2. The Purpose Of Discipline
We are left in no doubt as to the underlying purpose in all God’s discipline for we are plainly told that it is “for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). God’s discipline, whatever form it may take, whether preventative, punitive, or educative, exists for the same purpose: our spiritual profit. This is the grand aim, and the one end that God has in view in all His dealings with His people. Let us note at least seven purposes of God’s profitable discipline.
(1) To Produce Humility of Spirit. We may learn much to our spiritual profit from God’s dealings with Israel. In fact, we are told that “these things happened unto them for ensamples, (or types of illustrations) and they are written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). With this fact in mind, we can learn from Deuteronomy 8:2 that the experiences through which Israel passed in the wilderness were all part of a testing process by God. In his speech to the people of Israel, Moses said: “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart” (Deut. 8:2).
The children of Israel started on their journey to the promised land with a high opinion of their own ability. They had proudly stated at Sinai before the law was given, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do!” (Ex. 19:8). God’s response to this was to give them the holy and righteous law consisting of ten commandments, which revealed His absolute holiness, and His insistence on perfect obedience to His demands. This demand was accompanied by a demonstration of physical phenomena in the form of lightnings, thunderings, the noise of a trumpet and a smoking mount, so that the people were terror-stricken and said to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die!” (Ex. 20:18-19). Thus this revelation of God’s majesty, holiness and power humbled them to the dust.
Likewise pride ill becomes a child of God who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and saved by the grace of God. Pilgrimage demands humility of spirit. As surely as a Christian’s heart is lifted up with pride, either of face, race, place or grace, he becomes the subject of God’s discipline and will be humbled. We are told that: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Peter’s word to believers is very much in order at this point: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5-6). He who would be a disciple of the Lord Jesus must follow the example of the One who “Made Himself of no reputation… and humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:7-8). Pride, therefore, is a prolific cause of God’s hand in discipline.
(2) To Produce A Knowledge of Oneself. Again we refer to Deuteronomy 8:2 where we read, “To prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart.” This self-revelation is anything but pleasant to the flesh, but is essential if we are to accept God’s estimation of the utter unprofitableness of the flesh and, as a consequence, walk humbly before Him, and look alone to Him for needed wisdom, grace and power. Paul was made to learn this lesson and said: “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18).
There are many things which every Christian should learn regarding this evil nature called “the flesh,” which is still in every believer, and will continue to remain within him until he gets to Heaven. First, he must learn he is under no obligation to it (Rom. 8:12; 8:8; Gal. 6:8; Rom. 8:6-7; 7:25). Second, he must not make it his companion and walk with it (Rom. 8:4; Eph. 4:19; Phil. 3:19). Third, he must not make any provision or allowance for it (Rom. 13:14). Fourth, he must not give it an opportunity to display itself (Gal. 5:13). Fifth, he must not trust it under any circumstances (Phil. 3:3). Sixth, he must not expect any good from it (Rom. 7:18; 8:1; Gal. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:11). Seventh, he must look upon it as a dead thing and as having been crucified with Christ (Gal. 6:12; 5:24; Rom. 7:24, 6:11).
In spite of these explicit instructions from God’s Word as to the uselessness of relying on the flesh for wisdom and strength, yet the Christian often does so and, as a result, comes under the discipline of his Father in Heaven and learns the hard way its utterly unprofitable character.
(3) To Assure Us We Are Genuine Children Of God. “If ye be without chastisement, then are ye illegitimates and not sons” (Heb. 12:3). Thus discipline becomes a proof of spiritual legitimacy. An earthly father does not correct other people’s children, but only his own. A professing Christian if he is not disciplined as a result of known waywardness in thought, word and deed, may well question whether he is a true child of God, “For what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7). God said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos. 3:2).
It is good to know that while God disciplines His children, He never disowns them. Once the family relationship has been established, it is never terminated. Relationship depends on birth, but fellowship (or the enjoyment of that relationship) depends on behavior. “God dealeth with you as with sons” (Heb. 12:7). That unsaved person living a life of open sin feels no chastening hand of God upon him, and why? Because God is not his Father. But a child of God is made to feel the rod of discipline as soon as he strays away from the path of obedience to his Father’s will. The reason for this is surely obvious. Each Christian can then be truly thankful for every evidence of God’s discipline for it is the assurance he is under his Father’s care.
(4) To Make Us Partakers Of His Holiness (Heb. 12:10). In other words, to reproduce in us some moral likeness to Himself. Just as an earthly father’s facial likeness is often reproduced in his children, to the extent they can be recognized by this resemblance, so Christians should reproduce by their godly lives some likeness to their Father in Heaven. The exhortation to holiness of life is plain, “As He that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation because it is written: Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
Holiness is spiritual health and is evidenced in a believer’s life by a hatred for sin, a love of righteousness, a clean moral life, truthfulness in word, honesty in his business dealings, and obedience to the laws of the land. When a believer fails in any of these things, he must be prepared to feel the hand of his Father in discipline upon him. By this means he is led to repentance and thus again adjusted to God’s will, and enabled to walk in ways pleasing to Him and thus becomes a partaker of His holiness.