- To understand the difference between His temporary discipline and His eternal judgment
- To understand the purpose of the Lord’s discipline
- To be able to recognize and respond properly to His discipline when it comes into our lives
The scriptures reveal that there is a clear difference between being judged and being disciplined (corrected) by the Lord. Judgment is reserved in the future for those that rejected Christ, but discipline and correction is reserved in the present for the children of God . Just like a father with his children, occasionally discipline must be administered so that the child can grow into all the father desires for him. We are exhorted to esteem highly His discipline because of what it can produce in our lives. This discipline , when we are trained by it, causes us to change our thoughts regarding specific areas of our life which are not growing as the Lord desires. Thus the objectives of His discipline is to grow us, increase us, cause us to mature, protect us, and experience His upmost best for our lives.
What’s the difference between His discipline and His judgment?
The difference between His judgment and His discipline is the difference between a judge declaring a law breaker innocent at the expense of a law keeper willing to take his place and a father disciplining His children for their continuous disobedience.
The first situation is a legal matter where the party is spared and saved from the long term judgment they have been sentenced to for breaking the law. Indeed, it would be injustice for such a judge to not punish and convict someone for a crime committed. Jesus Christ was the substitutionary sacrifice who removed the punishment for us so that those that believe in His name would be declared innocent and free from the penalty of sin. The eternal judgment will never be our portion thanks to the shedding of His blood on our behalf and the price He paid for us. This is what is meant when the scripture says:
Hebrews 10:17 (NASB)
“AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”
As believers, it is not that God is somehow incapable of recalling our lawless deeds because of Christ. For Him to fail to recall anything, even one iota of information, is a disturbing concept that would run completely contrary to His omniscient, all-knowing nature. It is however that because of Christ He chooses not to summon them up again (remember them) in the Day of Judgment to our detriment. Therefore, we should rejoice and have full confidence in that day. Since the cross, He refuses to judge the world in any form or fashion for sin. However, His judgment and wrath will be revealed on a certain day in the future where the sins of unbelievers will be remembered:
Romans 2:5 (NIV)
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
The Father has established an age of grace for those in the earth between the time period of Christ’s crucifixion and the Day of Judgment. We are living in this glorious era today and it is completely void of His wrath. He commands us not to take revenge out on anyone because He will do so on that day of judgment. It would be injustice for someone to suffer twice (once at our hands and the other at His) for the same wrong:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
The second situation is a family matter, where no substitute can be offered, but rather where a son receives discipline to walk in the fullness and best the father has for him. Just like your neighbor cannot discipline your children for their misbehavior because they are not his own, The Lord will not discipline any one which is not His child. Because of this, His discipline in our lives reveal the reality of our sonship:
Hebrews 12:7 (NASB)
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.
Discipline comes from the hand of a selfless and loving Father (not a wrathful one) to grow us up into maturity and the stature we are destined for. In this context, although the Lord is completely mindful of our sin for the purposes of correction, there is no punishment, no eternal judgment, and no condemnation for it. In this context, He actually chooses to remember (recall) them for our ongoing benefit and advantage.
So, as a Judge He refuses to dredge up our sins again against us for eternal judgment, but as a Father He is fully aware of them so discipline and correction can be exercised if or when He chooses to do so. This is what Paul meant when he said:
1 Corinthians 11:32 (NASB)
“But when we (as believers) are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined (by undergoing His correction) so that we will not be condemned (to eternal punishment/judgment) along with the world”.
This is probably the clearest place in scripture where both the eternal judgment and discipline of the Lord are distinguished from each other. Below is a table showing the major differences between the judgment and discipline of the Lord:
Judgment and Punishment
|Discipline and Correction|
|God’s righteous anger against sin revealed||God’s radical love for us revealed|
|Judiciary context||Family context|
|The penalty produces death||The pain produces growth and life|
|Convicts a lawbreaker||Corrects a son|
|Involves God as Judge||Involves God as Father|
|Required by God’s Justice||Required only when He sees fit|
|Happens after death for those that did not receive the sacrifice of the Lamb||
Happens during this life for those that did receive the sacrifice of the Lamb
|Removed by blood and believing||Removed by repentance|
|Takes place on a certain day (for believers took place on the day of Calvary, for unbelievers will take place on a certain day in the future)||Takes place over a period of time|
The author of Hebrews goes into extensive detail regarding the subject of God’s discipline, using Proverbs 3:11-12 as scriptural reference. The Spirit of the Lord desires that we refresh our minds and not forget this exhortation:
Hebrews 12:5-6 (NASB)
And have you completely 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.”
To regard lightly the discipline of the Lord means to not esteem as highly as it should be or to take little thought of it when it occurs.
Why does He Discipline Us?
He disciplines us so that we may live and walk in His holiness:
Hebrews 12:8 (NASB)
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.
It is important for us to understand that we avoid His eternal judgment by being holy and righteous, but we avoid his discipline and correction by living holy and righteous. Let’s explore the difference.
We suddenly become holy in our innermost being by receiving and believing in Jesus Christ. By believing, our spirit is immediately perfected and reflects the image and nature of the eternal Father. This is being holy, or holiness in our being. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ allowed this to happen:
Hebrews 10:10 (NASB)
We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
As a result, we are not to fear eternal judgment, but have confidence on that day since Christ’s righteousness has been imparted to us. Just like in the temple where the Ark of the Covenant containing the tablets of the law dwelt in the Holy of Holies, Jesus Christ, in whom the law is fulfilled in, dwells on inside of us so that we, by virtue of His presence in us and without any effort on our part, are able to fully keep the righteousness requirements of the law in our spirit.
On the other hand, to live holy is the process of our thoughts, intents, and behaviors progressively reflecting the same glory of the hidden and holy nature that is on the inside of us. In this regard, we grow in holiness. That is, we become on the outside what we already are on the inside. This is what Jesus meant when He said:
Matthew 23:26 (NASB)
“First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also”.
Living holy is an ongoing process which requires a regular change in our behavior and thinking:
1 Peter 1:15 (NASB)
But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;
With this in mind, the primary purpose of His discipline is not to correct or change our spirit or our identity in Him (because it is perfect), but rather our thinking and behavior (because they are imperfect) so that how we live our lives reflect His holiness and the maturity He desires. We cannot live and walk in holiness in our own power. Holy living is a result of partnering with and yielding to the desires and power of the Spirit of the Lord:
Philippians 2:13 (NLT)
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.
Examples of Discipline in the Scriptures
I’d like to now explore several difficult New Testament examples of the Lord’s discipline in the lives of believers. Unfortunately these examples have been used for centuries as proof texts to falsely teach that when a person sins God will punish them with sickness, disease, and even death. Such dogmatic statements are erroneous. Since we have such warnings recorded, we should understand that it is not His desire to regularly use such disciplinary methods in the church today.
The primary reason the Spirit of the Lord wanted these examples recorded thousands of years ago was to warn the church (both present and future state) of the seriousness of sin inside the body of Christ. The author of Hebrews understood this when he wrote about how the children of Israel suffered in the wilderness:
1 Corinthians 10:11 (NASB)
Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.
The Lord’s discipline to the Israelites included:
- Sickness for immorality
- Serpents for testing the Lord
- The Destroyer for grumbling
He states that these happened to the Israelites as examples to warn the church yet to come (these accounts were recorded by Moses in Numbers Chapter 25 around the year 1450 B.C.). Does this mean every time we act immorally, test the Lord, or grumble, that we will suffer the same consequences? No. If that were the case, half of the church (including myself) would be in the grave. It simply means that the Lord takes these things very seriously and may choose to discipline us for them (however He wants) if we refuse His repeated warnings.
In addition to Israel’s example, the Spirit of the Lord thought it fit to record other examples of the Lord’s discipline toward believers under the new covenant. These examples are not much different than what happened to Israel, just on a much smaller scale. And just like Israel, most examples recorded occurred when a particular sin was being practiced and embraced by multiple believers together within the local church. These acts of discipline were more preventive in nature.
Example 1: The Church in Corinth
1 Corinthians 11:9-32 (NASB)
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
In this situation, a group of believers in Corinth were partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily and were being judged (disciplined) by the Lord for their behavior. As the scripture states, His judgment (discipline) upon these believers were to correct, not to condemn them. The various stages of His discipline in this example (weakness, sickness, then eventually death) indicate a progressive approach the Lord took. Some businesses and organizations use a similar tactic toward problem employees when they give a 1st, 2nd, and final warning where each subsequent warning contains a more severe consequence than the previous one (the 1st warning usually being verbal). Unfortunately, some of those in Corinth disregarded His discipline and were unwilling to change, eventually suffering harsher and harsher consequences. Does this mean that everyone who partakes of the Lord’s Supper unworthily will suffer and get sick and die? No. However, could we be corrected for it in some form or fashion? Maybe so.
Example 2: The Church in Thyatira
A very similar situation is recorded in Revelation 2, where Jesus Christ gives a message to the primary leader at the church in Thyatira. A woman attending the Church was teaching that immorality was acceptable while at the same time deceiving several men in the church to have adulterous relations with her. The grace of the Lord was clearly demonstrated, giving her time to repent. After she refused to change the Lord issued her and those that were in adultery with her a warning:
Revelations 2:20-22 (NASB)
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
The Lord’s warning of discipline included:
- A bed of suffering (sickness)
- Death (pestilence is translated ‘death’ here in the Greek)
These were the same disciplinary methods He used with the Church in Corinth. Note that it does not say that these things actually happened to them in Thyatira, but that He would cause them to happen if those involved did not repent of their ways. Jesus issued such harsh warnings to this Church so that all other churches would know that He is fully aware of all activities which take place and that nothing is hidden from His sight. Does this mean that everyone who commits adultery in the church will become sick or die? No. Would the Lord discipline such behavior if someone refused to change? Perhaps, but it would be to prevent such acts from getting worse and becoming widespread.
Example 3: Ananias and Saphira in the Church
Another New Testament example is found in the book of Acts when a man named Ananias and his wife lied about the amount of money they gave to the church. They had sold land and withheld some of the money for themselves while claiming they were giving all of it to the church:
Acts 5:4-5 (NASB)
While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
His wife arrived three hours later and lied in the same way her husband did. Her outcome became the same as his:
Acts: 5-9b (NASB)
“Then Peter said to her, why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last.
In this example, the Lord’s discipline included the death of two individuals that lied in the face of the God and the early apostolic community. There is no other explanation for this incident other than that the Lord did this. But why such harsh discipline? He was sending a message to His church, as He did to the church in Thyatira, that we are to take our actions seriously:
Acts 5:11 (NASB)
And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
Does this mean that anytime someone lies about money in the church they will die? Again, not likely at all. Even in these extreme examples recorded, they are not accounts of Christians being judged or experiencing the wrath of God, but rather receiving correction and to serve as a general warning for the entire church at large. Each saint involved in these situations before ever receiving such correction had already been perfected in holiness in their spirit. Those that died at the hand of God’s discipline simply fell asleep in Him with the same promise of heaven that we have today.
Didn’t Jesus heal all who came to Him?
After reading such extreme examples where Jesus caused sickness and even death within the Church, on the surface there appears to be a contradiction in the way He operated on the earth before He ascended as recorded in the four gospels and the way He does now. Before He ascended, the scripture says that He healed all who came to Him. After His ascension, as the examples above demonstrate, sickness and even death were the work of the same hands He healed with. Why is there no mention of Jesus disciplining others the same way in the gospels?
- He Disciplines the Church only:
After the church was birthed following His passion on the cross (see John 20:22), it brought about sonship. This sonship opened the door for the church to be a partaker of His discipline:
Hebrews 12:7 (NASB)
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.
Before the cross the Holy Spirit had not yet taken up residence in anyone and none had been born again as a child of the Father. Anyone disciplined before the new covenant initiated would have been disciplined as an orphan which would have completely contradicted the scripture above.
- These were rare situations He used to teach the church at large about His omniscience (his all-knowing nature) and His propensity to discipline when His grace and patience are ignored over a long period of time.
As previously stated, it is unlikely that the Lord will repeat such methods of discipline in the church today because He recorded them as examples in scripture for us to learn from.
When His discipline is not required
First of all, discipline is not always necessary because the consequences of our actions, or the attractive nature of His grace and patience, are sufficient enough to cause us to repent. This was the case with the prodigal son who left his father’s house and found himself in a pig sty with no money and no friends. Such consequences and circumstances were sufficient to cause a change of mind. Also, the nature of his father, his patience and lovingkindness, suddenly became appealing to him again.
An earthly father may not choose to discipline his son when he is instructed to not touch a hot stove and he does anyway because the consequences of disobedience is clearly evident to the child.
When His discipline may be required
However, discipline may be required when the consequences of our sin are not sufficient enough and when the grace of God is not appealing enough to us to repent. This was the case with the children of Israel and the Church in Thyatira. In the natural, an earthly father may decide to exercise discipline when that child slaps his little sister across the face several times because in this situation the consequences to him are not as evident, no discomfort is felt on his behalf, and another individual is hurt in the process. Discipline in the life of a child of God never comes by the gavel of an angry Judge, but from the heart of a loving and graceful heavenly Father.
The primary motivation behind the Lord’s correction and discipline is His love toward us. He wants us to have a revelation and understanding of this truth so it can be the motivator behind why we repent:
‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.
How does the Father discipline us today?
We are not to live introspectively, constantly scrutinizing and examining ourselves with feelings of guilt, shame, or inadequacy. Our main focus should be Christ. However, we must remain open to the Lord’s discipline and understand what it looks like when it comes to us. Just like the progressive discipline approach discussed earlier, He will first correct and discipline us in the form of a verbal or written correction. He normally will use scripture for this:
2 Timothy 3:16 (NNT)
All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for discipline in righteousness;
The phrase ‘discipline in righteousness’ is often translated ‘instruction in righteousness’ in other versions. The Greek word for ‘instruction’ however is paideia, which means to chasten or discipline with correction. Therefore, the scriptures are the main tool He uses to correct us with and to call to account those specific faults in our lives He desires for us to repent of. We can be sure that if a particular message comes to us multiple times within a short period of time, either by scripture or by someone with spiritual authority over us, it is Him seeking to correct us. Such messages will cause our conscious to be pierced. This piercing is not always pleasant and will often cause us to feel sorrowful, but if we respond to it properly it will produce the righteousness He is looking for:
Hebrews 12:9 (NASB)
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
What if we ignore His word of correction?
If we continue in the sin without heeding His word of correction, He will continue to give us ample time to repent. If we choose not to change, the discipline may become progressively worse, shifting away from a word of correction to causing us to suffer in some form or fashion temporarily. Just like a father who spanks his child, the purpose of this temporary suffering is so we are able to feel pain and discomfort as a direct result of the sin in hopes that we will not continue in it or repeat it. It is important to note however that not all suffering we experience is a direct result of His discipline in our lives, sometimes it is because of the fallen world around us or our own actions.
However, if it is the discipline of the Lord, through prayer He will help our conscious to establish a connection between the suffering and the sin. If we repent, we can be confident that any and all discipline He has administered will immediately be removed and that we will be fully restored to the condition we were in before the discipline took place. If we simply choose to not repent in the long term, The Lord may simply turn us over to our own ways, allowing us to reap the full consequences of our rebellion (whatever physical, emotional, or relational disadvantages that may result).
When we learn to be trained by His discipline, and understand that it is an expression of His Love toward us, it causes us to walk in greater levels of maturity, life, and peace with Him which is His ultimate desire.
Note that believers are judged after death also. However, this is a judgment for rewards for the quality of work we did on the earth, and not for any sin we have committed. This can be likened to an Olympic judge awarding the runners of a race with various medals of Honor (gold, silver, bronze, etc.). Refer to 1 Thes. 1, Rev. 4.