I know God disciplines me, because the Bible tells me so. Pastor John, how do I know when I am personally experiencing God’s discipline?
Here is one of the most remarkable things about God ordaining hard things in our lives in a disciplinary way: Jesus was disciplined and never sinned. Here is what I mean. Hebrews 5:8 says “[Jesus] learned obedience through what he suffered.” Now a lot of people read that and they say, “Whoa. Learned obedience? You mean like he stopped being disobedient and became obedient and thus sinned?” No, that is not what it says and that is not what it means.
Piper: “God ordained suffering in the life of Jesus to bring him to the fullest expression of obedience.”
When it says he learned obedience, it means he moved as he grew from one degree of obedience to another. Here comes a new challenge, and he begins obedient again. Here comes a new kind of challenge, and he becomes obedient again. He is learning at each stage the actual implementation of his obedient heart in acts of obedience. And he is doing it through what he suffered, which means that God ordained suffering in the life of Jesus to bring him to the fullest expression of obedience.
Now the reason that is important is because we, I think, forget that God’s hand of discipline may be on us not simply to spank us because we have been bad, but to stretch us and broaden us in what we are doing well.
Job, remember, was described in the very first verse of the book as being an upright man and blameless. And God gives Satan permission to beat up on him. And it wasn’t because Job was acting in any overt, sinful way that needed discipline, but it did turn out in the end that Job had some sediment of pride at the bottom of his life that got jostled up into that beaker of life. That is my picture. He has got this sediment at this bottom and then you shake the glass and, whoa, there it comes. And at the end in chapter 42 he says, “I have got to repent in dust and ashes. I have said things I shouldn’t have said.”
Kindness Unto Repentance
And so God is always, I think, disciplining us. Here is another factor. In Romans 2:4 it says, “Don’t you know that the kindness of God is meant to lead you to repentance?” So now here you have God using another method besides spanking or suffering to bring us to repentance. We are doing something we shouldn’t be doing, God sees something defective in our life, and what does he do? He makes the sun shine.
I can give you an illustration. One time I got really mad at Noel, because I found a whole crate of rotten pears in the garage. This was about 35 years ago when we were still teaching. She had forgotten this fruit she had bought, and it had just rotted in the garage. And I went in to her, and I said, “What is with the pears?”
“Oh, I forgot them.”
“A whole crate of pears just rotted in the garage!” I said, and on and on and on. And I was getting down on her like I have never done anything like that. And she kind of went back to her bedroom. She’s hurt, and I am mad as all get out, and to kill time I pick up the garbage and take it outside to put it by the street because it is garbage pick-up day.
God’s discipline may be on us not simply to discipline us for evil but to stretch and broaden us in righteousness.
And when I got on the driveway the sun was as bright, as glorious as could be. The sky was blue. A sweet breeze was blowing on my face. And I stopped and cried. I just cried, because God was kissing me on the cheek after that rotten attitude. And it broke me like nothing else.
You know, he could have caused a car to careen over the curb and smack me into the hospital, and he would have been absolutely right to do so, but instead he smiled upon me. So the point there is God is always disciplining us. Out of his goodness he is always doing things for our good, both gentle and hard things.
Receive Discipline as a Loved Child
And so what we need to remember is that we are always loved. Hebrews 12:6, he disciplines those whom he loves. For God’s children, know that discipline is always ever in love. There are people I know who have a very hard time feeling loved by God. Their dad treated them in such a way that they never felt affirmed. They never felt delighted in. They never felt accepted. They could never measure up. He was always on their case, spanking and criticizing and speaking ugly words.
So when I say to them that God disciplines us in love, that is very hard for them to feel. The difference between a dad like that our God who disciplines us in love, is that God never, never feels contemptuous of us.
In other words, a dad in his sinful meanness might say, “You are such an idiot. You always do that,” and maybe hit them. And his words are contemptuous. They are despising. God never says, “You always do that. You are just an idiot. You never do anything right.” God never loses control like that. If he spanks, if he brings any kind of hardship into our life, it is with measured, careful, wise, loving application of his wisdom and his grace to our situation. And so he is calling for us to have greater faith and greater humility.
How to Know If You’ve Sinned
I think my final underline answer to the person who asks, “Well, then how do I know if I am being disciplined?” is when they are really asking, “How do I know if I have sinned?” And the answer to that is: Read your Bible.
Don’t base your conclusion about whether you have done something wrong on how God is treating you, because that is going to be very confusing. Sometimes he treats you way better than you deserve, and sometimes he spanks you in order to bring it to your attention — but you can’t tell which it is. And so you need to decide, “Am I sinning?” by looking at the word of God and discerning what your behavior was like.