The Discipline of God

Sin is why we die, why Jesus died on the cross, the reason people will be in hell. If God were to put one half of one sin against us, it would be enough to damn and doom us forever. Paul said the wages of sin is death, not the wages of sin is a bad mood or a hard day or a bout with depression, but death – sin is fatal. Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death…” NKJV

James 1:15 – “…when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.” NKJV

Sin causes pain – a point that David illustrates for us in living color in Psalm 38, where he described four types of pain and distress he was experiencing that was brought on by his unconfessed sin.

To begin with, his body was deteriorating and suffering from an illness: Psalm 38:1-10: “Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me – it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh. My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.” NLT

Psalm 31:9-10: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. Tears blur my eyes. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.” NLT

He was also enduring alienation from his friends who were deserting him: Psalm 38:11 – “My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. Even my own family stands at a distance.” NLT

He was experiencing agonizing grief because his enemies were persecuting him: Psalm 38:12 – “Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me. Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me. All day long they plan their treachery.” NLT

Psalm 38:16 – “I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me or rejoice at my downfall.” NLT

Psalm 38:19 – “I have many aggressive enemies; they hate me without reason.” NLT

Finally, the guilt of sin and sorrow for breaking God’s law weighed heavily upon his mind:

Psalm 38:17-18: “I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain. But I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done.” NLT

David believed that much of the hardship he was encountering was chastisement/discipline from God because of his sins.

The Bible is clear – God, through His great providence and love for us, will permit, direct and allow the disciplining or chastening of His children.

Deuteronomy 8:5 – “As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” NIV

Job 5:17-18: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.” NLT

Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” NLT

Revelation 3:19 – “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” NKJV

God’s discipline begins when we develop a major sin problem, an un-confronted behavior or attitude that is poisoning our soul. When we do not correct ourselves and are in danger of being condemned with the world, God will discipline us. The purpose of discipline is to get us to stop the sinful behavior:

1 Corinthians 11:31-32: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” NASB

“God has a heavy hand for His sinful children. Other fathers may spoil their children with indulgence, but the Lord will not spoil His children. If we sin, we shall feel the weight of God’s hand. We ought to thank Him for this, for though it brings great sorrow, yet it brings great safety to us. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to be allowed to sin and yet to be happy in it.” Charles Spurgeon

God uses “three degrees” or “levels of discipline,” three “denial busters” as tools of discipline to get our attention, to get us to repent and deal with our hurts, hang-ups, and habits, our besetting or persistent sins, to force us to move into recovery and away from the choices and circumstances that have messed up our lives:

Hebrews 12:5-6: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” NKJV

I. Confrontation

When we let sin block our ability to bear fruit, God intervenes, at first with the gentlest gesture – a rebuke, a verbal warning, something as simple as a convicting thought (I shouldn’t have done that). God’s rebuke comes in the form of a guilty conscience, bible verse, sermon, another person. These verbal cues are the most common. If we respond, He forgives us and we go on.

We are given a rebuke or a verbal warning when somebody cares enough to “confront” us in truth and love and say, “You’re blowing it. You are messing up. You’re about to lose your family. You’re about to lose your health. You’re about to lose your job.”

When somebody confronts you, they are trying to help you, warning you of the pain. God uses people to confront us, and He confronts us in His word: Ezekiel 18:30-32: “…Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” NLT

But what happens if you ignore Him? What if you assume that a rebuke is as far as God’s discipline goes? If we harden our heart and close our ears, we force God to raise the stakes.

II. Crisis

A “crisis” comes when God “chastens” or “disciplines” us. The word chastening is used interchangeably with the word discipline in the Bible.

This includes emotional pain, unpleasant feelings, emotional anxiety, frustration, distress, depression, insomnia, and stress!

What used to bring joy now doesn’t. Pressures increase at work, at home, in your health or finances. It can include things like illness, stress, etc. God uses the pain of an unexpected crisis to shatter our denial – illness caused by years of substance abuse, stress brought on by workaholism, job loss due to inappropriate actions, or a divorce due to infidelity.

Psalm 6:1-7: “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage. Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me? Return, O Lord, and rescue me. Save me because of your unfailing love. For the dead do not remember you. Who can praise you from the grave? I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.” NLT

Psalm 32:3-4: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” NLT

Psalm 38:1-10: “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me – it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh. My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.” NLT

Many Christians bump along in this level of discipline, yet fail to read the signs. They feel unfulfilled at church, critical of their Christian friends, and they feel like God doesn’t love them, etc.

When they pick up their Bible it feels like a lead weight instead of a welcome relief; they feel sadness, depression, no joy or peace. Their conscience really bothers them, they are eaten up by guilt! Christians who are being chastened are miserable!

What about you? Have you endured pain and turmoil for years because you didn’t understand that your troubling circumstances are the result of God’s discipline?

If this is you, you need to look for ongoing sin in your life, and repent of those sins and confess them. Proverbs 28:13 – “You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up, then God will show mercy to you.” GNB

If you don’t respond, love will force God to raise the stakes even higher.

III. Catastrophe

If the first two denial busters don’t work, if we don’t respond to God’s verbal warnings and His chastening, God will “scourge” us!

To be scourged is to experience “catastrophe” (the third denial buster). To “scourge” is “to whip, to inflict punishment.” It’s the same word used to describe what the Romans did to Jesus – excruciating pain!

At this level you are living in open sin with a flagrant disregard for what you know is right. This means you are in serious trouble and walking on dangerous ground because you have not responded to previous attempts by God to get your attention. So now He must resort to intense pain to bring you to your senses.

God takes long-term sin very seriously, and He will act, and the consequences are more drastic than most Christians understand.

God loves us, and if He sees us heading in the wrong direction spiritually, don’t think for one minute He won’t try to get our attention. If He has to, God will take a step back and let us “be God.” That’s when He lets us feel the full impact of our own stupid decisions and poor choices.

This is when the bottom falls out physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, relationally, this is when you hit rock-bottom, and can include serious health problems, job loss, homelessness, prison, etc. If you don’t respond to God, you could wind up in prison, the hospital, or the cemetery!

Why would God want to bring/allow us pain, even a small dose? To get our attention – to get us to repent: Lamentations 3:31-33: “For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.” NLT

Revelation 9:20-21: “But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” NLT

Psalm 38:17-18: “I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain. But I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done.” NLT

Everyone hates pain, but it sure does get your attention. As C.S. Lewis said one time, “God whispers through pleasure but shouts through pain.” Sometimes our Father has to shout – is He shouting at you?

I hope God doesn’t have to use this third denial buster, “catastrophe,” in your life. But if nothing else will work, God will say, “You want to be God? Okay, have it your way.” And He’ll just step back and let you be God. And then you will reap what you have sown!

IV. Concluding thoughts

When we experience intense periods of distress the first thing we should do is look for the kind of major sin that would warrant the kind of discomfort we are experiencing. We then need to repent and confess our sins! Responding to Gods discipline brings immediate and long-term benefits:

Hebrews 12:11 – “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” NLT

We must repent of our sins, cast away our sinful behavior, stop the willful sinning, and let God continually cleanse us. Repentance doesn’t just get us back to zero; God takes us from a minus ten to a plus ten. However, repentance is not just a one-time act. It is a lifestyle, an ongoing commitment to keep putting aside rebellion and receive God’s forgiveness.

The best part about discipline is that it doesn’t have to continue – it’s all up to us. We will only experience pain as long as we hang on to our sin. The discipline ends when the problem ends. God doesn’t expect us to enjoy discipline; He wants us to get out of it even more than we do. But just because He disciplines us, that doesn’t mean He stops caring for us or loving us – just the opposite.

But if we don’t let go of our sin: John 15:6 – “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered, and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” NKJV
“No one is broken beyond God’s repair – our Creator knows exactly how to heal and fix His creation!”

Hosea 6:1 – “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds.” NLT

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