I’ve never met a person who said that discipline was pleasant. Parents battle their kid’s temper tantrums with heavy hearts and tears, athletes break their bodies in order to build strength and train for victory, and reckless drivers receive expensive tickets so the roads are kept safe.
Discipline is often painful in the moment, but its rewards are great. This is what the writer of Hebrews was expressing when he cited Proverbs 3:11-12:
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. (Hebrews 12:5-6)
The Lord’s discipline is a means to our growth in holiness:
For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] 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. (vv 10-11)
Trained by Discipline
We are not to regard lightly the discipline God ordains for us; we are to be trained by it. What does this mean? To regard something lightly is to belittle its significance and pass over its intention, to ignore that its purpose is meant to be examined, taken to heart, and leveraged as an instrument for growth. So, to be trained by discipline is to give weight to it, to consider its value, and to ask, “Lord, how would you have me grow through this painful circumstance in order that I would bear your image more fully?”
One of the most frustrating measures of discipline the Lord has exercised in my own life is the painful experience of sleeplessness. Unable to stop my mind from running, I occasionally lay awake for hours on random nights, anticipating the difficulty of the following day and dreading how much exertion it will take to peel myself out of bed in the morning, let alone work and serve effectively hour to hour.
For others, the Lord’s discipline comes in different forms, but it has the same purpose: that we would be trained by it, regarding it with weight, that we may share in God’s holiness with peace.
One important truth we should note is that God’s discipline is not the same as his judgment. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The resurrection and ascension of the Son is God’s final stamp of approval over his sacrifice for our sin, and this acceptance stands for all those who put their faith in Christ as their sin-bearing Savior and Lord. The cross of Christ is our assurance that there is no longer any judgment for sin for those who have been covered by the righteousness of Jesus. It is our assurance that all discipline is a carefully ordained measure of God’s love being poured out for us.
Believer, how might the Lord be disciplining you right now? What recent experiences have been painful for you, rather than pleasant? When have you been tempted to grow weary from the exercise of God’s loving, but strict, parenting?
Let’s regard the Lord’s discipline, not lightly, but with humbly submissive attitudes and searching thoughts, with the desire to bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness as we are conformed to the image of Christ. Train yourself to ask the following questions:
“What is God teaching me about himself?”
Often, when God disciplines his children, he is training us to take our eyes off ourselves — our own strength, plans, and desires — and to fix them on his character.
Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2, emphasis mine)
When circumstances are running smoothly and our own plans are being fulfilled, it is easy to forget the Lord and all he has done in the gospel. God’s discipline gives us a glorious opportunity to mine the depths of his person and work, though we will never understand him completely until we are with him. When we search out his character, we are reminded of his strength, his praiseworthiness, and his salvation. We are reminded that Christ is indeed sufficient for us and all of our weaknesses.
“What is God teaching me about myself?”
God’s loving discipline often intends to wake us up from the sleep of selfishness and independence that comes so naturally to our flesh. Our attitude of submission can easily turn into presumption when we take our eyes off the character of God and assume that his agenda should be the same as ours.
But, when we are faced with trials and testing, the desires of our hearts are exposed. God uses discipline to weed out that which is earthly within us — our pride, fears, idolatry, and presumptions — in order that we might confess sin, repent of it, and share in his holiness. God in Christ is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
In Psalm 118, the singer has been awakened through discipline to his sin-bent propensity to rely on earthly things and human ability. He then says,
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes. (Psalm 118:8-9)
Through discipline, our loving Father might be teaching us that our trust has been misplaced and that he is the only One who can truly satisfy us. The significance of the cross is magnified, as we realize anew that Christ bore all of our sins in his body on the tree, that we might be free of them and conformed to his image.
“How might God be using discipline to conform me to his image?”
If God’s purpose in discipline is that we might share in his holiness, then we can trust that everything coming from the Lord’s hand is for our good. We can rest in his promise that, in Christ, he is for us, and not against us (Romans 8:32) and, therefore, that even the most severe discipline is rooted in God’s great and steadfast love for his children.
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death. (Psalm 118:17-18)
“How might God use this as a testimony to other people?”
The way that we respond to the Lord’s discipline is an chance to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ our Lord. Our natural inclination towards discipline is to grumble and complain, grow bitter and angry, and rely on our own strength. But when the children of God trust that his discipline is loving and for our good, we will respond in trust, peace, and with a deeper hunger to know God through his Word.
This does not mean that we necessarily enjoy our present trials; discipline is rarely a pleasant experience. However, we testify to a greater hope when we lean into our training in righteousness, rather than merely trying to escape it or fight against it. We become living, breathing proof that our eyes are fixed on another world, an eternity with Christ forever.
Discipline Leads to Life
This has been difficult to write. While I know all of this is true, my flesh still rebels when discipline comes from God’s hand. I am prone to anger and discouragement, rather than deep trust, joy, and peace in knowing that God is for me and is training me.
Thank God for his grace shown in Christ, for even when our faith fails, God is greater than our hearts! We can confess our sin and weakness and ask him for the faith to submit to whatever discipline he brings for our good. And that is one prayer he loves to answer.
The Lord may discipline us severely, but it will not end in death. It will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have not regarded it lightly but have been trained by it.