The Christian life is about discipline. Not only, but largely. I’ve often heard it said that a disciple is a disciplined one. Lent is a season of increased discipline in anticipation of celebrating the event that made our discipline possible in the first place, namely the resurrection.
Apart from the resurrection of the Lord Jesus we’d be without salvation. Jesus saves us from our sin and for God’s glory, conforming us into his image by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very power we need to live disciplined lives!
One might argue that discipline is possible apart from the resurrection. There are pious people of every faith who live disciplined lives, even those faiths that reject the resurrection. That’s true enough. But discipline for the sake of discipline isn’t what we’re after, is it?
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for honoring God with their lips while their hearts were far from him. King David cried out to God and said that if burnt offerings alone would please God then he would offer them. The LORD speaking through Isaiah told a wicked Judah that their various disciplines (offering sacrifice, observing new moons, and keeping the Sabbath) were abominable.
What’s the common denominator? The posture of the heart. The Pharisees traditions in and of themselves weren’t the issue. Their traditions trumping true devotion to God was. Their hearts were far from him. David acknowledged that God wants sacrifice, but he wants it being offered from those with broken spirits, broken and contrite hearts. Judah’s practices were abominable because they were tainted with the filth of oppression and injustice.
The kind of disciplined lives that Jesus made possible through his resurrection is the kind of life that can only be lived with a new heart. With a heart oriented toward loving God and loving others. Lent is the season in which we ramp up the disciplines that strengthen our love for God and neighbor.
The Sermon on the Mount gives us the keys to success. In Matthew 6:1–18 Jesus instructs his disciples on the types of disciplines that he expects and the heart posture from which he expects them. “When you give to the needy… and when you pray… and when you fast…” All of these disciplines are a given, but Jesus wants them to be done differently than the hypocrites do them. He wants them to be done in secret so that the Father can reward. It’s not the action in and of itself. The hypocrites do the same things. It’s the heart behind the action.
So let us be disciplined in this season to a greater degree. Let us thank God for new hearts and serve him and others through our giving, prayers, and fasting. And let’s do it with an eye on the Paschal feast, where we celebrate our Lord and the event that made it all possible!