How Will Our God Discipline Us?
QUESTION: What does it mean in Hebrews 12:6 that our Father in Heaven chastens or disciplines us?
This verse in Hebrews is often quoted for the purpose of warning you that if you sin, God will punish you. It is normally described in context of a parent and child relationship. I have not heard of anyone who would use this passage to suggest that a person’s salvation would be at risk if they sinned. Instead, people will often use this passage to suggest that if you are experiencing suffering in your life, it is because God is trying to get a message to you that you should stop sinning. In this context, a person will hopefully be encouraged through knowing that God is actively participating in their life. Therefore, it is assumed that the divine relationship you have with God is about Him constantly following you around, looking for ways to make you suffer because of the sin in your life. This will hopefully inspire you to stop sinning. Very few people are interested in having someone in their life who is constantly trying to correct them. However, the advantage that is advertised is that it is a way to know you truly are a child of God.
There are many people who sincerely believe that this is the correct way of interpreting this verse in Hebrews. I do see and understand how and why they would come to this conclusion. I simply do not agree with this interpretation of this passage. The primary reason why I do not agree with this position is that it strongly rejects what the Lord Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. The penalty for sin is death. Sin is truly that evil. It required the death of the Messiah to fulfill the demand of the Law established by God to take sin away. In order to believe the position that I described in the previous paragraph, it will be necessary to assume that the penalty for sin has changed. Many people do actually believe this. It is often assumed that the New Covenant is about a change in penalty for sin. Now God will find ways to make your life miserable, instead of just sending you to Hell. This may not be the message directly conveyed, but it is often the message indirectly received. I personally do not see any evidence in the Scriptures that supports this position, but many people do sincerely believe it.
The sin issue between man and God came to an end when the Lord Jesus died on the cross. It was at that pivotal event in history that God no longer held our sins against us, and will never again hold our sins against us. He did this so He could offer to us the free gift of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit that is the very life of God we lost in Adam, which will spiritually resurrect us from the dead. This life that is offered will then remain within us eternally, because there is no sin left unforgiven that will cause that life to leave again. The life will therefore be an eternal or everlasting life that we will experience right now and will carry us on into eternity after we physically die. This is the Gospel. So if we assume that God is still holding our sins against us in any way whatsoever, this will be in direct contradiction to the ministry of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation is described in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, which clearly expresses the truth that God does not hold our sins against us any more. Therefore, if God has truly forgiven us of all our sins, past, present and future, then why would He still hold our sins against us? This is what people are teaching when they interpret Hebrews 12:6 in the way I described above. They are rejecting the importance and reality of the finality of the cross.
When many people use the word discipline in a parent and child relationship, they are normally thinking of it as punishment for a past event. Many people relate to their children in this way, and I can appreciate the need for that in order to maintain civilization in a home. When people see this comparison in Hebrews, they will then interpret it in context of how they treat their children. They assume that the way they treat their children is the way that God will treat His children. The defense that is normally presented is to say that because I treat my children this way, if God wants to use this illustration, He will treat me in the same way I treat my children. But that is not necessarily the case. He does not look to us for guidance and instruction on how He is supposed to treat His children, and we cannot necessarily assume that the way we treat our children is the way God treats His children. These are big assumptions that can lead us to a lot of confusion. Our God does not hold the sins of His children against them, or punishes them for their sins. Instead, His discipline is a very different kind of discipline.
The discipline of God is not punishment for a past event, it is preparation for a future event. Consider a sports competitor who is preparing for a competition. They will exercise to the point of causing pain and suffering to prepare for what they are expecting to do in the future. This is an act of discipline that is preparation for a future event. Our God disciplines us for the future experiences we are going to have in our life. We are going to be exposed to temptations and sufferings that are simply a part of the world we live in. We are going to experience failures and loss. We are going to have problems with other people and we are not going to find fulfillment in the world. Our God does not cause pain and suffering in our lives to prepare us for greater pains and sufferings. There are already more than enough opportunities for this in our lives. The natural consequences we experience for our own sins alone can provide us with an abundance of opportunities. Our Father in Heaven is consistently teaching us, guiding us and revealing to us the truth of what we encounter on a daily basis. When we respond to these circumstances in the light of these truths, we are effectively in the competition, using what we were prepared with in advance. It is in this way that God will cause all things to work together for good, as described in Rom 8:28. This is the discipline of God that prepares and equips us to live in this world in a way that aids us in growing more in our relationship with Him.
It is important to understand that our sin is not necessary for our God to discipline, or disciple us. The objective is clearly that we grow more in our relationship with Him. We have a relationship with Him interacting with us, and us subsequently living our life in response to the interaction we have had with our God. Doctrinal biases are easy to impose on translations, and I believe the bias of God relating to us on the basis of our sin has been imposed on this verse. Instead, we are to enjoy the reality that our God is consistently relating to us to prepare us for what lies ahead. Never looking back to what has already happened, He continues looking into the future and guides us to be better prepared for it. It is in this way that He disciplines us and parents us.
When parenting our own children, we cannot parent in the same way that God parents us. The writer’s use of the illustration was not intended to be a direct expression, but a similarity so we can see the context of our position with our God. Our God has reserved for Himself the authority, right and capability to parent in this special way. This is a spiritual experience with the Holy Spirit of God that we as individuals have through encountering our God deep within the very core our being. Parents do not live within their children guiding them internally through fulfilling the deepest needs of their spirit and soul. This has been and always will be the exclusive right of our God. This is a critical point to understand. I as a Pastor have encountered many people who sincerely believe that they can be God in their children’s life. They sincerely believe that if they love and accept their children perfectly, govern every aspect of their day to impose meaning and purpose in their life, then they will grow to be healthy and functional adults. This is a satanic lie that will at best seriously disable children emotionally and socially and leave them to be very lonely people for the rest of their lives. I am not saying that there needs to be some kind of a balance between conditional or unconditional love. I am intending to say that the parental role with a child is very different compared to the parental role our God has with us.
To be an integral part of this world it is necessary to be of service to other people. Many children are raised in our culture to believe that they have a give and take relationship with the people around them. Others give and they take. Instead of saying, “thank you,” many children say something, verbally or non verbally, to the effect of, “it’s about time!” The reality however is that if you want to be a part of this world, you will have to be of service to others. Those who are not will only be able to survive by living off of the labor of someone else, and this is not going to last long if you don’t help them to labor for you, or even work against them to prevent them from laboring. Children are not going to naturally be of service to others, especially when they experience the pain and suffering of the labor that they will experience. They can be motivated to do things to obtain approval, acceptance, thanks, or to simply feel as if they are a part of a family unit. However, these are conditional motives that are again pursuits of self interest. While most of the world adequately functions this way, there is still no fulfillment within a person’s heart through these things.
The primary purpose of a parent is to teach their children how to be an integral member of the society they are about to enter into. It is for this reason and purpose that we should discipline our children. We should devote as much of the short time we have available with them, as possible, to disciplining and preparing them to live as adults. They need to learn how to take good care of themselves and also learn how to be of service to others. Given the sinful nature we all have, they will not likely enjoy this process, but one day when they are older and have to function in this world they will be very thankful for learning well the most basic skills of life. This is not the parental role that our God will take in our lives. Our God transforms who we are from within our spirit to change our hearts. This results in a personal experience with our God that may reflect itself when we experience personal relationships with others, but the direct focus is between you and your God. This is a different kind of parental role that only our God can fulfill. The side effect of our personal relationship with our God should be an expression of our growth through being of service to others, but this is not the focus.
Our God disciplines us as a parent would be expected to discipline their children. However, the important question that must be answered is what kind of discipline is it? Is it punishment for a past event or is it preparation for a future event? If you have been resurrected from the dead through the life giving Holy Spirit of God, He is there indwelling within you disciplining you from the inside in the midst of life circumstances to prepare you for future circumstances, and to prepare you for the new revelations that He is wanting to reveal to you. These truths that our God will soon reveal to you are corrections that may first be hard to accept, but embrace your God and His corrections to what you believe. It will be difficult at first to let go of those beliefs you sincerely desire, but you will eventually see that His truths will truly set you free.