Not many of us like discipline, whether that is from parents, teachers, work bosses, etc. so why should that be any different when God corrects us?
How does God discipline us and what are the signs of God’s discipline?
Does God put us into hardships?
Then what about the really difficult subject of ‘Does God discipline us with sickness or even death?
The most important thing is that God is a loving and kind Father who disciplines His children for their good.
We will explore this topic now: How does God discipline us?
1. Discipline is not the same as condemnation
We may have very negative views of discipline, whether that was from a drunk father, the headmaster at school, or some other bad authority figure.
For a number of people, discipline means a ‘guilty’ verdict being proclaimed over their life.
But God’s discipline comes from a pure, perfect Fatherly heart that wants to bring out the best in us.
And it is extremely important to know that a believer who has Jesus as their robe of righteousness will never hear the ‘guilty’ verdict:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”Romans 8:1 ESV
Discipline has to do with training and growth; condemnation has to do with punishment and guilt. 1
2. When does God discipline us?
In the Bible, we see the Galatian church being disciplined by the apostle Paul.
Basically, they were trying to work for their salvation and Paul sternly rebukes the Christians:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?Galatians 3:1-3 ESV
It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?“
Was this harsh that God, through Paul, disciplined the Galatian church?
No, it would have been disastrous if they had not been turned from that fleshly direction.
Do we realise that the Lord disciplines us?
All those difficult situations that come our way, could actually be God disciplining us, or training us.
Have you ever seen a Grandma, or ‘Nanny’, who is totally besotted with her grandchild?
She may be talking to a neighbour, and the child walks up to her and immediately interrupts.
The Grandma deals patiently with all the child’s demands.
The child goes off, then returns, and immediately stops the conversation with the neighbour.
Again she answers the child’s demands.
All that love and attention is good, but the child can become spoilt.
Loving correction and discipline can be missing.
But God doesn’t spoil us to our harm.
He has the right balance of love and discipline. Hebrews tells us:
My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.Hebrews 12:5-11 NIV
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
For what son is not disciplined by his father?
If you are not disciplined, and everyone undergoes discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.
How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.“
If we can learn these lessons, then life will make more sense when we are in difficult times.
Let’s persevere in our hardships.
3. How was Job in the Bible disciplined and corrected?
God’s discipline has a positive side which steers someone to behave in a godly way.
God’s discipline also has a negative aspect, in that a situation can be used to correct disobedience.
Both these disciplines can be tough.
One of the hardest situations to read within the Bible is the story of Job.
The trials that Job endured were not a punishment for sin:
The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’Job 1:7-8 ESV
Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’
And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?‘ ”
The Lord could see something which needed changing, but the Lord still said to Satan that Job was “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.”
The Lord was disciplining Job and he emerged from his trial a more godly man, he ended up confessing to the Lord:
I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.Job 42:2-6 NIV
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise** myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
The word translated here as despise** is מָאַס (ma.as) which means ‘to reject’.
Perhaps Job was saying that he was now rejecting his fleshy thoughts and taking on God’s thoughts and he was seeing the Lord in a more true sense.
So the answer to, ‘When does God discipline us’ is whenever a believer needs some correction to put them back on course.
It may be a little tweak or a massive shove.
Either way, the One doing it is our heavenly Father who knows everything about us and who is doing the correction out of pure love.
4. Does God discipline us with sickness or even death?
God, as our loving Father, does not put sickness and death upon His children.
But that is not the complete answer, we need to look at Job’s life again in more detail.
From Job chapter one we see Satan, as head of the invisible forces of evil – also known as the devil, come before God.
These invisible forces are described by Paul:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.“
Satan had been watching Job, a godly man, and Satan just wanted to steal from him, kill him, or destroy him. [John 10:10]
That is his plan for Job.
But God has a much more detailed, hidden plan for Job and this will involve discipline.
So Satan comes before God and the Lord brings Job into the conversation: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” [Job 1:8]
At this Satan complains that he cannot get at Job because he has God’s protection around him – like some invisible forcefield.
So Satan, still seeking a way to destroy Job, says:
Does Job fear God for no reason?Job 1:9-11 ESV
Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?
You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.
But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
This did not come as a surprise to the Lord, because it was all part of His plan for correcting Job.
Can death be part of God’s discipline?
So, following on from the previous paragraphs, the Lord said to Satan about Job, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” [Job 1:12]
At this Satan does some extreme things:
- The Sabeans stole Job’s oxen and donkeys.
- A fireball fell upon his sheep and some servants.
- The Chaldeans stole his camels.
- A storm flattened the house where Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and they all died.
Job then does an amazing thing:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.Job 1:20-22 ESV
And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
So, at this point, Job passes an incredible test, but Job has not been refined or corrected.
Many people may say that is grossly unfair of God to kill the sons and daughters just so Job gets corrected on an issue in his life.
But that is forgetting that God knows everyone’s hearts and there must be another story within this story.
That story is about Job’s sons and daughters:
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.Job 1:4-5 ESV
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all.
For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.”
I’ve got some thoughts about this situation:
Why didn’t Job and his wife go to the parties that lasted for days?
Perhaps he did not agree with the revelry, the self-indulgence, the drunkenness and he did not want to be a part of it.
Job, as their father, was definitely concerned about these festivities and was worried enough to consecrate them and offer burnt offerings the following day.
But, if they were displeasing the Lord in the way they were behaving, would Job’s sacrifices be enough, surely they would need to acknowledge their wrongs and turn from their sins.
This situation reminds me of Eli’s sons who served as priests but who were openly blaspheming the Lord.
The young prophet, Samuel, had to give God’s words to Eli.
The Lord tells Samuel:
And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.1 Samuel 3:13-14 ESV
Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Eli’s situation was worse because his sons were in a position of responsibility representing the Lord and they were openly mocking God, therefore Eli was held more accountable for this situation because he did nothing to confront them.
Shortly after this, Eli’s sons got killed by the Philistines who stole the Ark of the Covenant.
When Eli was told that the Ark had been stolen and his sons were dead, Eli fell backwards in shock and died.
Job’s sons and daughters must have been rebelling against God for them to be killed like that. God had removed His protection from them for a reason.
In God’s Providence, He is able to do this while at the same time, correcting Job.
So, notice that God allows Satan to carry out the execution whilst Satan is thinking that he was just carrying out his own wicked schemes.
So can God discipline us with a death close to us?
Yes, but if that is the case, it will be part of a bigger picture.
Also, we live in a fallen world where death, ill health, accidents, etc. do happen and it is foolish to try to see why.
If God is disciplining us, then we will have an inkling otherwise how can we be corrected?
Many situations may happen around us, but for most of them, we just need to accept that we live in a corrupted world where these things happen.
Can sickness be part of God’s discipline?
For most of us, sickness, diseases, cancer, and ailments occur because we live in a fallen world that is not perfect, where there is pain, suffering and death.
But sometimes God will allow sickness into a situation to correct us.
Let’s continue looking at Job’s account in the Bible:
Satan has tried a very heavy attack and Job comes through it by worshipping God and surrendering to Him.
So Satan appears before the Lord again and God says:
Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited** me against him to ruin him without any reason.’Job 2:3-7 NIV
‘Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life.
But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’
The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.”
The Hebrew word translated as ‘incited**’ is סוּת (sut) also means ‘to urge’. An example of this is: “When she came to him, she urged** him to ask her father for a field.” [Joshua 15:18].
It was not that by Satan’s trickery, he was able to manipulate God.
The outcome of Satan’s deeds was a miserable situation for Job.
Job’s three friends did not improve Job’s suffering and they were not good for him because they blamed him for sinning and according to them, that was why he was now suffering.
This went on for a long time until finally:
So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.Job 32:1-3 NIV
But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God.
He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.”
Elihu had his say, then at that point, God sent a storm and He spoke to Job from out of the storm.
Job suddenly saw the Lord’s greatness and he felt humbled.
God had corrected Job’s heart through discipline and he was in a far better place than before.
God had disciplined Job through an illness that Satan had afflicted upon him.
We must realise that this is unusual and that most sicknesses are just the result of living within a fallen, corrupted world and have nothing to do with the Lord’s discipline.
If we are being disciplined by the Lord, we will kind of know that we are being disciplined, otherwise it would not be discipline.
5. Blessed is the one whom God disciplines
The tough situation that hits us, is not something which is a waste of time, or something which has no relevance to our spiritual life, it may be the Lord either training us or disciplining us.
It could also be for the proving of our faith, but we’ll look at that in a different study.
The situation may be tough, but it is helpful to see that it is a hand of love that corrects us, for our good.
It is not the arm of judgment sent to destroy us.
But why does the Lord put us through these hardships? Why this discipline?
The answer is so that we can share in His Holiness!
We are being refined, which is not always a pleasant experience.
Remember, it is the pure in heart who will see God. (See Matthew 5:8)
The other benefit of being trained by the Lord’s discipline is that:
…it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”Hebrews 12:11 NIV
When the going gets tough, we weather the storms in more of a calm way.
Our feathers don’t get so ‘ruffled’, and there is more peace in our lives.
We begin to yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.Genesis 7:6 NIV
Noah was six hundred years old when the flood waters came on the earth.
And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.”
When we are born into God’s family, we have accepted Jesus as our Saviour, and God has become our Father, then, as a part of all (godly) families, training and discipline start.
We cannot live a self-centred, arrogant, aggressive life within a family, otherwise, there will be friction and divisions.
Each family has an ethos, however small or weak, on how we should behave within the family.
Within God’s family, the ethos comes from what is written within God’s Word – the Bible, and we should live submitted to that.
The Psalmist proclaims:
He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?Psalm 94:10-15 ESV
He who teaches man knowledge, the Lord, knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.
Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.
For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
Have you noticed how Jesus spoke to the people He met?
Did He say to the blind man: “If you go to the pool and wash, you will be healed.” Or, “Go! Wash in the pool of Siloam”?
Jesus told him to ‘Go!’
Many times Jesus would give a command in a gentle way. Like:
Get up, take your mat, and go home.”Matthew 9:6 NIV
How do we view God’s commands?
Our old life shies away from any commands, but as believers, we know we should be obedient.
There is always the temptation to almost fully obey.
For example, a child is told: “Go and put your plate in the kitchen!”
So the child just puts an arm into the kitchen, and puts the plate on the nearest surface, regardless of its suitability.
The child has tried to get away with the least amount of effort and thought.
The child almost fully obeyed!
What would have happened to Noah, if he had almost obeyed God, or if he had done the absolute bare minimum with a moaning spirit?
What about that blind man, Jesus told him to go to a certain pool, but if he had gone to the nearest one to wash his eyes, would he have been healed?
In the Genesis reading about God speaking to Noah, it says:
And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”Genesis 7:6 NIV
There doesn’t seem to be any reluctance there or any halfheartedness.
Are we reluctant to obey what God says to us?
Do we shrink back from the thought, that God issues His commands for us to obey them?
There are huge blessings when we decide to be obedient to the Lord.
6. What is the difference between God’s discipline and punishment?
God’s judgment at the end of time will end in punishment and regret.
Whereas discipline starts with pain and ends with peace.
Jesus spoke about God the Father being the Gardener of the Vine:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.John 15:1-8 NIV
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you.
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The terminology used is that the Gardener:
- removes the branches that do not bear fruit and
- prunes the branches that do bear fruit.
What is the difference?
A branch that is removed is one that is cut off next to the main stem so it no longer exists in the vine.
Jesus said about this person, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” [John 15:6]
This is punishment.
A branch that is pruned back has a stump from which fruit can grow.
The idea is that the vine is ‘cleaned’ because the bad branches have been cut off and the other branches have been pruned back to make them even more fruitful.
So Jesus says:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.John 15:3-4 NIV
Remain in me, as I also remain in you.
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
In our gardens, we prune our plants using secateurs.
Jesus prunes his followers, that is all believers, with his Word – the Bible.
Do we submit to what the Bible says?
References – open in new tabs:
Dazed image: thanks to Serif ART CD.
Ark image: thanks to The Pictorial Dictionary published by The Educational Book Company, London.