We talked about how learning to hear God’s voice gets stuck if you aren’t willing to obey what you hear. And I said I wanted to share the reasons to obey God that I have learned (the hard way).
And Reason Number One is because He is my Father. That was enough for Jesus. That should be enough for me, too.
But since that usually wasn’t enough for me, to be honest, I learned Reason Number One, Part B: Because He is my Father and He will discipline me if I don’t.
(And if thinking of God in those terms brings up negative associations for you, I would invite you to reread last week’s post and have a conversation with Him about it. Otherwise, here we go…)
So I want to share with you the principles I have learned about God’s fatherly discipline. “What happens when I get in trouble with God” is a rather humbling topic to be an expert in, but I find I have collected quite a lot of principles! So many, in fact, that I had to break them into more than one blog post. Here are the first three:
#1 Jesus died so God can give me what I need, not what I deserve.
This is why I use the word ‘discipline’ and never the word ‘punishment.’
Punishment involves what I deserve for what I did, which in the case of our relationship with God, is death and separation from God. That is what Jesus took for us on the cross. He took what I deserve (death and separation from God) and He gave me what He deserves (to be a prince, to be God’s favorite kid, to be loved and accepted, to be part of God’s family, to have a right to call God’s house my home, to inherit a kingdom and rule on a throne someday, etc. etc. etc.).
So every decision God makes about how to parent me is based on what Jesus deserves, not what I deserve. Sometimes He’ll want to give me something good and I’ll say “But I don’t deserve that” and He will roll His eyes at me and say, “I have not made a decision based on what you deserve in My whole entire eternal life and I’m not about to start now!”
God’s discipline, then, is whatever I need in order to grow into my position of privilege and act like the kind of son Jesus is. It’s BECAUSE I’m God’s favorite kid and I’m going to have a lot of royal responsibility and authority in His kingdom that I need to be trained to obey and act like Jesus. If I’m still acting like a toddler throwing tantrums by the time I’m “sitting on a throne” and “judging angels,” (Revelation 3:21; 1 Corinthians 6:3) it will hurt a whole lot of people besides me!
So if I need a “hug” from God in order to obey, I get a hug. If I need a “spanking” from God in order to obey, I get that too. This kind of discipline “because you need it” and not “because you deserve it” is like the parent saying “do your homework every night or else you won’t be able to play with your friends on Saturday until you finish.” You will stay in, not because you don’t deserve to go out but because you need to finish your homework. You aren’t earning your significance; you’re being prepared for greatness. You’re not achieving God’s love, you’re experiencing it.
This is why when I hear people ask stupid questions like “Can you be God’s child without obeying Him?” I want to ask, “Have you actually tried it? Did you survive?” We have a firm and consistent Father, and He will fight hard to keep us close and safe.
#2 What God is feeling about me when He disciplines me is love, acceptance, and delight. The Bible says so. Hebrews 12 says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
It’s quoting from Proverbs 3:11-12, which uses the word “delight”
“The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
I remember circling those words in pencil in my Bible: Loves. Accepts. Delights in. I may be feeling, “This hurts and I don’t like it!” But He is feeling love, acceptance, and delight. He is not angry. He is not disgusted. He is not judging me. He is feeling love, acceptance, and delight.
#3 I am not disciplined because I am bad but because I am loved. Look at the next few verses of Hebrews 12 and notice what it says–and also what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “If you are disciplined, it means you are a failure, a loser, a bad kid.” It doesn’t say “If you are not disciplined, then you are a good person and can feel good about yourself.” It says exactly the opposite:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 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 spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order 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.” Hebrews 12:7-11.
His discipline is a sign of acceptance, not rejection, of belonging, not exclusion, of sonship, not insecurity. It’s a privilege of being royalty. When I defy Him, I get to be treated like a beloved child who just disobeyed instead of all the other things He could treat me like: a ruined creation to be crumpled up and thrown in the wastebasket, or an enemy to be obliterated, or a criminal to be condemned. He’s like a police officer who shows up to arrest a gang and finds his ten-year old hanging out with them. The gang gets arrested; the son only gets grounded. Or like a king whose little prince or princess talks back to him. Anybody else would get their head chopped off for talking to the king like that, but they just get a spanking or a time-out. He loves me so much that Jesus died for me so He could say “Go to your room!” instead of “Go to hell!”
(I notice this same thing happening in the life of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 18:1-19:3. One of God’s promises to the kingly line of David’s sons was that they would be disciplined as needed but never rejected. King Jehoshaphat knew God and he usually obeyed, but he had a bad habit of wanting to hang out with the “cool kids,” aka the evil king Ahab next door. When God came to wipe out Ahab, He sent Jehoshaphat home with a miraculous rescue and a rebuke for being there in the first place that always sounds to me like “Get in the car. We’ll talk about it after we get home.” Because you are Mine.)
This life of discipline instead of punishment makes me feel so loved, privileged, and secure. But it’s real. And it’s a reason to obey Him.
More on this next week. The best is yet to come.