“And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? ‘My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.’ Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-11 (NET)
Our sanctification isn’t an over-in-a-moment deal. It’s a long process overseen by our Heavenly Father and, because of who we are and how we think, there’s nothing easy about it. The Bible says “For this is God’s will: that you become holy.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). He’ll see to it that we become “unblemished in his sight in love.” (Ephesians 1:4). Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so we’d be happy, he suffered death so we’d be holy. And God will do what’s called for to achieve holiness in every Christian. When we fail to comprehend the depth of His determination to perfect us we risk misunderstanding our Father’s intent. Like depressed children we can begin to feel sorry for ourselves and accuse Him of being mean and unkind because we don’t like what’s happening in our lives. We want the blessings to keep on coming and the good times to continue to roll. We don’t see the big picture and, furthermore, we don’t want to see it if it involves discomfort. The writer of Hebrews knew that about us so he devoted a whole chapter of his Epistle to helping us face the fact that God sometimes has to chastise us. The author asks us to stop and consider why we go through tough times. He then indicates the answer involves reminding ourselves that we’re God’s children and He “disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” He goes on to say that if you don’t receive an occasional “direction correction” from God it’s a worrisome sign that He has yet to adopt you as one of His own. That’s a sobering implication so we’d do well to take heed of the straight talk found in Hebrews. Our salvation is God’s handiwork from start to finish and He has His own special ways of getting the job done. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, “…the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God’s no quitter. When you asked Him to make you perfect He took that endeavor as seriously as making sure the far-flung universe runs like a top. He’ll see it through no matter what it takes and that means He sometimes has to figuratively “take us to the woodshed.” We must view what we encounter in this life with that in mind.
Our Father has an assortment of methods at His disposal to reach His goal. Primarily He gave us the Holy Word for us to study, ponder and learn from. It’s the ultimate textbook. All we need to know is in there. But if we don’t take it upon ourselves to spend the time and effort required to excavate the truths it holds and apply them to our lives then God will employ other means of educating us. One is spiritual corporal punishment. Up until about half a century ago people knew what it meant to chastise their children but those of today’s politically correct generation may not have a clue so allow me to enlighten. My parents were good, obedient Christians who loved me dearly. But if I stepped out of or over the line and their punctuated words of warning had no effect the rod would not be spared. I’d get paddled and, because it hurt like heck, it would command my undivided attention and I’d repent of my waywardness pronto. God’s like my mom and dad. If we believers don’t learn our lessons via the Bible it should come as no shock when painful things come our way. The writer of Hebrews tells us that God sends difficulties deliberately as part of our ongoing sanctification and we’re to look at them as proof positive that we, indeed, belong to Him. He wouldn’t bother if we didn’t. He’s doing what all loving, concerned parents should do with their offspring and that’s to correct them when their naiveté and ignorance lead them astray. According to the scriptures, chastening visits all who follow Christ and it’s far from a pleasant occurrence. God arranges things to happen to us according to what He knows is beneficial for us. We usually don’t agree that it’s all that beneficial, though, and resentment can build up in us. The whole book of Job is an in-depth investigation into the problem, it’s the gist of Psalm 73 and Paul talks about it all through Romans. In 1 Corinthians 11 he speaks of the disobedient members of the church becoming “weak and sick” and ascribes it not to a flu bug but to God. In 2 Corinthians 12 he brings up his own “thorn in the flesh” and describes it as being a necessary affliction designed to keep him humble. Jesus said “All those I love, I rebuke and discipline.” (Revelation 3:19) Therefore we should consider chastisement a training tool, not punishment for committing sins. At the same time God corrects He instructs. The aim is to produce well-rounded, intelligent grownup sons and daughters of God.
Our Father spanks us by leading us into peace-disrupting circumstances. A believer should realize that everything that happens in his/her life is significant because nothing occurs to them by accident. Christ taught that not one tiny sparrow falls to the ground outside of God’s will so the things that befall us, both the good and the bad, are intended to further our sanctification. Thomas Watson wrote, “I do not say that of their own nature the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse; but though they are naturally evil, with the wise overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them, they are morally good.” Let’s consider some scenarios that qualify as Heavenly reprimands. A big one is experiencing financial loss because few things grab our attention faster than a gaping hole in our wallet. We see it a lot in the Old Testament so it’s definitely a surefire, tried-and-true ploy. Even more effective is a health complication. To opine that God would never intentionally make us ill is to deny what the Bible declares. I’m not saying every malady contracted is God-inflicted but sometimes it is. Becoming infirm can be our Father’s way of making us slow down and evaluate our walk with Him. Paul described feeling like he was under a death sentence at one point but his ordeal taught him that when he was weak he was at his strongest. He had no doubt that God had orchestrated the faith-testing event in order to impress upon him what he wouldn’t have otherwise discerned. God also allows us to suffer persecution just as the Hebrew Christians did. They were being robbed of their food and possessions and their homes were being destroyed due to their belief in the deity of Jesus. This essay’s featured passage addresses the question they were asking. And that was, understandably, “Why us, Lord?” We don’t like to think about it but, if needed, God won’t refrain from taking extreme measures to mold us into shape. Nothing transpires in the life of a believer without a reason. Even more severe is when God decides to withdraw his presence from us. For sure it happened to Job and in the book of Hosea we read where God hid His face and His blessings from all His chosen people in order to get them to repent. Most of us have found ourselves in a situation where, like Job, we’ve thought “O that I knew where I might find him, that I could come to his place of residence!” Larry Crabb wrote, “There are times in life when it would be easier to not believe in God at all than to believe in Him and wonder where He is.” To feel deserted by God is horrifying but if we’re wise it’ll make us seek him more desperately.
We’ve looked into what chastisement is and how it manifests in our lives so the next logical question arises; why does God spank? As always, the Bible provides the answers and none so directly as the one stated in Hebrews. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” There’s not a more fundamental truth than that. It’s because He loves us. If there was a better way He’d do things differently. His scolding of us is for our own good and that’s what we must wrap our brains around. He want us to trust Him unconditionally. In doing so we discover a reason for accepting His corrections. By living through and being tested by them we grow in knowledge. This shouldn’t come as a news flash. Would we have learned anything in our school years if we hadn’t been forced to take exams? Would a fuzz-faced recruit develop into a dependable soldier if he didn’t have to endure boot camp? In the same way, God chastens us so we can be purified and be able to partake in His holiness and there’s no getting around it. We’re stubborn creatures that are no cinch to instruct. There are faults in us that have to be eradicated. Accepting Christ was but the first step taken on the road to perfection, the state of being that we will not achieve in this lifetime. Our old sinful nature may’ve been subdued by our surrender to Christ but it’s still there, working behind the scenes to blow on the coals of our character defects every chance it gets.
Paul gave a personal testimony in 2 Corinthians 12 that encapsulates the topic of spiritual spankings very well. He relates that he was privileged to be shown a glimpse of paradise by God so mind-blowing and beautiful that he couldn’t describe it in words. It was such a glorious epiphany that the great temptation he faced afterward was to boast about it and consider himself “special,” placed in a higher station than the common man. Thus the Father gave him a painful affliction to safeguard him from falling into that ego-fueled trap. He received a sharp thorn to repeatedly puncture his puffed up pride. Another destructive fault that can overtake an unwary Christian is that of developing too much self-confidence, yet another symptom of runaway pride. We can become so cocky that we start to think we don’t need God 24/7. We can also become too attached to this world. As Christians we can start believing we’re immune to the lures of the flesh but the scriptures emphasize that the ways of the world are a subtle magnet that never stops pulling on us. That constant attraction is often imperceptible and we succumb inch by inch until we’re caught up in material things that crowd out the spiritual.
Becoming satisfied with where we stand in our relationship with Christ is another danger. We drag ourselves to church and we peek into God’s Word from time to time and we get lazy. I’ve seen Celebrate Recovery leaders begin to compare themselves with where they were when they were still caught in the throes of their particular obsession and think the beast is beaten. They stop growing in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” and, when smugness takes over, they cease to be effective. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “It’s the awful danger of thinking of ourselves in terms of experience, rather than constantly in terms of our direct immediate knowledge of God and our relationship to Him.” As believers we should be able to say that we know and love our Lord better than we did yesterday. That’s possible only if we continue to seek Him with all our hearts, minds and souls. When we don’t God will administer a few licks to make us refocus on that all-important commandment. Ask yourself if you agree with Psalm 119:71, “It was good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statues.” Can you say that you thank God for your divorce or getting laid off or your car wreck or having heart surgery? Those may well have been tests of faith sent by God. Yet don’t overlook the upside involved in all of this. We’re becoming more and more sanctified. Day by day we’re evolving into people who more closely resemble and imitate Jesus, displaying the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, etc. God’s spankings are working! The Bible urges us to continually look to Christ for guidance. If we did so faithfully there’d be no need for reprimands from above to instill certain vital qualities in us. Qualities like humility. That tops the list and it’s the one our Savior manifested so exquisitely in His personality. He was the epitome of meekness and gentility. Those are two ideals of sanctification and our Father knows we must be humbled in order to become humble souls. And when we’re humbled we more readily gaze toward heaven. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “We so cling to the world that God has to do something which shows us very clearly that the things that bind us to this world are fragile and can be snapped in a second.”
In the Beatitudes meekness is stressed as being indispensable to our happiness. But we find it difficult to always assume a meek mien in our approach to others and in terms of offering them love and sympathy. In fact it’s near impossible to commiserate unless we know something intimately (gained through our own experience) about what they’re going through. Brennan Manning wrote, “The bromides, platitudes and exhortations to trust God from nominal believers who’ve never visited the valley of desolation are not only useless, they are textbook illustrations of unmitigated gall. Only someone who has been there, who has drunk the dregs of our cup of pain, who has experienced the existential loneliness and alienation of the human condition, dares whisper the name of the Holy to our unspeakable distress. Only that witness is credible; only that love is believable.” As a leader in the CR ministry I’d be woefully inept if I couldn’t empathize with people and their struggles. By having dealt with my own I can. We can’t be patient with others unless we’ve known God’s patience with us. All of this adds up to our acknowledging that our Father must chastise us because there’s no other way for Him to get through. His love for us is boundless and, because we’re His children, He’ll go to any length to produce in believers “the fruit of peace and righteousness” that’ll bring us joy beyond comprehension. Examine your life in the light of this truth and contemplate it with a new perspective. Depressing things happen to us because we’ve voluntarily put ourselves under the tutelage and supervision of God Almighty and He has a plan to make us righteous. Absorb and meditate on what the writer of Hebrews so clearly stated: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”
(Inspired by the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book “Spiritual Depression.”)