What are the marks of false teachers? What are the characteristics of men who stand against the kingdom of God? Peter describes them as those who “follow their sensuality” (2 Peter 2:2). They revel in the daytime (2 Peter 2:13). Their stomach is a controlling factor in their lives (Philippians 3:19). They are inclined to wear soft clothes and live a soft life (Matthew 11:8).
These men are enemies of the cross because the power of the cross hasn’t gripped their hearts. These external manifestations of behavior demonstrate one crucial aspect of the fruit of the Spirit that is not ripening, self-control. This aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is arguably the most essential since without it the rest will not ripen (Gal 5:22-23).
Self-control is the way the Bible more regularly addresses self-discipline. So, what is it? Self-discipline is controlling our egos so that our egos do not control us. It is controlling our actions so we do the tasks that we don’t necessarily want to do, but that we know will be for our and our flock’s benefit. It is about facing fears to conquer them. It is about controlling our appetite so that our appetite doesn’t control us. It is about controlling our emotions so that we make wise decisions. It is about treating people the way you want to be treated. It is about controlling all our drives so that they don’t control us. The false teacher doesn’t have this because the false teacher has no reason to live for anyone but themselves. The preacher of the gospel, however, is living for the one who set His face like flint and went to Jerusalem. The one who denied himself and did not take the easy road.
Self-discipline is about taking the narrow, difficult road. It is the easy path, the broad road that wants you to give in to that temptation, to the desire, to the short-term gratification. Discipline will not allow that. Discipline calls for fortitude, will, and strength. Discipline is the uphill road to do what is right. Discipline does not allow an internal democracy where laziness, sloth, lusts, fear, and weakness cast votes. In Christian discipline, only the Spirit rules, and it is not a democracy.
Discipline can seem like a terrible enemy, in reality, it is your best friend (Hebrews 12:11). It will take care of the minister like no other quality can (Proverbs 25:28).
Self-discipline in the world may be a veiled form of seeking absolution. For the Christian however, it is the outflow of having been absolved (Acts 24:25, 2 Peter 1:5-6). Self-discipline occurs because the only one who was perfectly self-disciplined went to the cross in the stead of lazy, weak sinners. He imputed His righteousness on us. Now we are called to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of us (Philippians 3:12).
Pastors need self-discipline if they are going to be examples to the flock (Luke 6:40). It is no easy task to tell that teenager to exert gospel-driven self-control over his lust while you scarf down your third doughnut. Or perhaps it is easy. It is the easy road, the soft road. It is not the road of those who have taken the Kingdom of God by violence (Matthew 11:12).
Self-discipline in the life of a non-gnostic minister manifests itself daily and in every sphere.
It is in the life of the mind. It is called sober-mindedness: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”(1 Peter 4:7) (see also 1 Peter 5:8; Titus 2:2, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:34; 2 Timothy 4:5)
It is in the life of the emotions: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28); “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
It is in the life of our lips and social media fingers: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3).
It is in the life of time and scheduling: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
It is in the life of finances: “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it” (Proverbs 21:20).
It is in the life of their physical body and health: “that each one of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4); “for while bodily training is of some value…” (1 Timothy 4:8).
That may sound like a lot. It may sound discouraging. You might be deliberating, perhaps you are planning on starting tomorrow, or next Tuesday. The time to start is now. With your next meal, with your next 30min. Do not plan and study and prepare, go be disciplined now. There is no hack. There is no shortcut. There is just the action born out of a heart captured by the gospel.