On Discipline and Punishment (part 1)

Dear Reader,

I have been thinking about how God disciplines His children. Often it seems we think we are being punished by God. When something goes wrong, we ask what we have done wrong that God brought this upon us. And sometimes, but not always, I do think that the trials we experience are in response to our sins. But this is not punishment. Jesus has borne the full punishment of our sins. I cannot think that God would punish His people again when He sent His Son to bear that punishment.

So why do we experience trials? Why are there still negative consequences to our sin? It is because though God has taken the punishment, He still disciplines His children. Punishment it punitive. It seeks to punish but not to reform. Discipline seeks to change the one being disciplined. Discipline is about teaching and molding. They may often look the same, especially from the outside. But the goal and the attitude of the punisher/discipliner are different.

I do not think that every hard time we experience is a direct result of some sin on our part, though this may certainly be the case. Sometimes God is addressing something more intangible, a wrong attitude or a sinful streak in us rather than specific sins. Sometimes, like Job, we do not seem to be at fault. But neither are any of us perfect. And so God, like a potter, keeps molding us like clay. He is always at work in our lives. Sometimes He seems to be concentrating on us more than others. The molding of our characters is usually a painful process. We do not generally want to change. The sin nature still in us resist God’s shaping. Our instinct when trouble hits is to think that God is far from us. But it is through our difficulties that He most shapes us into the people He wants us to be. Few of us learn much from the times of ease and pleasure. The fire is necessary to refine characters as it refines gold. The gold that sits on the shelf may not feel the heat but neither does it become any purer. And this is ultimately what God wants from us: purity, holiness.

So God does not punish His people. Indeed He has taken on their punishment. But He does discipline them, continually shaping them as a potter shapes clay. Discipline is often unpleasant, but it has purpose and it works toward a goal. Even if we recognize that God is working in our lives in the hard times, I think we often assume that there is some particular lesson He wants to teach us. Some theological point we have to get or some particular sin we need to conquer and if we just get the point, He will back off and our troubles will subside. And this may occasionally be the case. But more often I think God is trying to form us (as a potter shapes clay again; it is a biblical analogy and very apt). It is not that we will come out on the other side with one more theological lesson under our belts or one more sin conquered. It is that our shape will be changed. It may not be something we can name and put a label on. But if discipline serves its purpose, we will become just a little holier, a little more sanctified. And then if we are lucky, He gives us a little respite before the next lesson begins. Because we have a long way to go.



One response to this post.

  1. […] obviously this is  follow-up to part 1. In the first part I talked about how God disciplines His children. When God chastises us or sends […]


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