Setting good habits for ourselves and being disciplined in our lives are good. But it is not good to become a slave to that sort of disciplined life. The Pharisees were very disciplined people. They fasted. They prayed regularly. They studied the Scriptures. And they were also bound by their traditions and discipline. The same thing can happen to us Christians today. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1, NIV). There needs to be a balance between discipline and freedom.
Some of the unhappiest people I have ever met in my life are those who are militant about everything in their lives. They must always have things together, always be on time, perfect in every way. These perfectionists make their own lives miserable, as well as everyone else with whom they come in contact. These people are controlled, not by grace and freedom, but by legalism.
Someone once said, “Nothing will keep a Christian more immature than trying to keep a list.” Having a disciplined life is important—very important—especially in the areas of personal discipline (such as prayer life, time management, systematic study of the Bible). Yet some people become so paranoid about doing all these things with a legalistic mindset that they actually become slaves of these disciplines. They first embraced them because they believed the discipline would bring freedom to their lives. But now they are enslaved by them, and their daily life is one big burden of endless striving. And it doesn’t end with themselves either. People who live like this will often use their own standards to judge others. They constantly become critical and judgmental toward their spouses, children and fellow workers. These kinds of people are absolutely miserable to live with.