Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 26, 2019
Gaining Self-discipline - Galatians 5:25 - Walk in the Spirit!
“Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:25).
What a wonderful teaching here! When faithfully walking by the Spirit, all those problems connected to the flesh, including the lack of self-discipline disappear.
Huge problems face this generation of internet users and the age of convenience. We end up misusing our valuable time. Some state, probably rightly, that time is our most precious possession. In any case, we are responsible before God for how we use our time.
The Limitation of Correction
Those concerned for you—your boss, employer, parent, friend, or spouse—perhaps, have corrected you. They have pointed out your waste of time and reminded you of your neglected responsibilities. Your hobbies, ‘junk’ activities, and other activities like surfing or video games, etc. have, at times, become all-consuming. You want to do the right thing, and even agree with them, determining to do the right thing again. But, in the end, at least after starting off in the right direction, you despairingly find yourself wasting time. You somehow are removed from the right path that you chose! This is hard enough, but in some cases, this problem has been compounded by those who rudely corrected you. Their rudeness makes it easier to disguise your own sins—especially when this confession is so crucial to proper change.
I carefully use the word ‘sins.’ Some of us rather consider this is an issue of preferences: “Just because you don’t like watching sports, it doesn’t mean I don’t.” But really, the issue is that you are not timely carrying out your duties before God. Without admitting our sin, we can’t improve much without meeting failure again.
Admission is the Starting Point
It’s much easier to consider our problem to be over differing values than our deficiency. There is, no doubt, an element of truth about the importance of values. Your father, for example, though watching endless football games, can’t stand you wasting time playing video games. He sees your sin but not his own. But hopefully, we can go beyond the weaknesses of others to see God’s greater purposes for us. God often uses a person’s rebuke to expose our inadequacies. When we admit to our sin, we can move beyond hiding behind easy excuses to the stage of recovery from our unfaithfulness.
Are you a “yes-yes” person or a “yes, no” person? The “yes-no” person says “yes” to others when trying not to disappoint someone. You feel bad and pledge your time, money, or effort. But when the person is gone, your commitment flitters away. Your “yes” somehow changes to a “no.” Our Lord told us to let our words match our actions. This obedience is the essence of faithfulness, both before God and others.
Identifying a Character Flaw
“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Mat 5:37).
But how do you reach that point? Paul gives us the answer in Galatians 5:25.
Remember, those without self-discipline often try to do the right thing. Somehow, however, they seem to falter and give up. They are sincere but get easily discouraged. Their increasing desperation about their ability to overcome such weaknesses makes things worse, sometimes to the point they no longer want to try. But Paul’s admonition in Galatians 5:25 sets us on the right path. “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:25).
A Positive Step Forward
How do believers who face a lack of discipline learn to use their time wisely? Although being genuine believers with the desire to please God, their weakness keeps them from steadily applying the truths needed to grow into mature believers. Words like steadily and consistent are foreign to those who lack self-control.
As with most sins, it is hard to stop something when one is fixed upon it. I don’t mean watching a movie or being glued to one’s computer screen—though these can become problems. But I have a wider perspective here.
Everyone intuitively knows we go where we look. Our bodies follow where our eyes look. The good sportsmen know they need to keep their “eye on the ball.” If we take a look at our text while driving, we begin to veer off the road. Our eyes guide us to where we are going—not just in our physical movements, but in the ways we approach and think about life’s affairs.
Wherever you look, you go. So you allow Galatians 5:25 to guide you positively. This new approach might take some getting used to, but it definitely brings its rewards. Identify one or more elements of the ways the Bible clearly instructs you to “walk by the Spirit.” By following the path of the Spirit, you will not fall to the distractions that pull you away from God’s will. Don’t focus on what you are trying not to do—“I should stop playing this computer game now.” We need to look towards the Spirit and see how He leads us. Usually, the Spirit leads us opposite to our weaknesses.
For example, when facing a problem of self-control, the Spirit will lead a person into a life of self-control. Faithfulness is also essential here. If we occupy ourselves with the Spirit’s leading, then He will help us carry out the Lord’s will.
Self-control is the ability to limit the things we do so we can accomplish God’s greater purposes. Remember, living by self-control must become our focus. Whenever we walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the flesh.
Self-control and You
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).
When targeting the issue of laziness or lusts, it means we must focus on God’s implementation of self-control into our lives. He will steer us far from unhealthy activities. Without that focus on the Spirit’s leading, however, we will easily allow people and things to direct us otherwise.
By seeking the Spirit’s self-control, we take steps forward into obedience. Whenever we return to the determination “not to…,” we will again face doubt and probably eventually lose the game due to Satan’s clever schemes. So although it looks deeply religious to try to exercise self-control, we see it goes counter to the full advice of the Word. We must affirmatively walk by the Spirit. Again, the key is obedience—follow His leading. The Spirit will lead us into self-control, but it is the Spirit of God that we follow. Otherwise, the rules will take over and become a taskmaster.
We need to advance towards where we want to go—self-control. Self-control, as a fruit of the Spirit, is not dependent on our will-power as much as the world would have us believe but on the Spirit. We should freely admit that our flesh cannot alone resist the wrong. Instead, we should follow up our pledge of obedience to always obey the Lord.
Adopt this new theme for your life—wherever the Spirit guides, you promptly obey. (The Spirit’s leading will always remain consistent with God’s Word.)
When we focus on where we should go, God wisely helps us advance through His Spirit no matter how treacherous the path. The Lord trained Joshua by focusing on obedience.
Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go (Joshua 1:7).
The Lord assures success when we obey Him. He aptly supplies extra wisdom and strength to say “yes” to Him and “no” to our desires and cravings, that is, as long as we remain focused on the Spirit’s leading.
Many parents do not train children to obey but unfortunately to disobey. For example, if it takes a parent three times to say the instruction before their child obeys, then they are training the child to disobey. That is, the child at first hears but does not need to carry out the instruction until it is enforced on the third time. (Some parents give up with their “impossible” child allowing them to ‘get away’ with disobedience.) Through this process, the children learn disobedience is tolerable when it is not. Furthermore, this tolerance provides just the lack of resoluteness in an individual that the devil can easily use to manipulate people into disobedience. This is the reason the Lord instructs parents to train their children (Eph 6:24).
The Need for Re-training
These same people often feel overcome with their feelings and desires, or even the demands of others, rather than the Lord’s instructions—as Galatians 5:25 instructs them. They have become strangers to obedience and need to be retrained. We must promptly follow the Holy Spirit’s instruction. Concentrate on what He wants you to do through the day. If the Holy Spirit prompts you to do something, promptly obey. Again, this will require some retraining but persevere, and you will do well through His strength.
Advice That Works
I want to end by passing on some specific suggestions.
Form a Personal Calendar
Note the things the Lord wants you to do, both generally and specifically. The general details help you outline a general course of direction while specific points identify items within the larger schedule. If you need a daily planner to remind you, then get one. If you need your smartphone to remind you for each task, then instruct it to do so. No matter how you remind yourself, do it! Don’t delay or put off what the Spirit wants, lest you go back to the old ways.
You are setting a path and walking in it rather than letting each encounter or experience change your course. For example, say a friend chats or calls you, suggesting to do something. It sounds so interesting! Hold on. Learn to put off such people and invitations. First, pray about it in light of the other things the Spirit of the Lord has already led you.
Stay on the Straight Path
Each step becomes part of the retraining program. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:25).
Don’t give time for yourself to be distracted. I, personally, set some practical rules for myself. I sometimes joke with my children, “No prayer, then no food!” But I do apply this to my life. God’s Word is so crucial to my welfare that I must prioritize it by first meeting with my God each day (Mat 4:4).
Don’t leave yourself any spare time. Sleep looks like extra time, but it is best to consider it as an event. Rest is part of a good schedule. This kind of plan might sound overly rigorous for some, but I don’t find any oppressiveness. Until I enjoy self-control, it is a necessity.
To keep me focused during the day, I have mental or written down projects for my open spots in my schedule. In other words, I do not give myself downtime—unless I plan it. For example, if I finish specific projects, then I can watch that good quality movie or play 30 minutes of video game time. “Free” or “play” time can form part of a schedule but not a guiding priority. Let that serve as a reward to foster motivation, though it must remain in agreement with the Spirit’s leading. Some like reading books, while others like relaxing.
Projects & Rewards
But do monitor your ‘reward’ events. If your ‘reward’ tends to distract you from following the Spirit by directing you into a pattern of addiction (for example, you play overtime and start neglecting responsibilities), then put any reward off for several weeks. Abstain. Check the flesh. You will need to work more seriously on setting and keeping Spirit-pleasing tasks. Remember, you are training yourself to obedience. Don’t be easy on yourself. Once you become responsive to the Spirit’s leading, you will then notice a great degree of delight, productivity, and praise in your heart.
You might wonder if this suggestion results in following the “law” (i.e., the schedule) rather than the Spirit. I admit duty can confuse grace. The danger of legalism always lingers about. This training with a schedule, however, is like scaffolding and can come down once you learn to follow the Lord’s promptings. But remember, this might take a decade or two of training! It depends on you because God always offers His grace.
You used to follow your feelings and what others wanted, but now you will seek the Spirit’s wisdom for handling decisions. Along with obedience, His fruit like faithfulness and self-control will help you overcome laziness and other sins. Emphasize the importance of the Spirit’s leading over your schedule. The Holy Spirit might upset your schedule, but that is okay. Your plan is not your master but develops consistency and helps you not get so easily distracted.
Our schedules or task list—or whatever you want to call it—set our mind to seek the Lord proactively. So increasingly set your schedule with the Spirit’s suggestions. Ask the Lord for what He wants you to do. Seek the Lord, for example, on how you will face that one disagreeable person today. I chiefly do this during my daily quiet times by paying close attention to specific passages and thoughts the Lord brings to my mind.
Keep a busy schedule! (Work six days, rest one is the biblical teaching.) Are there any chores needing to be done? Any people needing to be called and prayed for? Any volunteer tasks you can add to your list, with or without other people asking you? I recently met a retired lady at the Delhi airport who was so glad that she could volunteer for her local library in America. Now, because of knee pain, she can’t bend down, but she still helps by finding funding for the library.
Couples that are raising children need to incorporate time for themselves, their spouses, their prayer lives, their children, etc., into their schedules. Again, you might be super sensitive to the Spirit and spontaneously do these things, but for the most part, people need to plan those things into one’s schedule. For example, determine to hold family devotions three times (the number of times is up to you) a week one hour after dinner time in the living room.
In the above weekly schedule, note there are two main parts consistent with what was stated above. (1) The General planning (green, orange, blue, black) is largely preset. Note that quiet times with God (orange) are included forming the frame for one’s schedule. Emergencies and surprises will always come up, but the schedule is predetermined. (2) Specific planning (white) includes everything else. You must proactively fill those empty places as it is where you are most easily caught off guard.
It might seem that I am for rigidity. Actually, no. I am quite flexible to accommodate things on my schedule. I can (and do) take my wife out on a weekly luncheon/shopping trip. We have it planned, but the time and place can differ each week. The Spirit prompts me to cherish my wife, and I follow through by having a weekly date. The flexibility in the schedule demands greater self-discipline, however. Without planning it in, we will pass up good opportunities.
Seeking God’s Priorities
Another suggestion is to keep a list of priority items for your life. Don’t frequently vary from it. For example, the Spirit wants you to obey your parents, spend time in His Word, going to church, working (being a homemaker, or volunteering), etc. The Bible speaks about our general adult responsibilities. Carefully set in place what the Spirit generally wants you to do but then seek Him to direct you through your quiet times on your “spare” time. I largely do this with the Lord in my quiet times. I suggest to students that they have two schedules: one while in school and another one for their break. (I suggest them to read a missionary biography for the break!)
Instead of focusing on what we should not be doing or telling oneself to stop doing this or that, we should concentrate on retraining ourselves to obey the Holy Spirit. We need specific directions for our lives just as the Spirit led the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-3; Mat 4:1-4). Focus on ways to exercise your Spirit-given self-control to guide you your time. He will faithfully lead you into obedience (Romans 8:14).
Study Questions on Regaining Self-discipline
1. What is the central premise of Galatians 5:25 that the author uses to guide us?
2. What might the word “walk” describe (from Gal 5:25)?
3. What are the main problems of those who lack self-control?
4. Why do those without good self-discipline get off track even though they purpose to do the right thing?
5. How does the character trait of faithfulness relate to self-discipline?
6. What needs to be retrained for those who lack self-discipline?
7. How does the author suggest to secure that retraining?
8. What are the two parts of the personal calendar?
9. Why is each part important for retraining?
10. What don’t you like most about plans?
11. Think about what aspects of self-discipline have you talked with the Lord about.