Galatians 5 talks a great deal about the freedom that we have as Believers to live by the Spirit, in the Spirit. Freedom from law, freedom from regulations and religiosity, freedom from things like having to have a Quiet Time every day in order to be in God's good graces. But in the midst of all this freedom, where does discipline come into play? Where is the room for obedience? When you talk about grace and freedom enough, those questions are inevitable.
Discipline and obedience have an important place in life and in discipleship. I'm trying, again, to exercise three days a week. It's not my body's preference to get up at 6:00 am and run several miles - I have to have a measure of discipline to make my body do something that it rebels against. Discipline and training are good, but our question should be, "What is driving it?" I can be proud of myself for getting up in the morning, but the reality is, I am praying that God would help me get up, that He would bear the fruit of self-control in my life so that I go to bed at a decent hour, that the Spirit enable me to get up when the alarm goes off, that in Christ I would press through my sore legs that balk at jogging. Seriously. I believe that jogging in the early morning is a Spirit work.
It's the same with our discipline and obedience in following Jesus. I often worry when I hear young couples talk about their strict dating guidelines to govern physical behavior, not because I don't think that their intentions are good, but because all-to-often their source and motive is their own will power and their desire to have a "Godly relationship." I worry when friends declare that they will spend time with God every morning of every day for a set number of minutes, not because that would be a bad thing, but because that can easily be a self-fueled exercise. When we discipline ourselves apart from the Spirit, it can easily have the opposite effect than what we desire. Our flesh, sin that is at work in us (Romans 7) rebels against the rules and laws that we set up, enticed to act against them. (In fact, Paul says that the law is the power of sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56).
Discipline and obedience led by the Spirit looks like this, according to Galatians 5:6 - "For in Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (religious obedience) has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." So for the couple who wants to be godly in their physical relationship, they have faith that God has called them to love one another, and loving one another means that they guard their hearts and bodies from lust. So they ask the Spirit to show them ways to love each other and love God by bearing the fruit of Self Control in their lives and relationship, and that the Spirit would enable them to live as holy children of the Father who have all their needs met in Christ.
For the earnest Christian who wants to have a daily quiet time, faith says that his sonship is not contingent on how much Bible reading or prayer he does, and that God's love for Him is unchanging and perfect. Faith says that one way to love God is to learn His truth and live that truth in obedience and love, and asks the Spirit to give discipline to spend time in the Scriptures, that the Spirit illuminate what is read, and that the Spirit lead and energize the living out of those truths. Are these semantical maneuverings? I don't think so. Spirit living is not always a feeling, but is often a decision, a remembering the presence of God in every part of life, and a yielding to our need for Him in all things.
Functional atheism where God is a reality in some parts of life but in the rest of our days and ways we make it work on our own, is very dangerous to the Christian life. Life in the Spirit says that every moment is God's to orchestrate and our need for Him runs deeper than we would imagine, and His ability to give us all that we need, whether it is grace, mercy, freedom or even discipline and obedience, knows no limits.