by Del Tackett
When I was 16, I wrecked my father’s brand new car. It was the only time he ever “switched” me. But I deserved it, because if I had been more attentive, it wouldn’t have happened. One of the few times I had to spank my children was when they were playing with fire in the shed and almost burned it down—and with it possibly our house and others’. I wasn’t “punishing” them; I was training them with words of admonition coupled with a “memory moment”.
Unfortunately, we often equate “discipline” with punishment. But punishment and discipline are radically different. Punishment is meant to somehow extract a “payment” for what was done… a form of retribution or a leveling of the books or scales. Discipline, on the other hand, has a fruitful purpose and objective in mind… a means of training or molding the person into someone better.
Consider 1 John 4:17-18
"By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."
This is interesting: “…fear involves punishment”.
John is obviously talking here about a fear of “punishment” instead of the reverent “fear” that one has before a holy and omnipotent God. Under God’s grace, the entirety of His wrath, reserved for us, was poured out upon Jesus. As a result, there’s nothing left for us to be “punished” for. If punishment is a means by which we “pay” for what we’ve done, then punishment would never be able to “save” us from out sins, for you and I are hopelessly unable to pay for even the smallest breach of God’s holiness. What? Am I to think that maybe 10 years in prison would pay for my sins? What about 100 years? If so, I think too little of my sin and too little of God’s holiness. This is why those who are not in Christ will be separated from God for eternity. I suppose one could say that even after an eternity, there is still an eternity of payment left.
This is why Jesus had to pay for ALL of it.
And, that is why it is called “good news”.
For if Jesus had paid only part of our penalty, even as much as 99.999999% of it, the balance due from us would be infinitely more than we could ever “pay”, no matter how severe or deep… or long the punishment.
There is no fear in true agape love, John tells us, because there is no punishment remaining. And, that is why he says we will have confidence in the day of judgment. Not a confidence in ourselves, but in the radical grace of God. So if you still live your life in fear of punishment before God, then there are two possibilities: 1) you have never really come to know Him and the grace of His love; or 2) you may be in Christ, but you have yet to fully understand His grace, believing the lie that you must pay for some part of your sins, or that you have to “balance them out” through good works.
This is foolish, for we can do neither. Who are we to believe that our “punishment” is sufficient to pay for even smallest portion of our sin or that our most ardent attempts at righteousness are sufficient to make us holy?
When you pull your salvation back under the law, Paul refers to this as “falling away from grace” for you have left the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work, placing yourself back under the “curse” of the law, which can only condemn. Because our “righteousness is as filthy rags” in the presence of a Holy God, any punishment is insufficient payment for the depth of our unholiness. Only One can make us holy; only One can pay for our sins. And that Someone is Christ, accomplished through His propitiation.
Oh, my! How deep is the love of God and how rich is His grace towards us! We are in awe of His amazing grace, poured out upon us without any merit of our own… nothing in which we can boast.
However… though we are made righteous in the sight of God through Christ’s work, yet we still live and walk in this world, a son of Adam, burdened with a sinful nature that is contrary to the Lord’s will. Therefore, we stray… we sin… we fall woefully short. Yet, we remain as His children. And God, as a good Father, treats us as true sons and not as illegitimate. And because of this, He disciplines us:
“… you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives...” Hebrews 12:5-6
The Greek word here for “discipline” is “paideia”. This is a very, very interesting word and we must take the time to examine what it means.
The Greeks believed the individual should be molded into the “ideal”. The word “paideia” was used to describe the means by which the individual was to be trained and molded into this ideal. It carried the notion of perfection or excellence in intellectual, moral and physical characteristics… the model Greek.
The Scripture uses this term in all of the New Testament passages that refer to God’s disciplinary actions toward us. He is not punishing us, but he is training us, molding us, forming and transforming us more and more into the likeness of the ultimate Ideal, Christ.
It is spurred on by an affectionate zeal to enhance, not by a punitive fist.
This is why Christ says in Revelation 3:19
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent."
The discipline of the Lord shapes us, so that we grow in the right direction, just as one would prune a Bonsai tree into a desired form. Or as the vinedresser, He prunes us like a grape vine so that we might produce more fruit:
“… He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." Hebrews 12: 10-11
As earthly fathers, we are enjoined to do the same:
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4
Why? Because we desire our children to be fruitful, to flourish, to bring God glory in all they do. This is what true discipline seeks and this is the discipline the Lord uses to form us more and more into His Ideal.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training [root: paideia] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age… “ Titus 2:11-12
And though there are physical manifestations of this in our life as God acts through the events around us, it is entirely possible that the primary means of discipline is through the work of the Spirit of Truth as we read His word:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training [root: paideia] in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
God wants to form us into children who are “complete, equipped for every good work”. He uses the Word and the discipline that comes through it to achieve this.
So, we rejoice! For if God did not discipline us, then we would not be His children. Or, another way to put it is this: when you become the child of the King, you will then be subject to His carving and pruning tools… a discipline that is motivated by true agape love.
Don’t kick back at Him. Be thankful in the midst of His discipline.
Ponder these verses throughout this week:
Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. Deuteronomy 8:5
“For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you. Psalm 50:17
My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof… Proverbs 3:11
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:1
A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. Proverbs 13:1
Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored. Proverbs 13:18
He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding. Proverbs 15:32
Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Proverbs 19:20
Apply your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge. Proverbs 23:12
But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:32
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:4-13