Chasticement and discipline of the Lord
Question: “What does it mean to be chastened? How does God chasten us?”
Answer: Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (KJV). Another word for “chasten” is “discipline.” The passage goes on to quote Proverbs 3:11-12, which says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proper discipline is a proof of love.
Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as a Father. Those who have received Jesus as Savior are His children (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26). He uses the analogy of father/son because we understand it. He compares Himself to a loving father who not only blesses but disciplines His beloved children for their own good. Hebrews 12 goes on to show that those who do not receive God’s discipline are not legitimate children (verse 8). A loving father carefully watches his son, and when that son defies his orders and heads for danger, the father disciplines him to keep him safe. God does that with us. When a born-again child of God heads for sin or refuses to resist temptation, our Heavenly Father brings chastening into his life to direct him back to holiness.
Chastening can come in the form of guilty feelings, unpleasant circumstances, loss of peace, relationship fractures, or any number of negative consequences for choosing sin. Sometimes, the chastening of the Lord can be physical illness or even death (1 Corinthians 11:30).
Often, people ask if God is “punishing” them for wrong choices in the past. All our punishment for sin was exhausted upon Jesus on the cross (Romans 5:9). The wrath of God was poured out on Him so that for those who are “in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) no wrath remains. When we give our lives to Christ, our Substitute for sin, our sin is forgiven and God remembers it no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:15-18). However, often, our wrong choices in the past have brought about unpleasant consequences now. God does not necessarily remove the natural consequences of sin when we repent. Those consequences are tools God can use to teach us, to prevent us from repeating the same mistakes, and to remind us of God’s grace.
Examples of chastening are found throughout the Bible. The Israelites were continually disobeying God’s commands (Numbers 14:21-23; Judges 2:1-2; 2 Kings 18:12). He was patient with them, He sent prophets to plead with them, and He warned them many times. But when they dug in their heels and embraced idols or evil practices, God brought chastening upon them in the form of plagues or enemy attacks (Jeremiah 40:3). He still loved them, and in His love He could not allow them to continue in behavior that would destroy them.
There are many examples of personal chastening in the Bible, as well, even upon those in whom the Lord most delighted—Moses (Numbers 27:12), David (1 Chronicles 28:3), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:11), to name a few. Notice that, although these men made mistakes and were chastened for them, God did not stop loving or using them. He brought discipline appropriate to the crime, but always forgave the truly repentant heart. God always restored the relationship.
When we sin, we can expect that our loving Heavenly Father will not let us get away with it. Because He loves us, He desires us to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16; Romans 8:29). If someone professes to know Christ but is living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin and claims to “feel fine about it,” with no qualms, then that person is not a legitimate child of God (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-11; Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12; I John 3:4-12). God “punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).
Question: “If Jesus paid the price for our sin, why do we still suffer the consequences of our sin?”
Answer: The Bible gives the good news that Jesus paid the price for our sin (Ephesians 1:7), yet in many ways we still suffer the consequences of our sins. For example, a drug dealer may become a Christian in prison,but that doesn’t mean he will be released from prison the next day—he will still experience the consequencesof his past sin. A born-again Christian who falls into adultery may lose his family, his career, etc.—even after he confesses and forsakes his sin, the consequences of his sin remain. Coming to Christ does not erase the temporal effects of sin; rather, our salvation guarantees that we will not face the penalty of sin.
The consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). As sinners, we deserve to be eternally separated from God and His holiness. On the cross Christ paid the penalty of our sin with His own blood. He who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the basis of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, those who believe are no longer under God’s condemnation (Romans 8:1).
It’s important to understand that, when the believer in Christ experiences consequences for sin, it is notbecause he is under God’s condemnation (Romans 8:1), His wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9), or His retribution (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Believers are under God’s grace (Romans 6:15). Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself (Isaiah 53:10). Sin’s consequences still experienced by believers could be classified in one of these ways:
Universal consequences. Some of sin’s consequences are experienced perpetually by every human being on earth, because we are all children of Adam. We all have weeds growing in our gardens, we all face natural disasters, we all get sick and grow old, and we all eventually die physically (Romans 5:12). As sinners living in a sinful world, there’s no avoiding these consequences of original sin.
Natural consequences. We live in a world of cause and effect, where the law of sowing and reaping is in full effect. Some of sin’s consequences are built-in and practically guaranteed, no matter if the sinner is saved or unsaved. The Bible warns that sexual immorality is a sin committed against one’s own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). If you steal something, you should expect to get caught and face the natural consequences that follow the sin of theft. If you resist arrest when you get caught, you pile on more consequences.ie Sowing and reaping.
Instructional consequences. Very likely, God allows some of sin’s consequences to remain in our lives to teach us the heinous nature of sin and to remind us to depend upon God’s grace. Sin is a serious enough problem for God to have sent His Son into the world to die. We dare not take sin lightly. In the face of sin’s consequences, we humble ourselves and seek God’s kingdom and righteousness all the more (see Matthew 6:33). When Ananias and Sapphira were disciplined for their sin, it was instructive for the church: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (Acts 5:11). See also 1 Corinthians 5:5and 1 Timothy 1:20.
Disciplinary consequences. Some of sin’s consequences are the result of God’s treating us as a father should his children. There’s a difference between a penalty for sin and discipline for sin. As God’s children, we experience disciplinedesigned to guide us back to the right path. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:5–6; cf. Proverbs 3:11–12). Note how many of God’s children undergo discipline: “everyone” (Hebrews 12:8). We are all wayward at times. God’s purpose in allowing us to experience disciplinary consequences of sin, true to His nature, is perfect: “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
The church of Corinth provides an example of Christians facing the disciplinary consequences of their sin: in partaking of the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner, they brought God’s displeasure: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). We see similar disciplinary action taken in 2 Samuel 12. Even after David confessed his sin and was forgiven, God allowed certain consequences to befall David and his household (verses 11–14).
God allows us to experience some of the temporal consequences of sin to show His love for us. If God never disciplined His straying children, He would not be a good Father. If we were never disciplined or never suffered the consequences for our wrong action, we would never learn right from wrong. We tend to learn from our mistakes more readily than we learn from our successes.
Praise the Lord for His goodness. He allows us to experience the temporal consequences of sin (for our own good). But He has saved us from the eternal consequences of sin. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so we will never experience the second death, which is the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Believers in Christ are promised that the curse and consequences of sin will be completely removed one day, and “nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9, NLT).
Question: “Does God punish us when we sin?”
Answer: For believers in Jesus, all our sin—past, present, and future—has already been judged on the cross. As Christians, we will never be condemned for our sin. That was done once for all: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Because of the sacrifice of Christ, God sees only the righteousness of Christ when He looks at us. Our sin has been nailed to the cross with Jesus, and we will never be “punished” for it, in the sense of being condemned. At the same time, God does discipline His children when they err, as any good father would. So it could be said that Christians are “punished” for sin, but only in the sense of being lovingly disciplined. The remainder of this article will refer to “discipline” to avoid the suggestion that Christians receive “punishment” (condemnation) from God for their sin.
If we continue to act in sinful ways and we do not repent and turn from that sin, God brings His divine discipline to bear upon us. If He did not, He would not be a loving and concerned Father. Just as we discipline our own children for their welfare, so does our heavenly Father lovingly correct His children for their benefit. Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us, “As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
Discipline, then, is how God lovingly turns His children from rebellion to obedience. Through discipline our eyes are opened more clearly to God’s perspective on our lives. As King David stated in Psalm 32, discipline causes us to confess and repent of sin we have not yet dealt with. In this way discipline is cleansing. It is also a growth catalyst. The more we know about God, the more we know about His desires for our lives. Discipline presents us with the opportunity to learn and to conform ourselves to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Discipline is a good thing!
We need to remember that sin is a constant in our lives while we are yet on this earth (Romans 3:10, 23). Therefore, we not only have to deal with God’s discipline for our disobedience, but we also have to deal with the natural consequences resulting from sin. If a believer steals something, God will forgive him and cleanse him from the sin of theft, restoring fellowship between Himself and the repentant thief. However, the societal consequences of theft can be severe, resulting in fines or even incarceration. These are natural consequences of sin and must be endured. But God works even through those consequences to increase our faith and glorify Himself.
Question: “When, why, and how does the Lord God discipline us when we sin?”
Answer: The Lord’s discipline is an often-ignored fact of life for believers. We often complain about our circumstances without realizing that they are the consequences of our own sin and are a part of the Lord’s loving and gracious discipline for that sin. This self-centered ignorance can contribute to the formation of habitual sin in a believer’s life, incurring even greater discipline.
Discipline is not to be confused with cold-hearted punishment. The Lord’s discipline is a response of His love for us and His desire for each of us to be holy. “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12; see also Hebrews 12:5-11). God will use testing, trials, and various predicaments to bring us back to Himself in repentance. The result of His discipline is a stronger faith and a renewed relationship with God (James 1:2-4), not to mention destroying the hold that particular sin had over us.
The Lord’s discipline works for our own good, that He might be glorified with our lives. He wants us to exhibit lives of holiness, lives that reflect the new nature that God has given us: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Question: “How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?”
Answer: The Bible presents several different resources to aid us in our effort to overcome sin. In this lifetime, we will never be perfectly victorious over sin (1 John 1:8), but that should still be our goal. With God’s help, and by following the principles of His Word, we can progressively overcome sin and become more and more like Christ.
The first resource the Bible mentions in our effort to overcome sin is the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Holy Spirit so we can be victorious in Christian living. God contrasts the deeds of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-25. In that passage we are called upon to walk in the Spirit. All believers already possess the Holy Spirit, but this passage tells us that we need to walk in the Spirit, yielding to His control. This means choosing to consistently follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting in our lives rather than following the flesh.
The difference the Holy Spirit can make is demonstrated in the life of Peter, who, before being filled with the Holy Spirit, denied Jesus three times—and this after he had said he would follow Christ to the death. After being filled with the Spirit, he spoke openly and strongly to the Jews at Pentecost.
We walk in the Spirit as we try not to quench the Spirit’s promptings (as spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 5:19) and seek instead to be filled with the Spirit—that is, to be fully under the Spirit’s control (Ephesians 5:18–21). How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? If sin is what grieves the Spirit and hinders His filling, then obedience to God is how the filling of the Spirit is maintained. We should pray that we be filled with the Spirit, immerse ourselves in God’s Word (Colossians 3:16), and walk in obedience to God’s commands. This gives the Spirit freedom to work within our thoughts and actions.
The Word of God, the Bible, says that God has given us His Word to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It teaches us how to live and what to believe, it reveals to us when we have chosen wrong paths, it helps us get back on the right path, and it helps us to stay on that path. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is living and powerful, able to penetrate to our hearts to root out and overcome the deepest sins of heart and attitude. The psalmist talks about its life-changing power in-depth in Psalm 119. Joshua was told that the key to success in overcoming his enemies was not to forget this resource but instead to meditate on it day and night and obey it. This he did, even when what God commanded did not make sense militarily, and this was the key to his victory in his battles for the Promised Land.
The Bible is a resource that we too often treat lightly. We give token service to it by carrying our Bibles to church or reading a daily devotional or a chapter a day, but we fail to memorize it, meditate on it, or apply it to our lives; we fail to confess the sins it reveals or praise God for the gifts it reveals to us. When it comes to the Bible, we are often either anorexic or bulimic. We either take in just enough to keep us alive spiritually by eating from the Word (but never ingesting enough to be healthy, thriving Christians), or we come to feed often but never meditate on it long enough to get spiritual nutrition from it.
It is important, if you have not made a habit of daily studying and memorizing God’s Word, that you begin to do so. Some find it helpful start a journal. Make it a habit not to leave the Word until you have written down something you have gained from it. Some record prayers to God, asking Him to help them change in the areas that He has spoken to them about. The Bible is the tool the Spirit uses in our lives (Ephesians 6:17), an essential and major part of the armor that God gives us to fight our spiritual battles (Ephesians 6:12-18).
A third crucial resource in our battle against sin is prayer. Again, it is a resource that Christians often give lip service to but make poor use of. We have prayer meetings, times of prayer, etc., but we do not use prayer in the same way as the early church (Acts 3:1; 4:31; 6:4; 13:1-3). Paul repeatedly mentions how he prayed for those he ministered to. God has given us wonderful promises concerning prayer (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1-8; John 6:23-27; 1 John 5:14-15), and Paul includes prayer in his passage on preparing for spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:18).
How important is prayer to overcoming sin in our lives? We have Christ’s words to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before Peter’s denial. As Jesus prays, Peter is sleeping. Jesus wakes him and says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). We, like Peter, want to do what is right but are not finding the strength. We need to follow God’s admonition to keep seeking, keep knocking, keep asking—and He will give us the strength that we need (Matthew 7:7). Prayer is not a magic formula. Prayer is simply acknowledging our own limitations and God’s inexhaustible power and turning to Him for that strength to do what He wants us to do, not what we want to do (1 John 5:14-15).
A fourth resource in our war to conquer sin is the church, the fellowship of other believers. When Jesus sent His disciples out, He sent them out two-by-two (Mark 6:7). The missionaries in Acts did not go out one at a time, but in groups of two or more. The Bible commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together but to use that time for encouraging one another in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). It tells us to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16). In the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, we are told that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). There is strength in numbers (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).
Many Christians find that having an accountability partner can be a huge benefit in overcoming stubborn sins. Having another person who can talk with you, pray with you, encourage you, and even rebuke you is of great value. Temptation is common to us all (1 Corinthians 10:13). Having an accountability partner or an accountability group can give us the final dose of encouragement and motivation we need to overcome even the most stubborn of sins.
Sometimes victory over sin comes quickly. Other times, victory comes more slowly. God has promised that as we make use of His resources, He will progressively bring about change in our lives. We can persevere in our efforts to overcome sin because we know that He is faithful to His promises.
Question: “How can I overcome temptation?”
Answer: The Scriptures tell us that we all face temptations. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” Perhaps this provides a little encouragement as we often feel that the world is bearing in on us alone, and that others are immune to temptations. We are told that Christ was also tempted: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Where, then, do these temptations come from? First of all, they do not come from God, although He does allow them. James 1:13 says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” In the first chapter of Job, we see that God allowed Satan to tempt Job, but with restrictions. Satan is roaming on the earth like a lion, seeking people to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Verse 9 tells us to resist him, knowing that other Christians are also experiencing his attacks. By these passages we can know that temptations come from Satan. We see in James 1:14 that temptation originates in us as well. We are tempted when we are “carried away and enticed by our own lust” (verse 14). We allow ourselves to think certain thoughts, allow ourselves to go places we should not go, and make decisions based on our lusts that lead us into the temptation.
How then do we resist the temptations? First of all, we must return to the example of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan in Matthew 4:1-11. Each of Satan’s temptations was met with the same answer: “It is written,” followed by Scripture. If the Son of God used the Word of God to effectively end the temptations—which we know works because after three failed efforts, “the Devil left him” (v. 11)—how much more do we need to use it to resist our own temptations? All our efforts to resist will be weak and ineffective unless they are powered by the Holy Spirit through the constant reading, studying, and meditating on the Word. In this way, we will be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). There is no other weapon against temptation except the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” If our minds are filled with the latest TV shows, music, and all the rest the culture has to offer, we will be bombarded with messages and images that inevitably lead to sinful lusts. But if our minds are filled with the majesty and holiness of God, the love and compassion of Christ, and the brilliance of both reflected in His perfect Word, we will find that our interest in the lusts of the world diminish and disappear. But without the Word’s influence on our minds, we are open to anything Satan wants to throw at us.
Here, then, is the only means to guard our hearts and minds in order to keep the sources of temptation away from us. Remember the words of Christ to His disciples in the garden on the night of His betrayal: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Most Christians would not openly want to jump into sin, yet we cannot resist falling into it because our flesh is not strong enough to resist. We place ourselves in situations or fill our minds with lustful passions, and that leads us into sin.
We need to renew our thinking as we are told in Romans 12:1-2. We must no longer think as the world thinks or walk in the same way that the world walks. Proverbs 4:14-15 tells us, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by; Turn away from it and pass on.” We need to avoid the path of the world that leads us into temptation because our flesh is weak. We are easily carried away by our own lusts.
Matthew 5:29 has some excellent advice. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw if from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” That sounds severe! Sin is severe! Jesus is not saying that we literally need to remove body parts. Cutting out the eye is a drastic measure, and Jesus is teaching us that if necessary, a drastic measure should be taken to avoid sin