Do you ever find yourself repeating the same things over and over to your children? When my kids were little, I often said "No" more times than I could count. Another favorite was "don't touch." These days, a phrase I often resort to is "because I said so." My kids don't like that phrase because it means the conversation is over. They view it as a cop-out, as a reason that's not actually a reason.
I figure one day, they'll have kids of their own and then they'll understand why I say it.
The Lord's Discipline
But these conversations I have with my children about rules and consequences, discipline and authority, often highlight for me my own heart and my own response to the way God works in my life. In truth, I find myself resistant to God's training and discipline. I find myself saying what my kids often say, "It's not fair." When hardships, trials, disappointments, and challenges come my way, I see them as things to avoid or resist or to find my way around. Other times, I look at hardships and challenges in my life as punishment for something I've done wrong. Or I wasn't good enough at something and God is disappointed with me.
Seldom do I pause to consider, "What might God be doing here? What might he want me to learn? How is he using this situation to make me more like Christ?"
The author to the Hebrews wrote to Jewish believers a letter exhorting them to persevere and run their race of faith with endurance. He taught them that Christ was greater than Moses, angels, and priests. He pointed them to Christ's sufferings for their sake and urged them to look to him in the face of their own trials and sufferings.
In chapter 11, we have the hall of faith, a list of saints who lived by faith, most of whom did not see their reward in this life. Then, in chapter 12, the writer encouraged them not to grow weary in their own race of faith. He wrote about God's discipline, and encouraged them to cast aside their sin and stay in the race, remembering the gospel and what Jesus did for them. Because it's easy to grow weary, he reminded them of who they were as children of God.
Quoting Proverbs 3, the author wrote:
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" (Hebrews 12:5-6).
As believers, sometimes we take God's discipline lightly. We don't take it seriously. We dismiss it or overlook it. In doing so, we make light of God. We shrug our shoulders at sin as though it's not that big of a deal. But it is a big deal, such a big deal that Jesus came to die for our sins.
Other times, we may grow weary of the Lord's discipline. We may respond with despair. We might fret or worry about it. We may give up the fight in our battle against sin and think it's just too hard. We may come to the point where we despise the Lord's discipline in our lives and in so doing, we miss out on the good things God is doing in and through it.
The writer to the Hebrews cautions us against these responses. Instead, we need to look at the Lord's discipline as a good thing.
The Good Discipline of God
Why is God's discipline good?
It is good because it comes from our Father: "God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (vv. 7-8). God doesn't punish us for our sins; rather, Jesus took our punishment for us at the cross. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
So when hardship or trials enter our lives, it's not God punishing us for something we've done —though we may experience the natural result or outcome of sinful behavior, but not punishment. Instead, God disciplines or trains us because we are his children. This refers to our sonship, our adoption as children in the family of God. While earthly parents discipline their children as they think is best, our Father in heaven always disciplines us for our good. His discipline is always perfect, right, and true. He knows exactly what we need. He knows the best circumstances, lessons, challenges, and training methods. When God disciplines us, it is a sign of our adoption, a sign that we are legitimate children of God.
As Matthew Henry wrote concerning this passage: "That it is a fatherly correction; it comes not from his vindictive justice as a Judge, but his wise affection as a Father. The father corrects the son whom he loves, nay, and because he loves him and desires he may be wise and good... This is a great comfort to God’s children, under their afflictions...That they not only consist with, but flow from, covenant-love."
It is good because it has an eternal purpose: "For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (vv. 10-11). God's discipline has to do with our holiness, in making us like Christ. It has an eternal purpose; God is preparing us for heaven. Just as preparation for a race involves hard work and sometimes even painful moments as our bodies resist the push to go faster and harder, there is hard work involved in our spiritual training. Sometimes painful work. As God strips away our sinful desires, longings, thoughts, behaviors, and habits, it will hurt at times. But ultimately, it will produce a harvest of righteousness. Like a runner who rejoices when they arrive at the finish line, we too will rejoice when we see the end result of God's discipline: our holiness.
When we find ourselves weary from discipline, when we are tempted to avoid, shrug off, or even despise God's discipline, we need to look to Christ, "the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (v. 2). He will see to it that we endure, that we make it to the finish line. And when we do, we'll marvel and wonder at his grace. We'll rejoice when we see who we've become. So don't give up; keep running.