Is there a problem with using physical self-punishment?


If a Christian (I.E. a saved person striving to live in accordance with God's will) remains aware that God's grace is based on his sovereignty and not on anything they do, including whether they  succeed or fail at their self discipline goals, is there any problem with them using physical self punishment to motivate themselves to attain goals or consistency they want to achieve and think will make them more effective?

To be clear, my question is about if that type of self discipline is appropriate in the life of grace, and is not in relation to obtaining salvation.


Dear friend,

It appears you are eager to make progress in the life of holiness. What a beautiful aim this is if it flows from thankfulness for what the Lord Jesus has done for you. Paul wrote "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I , but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself from me."  (Gal. 2:20.  I assume that your desire flows from the same source as Paul.

Regarding 'self-punishment' to discipline yourself to live a consistent life of godliness ... I probably don't like the word 'self-punishment' but I am a firm believer in rigorous self-discipline.  Paul laboured to have a conscience void of offense   In 1 Cor. 9:26 he wrote, "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."  What Paul did exactly to keep under his body and push himself to run the race God has called him to, isn't specified.  Was is the repeated fasting that he referred to?  Was is the time he set aside for prayer and reading, disciplining himself not to allow anything to push that away from his daily agenda?

Perhaps everyone will have his own weaknesses or bosom sins to contend with and therefore each of us will differ in what we can do to "exercise ourselves to godliness.' (1 Tim. 4:7)

Here are my suggestions of what is appropriate.

  1. Read through 1 and 2 Timothy and observe that Paul counseled Timothy to discipline himself in.  Not all will apply to you unless you are in the ministry but the general principles are universal.
  2. Write out your 'methods of spiritual self-discipline' and share them with someone you can trust.
  3. Establish an accountability partner who ask you whether you have kept your resolutions you have laid out for your personal situation.
  4. Often the Bible saints use fasting as a means to stir themselves to greater spirituality.  To me that appears to be only mentioned form of 'bodily infliction' including the 'fasting' in marriage life as Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 7.
  5. I don't think that a 'self-punishment' is appropriate for then it becomes all very forced and slavish.  To serve God must be a joy and to grow in holiness a goal because it will glorify God.  The only self-punishment that is appropriate is that you deeply meditate what your sins do to God and to Him that suffered and died for the sins of His people.   Denying yourself food or other legitimate things sounds like being your own slave driver.

I know that you reassured me that you are NOT asking this question as one who is seeking salvation (justification) but rather as one who desire to increase in holiness.  Still be watchful in this area. The old leaven of 'work salvation' creeps in sooner than you may perceive.

Lastly, let's also not forget that sanctification is also part of Christ's work within the believer.  We don't have to accomplish a level of holiness in our own strength. Without Him we can bring forth no fruit worthy of the name godliness.  But through Him God's Church will not remain a fruitless branch.

Your question sure made me think and search.

Pastor Vergunst