Does God discipline us? Why, when, and how does the Lord discipline His children?
The subject of God's discipline is a somewhat neglected and unpopular one. We know that Christians are saved entirely by God's free grace and not by our own goodness or good works (Ephesians 2:8–9; 2 Timothy 1:9). We know that Jesus Christ has taken all the punishment we deserve for our sins on Himself when He died on Calvary's cross (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 5:8). We know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). At times we think these truths might be at odds with the fact that God disciplines His children, but they are not.
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Hebrews 12:5–11 says, "And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.' It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
God's discipline is not punishment, as Jesus already bore our punishment. Nor is His discipline motivated by a desire to inflict pain. Nor is God's discipline from anger. He does not lose His temper, treat us unfairly, or allow us to suffer anything that is not for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Rather, God's discipline comes from His great love for us. It is a token of His adoption of us as children. He loves us too much to allow us to remain in our sin. He loves us so much that He will do whatever is necessary to make us holy. Sometimes the medicine must taste bad, but that doesn't change the fact that the physician's motive is mercy. While discipline is sometimes painful, God's purpose in disciplining us is for our own good, our holiness. The ultimate good for a Christian is to be sanctified, which is to be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ.
God allows us to undergo trials and temptations so our faith will be tested and we will grow in maturity as Christians. God uses these trials to discipline us for godliness. When suffering comes, it is wise to examine ourselves and to repent of any known sins. James 5:16a counsels, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." That being said, it is a dangerous practice to consider every affliction to be the direct result of a specific sin. James 1:2–4 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Sometimes suffering is not a result of our sin, but is the result of living in a fallen world and is something God allows into our lives to grow us in Him. The best example of this is Job. Job's friends believed that because he was suffering, he must have some secret sin. However, this was not the case. In fact, God recommended Job because of His uprightness. Another example is found in the gospel of John in the man who was born blind (John 9:2–3). Another example is Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 50:20); Joseph suffered due to the sins of others, but ultimately God used it for His good purposes. God's purposes in allowing affliction and suffering are manifold.
Discipline is not merely corrective, but also involves training (1 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:11–14). Just as an athlete disciplines his or her body through physical training in order to prepare it for competition, God disciplines us by training our souls to make us holy and prepare us to be in His presence (Hebrews 12:14). Titus 2:11–14 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."
Finally, the end of God's discipline is not only our good, but also His glory. The two are not mutually exclusive, but work together. As God causes us to grow in holiness, God's grace is revealed in us and He is glorified. God, by the gracious operation of His Spirit, not only washes away our sins but empowers us to grow in holiness (1 Corinthians 15:10). Our loving Heavenly Father is deserving of eternal praise and gratitude for the grace of His discipline, which both confirms our adoption and works toward our sanctification.
In summary, God disciplines every one of His children. His motive is love. His practice is perfect. His purpose is our sanctification. His end is His glory. May we learn not to despise His discipline, but to be encouraged by it.
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