Understanding Discipline

Yesterday was an incredible Sunday at Fellowship Bible Church. We are in the middle of a great sermon series through The Sermon on The Mount. God has blessed central Arkansas with three of the best Teaching Pastors we could ever ask for – Mark, Brandon, and Ben. This past Sunday, Brandon preached an incredible message on lust and adultery. I strongly encourage you to watch it here, Ok to Look But Not Touch, Right? Wrong…

A message like this, on a topic like this, quickly brings up concerns around consequences. I say “concerns” tongue and cheek. My experience has always been if I am “concerned” about the way God is handling something, it is likely because I’m uncomfortable with the truth. The truth is, God disciplines those He loves – see Revelation 3:19. But I don’t always wish this were so. What I really wish is God will forgive me but also sweep my sin under the rug or completely toss it out, acting like the whole thing never happened. That’s why these two truths exist at the same time: in God’s mercy He does not hold our sin against us, and He does discipline sin, which by His grace, is for our good.

Consider the story of Nathan and King David in 2 Samuel 12. Putting myself in David’s shoes, I too have been guilty of some pretty ugly sins. I have not slept with my neighbor’s wife nor have I arranged for said neighbor to be murdered. But as Jesus has reminded me lately, sin in the heart is yet still an abomination against a holy God. So, I can imagine David and I would also be a lot alike in the idea that he would rather Nathan have not brought this whole thing up. That instead God – like David – would try to act like the whole ugly mess never happen. Hoping God would be some kind of fairy godmother who would “bippity boppity boop” and all would be back to normal. This foolish desire is not the characteristics of a healthy relationship with God.

D. A. Carson says, “[How a person responds to his own sin] surely, is the ultimate test of the direction of a person’s life.” If you are caught in the throes of your own sin and clinch your fists at an “unfair God” who doles-out consequences, that’s likely the indication of a selfish trajectory, a life bent in on itself. This path will keep you at odds with a God you misunderstand. However, if you, like David, response with a contrite heart – a heart that is immediately honest and humbled – you are on the path of an intimate relationship with a loving God.

I’ve learned this well with my own sons. Punishment is easy. And to be honest, punishment is the lazy way out. Whenever you or I as a parent are busy or finally catching a moment to sit a relax, it never fails, one of our ankle-biters starts acting out. Or maybe you know a toddler like our two-year-old who seems to be naturally mischievous and enjoys pushing the envelope. Base-jumping off the footstool is his favorite extreme sport. I can be guilty of only punishing our boys when I am tired, busy, or being selfish. I raise my voice, my son throws something – I finally get my way, but not before some kind of nuclear meltdown – usually by both parties! Discipline, on the other hand, is what will make them wise, sincere, and hopefully boys of good personal quality. Whenever I stop to discipline, especially in the life of our five-year-old, the whole outcome changes. The time taken to engage my son has always yielded fruit. He grows in knowledge and understanding while our relationship grows deeper as a result of the experience.

Carson goes on to write, “[…] those who are serious about the knowledge of God will in due course return with genuine contrition.” So, let us be men and women who confess our specific sins – sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, robbery, greed, drunkenness, selfishness – but then also be men and women who repent sincerely. Asking God to forgive you but then being angry at Him for the consequences is not true repentance. As the scriptures teach, you can be zealous – enthusiastic – about your repentance because God will discipline those He loves. You can trust God will not exploit your sin or declare unjust punishment. Hear me clearly, there is no excuse for sin, but we should not be surprised when it happens. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. But how you respond to the discipline of God is the true indication of your spiritual maturity and depth of relationship with God. When you experience the consequences of your sin, do you trust God’s grace? Do you trust He is allowing the punishment of sin for your good and His glory? The double portion of blessing belongs to those who humbly repent and honestly accept God’s discipline – which by His grace, makes you a better person. “Despite his massive failure, David is still a man who knows God better than his numerous critics.”