Self-Discipline vs. Motivation

Titus 2: 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

A Norwegian researcher, Gro Jordalen, took on an interesting study, Self-Discipline vs. Motivation in Sports, where she interviewed World Championship and Olympic medalists, as well as emerging elite winter athletes aged 16-20.  Her intent was to determine what was most important in their development – motivation or self-discipline, and what the interaction was between the two factors.  Jordalen concluded that: “One key element is the ability to resist temptation. When you get home after a long day at school, do you lay down or do you go out for the planned training session? Self-regulation is clearly an important factor,”.  When studying the 16 to 20-year-old group, she found that: “In the short term, athletes need to be very disciplined to stay motivated. In the long term, being motivated makes it easier to remain disciplined.”   And as most studies conclude, intrinsic motivation (e.g. the love of the game), is far more effective a motivator than extrinsic factors (e.g. prize money).  Jordalen found that: “Showing restraint and being disciplined can be more draining if motivation is fueled by extrinsic factors.”

Today’s scripture comes from a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to his brother in Christ, Titus.  After Paul established a church in Crete, he left Titus there to shepherd the believers.  Paul’s letter to Titus is considered a “pastoral epistle” and was intended to assist Titus in establishing godly leaders and preaching sound doctrine.  Titus 2 is a relatively short chapter with only 15 verses, but in it you find the phrase “self-controlled” come up four separate times.  As Paul mentors Titus he tells him to instruct the older men, the older women, the younger men and the younger women, and in each case, Paul teaches Titus to admonish the people to live “self-controlled” lives.  There are key lessons that can be learned in the following verses.

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2: 11-12

As a Christian youth I thought self-control, especially when it came to sexual purity, would only be a battle in my single years, before I was married.  I just assumed that self-control was easy for older folks.  But there is a reason that Paul speaks to the young and old when it comes to self-control because it is a struggle for all.  The area of self-control may be different for each (anger, jealousy, gossip, greed, laziness, sexual purity etc.), but every Christian must conquer their own battle.  The results of the Norwegian athlete study made me think about motivation.  The most effective way for athletes to have the highest level of self-disciple (control) is if they have healthy intrinsic motivation.  I believe this applies to Christians as well.  If our motivation for self-control is to not look bad for other Christians (embarrassment, shame), or fear of reprisal from God or others, this is not effective motivation.  What is effective motivation, however, is a genuine “love for Christ”.  As I considered the times in my life where I struggled with self-control, at the core I was struggling with my relationship with Christ.  I was struggling to have a deep, meaningful relationship, no longer fully attached to the vine (John 15).  How about you?  What is your motivation for self-control?


  1. Rick Anderson says:

    Thank you Roland for your devotions that are sports related. I am chaplain for a Jr. B hockey team in Western Canada. They are very helpful dealing with the issues of a team full of boys 18-21.
    Thanks again.

    1. Roland Mechler says:

      Thanks so much for reaching out Rick and God bless you for undertaking this tremendously important ministry. I go to church with the chaplain for our Junior B hockey team in Elmira, ON and it is a big commitment, but so valuable. I really appreciate the feedback. Blessings brother.

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