other category you can come up with--is love. The Ten Commandments found in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament in the Bible--meaning “The Law” in Hebrew) are all centered upon, and fulfilled by, this ethic of love. The first four laws center on one’s love and reverence for God, and the other six deal with loving other people. Our absolute purpose on this earth is to love and be loved--that is the whole point.
But to merely slap the label of the word “love” in such a phrase and not give thought to it’s depths, belittles the true weight and power at the essence of what it means. God is the purest, most powerful, and most superior form of love that there is--He is, in essence, love. Not a cupid-shooting-arrows type of love that is confused with lust. God is found in every aspect of true love, and therefore, if we have shown that true love to another person, we have witnessed and embodied the essence of the great I AM.
With this established, to truly love others and ourselves in the purest form--which, as previously acknowledged, is the ultimate purpose that we can attain--our love must be derived from a source that is true and pure in its essence as well. Without this source, our own love will fail, and eventually become overshadowed by sin. This leads to all the kinds of evil that we see in our world. The failure in our ability to love on our own is made evident every single day; without God, there would be no love. But where we have failed to love ourselves and others, God stepped down to succeed for us. It is out of His perfect love, freely given through the sacrifice He made at the Cross, that we can step onto a path of greater love.
2) God's discipline can feel more like suffering then progress towards Him
It is this path--the way of Jesus Christ--that God calls us to, and it is during the walking on that path that God provides His discipline. Discipline is something that is uncomfortable and unwanted in the moment, but bears good fruit in the future. For example, conditioning in sports is something that is never enjoyable. Throughout all the times of conditioning throughout my career in soccer, and eventually as a collegiate athlete, there was not a single moment that I can remember when I enjoyed the discipline of improving my endurance--aka, running until I felt like I was going to puke. And despite those moments being some of the worst memories of soccer for me, they were absolutely necessary.
First off, without having that discipline in endurance for soccer, I would not have been able to succeed as well in the games--simply because I would get tired way too easily. Secondly, the discipline itself that conditioning ingrained within me taught me something deeper than simply being able to run for longer periods; it helped create a habit of perseverance in me, and improved my character in the long run.
God is the ultimate coach, and if we think He is going to send us into a game without conditioning us first, then we are sorely mistaken. Take a look at Moses; he spent 40 years in the desert in Midian before he entered his ministry and freed the Hebrews from Egypt. Even Jesus Himself illustrates God’s timing and the discipline of His hand, since we see that He didn’t enter His ministry--as written about in the Gospels--until about 30 years of age.
Similarly, like the previous article I wrote touches upon, God’s way takes time and requires patience, and discipline is important if we are to be true disciples of Christ. As John Ramirez says, “If you’re chasing the question mark, you might as well chase the answer: His name is Jesus.” There are so many distractions and temptations that are being thrown at us by the devil, and if we are to succeed in overcoming them, we must be disciplined in seeking Jesus. He alone has the power to overcome the world around us and the world within us, and He alone is sufficient for our salvation.
There are real ramifications in our lives for what we believe in. If we are continually speaking hatred, violence, death, perversion, or any other evil thoughts into our lives or into our minds--even just the smallest amounts that you think do not matter--we are providing a foothold for evil to take root.
3) Our journey of faith is like the soil
The parable of good soil that Jesus speaks about is talking about soil for a reason. Soil is something that has the potential for life, but requires discipline in tilling and patience over time, in order to produce good fruits and vegetables that support life. But with good soil, there is also the potential for weeds to sprout, which provide fleeting bursts of life (possibly some pretty flowers, as my sister Lily took note) but do not provide sustenance, and eventually lead to withering and death.
Our journey of faith is like the soil, and we constantly have to tend it. Sin grows like weeds, and if allowed to grow unhindered, will spread across all of who we are and choke out the good fruit. Jesus is the ultimate landscaper, and He never charges a fee. On the contrary; God has already paid the required price--in full--to remove the weeds, and wants nothing more than to serve us and turn us into a great and flourishing garden of true life.
But despite this free service from God, we choose the other option so much more frequently. We let the false gardener come in, who gives us what we want in the moment: lots of plants and pretty flowers, and all of it in a short amount of time--but then begins charging fees as we continue to hire him. And as time goes by, the plants he’s been planting in our soil begin to show their true colors: they bear no fruit, and they do not last long at all. In fact, the plants are now dying, and seem only to take up space in our garden.
And so we hire the false gardener again, and again, hoping to once again see the life he brought us in the first place. But in this we deceive ourselves, thinking: this time, maybe, the weeds will bear fruit. And so more space is taken up by the weeds, and when we look across our plot of land--our garden--all we see is that it is riddled with weeds, and most of them are dying or withered. But in that moment of truly looking at our soil--our life--we see, hidden amongst the forests of weeds, the little fruit and vegetable plants still growing, despite the lack of space. We remember the Good Gardener and the deal He offered, and think, maybe it’s time I tried His way.
And so we reach out to the Good Gardener for help, and immediately He is there to answer. We start explaining the situation to Him, and start talking to Him about the bad gardener and how we ended up here, but He just smiles warmly and gives us a hug, and then walks to the soil to start pulling out the weeds. Before we know it, our whole patch of land is weed free, and now all we can see are the little fruit and vegetable plants that have been there the whole time.
4) Discipline is constant reliance on God
The Good Gardener walks back up to us and says, “Weeds grow fast, and the bad gardener will plant them in your soil whether you hire him or not; call on Me whenever you need them cleaned up.” And then, before leaving, He gives us a pouch of seeds and says, “Plant these where you want to in your garden, and water them every day. The next time you call me, I’ll have more for you to plant.”
As time goes on, and as we continue to use the Good Gardener’s service, and continue to work on our garden with Him, His plants begin to grow: there are some strawberry plants, blueberry plants, apple trees, cherry trees, peach trees, tomato plants, pepper plants, and all kinds of others. Weeds continue to pop up throughout the garden, but the Good Gardener always takes care of them when we call on Him.
As time continues on, our garden is full of life; a multitude of plants and trees that bear fruits we never thought possible. Now the Good Gardener comes to us and says, “Here, now take the fruits I have grown in your soil and bring them to your neighbor who needs them. Tell him of My services, because his plot of land is full of weeds like yours was, and he needs Me.” And so we bring the fruits the Good Gardener grew in our soil to our neighbor, and tell him of the Good Gardener’s services to us.
The neighbor, however, says he does not need the Good Gardener’s services, and that he will take care of his soil himself. A long time passes, and the neighbor still has not taken the weeds out of his soil. The bad gardener has planted so many weeds in the neighbors soil now, that there is nowhere left to plant any more. So the bad gardener goes to the neighbor and says, “You have no space left for me to plant in, so I am going to find another person to work for.” The neighbor is left with a plot of land full of dead weeds, and even the little fruit and vegetable plants that were hidden have been choked out and died.
5) There is freedom in the name of Jesus
Everyone has weeds in their life and within themselves. We are not equipped to deal with the powers of hell and the temptations of sin on our own--this is reality. God’s great provision is that He equips us through Jesus Christ; that we can overcome Satan through the Cross. Every knee will bow before the Lamb, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phillipians 2:10-11). The devil fully understands the position and superiority of Jesus, yet he refused to follow Him.
The discipline of God changes our life in a way that brings us closer to Him--but, many times, can look like suffering when it is happening. But it is through this discipline that we learn to call on Him more and more, in order to deal with the weeds in our life. And when God tends to the garden of our heart, soul, and mind, we bear fruit in ways we never thought possible, and change our world for the better in ways we never could have alone.