Every time I drive south of Mt. Vernon, Illinois on Interstate 57 I am impressed by the study in contrasts that I encounter. Near Ina, Illinois there are two institutions situated directly across the highway from one another. On the west is Rend Lake College. On the east is the Big Muddy River Correctional Center, a penitentiary.
Around the college the fields are open. Roads leading into and out of the college provide freedom of access.
High, double chain link fences, topped by barbed wire and razor coils surround the penitentiary. Inside, along the perimeter of the fence, is a “kill zone,” overshadowed by four guard towers. Outside the fence, guards regularly patrol the road that surrounds the prison.
Those who occupy the college find their world of possibilities expanding through knowledge and education. For those on the east side of the highway the world has shrunk to the confines of the prison fences.
As I pondered the differences between the two places I asked myself what the determining factor might be. What causes some people to end up in college and others to end up in prison? Oddly enough, the key factor is present in both institutions. It is discipline. The difference, of course, is in the source of the discipline.
Those in the college have chosen to discipline themselves. Those in prison have not, so discipline must be imposed from the outside in order to protect society. It is paradoxical that the key to freedom is discipline.
Discipline is an essential part of life. As we discipline ourselves to obey not only the laws of the land, but also God’s spiritual, moral laws, we find freedom coming into our life. The example of these two institutions is so striking because it illustrates two extremes. The truth is that every day we are all making choices that will lead us either toward greater freedom or greater restriction in life. The degree of freedom we experience in our personal lives will be in direct proportion to the disciplines that we embrace. Discipline creates options.
Paul wrote to the church at Galatia that, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) The disciplines God wants us to incorporate into our lives will lead us to greater freedom in every area of life. That is what the Holy Spirit wants to produce in us.
As Rend Lake College and Big Muddy River Correctional Center teach us, you and I will be disciplined. The big question is, by whom?