“Christian freedom is not freedom to do what you like, but freedom from all the things that stop you from being the person God really wants you to be, which is freedom for the service of God.”
– N.T. Wright
I registered for a sprint triathlon a few months ago, and the race is now less than a week away. At the time that my training began, I could only swim a few laps before I had to stop to regain my breath. For the race itself, I will have to swim 500 meters in a lake, and that only precedes a 16-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run. As a fast-twitch trained athlete, needless to say, I had a lot of improving to do!
At some point a few weeks in to my training, I realized that I was not improving at the pace that I was hoping to. It seemed that after every 200 meters I would stop gasping for air. The thought occurred to me that I might not be able to swim 500 meters before race day. To even more discouragement, I could feel myself overworking compared to my training partner Taylor who seemed to just glide through the lane. I knew that my form was not very efficient and that I was wasting energy, but I wasn’t quite sure how to fix that.
Over the course of a few off days, my friend and I consulted with a few swimmers who could give us some tips. In conversations with them, I found out that I had been bringing my head so far out of the water to breath that my legs would sink, and I would lose momentum all together, thus working harder than I should. I had to be coached through the proper form, how to angle my mouth out of the water and keep the top of my head in the water, kick from the hips, keep my arms in line with my body, and more.
I went back to the pool anxious to put my new knowledge to the test. Exactly 500 meters later, I stopped swimming in shock. Not only had I just swam the race distance, but I could have kept swimming! Hardly a week later, I swam a mile in the pool barely stopping.
Lesson learned? It wasn’t until I disciplined myself to the proper form of a swimmer that I could experience the liberty of swimming laps. In a place I previously felt very uncomfortable, it is now my favorite event of the triathlon! Now I swim in the pool and I feel free to enjoy my workout and go longer distances, instead of stopping to gasp for air!
Liberty is a reward of discipline.
Liberty is a reward of discipline. I am stealing this phrase from my husband Kevin, who recently came to this realization as he was preparing to preach a sermon at our church two weeks ago. (Click here to listen to his sermon podcast!) Now in my own context, I want to expand on this idea of discipline producing freedom.
What is Christian freedom?
The Bible says that we are called to be free. (Galatians 5:1, 13)
It says that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)
The Bible talks a lot about freedom.
In John 8:31, Jesus is talking, and He says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
There is a big if statement here. Jesus says if you abide or remain in my word, only then you are truly my disciple.
Now what is a disciple? It looks a lot like the word discipline, doesn’t it?
This coincidence occurred to me and I decided to Google search for the root word. “Discipline” comes from the Latin disciplina, which means “teaching or learning.” The root word discipulus is indeed the same root word for our English word “disciple,” which derives from the Latin word discere, which means “to learn.”
To be a learner of Jesus, we need to go through the process of learning, don’t we?
To be a disciple of Jesus, we need to go through the process of discipline.
An accurate definition of discipline as it relates to what I am writing about today would be “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.”
Discipline in our society has a really negative connotation, yet the reality is that this definition of discipline is really good and healthy. I discipline myself in my triathlon training to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to train and I discipline my body to the proper swimming, biking, and running form. I discipline myself to hydrate well and eat a healthy diet so that this becomes a pattern and lifestyle.
I also discipline myself to spend time with God in prayer and in His Word almost every day because I want to continually make the Lord my priority. Sometimes, there are specific areas of my spiritual life that need to be sharpened, and I will choose to discipline myself in that particular area. I discipline my mind to erase lies and insecurities and have positive and confident thinking.
All of this discipline goes a long way.
So, let’s connect this back to what Jesus says in John 8:31. “If you abide in my word, then you will truly be my disciples…” We should desire to learn from Jesus because He is the Great Teacher. We discipline ourselves to abide in God’s Word, and from then, He transforms us from the inside out, and we truly become His disciples. And by doing this, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
Liberty is the reward of discipline.
So what is Christian freedom? I started out this entry with a quote I heard at church last week by N.T. Wright. Many will argue with me saying, how do you say that a Christian life is one of freedom? Isn’t it all about following rules?
But read closely because this is truth: All of humanity is in the same state of slavery—slavery to selfishness and pride. That’s how sin manifests itself and it’s what separates us from God. And without being set free, our thoughts and actions will be based on that selfishness and pride and life will never be satisfying. Jesus Christ sets us free from sin because He sets us free from ourselves! In Him, we are free to live a life the way God meant us to live it—not about us. A life lived to glorify and to serve Him. He created us to desire to live for something bigger than ourselves. He is that desire.
Christian freedom is not just about accepting Jesus and waiting until our eternal life in heaven with Him to be free. It’s about the day-to-day freedom that His grace grants us. God frees us from our pasts, our worldly identities, our failures, and a lot of hurt, both from our own actions and the actions from others. God’s freedom is beyond all circumstances.
What are you waiting for? Have you experienced the freedom of Christ in your life? In what areas can discipline in your own life bring you closer to experiencing His freedom? I promise, it’s worth a try. With a little perseverance, you will be swimming free.
John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”