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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

What Is The Discipline Of The Lord?

FatherSon from Microsoft Publisher ClipartWhat Is The Discipline Of The Lord?

The author of Hebrews writes to believers who face severe trials.  And in chapter 12 he encourages them by explaining that their trials are the discipline of the Lord.

But ask yourself — would it encourage you to hear that your trials are the discipline of the Lord?

It might not, because many of us misunderstand the discipline of the Lord.

So — to encourage us in our trials — here are some questions and answers about the discipline of the Lord —

Do All Trials Involve God’s Discipline?

In Hebrews 12:1-4 the author calls us to endure trials while we run the race (Hebrews 12:1-4).  Then without any sign that he’s changing topics, he says “do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord” (Hebrews 12:5).  That sounds like all our trials involve the discipline of the Lord.

Also, the author says we need endurance when we face trials (Hebrews 10:32-36; 12:1-3).  Then in Hebrews 12:7 he says “it is for discipline that you have to endure.”  That sounds like every time we have to endure trials, it’s so we can experience the discipline of the Lord.

So my conclusion is that every trial involves the discipline of the Lord.  But that raises this next question —

When God Disciplines Us Is He Punishing Us For Our Sins?

We might think the answer is Yes.  But what does the word “punish” mean?   Dictionary.com says it means “to subject to pain as a penalty for some offense.”

So if God is punishing us that means our suffering is paying the penalty for our sin.  But that can’t be what God is doing, because through faith in Christ, He has paid all the penalty for all of our sin.

Therefore, God’s discipline of His children never involves punishment.  Because Jesus paid for your sins on the Cross, no trial you face ever has any punishment in it.

Does The Discipline Of The Lord Involve Consequences For Particular Sins?

Sometimes it does.  God took the life of David’s son who was conceived from adultery with Bathsheba.  That was clearly a consequence for sin (2 Samuel 12:13-14).

But it was not punishment for sin, since Nathan had already told David “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”  So there can be a consequence for particular sin, without it being a punishment for particular sin.

And yet, because of this and other passages, we can wrongly think that every trial is a consequence for some particular sin.  So when trials come, too often that’s our entire focus: “I must have committed some sin.  What did I do wrong?”

But in Hebrews 12 there’s no hint that their trials were the consequence of any particular sin.  Instead, the author wants them to focus on the purpose for the discipline of the Lord —

What Is The Discipline Of The Lord?

Hebrews 12:6 says it is loving — “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves.”  So when the Lord disciplines you, what he’s feeling towards you is love.

And Hebrews 12:11 says it involves training — “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.”  So when the Lord disciplines you, what He’s bringing you is training.

So the discipline of the Lord is loving training.  It’s loving, because it flows from God’s compassion and care for you.  And it’s training, because it gives you an opportunity to grow in trusting Christ as your all-satisfying Treasure.

That does not mean we don’t pray for God to take trials away.  We should, just like Paul did with his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).  But if God chooses not to take them away, we know His purpose — loving training.

This also does not mean that those who suffer the most, do so because they need more training than others.  Think of Job.  He was the most righteous man on the earth, and yet he  suffered terribly (Job 1:8).  So greater suffering does not imply a lack of righteousness or a greater need for training.

So whenever we face a trial, focus on how this trial is brought to you by God for the sake of loving training —

  • Difficult boss?  Loving training.
  • Serious illness?  Loving training.
  • Spilled cereal?  Loving training.
  • Wayward child?  Loving training.
  • Flat tire?  Loving training.
  • Unresponsive spouse?  Loving training.
  • Struggles in ministry?  Loving training.

And why is that so encouraging?  Here’s one last question —

What Does God’s Discipline Bring Us?

The author of Hebrews 12 describes three gifts God promises to give us through this loving training.

First, God’s loving training will bring us life —

Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? (Hebrews 12:9)

Life is not earthly ease and comfort.  Life is nearness to God, joy in God, worship of God.  God lovingly trains us to give us more life.

Second, God’s loving training will bring us the good of sharing God’s holiness —

… but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  (Hebrews 12:10)

There is no greater joy than beholding God’s holiness.  And God lovingly trains us so we will have even more of this joy.

Third, God’s loving training brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness —

… but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:11)

Sin causes warfare in our hearts and unrighteousness in our lives.  But God lovingly trains us so that sin will progressively be conquered — bringing peace to our hearts and righteousness to our lives.

What Difference This Makes

Here’s the author’s conclusion —

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Hebrews 12:12).

If we don’t see trials as God’s discipline — God’s loving training — then trials can make our hands droop and knees buckle.

So understand that every trial as a gift of loving training from God’s hand.  Let that lift your hands and strengthen your knees.

And keep running the race.

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Category: Problems or Trials

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8 Responses

  1. Brian says:

    I’m in the worst pit of my life and it’s all because of my sins–it’s all my fault and I have no one else to blame. I drifted so far. It was my sin that put me into this pit, it was my hardness of heart that drove me to go back to my filthy sins over and over and over and over again. I keep driving back to it and I wonder if I’m truly a Christian. I don’t have any assurances of pardoned love, no assurance of salvation. All I see is darkness. There are times I see glimpses of light but I wonder if I am deceiving myself–wanting to believe that God would really forgive me for falling so many times for such a long time; to forgive me for my hardened heart. I can’t change this heart. I’m numb, stubborn, weak, foolish, and I can’t smite this heart. I can’t make the waters flow. I can’t live like this anymore. Even if I have to eat just a crumb of God’s mercy I would rather have that then the sinful pit that I’m in. Sometimes I wonder if He will take me back after the filthy, sinful pit I’m in. I’m afraid to go to the Lord in prayer feeling that He won’t listen to me. I gave up all hope.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thank you for sharing your heart so openly. I am sorry for the painful place you are finding yourself.

      But the good news is that Jesus Christ saves sinners. That’s you. And me.

      I would encourage you to checkout this post —

      http://livingbyfaithblog.com/2012/04/26/how-can-i-know-that-i-am-saved/

      and the other ones written in response to this one.

      The bottom line is that the only way to be saved is by coming to Jesus Christ just as we are, turning from whatever else we’ve been trusting to satisfy us, and trusting Him alone to forgive us, change us, and satisfy us in Himself.

      When we do that He will be faithful to His promises. He will forgive our sins, strengthen our faith, change our hearts, and satisfy us in Himself.

      Let me know if the above posts are helpful. And I’ll pray for you right now.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

    • Paul Walton says:

      Brian,

      “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”- Romans 6: 1-14

      Brother,
      Paul’s answer to the question of continuing to sin after we have been justified, is actually very short. Look at verse 2, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Now his explanation takes some deep thinking and several verses to unfold, but now we are in union with Christ, we have joined Him in His death, and now we are raised to a new life in Him. What did we do to deserve such an awesome gift? Nothing, we are saved by grace. Paul tells us to consider ourselves dead to sin, so how can a dead man continue in sin?
      Verse 7 “for he who has died is freed from sin.” Grace has set us free from the law, though the law was good, our flesh (sinful nature) is evil, our righteousness is based on the works of another, Christ!

      Now Paul in chapter 7 of Romans acknowledges that we still battle indwelling sin, even as we consider ourselves dead to this world, he says we are all divided men, part spirit and part flesh. On this side of eternity we battle our flesh (sinful nature) we never outgrow the need to look to the cross. Who will save us from ourselves, the man, Christ Jesus, look to the cross, keep looking to the cross, because it is the only power that can defeat the remaining indwelling sin. And it is all grace, keep turning towards, and trusting in Christ.

      • Paul Walton says:

        Brian,
        One last final thought for you to think about.
        Unbelievers have no remorse over their sin, only the consequences of their sin, the fact that a person is troubled by their sin shows the Spirit of God is working in their heart. We all have sinned against God, but Paul tells us in Romans 8: 1-2 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

        There is a great passage about no longer being under condemnation for those whom are trusting God in the Old Testament.

        “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness.” Micah 7:8-9

        (8) “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise [So there has been a temporary “fall”]; Though I dwell in darkness [so there is a season of darkness and guilty feelings], the Lord is a light for me [so the Lord who is angry with him is nevertheless his light]. (9) I will bear the indignation of the Lord [so the Lord is displeased, and angry with him -but it is not the anger of a condemning judge, but of a light-providing disciplining Father! He spanks the child and sends him to his room for a time, but he does not turn off the light of hope] Because I have sinned against Him [so there is real sin], Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me [so this angry God is FOR HIM and not against him. He will justify him and not condemn him!]. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness.”

        So we take our sins seriously. We hate them. We see them as a contradiction of who we are in Christ and a contradiction of our Father’s love. We confess our sins (1 John 1:9). We look to the cross where all our pardon and righteousness was fully secured. We accept the Father’s displeasure and discipline, and may dwell in darkness for a season. But if our enemy rejoices and says to us in our night of sorrow, “See, God is against you. He is angry. You are guilty and under his condemnation,” then we will say, with the authority of Romans 8:1 and on the basis of Jesus Christ’s death and righteousness, and in the words of Micah 7: “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness.”

  2. Sarah Wright says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for fleshing this out…. I do think its extremely important to make this distinction because it can so dramatically affect the way we perceive God. I believe what you’re saying is also in line with how God instructs US to help other brothers. 1 Timothy 1:19-20 was part of my reading today and this is what it said “… by rejecting this (v. 18 and the first part of v.19 tells us what they were rejecting was waging the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience)some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may LEARN not to blaspheme.” I believe this passage is also consistent with other verses like Matthew 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 5:5. All of these verses speak of church discipline and how it is designed to restore wayward believers to fellowship with Christ and the Church. I really liked the illustration Jason provided at home group when he said “punishment” is like being sentenced to prison to serve your sentence (no real goal of correction, it’s simply a “pay your dues” mentality). Discipline is like attending some sort of rehab- yes, it is a result of something you did wrong, but the goal of rehab is to RESTORE you, not simply to “punish” you for the wrong you committed. Thanks for helping me more clearly see how God is loving me through trials and discipline 🙂

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for sharing these helpful Scriptures, and Jason’s example from home group (which is really helpful).

      You are right, there’s a massive difference between thinking we are being harshly punished by God vs. thinking we are being lovingly trained by God.

      Praise God for His grace to us in Jesus Christ!

      Steve

  3. Ron says:

    Hi Steve:

    I read this blog when you first posted it. I just thought I would let you know that it has turned out to be an encouragement to me.I recently ended up in the Hospital because of dangerously high blood pressure. This is something I have been working on with my doctor for a while. I love the Lord. I would like to say with “ALL” my heart – but I have always struggled with my unbelief during trials. Fortunately, when this “trial” came I quickly remembered this blog and realized that this was the discipline from the Lord. But I love the way that you explained it and the verses that you shared to show that the discipline of the Lord is God showing his love to me:

    “Hebrews 12:6 says it is loving — “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” So when the Lord disciplines you, what he’s feeling towards you is love.

    And Hebrews 12:11 says it involves training – “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.” So when the Lord disciplines you, what He’s bringing you is training.

    So the discipline of the Lord is loving training. It’s loving, because it flows from God’s compassion and care for you. And it’s training, because it gives you an opportunity to grow in trusting Christ as your all-satisfying Treasure.”

    My first reaction was frustration because I have been working on loosing the weight and eating more healthy- and when I ended up in the hospital I became very frustrated. But then I thought about your encouragement on this blog and realized that the Lord was using this to help train me to lean on him at all times. This is a tough lesson for me but the Lord knew that this is what I needed. The point that really stuck out to me was this:

    “Sin causes warfare in our hearts and unrighteousness in our lives. But God lovingly trains us so that sin will progressively be conquered — bringing peace to our hearts and righteousness to our lives.”

    I know that my frustration is in fact sin and the Lord will continue to “discipline” me so that I will better reflect his love and nature.

    Thank you again for your insight and blog. I really do appreciate it.

    Ron

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Ron,

      I am so sorry to hear about your medical issues, but SO encouraged to hear about how God is using them in your life.

      And this lesson about every trial involving God’s loving training has been good for me as well. I have been surprised to see how many trials I just chalk up to inconvenience or a problem or something else — and miss God’s loving purposes.

      So thanks for taking the time to share your testimony with us. It’s such a joy to be connected again after so many years.

      Your brother,

      Steve

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