Freedom is a paradox. “We are most free when we are bound,” said Elton Trueblood. The key is how we are bound. The world of athletics presents a clear picture of this paradox. Any athlete unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and good nutrition is not free to excel on the field or the track. The failure to train rigorously and eat with resolve those things that build the body while abstaining from those that break it down or slow it down denies him or her the freedom to go over the bar at the desired height, or to run with the desired speed and endurance. The same principle applies to the whole of life including the spiritual; “Discipline is the price of freedom”!
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace,” says the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews. At times discipline may seem overbearing and restrictive to the point of squeezing the life out of living. In fact, taken to an extreme it can. The opposite extreme, perhaps, is even more dangerous. A lassie faire lifestyle wastes opportunities and talents.
Spiritual, intellectual, and physical athletes are told to “lighten up” on occasion. While overtraining and becoming overbearing is a very real possibility for those who apply themselves intensely, the phrase is often spoken by one who does not understand the difference between legalism and discipline. The former often describes a pattern or prohibition externally imposed. Discipline must be a choice if it is to last. The external imposition of any discipline, i.e. bed time to practice time, will only last as long as pressure is applied unless it is accompanied by the free will and choice of the one practicing it.
Properly understood and applied discipline is freeing. The decision to abstain or imbibe at the right time and with the right measure leads to excellence. Ask anyone who graduates from college or another intense time of training. Soldiers understand. Athletes understand. Quality long term marriages comprehend this truth. Saints practice discipline of head, heart, and body.
The freedom celebrated July 4 was not easily attained. It took continual sacrifice and deep discipline; what some describe as a long obedience in the same direction. Future generations are depending on us to continue to value the freedom we enjoy enough to pass it forward through disciplined living as our progenitors did.
The apostle Paul wrote to Christ followers in the Roman city of Corinth. It was a city known for its extreme “lightening up”. Their lack of moral discipline concerned Paul. He worried all their efforts would be lost through a lack of spiritual discipline. He wrote, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
May the freedom celebration this year be more than running to the lake, the fireworks stand, the barbeque, and bed. May it mark an appreciation of the disciplined living of Americans past in order to gift todays Americans with the ability to be free. May it be a time of renewal to the goal of freedom in all its forms which can only be purchased by lives of disciplined living informed by the Word of God.