Apologetics Index

God Disciplines His Children

By David Kowalski

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. (Hebrews 12:7-11 ESV)

In the article on parenting that I recently posted, I emphasized the importance of disciplining a child as Scripture instructs us:

Proverbs 13:24 NASB — “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (see also Proverbs 19:18 Proverbs 22:15 Proverbs 23:13-14 Proverbs 29:15 Proverbs 29:17).

A loving father will do this as part of the training that the child needs. Left to him or herself, a child will make irresponsible and self-destructive choices. These wrong choices s feel right to the child, and by making them feel bad  the child will be less inclined to that behavior. God works in a similar way. Jesus tells the church at Laodicea,“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”

God’s love for His children does not include an affable tolerance of disobedience. Only poor parents fail to discipline their children and God is not a poor father.  He values our right behavior over our temporary, pleasant feelings. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “God’s great concern for us primarily is not our happiness but our holiness.”

Though I do not claim to be near the expositor Lloyd-Jones was, I would add the word “momentary” before “happiness.” Ultimately, holiness and happiness are fused together in God’s design, and this is most clearly seen when one considers the eternal consequences of rewards and punishment. It is for His glory and our own good that God disciplines us.

One popular teacher says that God never imposes unpleasant consequences on us because He only uses kindness to lead us to repentance (which he defines as believing in grace — with no reference to turning from sin). He uses the following passage to support this notion:

Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.(Romans  2:3-5 ESV)

This passage is addressed to those who do not understand that the delay in God’s eternal justice is not an indication that God is indifferent toward their sin. In spite of the rebellious ways of mankind, God still provides for them within the overall, cursed system resulting from the fall. This tangible graciousness of God should not lead people to ignorantly presume upon God, but should lead them to believe and come to their senses, turning from their wicked ways to follow Jesus. The passage does not say that God never imposes unpleasant consequences on His children in order to train them, and thus it does not contradict the verses cited at the beginning of this post.

rebellious childThose verses do not specify exactly what God uses as discipline and this leaves room for our Father to customize such things to individuals. I do think, though, that we find many examples in Scripture to learn from. First, God often withdraws His manifest presence, along with the blessings, joy and peace that comes from this manifestation  In 1 Samuel 4, God allowed the Philistines to capture the Ark of the Covenant. Hearing the news, Eli fell over backwards and died. His daughter-in-law gave birth, naming her son Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel.” A New Testament equivalence to this would include a sense of spiritual dryness and absence of peace.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe God never imposes tangible consequences upon rebellious children. In one of the least preached on passages in Scripture (and when it is preached, its plain meaning is usually misinterpreted through clever sophistry), Paul says that God had imposed physical illness on church members in Corinth due to their abuse of the Lord’s Supper:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (I Corinthians 11: 27-32 ESV)

We also see in Revelation 2:19-23 that Christ tells the church at Thyatira He will cast the false prophetess He calls Jezebel into a bed of sickness, will cast those who follow her into great tribulation, and will strike her children dead. Those who portray God as nothing but an affable, Santa Clause figure must use their Bibles very selectively. Those who picture the Holy Spirit as nothing but gentle forget His dealings with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

If no one has told you by now, Christ is more than just our friend; He is our Lord. Our loving, heavenly father can, if necessary, be stern with us as His children. It is His holiness and His love that disciplines us. He cannot change His standards or be indifferent toward rebellion in His children. Nor does he want us to continue in  rebellious ways to our ultimate destruction. We are all still children and we all need discipline at times. Possibly the “devil” we are rebuking just now is the loving yet stern hand of our Father.

Let us not lose heart, though. Remember the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

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Category: Column: David Kowalski, Practical Christian Living
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First published (or major update) on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

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