Advice to the new (or old) believer, pt. 4

God disciplines those he loves (and “Does God send bad things my way?”)

Part 4 in a series. Click for parts 1, 2, and 3.

God is our loving Father. As any father who loves his son is going to discipline him. Consider:

Proverbs 3:11-12:

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

Do you get that? The Father delights in you! But he loves us so much, that he will not leave us in the mess we are in. He insists on rescuing us if we will allow Him to do so (and sometimes even if we think we are not allowing it!). The key point to remember is that he disciplines us for our own good, not for the sake of accepting us. He already accepts us as his children! We bear the righteousness of Christ! He imputes (credits to our account) Christ’s righteousness. We can’t earn his approval any more than Christ has already done!

So what does God’s discipline look like? Well, I confess, it is often a mystery. The easy (and often incorrect) answer is to say that when bad things happen in our lives, God has disciplined us. Realize that we have an enemy who is seeking to steal, kill, and destroy, and if we are living for the kingdom of God, the enemy is going to be actively opposing us. Don’t blame the work of the enemy on the Lord. Remember, who took Job’s children, wealth, and health? It was Satan, not the Lord. A lot of Christians walk around believing that when bad things happen, that “God got me,” and that “I must be needing discipline.” Well, in a sense, the latter is always true, right? But how much our enemy loves it when he hurts us and we blame God. A double-bonus! Remember, our Father seeks to give good gifts to his children.

But I can guess what you’re thinking: But God is in control, right? Satan had to get permission from God to hurt Job! So, in a sense, Satan was acting as God’s handmaiden, as even Job himself suggests. Yes, there is some truth to this. But this truth actually reveals God’s love to us. Let me explain.

When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, he gave them authority to “rule” and “subdue” the Earth. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed, they handed over that authority to Satan. He is even called the “prince of this world.” So the Lord recognizes that we have yielded our authority over the earth to Satan, and because he gave it to us for real, he respects that (for now). As a result, the world is fallen. A world living under the authority of the evil one is going to experience awful things, from earthquakes to child molestation. God respects our ability to choose, and through Adam, we chose disobedience and death.

But the Lord in his great graciousness is constantly calling us out of our sinful state in order to redeem us—to restore us to the position of sonship, out of the kingdom of darkness and into his family. So when we are walking with the Lord, but we need discipline, God will “allow” (I need a better word here – “allow” does not do justice to the idea that this is Satan’s kingdom and God is not approving every little thing Satan does, though he obviously knows about it) us to experience hard things—what are often times the natural consequences of our behavior. Then what does he do? He uses what the enemy intended for evil in our lives for our good! “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). So God takes Satan’s nasty work, and turns it around for our benefit. What a great and loving God!

What about when things like the death of a child or cancer come—things that don’t seem to be natural consequences of our own behavior? Is this the Lord’s discipline? Well, no, but sort of. Did God kill my son? Did God give my wife cancer? These are the products of living in a fallen world. I don’t believe God willed them to happen in a positive sense. But what does scripture tell us? To “endure hardship as discipline” (Hebrews 12:7). In other words, even when our suffering is not from God, be open to how God wants to use it in our lives. When we stop asking “why God?” and start asking “God, what are you going to do through this?”, then we open ourselves up to God’s blessing and lessons.

How else does God discipline us? If we are sensitive to the work of his Spirit in our lives, then we know that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. This isn’t a guilty, name-calling, “you’re a loser” type experience. That is from the enemy. This is usually a gentle calling to intimacy and relationship. A “that didn’t work out very well did it? Did you keep the focus on me? Let’s do it differently next time. I love you, you can do it!” That is most often the texture of the Lord’s conviction to us. Sometimes it’s harder than that. Sometimes the Lord shows us the consequences of our actions—he may open our eyes to see the pain we have caused to others. But again, the texture of this is an invitation to forgiveness and restoration, not a shaming or a condemnation. If you are in Christ and are feeling lots of shame and condemnation in your life, even if you feel like you deserve it, that is not the Lord’s work. Your are being victimized by the enemy. Tell him to knock it off and trust Romans 8:1.  Every day.  Or hour.  Or minute.

Other times the Lord’s discipline can be more serious. I knew a spiritually gifted pastor who said that five times in his church ministry, he felt that God was calling the church toward a certain direction but that one individual leader in the church was blocking it. This pastor prayed for God’s will to be done and just turned it over to Him. In each case, the Lord brought discipline into these men’s lives, some of it quite severe. I pray that I will remain humble to hear God’s voice and will avoid this kind of discipline. But if not, I know that God’s discipline is good for me, even if severe. He is trying to save me from destroying my own life and hurting those around me. What a loving father we have!

Hebrews 12:4-11

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

On to part 5!

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