Discipline is a word which isn’t too popular in modern Christianity. In fear of legalism, some espouse a free-wheeling spirituality which is devoid of such concepts. God would never forcefully correct any of His children, and He surely wouldn’t enact any tough requirements, the thinking goes. The common view of God is in alignment with the current parenting philosophy. Modern parents prefer a buddy approach to parental issues. They rarely erect standards, and they are slow to speak out against selfish behavior. Such parents approach God the way they approach parenting. They view Him as a friend who is supposed to grant their wishes. They can’t imagine Him placing requirements on them, or rebuking them for their ungodly behavior.
Such a vision of God is deficient. It will lead Christians far away from the full life which God has for His children. Modern, me-centered believers must reorient themselves with the ways of God. The New Testament uses a Greek word that is rendered “Discipline” over 10 times. The Old Testament implements the Hebrew equivalent of the word over 50 times! Consider three forms of discipline God wants in our lives.
Discipline for Correction
Sometimes God uses discipline to set us straight. Solomon said, “Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense” (Proverbs 15:32). Just like children, we all need correction from time to time. We are prone to wander from God’s principles and precepts. We are often unaware of what’s best, and we walk into traps. At such times, our Father steps in to save us. He sends a trial, a warning, a person, an emotion, or a hardship to make us aware of our folly. Some may think that such rebukes are unloving. On the contrary, they are evidence that God indeed loves us. Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19).
Discipline for Conditioning
On other occasions, God uses discipline to train us, to build us up in our faith. In this sense, discipline is similar to that which an athlete might engage in before a major event. Think about a world class road cyclist. An elite rider commits to a strict diet and an intense training regimen. He or she logs thousands of miles to prepare for big events like the Tour de France. God similarly uses spiritual discipline in our lives. He encourages us to commit to spiritual exercise so that we might be strengthened in the faith. The Bible says, “For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
Discipline for Consecration
Lastly, God uses discipline to make us holy. Think about it — His overall purpose for humanity involves people knowing Him and making Him known (Genesis 1:26-27). If our lives are contaminated by the sinful patterns of fallen humanity, His image is marred. Rest assured, He will discipline us in order to make us more holy. The author of Hebrews said that God chastens us “for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Dr. Patrick Latham