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I hated discipline in high school. I did not like to do homework. I did not like to get up early. It seemed like the only reason to be disciplined was to get good grades, then get into a good college, then get a good job, then get a lot of money, then get a big house, and then slave away making enough money to pay for college and house debt. It didn’t seem worth the discipline.
So, instead of embracing these goals, I followed paths of least resistance and looked for pleasure and comfort. Why not? Live for the moment, as they say. Then, in a way, the comfort itself became the goal and it was harder and harder to say no to comfort to be able to say yes to harder things. Later, when goals I wanted presented themselves, it was very hard to have the discipline to reach them.
As Christian men we need to know why we have discipline because we do in fact need it. For me, it was not until realizing who I was in God and actually following the path charted by Jesus Christ that I learned who I was and how a man understands and executes discipline. In order to understand ourselves better, we need to understand what God has said about Himself.
Getting to God
In the ancient world, philosophers reasoned their way to belief in one God. They figured God is like a perfect thought thinking about the thought. Perhaps we should not be surprised that brilliant philosophers imagined that God was the ultimately brilliant philosopher! Philosophers “mused” on the highest things they could think of – virtue, honor, etc. – and since nothing is higher than God, then God must think about Himself. So, He is a thought thinking a thought.
This sounds funny – God sitting around thinking about Himself – but there is something true about it. And when Jesus came to reveal God to man, He burst open a whole new understanding about God that would bring the ideas of the philosophers into the full light of truth. In other words – the philosophers were really, really close, but God had to visit us in the Person of Jesus to bring us to a fuller understanding of Himself and, therefore, a greater understanding of ourselves.
Why everything is different now…
It is true that nothing is higher than God. So, if higher beings think about higher things, then God must think about Himself. So, what we have is the thinker and the thing he is thinking about – a thinker and a thought.
Right now you are thinking something, and that thought is from you but it is not you – it’s something separate. To voice that thought makes it into words – your words are like a gift to the world from your mind (at least they should be!).
God has an eternal Thought, and that Thought became Man and was born of the Virgin Mary. That Man was the Word of God – the “voicing” of the thought. This is why the Gospel of John is so profound when in the first chapter we hear that “the Word was with God… and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1).
God’s Word is the way He says, “This is who I am.” The Word of the Father (the Son) tells us exactly who the Father is (Matthew 11:27), what He eternally “thinks”. As a man says, “I give you my word” to prove his trustworthiness, God gives us His Word to show us that we can trust Him fully.
Through Jesus we learn that God’s inner life is not just a really lofty thought exercise, but an eternal act of love. It is Father and Son, not just thinker and thought. They both mutually love and give of themselves totally to the other, and their Love is so real, so intense, that it has the distinction of being another Person, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son, and it is shared with us so that we can love the Father in the highest possible way. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16).
God is not a thought. “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
This might all seem like lofty ideas, but what does it tell us about ourselves, about how we should live? Well, if you are united to God by faith then this life that He lives is the life that you live. In other words, as the Son shows us that the Father is a total gift of love, we as sons must become total gifts of love to live out who we are – created in His image and likeness.
So, what does this have to do with me not wanting to wake up early and do homework? Well, as I grew in laziness and selfishness I could not give myself away. I was enslaved to the comfort and even the vice and sins that came with it. So, in order to be able to give myself away, I had to have mastery over myself – I had to possess myself fully.
Living in Christ makes all suffering and all burdens worthwhile, most especially by making our suffering and discipline not about us, but about love. When He tells us he wants us to go and take up our cross, He allows us to unite every act of suffering and discipline with His cross. And what was the point of His cross? To save mankind in the greatest act of love of all time. All of our discipline, suffering, self-denial, and penances are united to Christ’s cross and find their worthiness there alone – and it is all for love. Don’t go out and try to have more grit and be disciplined, but go united to the cross and for the sake of love.
Living discipline for love’s sake instead of for the sake of worldly gain helps us to live as sons, not slaves to sin or anything else. “[Every] one who commits sin is a slave to sin,” said Jesus, “The slave does not continue forever; the son continues forever” (John 8:34-35). We are men when we give ourselves away. So to be men we must fully possess ourselves through discipline.
Jason Craig works and writes from a small farm in rural North Carolina with his wife Katie and their five kids. Jason is the Executive Director of Fraternus, a mentoring program for young men, and holds a masters degree from the Augustine Institute. He is known to staunchly defend his family’s claim to have invented bourbon.