by Santosh Poonen
I’m sure we’ve all had times in our lives when, as God’s children, we wondered whether He was punishing us. This feeling usually stems from guilt over some sin in our past. Such a perspective is actually one of the most ingenious lies perpetrated by the Devil. If you have confessed your sin, God has taken your guilt away completely, so any remaining feeling of guilt is actually just a cunning lie of the Devil. Since the Garden of Eden, he has tried to convince God’s children that our Father is actually a mean Judge out to play spoilsport in our lives, and condemn us for every wrong thing we’ve ever done.
First, let’s be clear: the punishment for any sin is eternal death (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23). So, if God was really punishing you now for that sin in your past, you would already be suffering in hell. The reason we don’t have to face the punishment for our sins is that the punishment for every single one of our sins was borne once and for all by Jesus Christ on the cross (Isaiah 53:5, Hebrews 10:12).
The misunderstanding, then, arises from confusion between punishment and discipline. As a father of young children at home, I’ve come to understand this distinction more clearly. This, in turn, has given me clearer revelation of the heart of my Heavenly Father.
Punishment is focused on the past, as demonstrated in the law of retributive justice – “let the punishment fit the crime.” For instance, back in the day, if you punched out someone’s tooth, your punishment was that you’d get one of your own teeth knocked out in exchange (Exodus 21:23-24). Likewise, if you committed adultery, or killed someone, your punishment – having to pay with your own life – wasn’t about teaching you a lesson not to do it again. You wouldn’t even have the ability to do it again once you died! There is a sense of finality in the very concept of punishment. And we must come to rest in the finality of Jesus’ bearing all of the punishment for our sins.
Discipline, on the other hand, is future-focused. The goal of discipline is to train the one being disciplined (the “disciple”) to give them some future benefit. We see this principle of discipline throughout Scripture, and especially in the New Covenant, whenever God was trying to show us that His ultimate purpose in our lives is to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). The writer of Hebrews even goes so far as to say (in Chapter 12) that the very proof of our being God’s sons and daughters whom He loves is that we are disciplined by Him. In fact, Jesus bore our punishment for this very purpose – that we could become children of God with the privilege to be disciplined by Him so that we could mature into sons and daughters.
Love is to discipline, what fear is to punishment (see I John 4:18). So, as much as punishment evokes feelings of fear in us, discipline ought to evoke love in us, because we’re not standing before a harsh Judge, but sitting in the lap of a loving Father. This principle is the foundation of our Christian life – that God loves us, His sons and daughters, just as He loves His firstborn Son, our elder Brother, Jesus (John 17:23). If that foundation is not strong, cracks will eventually show up in other areas of our lives.
Judges mete out punishment from afar – sitting on their bench in the courtroom, while the convict stands in the dock some distance away. Good fathers, on the other hand, give discipline from very close – sitting with the child and talking lovingly to them. So, the next time your Father is disciplining you, open your eyes of faith to see Him drawing near to you in love. During that time of discipline especially, immerse yourself in His Word so that you can hear His words of love.
One day, all earth will stand before God, and from among them will arise two cries: Everyone who refused to yield to God’s will on earth, facing the Judge and their eternal punishment, will finally bow in fear to call Him, “Lord Jesus!” (Philippians 2:10-11). On the other hand, everyone who did not shrink back from God’s Fatherly love and discipline in their lives, finally seeing with their physical eyes the object of their love, will run into His arms crying, “Daddy” (Romans 8:15)!
“My son/daughter, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Hebrews 12:5-6).
© Copyright – This article has been copyrighted to prevent misuse. It should not be reprinted or translated without written permission from the author. Permission is however given for this article to be downloaded and printed , provided it is for FREE distribution, provided NO ALTERATIONS are made, provided the AUTHOR’S NAME AND ADDRESS are mentioned and provided this COPYRIGHT notice [“Copyright by Santosh Poonen”] is included in each printout.
For further details, please contact: RLCF