False Dilemmas 1 – Discipline versus Delight

I have been meaning for some time to start a series of posts on what I call “false dilemmas”. These occur when we are presented with an either/or choice, when in reality it is possible to have both/and. Or maybe that we’re presented with a choice from two options, when in fact there is a third option.

My first one is delight versus discipline, with regards to obeying or serving God. Thanks largely to John Piper, many have embraced the notion that we can only fulfil our life’s purpose of glorifying God if what we do for him flows out of treasuring him and delighting in him. Thus to teach people to discipline themselves to behave in certain ways without them delighting in God is pointless.

So far, so good. But a problem arises when it is assumed that delight and discipline are polar opposites, or mutually exclusive. For example, the suggestion that a Christian should make a daily habit of prayer and Bible reading is viewed with suspicion in some circles. Is disciplining myself to read the Bible when I don’t feel like it simply legalistic behaviour?

To show that delight and discipline are not incompatible, a simple example will suffice. Consider a professional sportsman at the top of his sport. Doubtless he will say that he plays his sport because he loves it so much. He is motivated by delight. But at the same time, if you ask about his training regime or diet, you will find evidence of a very disciplined life. It may be more pleasurable for him in the short-term to lounge around eating cake rather than spending a rigorous day of training, but he refuses himself that luxury because his eyes are on a greater prize.

So delight and discipline are not opposites. A more helpful distinction could be drawn between delight and duty. They are competing motivations for serving and obeying God. Either can be motivations for living a disciplined life. To go back to our original example, daily Bible reading can be a discipline that flows merely from a sense of duty, or a discipline that flows out of delighting in God.

In essence, being disciplined is being deliberate about your priorities. George Mueller spoke of “glad self-denial”. His priority was to delight in God, and so he ordered his life accordingly.

1 thought on “False Dilemmas 1 – Discipline versus Delight

  1. Agreed.

    And both words have attracted a degree of abuse from legalistic/grace camps respectively (I think). I remember when “Desiring God” started to become popular, and Piper was roundly abused by the ultra-conservatives (Masters et al) for promoting “pleasure” – as though it was evil.

    Just so – “discipline” has become an ugly word among the ultra-grace proponents (Rufus, Johnson et al supporters and fans) because of perhaps the tendency to exalt discipline in place of the gospel.

    I like this tension – neither have to be abandoned – both have uses and values.

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