Scriptural discipline is often a difficult topic for brothers and sisters to discuss. It brings to mind painful interactions and often strains at the very fabric of our ecclesial lives. However, as we examine Scriptural standards for ecclesial life and the real principles for discipline, it offers to significantly increase our faith and to strengthen the bonds of fellowship. Following Scriptural discipline nurtures us as a holy people in a world progressively more hostile to holiness. We will strive to examine the fundamental principles of the Body of Christ and the interactions and culture of the first century disciples. We trust that you will find these foundations to be challenging and potentially exciting.
Often discipline is examined by brothers and sisters in the heat of the conflict. We may find ourselves facing a difficult issue within our ecclesia, wrapped up with sensitive family concerns and often extenuating circumstances that can make proper application of principles difficult. Further, our review of Scriptural discipline often fails to take a more holistic look at how the ecclesia is divinely intended to operate cooperatively against sin. Scriptural discipline is best viewed in light of a complete understanding of how we are to strive for holiness today, how the ecclesia is to be a practical and powerful protection against the darts of the wicked, and how the Lord works in the lives of all erring brothers and sisters. The Lord has not left us as orphans, and the call to holiness engages individuals and members of the Body in one of the most intimate and powerful aspects of our fellowship. We may not have fully captured this power in our lives. As the darkness of these Last Days closes in, we must capture this spirit and engage all the armor of God in our ecclesias.
Sadly, most ecclesias today are scarred by the influence of Humanism, the intrusion of carnal thinking and practices into the lives of our members. It is a noxious, invisible gas (2Pet 2:20) that has progressively penetrated into our view of ecclesial and individual interactions, as well as the standards we must be committed to. In my travels, I always see nods of the heads of brothers and sisters when this is discussed. It has invaded the lives of our dearest and most intimate family members, as well as our beloved brothers and sisters. It feels as if it is an unavoidable cloud that is descending on us — the surfeiting and drowsiness of the Last Days.
But it need not be so! The Lord has provided his disciples with all the weapons needed in this warfare. His presence today is as strong as in any age to those who eschew evil and pursue righteousness. So, let’s take a closer look at how to use this armor and be bright shining lights in a world that desperately needs this witness.
Why a review of Scriptural discipline?
A few introductory points may be helpful.
- Most would agree that discipline in the ecclesia is often misunderstood and too often misapplied.
- We often hear fleshly evaluations of what is appropriate discipline, and not those from the pages of Truth.
- We usually consider discipline reactively, in the heat of a volatile issue, rather than from a systematic Scriptural study.
- Discipline is often discussed without context, without an understanding of how it fits into the role and very fabric of the ecclesia.
- We think of discipline as being for the weak, not the strong — discipline is for the unstable.
- AttimeswefailtoapplyScripturalguidelinesforrestoration—oftenbecause we don’t believe they will work!
- Our ecclesias have never been under greater threat and we must have this right if we are to survive!
In a survey conducted by the Barna Group in 2006,1 a series of questions were asked about perceptions of holiness.
• Do you think that holiness is possible today?
• Do you know someone that you consider to be holy? • Do you consider yourself to be holy?
Interestingly, there was very little difference between the “born again” survey group and the general North American population. About three-quarters be- lieved that holiness WAS possible in the day we live in. However, only about half felt that they knew others that were holy today. Still more surprising was the response to “do you consider yourself to be holy?” Less than 30% felt that they were holy today.
Perhaps the results of such a survey would be skewed differently if it was given within our own community. Maybe not. What this survey demonstrated was that holiness for many is an “abstract” concept. It may be clear what righteous behaviors are required by our God, but we see the flaws in one another and certainly we are even more aware of our own failings. Could a person with imperfect faith like me be holy? Most would say “no.”
We need to clarify our view of holiness. It is not restricted to those who are completely without sin! It is also not an abstract, unattainable concept, where we can only hope for the Kingdom when we will truly be holy people unto our God. Certainly this is the ultimate vision. When finally freed from the impulses and weakness of the flesh, we hunger for a life that is freed from sin and its effects. But, the expectation of our God is for us to be a holy people TODAY.
“Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2).
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwell- eth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1Cor 3:16-17).
“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:12-14, NIV).
Just as Israel was to be a holy nation and thereby be witnesses to the Gentiles, we now are expected to be a holy temple — a place where righteous acts are demon- strated and holiness is the source of our thinking. It is not just a recommendation — it is a requirement!
Often the words righteousness and holiness are used interchangeably in our com- munications. Indeed, even Scripture uses these words in the same passages describ- ing the life of believers. Bro. Dennis Gillett in The Genius of Discipleship wrote:
“The essential ingredient of righteousness and holiness is the same, that is rightness, but the difference lies in the sphere of operation. Here is an attempt at a definition: righteousness is rightness of conduct; holiness is rightness of character.”
Rightness, once called “rightwiseness” therefore is the expression of our conduct. It is what is expressed from a person who has a holy character. Of course, it is possible that righteous acts can be done by those who do not have their hearts right with God. The Scribes and Pharisees are the example of our Lord to illustrate this. Righteousness is not to be “exuded” in a mechanical way, but rather as an expression of what is inside of us.
Here’s what Paul wrote about the pursuit of holiness.
“I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limita- tions. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever- increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness (dikaiosune) leading to holiness (hagiasmos)” (Rom 6:19, NIV).
This is most helpful in understanding holiness. How do we achieve holiness in our lives today? It is through being fully committed to a life that is conducted in righteousness. Righteous conduct (though perhaps forced at times) reinforces and builds holiness inside. When we are fully committed to doing righteousness, it builds inside us a new way of thinking. That new thinking creates new behaviors. That leads to holiness. It is Divinely intended to be a self-sustaining process.
The spiritual mind
Of course, this is the battle we all face. We have minds that are naturally disposed to fleshly thinking and behaviors. Transformation and renovation must occur if we are to have the mind of Christ. This is what Paul speaks of in Romans 8 when he states that the carnal mind CANNOT please God. Therefore, we are in pursuit of the spiritual mind. It is the spiritual mind which we might equate to holiness. The spiritual mind does not produce the works of the flesh, but rather the beautiful fruit of the spirit.
So, why is it that we all experience so many misfires in this transformation? As life marches on, we see progress, but we all yearn to be more like our Lord, to have our “religion” feel more natural and less “forced.” Well, Scripture is not silent on this either.
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;” (1Pet 2:11).
Peter uses a very strong word here to describe what happens when we participate in fleshly lusts. It begins a “war” in the minds of a believer. We activate an army that is circled, encamped around us, waiting to attack. The battle is for our think- ing. If we participate in the lusts of the flesh, it is a self-inflicted wound against the transformational process our Lord has begun in us. This is contrasted to a spiritual mind, where it is the Lord who encamps around those that fear Him.
Now, how does this actually work? I suppose we already all know. When we are involved in fleshly lusts, we find our faith weakened. Spiritual discernment is dulled. Our love for our brothers and sisters may be diminished. It is harder to be the person we all want to be.
If you consider your own computer for a moment, perhaps this will help to il- lustrate the point. When we all get the dreaded “blue screen” warning that our computer has been infected with a virus, it is something we must pay attention to. Even though we thought we had the appropriate anti-virus software, somehow this virus got in. Maybe it was something that happened innocently, maybe not? But nevertheless we have the virus and it is active. If it is not dealt with and removed, our computer slows. It affects the ability to process information. Existing files become corrupted. Eventually, our computer may become so infected, so sluggish that it is just about useless. In the end, it may crash and all is lost!
That may be similar to what the Apostle Peter had in mind when he spoke of this “war against the soul.” We activate this virus. It prevents the proper operation of a spiritual mind. Until we remove the participation in the lust from our life, we will not experience holiness.
Just a few preliminary points we’d like to stress here in our review of the foundations of Scriptural discipline…
- When we are ensnared by sin, we have great difficulty discerning righteous- ness and holiness.
- OurmindsCANNOToperatespirituallyasintended,andcontinuedengage- ment robs us of life as it is intended.
- When we are freed from sin, healing takes place and our minds are gradually restored to health.
- Minds freed from sin are capable of doing, seeing, and being what our Lord intends for us.
Therefore, the purpose of Scriptural discipline is to help each other have healthy minds, where the Lord can grow and operate. It is not punitive. It is corrective. It is not an expression of anger or insensitivity, but is the outworking of a body of believers that will not have any to be lost.
We’d like to close this first article by appealing for all to embrace a renewed com- mitment to holiness. Indeed, our lives are not to be lived as if we are on spiritual desert islands! We should NOT feel that we must take on our weaknesses and the challenges to our faith all by ourselves. Since we are committed as a community to holiness and the expression of righteousness, your problems are my problems, and mine yours. We are to operate as an intimate community, sharing the real challenges of our lives together, praying for one another, and being willing to either encourage or pull one another out of the fire. This is the topic of our next article.David Jennings (Pomona, CA) Notes:
1. www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/162-the-concept-of-holiness-baffles- most-americans#.UkGdGjbD-Uk