The Nature of Discipline

Our Heavenly Father Loves Us

Increasingly in today’s world, far too many people have not received proper discipline in their growing years; consequently, they personally acknowledge the need for more discipline in their lives, and it has become highly common for various “trainers,” “teachers,” or “experts,” often through expensive programs, seminars, or videos, to promote “self-discipline” through meditation, costly seminars, repetitive behaviors, deep breathing, rehabilitation programs, or sheer willpower to gain control over bad habits or destructive actions.  

As Christians, however, we have a heavenly Father who loves us so much that He guides our steps daily in life, while providing us with the power to be overcomers against the many challenges in our lives.  We also have a Father who loves us enough to discipline us as His own children!  

Read what the writer of the Book of Hebrews relates about discipline in the following passage from Chapter 12:

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:4-7)

Nothing is more disturbing than to see a child whose father or mother has not loved him enough to discipline that child.  We Christians, however, have the example of our Heavenly Father as the true disciplinarian: “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (v. 6).  

Learning Discipline

I thank my heavenly Father that my earthly parents loved me enough to show me when I was not being polite, mannerly, or obedient, often in spite of their own grief or embarrassment and my own obstinance. As it is, many children cannot even sit quietly through a performance or meeting without disturbing others around them, most likely because they have rarely sat in church services.

While I didn’t especially appreciate my parents’ love and concern for me at the time, as the following verse describes, I now am most grateful for their loving discipline, for they were teaching me the discipline of God.

11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

Notice that the word used in this passage is discipline, not punishment.  My earthly father never sent for the school bully to beat me up when I was disobedient!  Therefore, we need to reject the idea that our Heavenly Father, Who sent His own Son to the cross to redeem us from the hands of Satan, the enemy of our souls, would ever discipline or “scourge” us by sending Satan to attack us. Why would the Heavenly Father inflict upon us what He sent His son to bear for us vicariously on the cross? This was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, as Matthew declares: 

16 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17)

Who Is Our Teacher?

Jesus said to His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

Therefore, the Holy Spirit was sent by our Father to be our Teacher!

And the Holy Spirit, obviously, always acts according to the “fruit of the Spirit,” which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).  

Our Father does not want His children to be killed, maimed, destroyed, or beaten down by the enemy, so He certainly would not do Himself what He deplores!  Our Father sent His Word (Jesus Christ) and His teacher (the Holy Spirit) to teach and discipline us so that we might not fall again into the hands of the bully of this world, the one who only seeks our destruction, as Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  

God receives no glory or praise when His children fall into the snares and traps of the enemy, but it is a travesty even to suggest that our loving Father is the one who sends disease, sickness, death, earthquakes, fires, or other tragedies into our lives to “teach us something.”

And while our own lack of discipline, or bad decisions, may lead to such tragedies, the word to “chasten means to “lead toward virtue by correcting mistakes and putting barriers around passions.” And to “rebuke” means “to show a person his fault, or to bring a man’s sin to the light through conviction (which means “to convince of error or sinfulness”).  

The Fear of the Lord

Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, relates that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7) 

Unfortunately, when Christians hear the word “fear,” as in the injunction to “fear the Lord,” too often we apply the definition for fear that we have learned in this world: “to be afraid or apprehensive, to be alarmed due to impending danger.”  We need not feel terror in God’s presence, but instead we should be filled with awe and reverence.

Therefore, we are not cautioned to be afraid of God, but rather to feel reverence for Him.  We are even told in Revelation 21:8 that the “cowardly” or “fearful”will have no place in God’s Kingdom.

Notice also that, generally, we are not assigned the task of convicting or rebuking others, even though the Father may use us as his spokespersons, at times. Instead, our Father is He who rebukes and brings conviction to our hearts through His Holy Spirit and through His written and spoken Word!  

God speaks to us personally through His Holy Spirit to reveal our errors or sins in order to bring about repentance and receive His forgiveness.  He does so with love and patience, not with anger and wrath. And with the Word comes the faith necessary to be obedient to His will (Romans 10:17).

  • Thus, the first step towards discipline, as Christ’s disciples, is to have reverence for the Lord and to open our ears to hear His Word, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus said, “Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).  
  • Unless we are determined to be obstinately disobedient, we need not fear the Lord, as I feared the paddle my parents used.  

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
    His praise endures forever. (Psalms 111:10)

  • The final step, therefore, is to be continually obedient to the Word that we have received in Love from our Father. These commandments are not intended to be harmful or destructive, but instead are given for our welfare and good, just as my parents’ instruction to “Look both ways before crossing the street” was intended to ensure my safety. 

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