Running feet.smallby Dr. Rick Flanders

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” (I Corinthians 9:24-27)

In his first epistle to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul was inspired to speak of the role temperance must play in the successful Christian life. Like an athlete, we must be “temperate in all things.” The passage in I Corinthians clearly connects temperance with self-discipline, as it speaks of the need to “keep under” the body and “bring it into subjection.” Certainly a good Christian must learn how to tell himself what to do, and then get his body to do what he tells it to do! But in another epistle, Paul speaks of temperance in a different way: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) In Galatians, temperance is said to be the product (fruit) of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives. It is not the work of our flesh, as we can see from the verses that precede these. So how do we get temperance, through self-discipline or from the Holy Spirit? This is a very important question, as we will see as we look more deeply into it. Study Bibles and Bible dictionaries usually define temperance as “self-control,” and we can understand why from by reading the passage in I Corinthians. However, it will be important for us to note that the Greek word translated “temperance” in the New Testament does not have any indication about “self” in any of its prefixes or suffixes or other parts! The word is properly defined “restraint.” And we all need it. How often a believer will respond to an appeal for repentance or another important commitment to Christ, by coming down a church aisle or kneeling at an altar of prayer, only to fail to keep his commitment because of his lack of temperance, the virtue of restraining his body to obey the decisions of his mind. Is the cause of his failure to be found in his bad character or his need for faith? What does the Bible say?

2 Views of Temperance

In I Corinthians 9 and Galatians 5 we see two views of temperance. Both of them are Biblical, and both of them are correct, although they seem to be in conflict. This is one of those wonderful paradoxes we find in the Word of God, mysterious contrasts in truth that, through close examination and meditation, reveal greater truth. We are told in I Corinthians to exercise temperance in order to gain eternal rewards. Temperance is exercised by keeping our bodies in subjection to our minds. Other than God, the most important person to obey is oneself! Yet most people find it difficult to obey themselves all the time. The one who sets the alarm clock to wake himself up at a set time is the one who turns it off in the morning so that he can sleep later. Who set the alarm? You did. Who ignored or disobeyed the order to get up at that time? It was you. You wouldn’t obey yourself. Failure in life can usually be traced to rebellion against one’s own decisions! Unkept schedules, deadlines, and appointments undermine our credibility, and they arise out of failure to subject ourselves to ourselves. Budgets are blown and promises are broken for the same reason. There is real good in training ourselves to obey ourselves through doing the disliked task first or setting up exercises in self-discipline. Proverbs 16:32 says, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” The Galatians 5 view of temperance is connected to the teaching of the New Testament that living the Christian life is actually letting Christ live through us. This teaching is easy to find in Galatians. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (2:20) “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (3:2-3) “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (5:16) We live for Christ by telling Him, “I can’t, but you can.” We cast away confidence in the flesh, and walk by faith in His indwelling Spirit. The Christian life is a supernatural life, not produced by determination and self-effort. But we read again the words of I Corinthians 9:24-27, and ask, “Which is it? Self-control or God-control?” The question of temperance is at the heart of our questions about the Christian life!

2 Views of the Christian Life

When Jesus called men to be His followers, the call involved commitment and self-denial. See the call to discipleship in Luke 9:23. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Of course the call to discipleship is repeated in many places and in many ways in the first books of the New Testament. Look up Matthew 9:37-39, Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34, Luke 14:25-35, and John 12:25-26. See that the Christian life viewed as discipleship involves commitment to obey Christ, denial of oneself, and great sacrifice. But Jesus seems to give a different view of Christian living in John 15, where He says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye , except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (verses 4 and 5) The concept of abiding in Christ as the key to victorious living comes to us in the discourse of our Lord given to His disciples the night before He died on the cross. In that talk, and throughout that talk, Jesus tells about the coming of His Spirit to live in us, and about the difference the Holy Spirit will make in the life of the believer (See John 14:15-26, and then read all of chapters 13-17). It is the Spirit of Christ that enables us to live the Christian life. After three and a half years of learning to live the disciplined life of a disciple, the Spirit of Christ was sent to the disciples to give them the power to live it.

2 Errors About Following Jesus

We are to combine the two concepts of temperance in order to live the victorious Christian life. But there are those who miss the Biblical balance and veer to one extreme or the other. There are some who talk as if they live for the Lord by faith without the element of discipline. I have met some who have made a mess of spiritual living by talking this way and living by this extreme standard. They have read the classics about the victorious Christian life. But the fact is that they have mostly misread or misunderstood them, and are infected with a strange aversion to any form of commitment or deliberate and planned activity. They are afraid that work done based on planning and preparation rather than on the prompting of the Spirit, may be of the flesh. Some who have rejoiced in what they have learned about living in Christ have a tendency to free themselves of responsibility to live a holy life. It is as if they tell Jesus in the morning, “I can’t, but you can,” and then at night say, “Well, you didn’t do a very good job today, Lord.” So-called faith without discipline is not right. Then there are those who live by discipline apart from faith. These are carnal people who keep the rules and get a lot done, but are in some ways dead and frustrated and defeated. They lack the life of Christ, and really don’t do as well as they say they do about living right either. They work hard, but they have little joy or victory in their lives. Their work is what the book of Hebrews calls (in 9:14) “dead works,” driven by a guilty conscience and not based on the liberty our Redeemer purchased for us on the Cross.

2 Things Every Christian Should Do

Everyone who wants to follow Jesus Christ should first commit himself to obey the Lord in all things. There must be the absolute surrender of discipleship. And there should also be some definite commitments made about many areas of Christian activity, service, and behavior. We should forsake our sins, and plan not to go back to them. We should firmly resolve to do specific things about church attendance, Bible reading, daily prayer, witnessing for Christ, family duties, and other matters of duty. We should determine to live by patterns of behavior that shut the Devil out. Every one of us should forsake all and follow Jesus, and decide definitely to do it. Then we should confess to the Lord that in our flesh dwells no good thing, and that in ourselves we do not have the power to keep the commitments we have made. Discipleship (with its discipline) fails without abiding in Christ. So we must start relying on Christ for the victory we need to live as His disciples. Read about that victory in Roman 6-8. Believe that your weakness is a platform for the display of His strength (II Corinthians 12:9). Get up in the morning with a new commitment to do what you ought to do, and then turn to Jesus for the power to do it.

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