I’ve included an audio version of this blog for your convenience.
I’ve been desiring to share my thoughts about the Lord’s discipline for some time. This has been a major area of struggle in my life personally from false ideas about the Lord’s discipline and the Lord Himself. I understand I have a very unique and differing view on discipline than most people I know, even some people who teach about God’s grace. I can almost guarantee it will be offensive to worldly systems and possibly hard to digest. We have been used to hearing about discipline from one perspective that I believe discredits God’s righteousness, but hopefully this new perspective will make a lot of sense. So if you are willing to hear a gracious view of God’s discipline then continue reading. If you feel you already understand this topic and don’t wish to hear a different perspective then I don’t want to offend you.
Try not to hear bitterness in this statement, but one of the beliefs that absolutely destroyed my life was this idea that God was bringing pain into my life to teach me a lesson. I thought he was, “testing my faith,” “heating me in the furnace to turn me into gold,” “bringing me closer to him”. Because of that I misinterpreted every painful event in my life as a sign that I had God’s disapproval and that I was doing something wrong. Because of this I gave up my hobbies and friendships because of painful events that I thought were associated with them. It destroyed me personally too and made me bitter towards God.
It seems the issue of discipline is the place where grace stops and where character building becomes the focus. One, two, three strikes your out! “I’m letting grace have its effect but if grace doesn’t work I’m going to switch to punishment.” Many well meaning, sincere christians, even those who understand grace, are believing a view of God’s discipline that they think is accurate to the scriptures but is actually rooted in legalism. Legalism!? No. How could it be legalistic? They carefully draw the line between punishment and discipline saying, “God doesn’t punish christians, but he disciplines them.” What they mean by this is, if your heart is humble and trying to do the right thing, God gives you grace and doesn’t punish you but if you are “defiantly, rebelliously, pridefully living in sin”, then God will send some kind of trouble to straighten you out or “let you fall.” They relate God’s discipline to the discipline of a good parent who loves their child. However, at the same time their picture of God’s discipline is still in line with the picture of punishment. Some say God will make you sick, cause a disaster, “hold up traffic.” The problem I have with this teaching is that the scripture says,
Romans 4:8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Romans 5:13 “But sin is not taken into account when there is no law”
Hebrews 8:12 “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Ephesians 1:4 “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”
Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”
Isaiah 54:10 “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.”
Romans 5:9 “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.””
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
You see, in order for God to punish your sins, he would have to remember them, hold them against you, see your faults in His eyes, impute sin against you, overlook the work of his Son, and restore the curse of the law. Why do we preach that Jesus was punished for our sins and also preach that we must be punished for our sins? Was Jesus punished in vain? Or did he only take some of the punishment? Did he only bear the eternal punishment of death? No Jesus bore stripes on his back so that we might be healed. When we try to distinguish what part of our punishment Jesus bore and what part we still have to bear things start to get confusing. Instead of being grateful for God’s grace, we are afraid of his wrath! Some people will ask, “But what about willful, defiant christians who are sinning?! Shouldn’t they be disciplined!?” Before I continue, let me say that I believe it is good for parents to discipline their children. I believe its good for people in positions of authority to bring disciplinary measures against people who are causing trouble in the church, just like Paul did, or for rulers in government to enforce the law against law breakers. These authorities were established by God. My concern is about the personal relationship between God and his children. So back on track.
My answer to that statement is, its very hard for a christians to live that way if the holy spirit is in them. And if so, God’s spirit will guide them to change. Usually those people are living that way because of bitterness, not because its in their nature. I believe if they are in positions of influence, they should be graciously removed. However, we resort to these methods because we don’t own the Holy Spirit to accomplish our wills in the hearts of the disobedient. That’s why I believe God relates to us differently than we may to our children or the church might to troublesome members.
Once you start getting into the realm or distinguishing willful, prideful sin from “humble sin” you will realize that all of our sins are prideful or willful. Its very hard to draw a line, and because of that you never know whether to expect good from God or trouble from him. You are left wondering if you are right with God and your peace is gone. On top of that, you don’t know whether to distinguish if a painful event in your life occurred because of some sin you committed or by accident. And even if you did find discipline in your life, that wouldn’t help you to change your behavior, because the problems are not coming from a lack of will to do what’s right, but of power. That’s why Paul talks about, “the good I want to do, this I do not do.” And if someone is living rebelliously, pridefully, and willfully then he doesn’t care about discipline and will ignore it just like Pharaoh did with Moses. If discipline or punishment could make you righteous, then Israel could have been justified through the law for they have a long list of punishment prescribed to them for breaking it and they would have become righteous. However they kept falling into sin, despite being punished. If grace can’t change your character, then you are out of luck, legalism will do no better. But grace must be established forever in order for it to have effect.
When God started changing my views of his discipline he told me, “What you call discipline, I call punishment.” What he was saying is that what I was thinking was God’s discipline in my life, God was saying there was no difference between that and punishment. I argued with Him about the subject, but he convinced me that righteousness comes from identity, gratitude, the spirit, grace, rest, and patience and not from law, punishment, fear, or human effort. So as he was teaching me, I began to wonder… what could that passage in Hebrews 12 be talking about? Doesn’t it say God disciplines us? For two years I asked this question and a few weeks ago God explained to me the answer. Let’s take a look at it!
So we are all familiar with this passage from verse 1-12. But I would encourage you to read the book of Hebrews as a whole. Some things are best understood in context. Especially this passage. I’m going to attempt to explain its context.
The book was written to Jews who were tasting persecution and some were falling away back to Judaism because of the hardship that their faith was bringing on them. This letter was written to encourage them that their faith is superior to the law and that they should hold on and enter God’s rest. Let’s read the passage.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow wearyand lose heart.
God Disciplines His Children
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[a]
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”
Let’s put this passage in context. The author declares his intentions for that passage in this earlier passage.
Hebrews 10 “32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”[f]
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”
Then in the next chapter he talks about all these great men of the faith who endured persecution and hardship because of their faith. Finally in chapter 12 he says,
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow wearyand lose heart.”
He is saying even Jesus received persecution and endured it, who was the author of our faith. Then he says,
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
What’s he saying here? That they haven’t whipped themselves into obedience? In hebrews, the author heavily equates sin with unbelief.
Hebrews 3 and 4 “12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.15 As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”[c]
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.[a]3 Now we who have believed enter that rest…
6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience… 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”
You see, the sin he is referring to is the sin of falling away from God’s rest in unbelief. For the Israelites it was faith that God would give them the promise land, but for us believers, the author is talking about the privilege that belongs to christians. That is, resting from our own works and entering into God’s rest from our works of self-righteousness. He is encouraging them throughout the letter to continue strongly in their faith and freedom and not turn back to the law and fall from the grace of God.
So what is this verse saying? It is saying that you have not had your belief tested to the point where the persecution literally took your blood. Essentially you have not endured beatings for your faith yet.
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
Following me so far? Right afterwards he says,
“And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?”
What he is about to explain, the passage of God’s discipline he calls a “word of encouragement.” I belief this stems from a belief that the jews had. I’m not sure if this is completely accurate, but I believe around that time the jews saw trouble and persecution as a sign of God’s rejection. Poverty was a sign of God’s disapproval. After all did not God say that he would curse them with poverty if they did not obey his commands? What he is saying is that these signs are not telling them that God is displeased with them or rejecting them, but they show that in fact they are accepted as God’s children and members of his family! These persecutions come because we are children of God who obey his voice.
He then reads from a passage of proverbs that was written to the Jews under the time of the law. God disciplined the jews to keep his covenant. In that time keeping the covenant meant obeying the law, for us today, keeping the covenant is resting in faith. We are to enter that rest, even when it causes us hardship.
“7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.”
What he is talking about is persecution. God’s discipline is Him asking you to hold onto your faith even when it causes you trouble or persecution. All who are sons of God will undergo these kinds of sufferings and they mark you as children of God, echoing the words of Jesus.
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
Later he says what child is not disciplined by his father. In other words, what son of God is not asked to endure. Then he says, you were willing to submit to your fathers in earthly discipline, how much more should you be willing to endure if God asks it of you. Then he says, he disciplines us for our good. He asks us to endure for our sakes. Remember the words of Jesus.
Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
God asks us to endure that we may share in his holiness. Holiness means “to be set apart.” We are sharing in the distinction (‘set apartness’) as being God’s children from the fact the the world hates us and causes us trouble. No discipline seems pleasant but painful. That’s true, persecutions are not lovely when you are going through them. Then he says, “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Remember the author’s words earlier…
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
Your faith brings great reward. It is the free gift of righteousness and the peace of being right with God apart from your performance, if you hold to God’s words and remain in his rest, despite the persecution it brings you are harvesting righteousness and peace from the gospel you cling to. Then the author uses an Old Testament reference in this scripture,
“12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”
He is quoting from a passage in Isaiah 35 where Israel was enduring persecution from her enemies. Isaiah was encouraging them to endure because God was going to come an rescue them from their enemies and bring vengeance on those who did them evil.
“3Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.””
So the author is using this passage to tell these Hebrews that God will deliver you out of these persecutions and to hold on through them.
So in essence, God is not disciplining these Hebrews for their sin. They are being disciplined because of righteousness. They are being persecuted because they believe they have been made righteous apart from works and the rituals of the law. And those who still believe in those things are bringing them trouble. God’s discipline is asking them to continue to believe and enter God’s rest despite the trouble others bring because of it. Just like when the Israelites were afraid to enter because of the giants, so God is telling us “do not be afraid to enter or remain in my rest despite the persecution.”
Hebrews 4:11 “So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.”
So that is what I felt the Lord told me about his discipline. He said, “I was talking about persecution.” God is not causing the persecutions but He does predict them and he knows the faith He gives you may invite that. Remember James 1:17
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
God can only give good and perfect gifts to his children. He cannot cause sickness, traffic problems, or troubles at work to teach you a lesson. He does not change like the shifting shadows, giving good gifts today and then bad things the next. He does not cause the persecutions either but does ask that you to hold onto your faith despite them.
There are two other passages in the new testament that address God’s discipline, but I will get to them later. One is in Revelation, and the other is in Corinthians about communion. I would encourage you to read some of the blogs I follow on these subjects for now, they answer some of these questions.
Here is one on communion. I am still studying these passages but my view point is that the people being judged were unbelievers who were participating in communion with the christians. For instance earlier he says,
1 Corinthains 11 “18In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”
I think there are professing christians in that church but who are merely believing it to have access to the privileges in the church and don’t really have God’s approval. Of course I could be wrong. But I’m thinking that they came not because they wanted to honor Christ but because they wanted to get drunk. And they were stealing the meal from some of the christians. Here is Paul Ellis’s perspective of it.
So overall I believe that God uses his spirit and the power of his love and grace to change our hearts and behaviors and doesn’t revert back to the punishments of the law to train us into holy living. If you understand that you won’t be paranoid or afraid. You will be able to expect good from God and have peace and trust in Him, knowing he is for you. You will also be able to rest from your introspection of your sins and believe in the righteousness He’s given you! God bless!
PS: In these passages I’ve addressed, I don’t believe he is talking in terms of salvation, but of the practical side of our faith which is living in rest.
Here is a link by Escape to Reality about the Lord’s correction. I think it will conclude lingering questions about how then does God train us. http://escapetoreality.org/2013/03/15/how-does-god-deal-with-our-sin/#comment-12359