As believers in Jesus Christ, we are justified before the Judge of Heaven. We have received the imputed righteousness of Christ as a gift of God’s grace. As a result, nothing can ever separate us from Him. However, though our sin does not change the reality of our newfound relationship with God, it does impact our father/son or father/daughter relationship with him. God no longer deals with us as his enemies because, by faith in Christ, we have become his children; the siblings of Jesus (Hebrews 2:11) as well as his “friends” (John 15:15). God now deals with us “as sons” (Hebrews 12:7), which means he loves us too much to leave us alone in our sin. Though our “at peace” standing with God as our Judge is unchanging, our peaceful fellowship with him as our Father is affected when we disobey. This is because of his loyal love. He loves us too much to sit back and do nothing when sin threatens to harm us. The clearest passage teaching this is Hebrews 12:4-11.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
When God the Father chastens his children the goal is always restorative—never punitive. To say it again, God does not punish His children—He disciplines them. There is an enormous difference.
• Punishment casts away; discipline restores.
• Punishment is for subjects of wrath; discipline is for the children of God.
• Punishment requires payment for sin; discipline corrects to protect and bless, because sin has already been paid for by Jesus.
• Punishment focuses on past sins; discipline, while still dealing with sin, looks to the future blessing of obedience which follows true repentance.
The discipline of God is an evidence of his love, not hatred. If God does not discipline you when you go astray “then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8). Therefore, do not be made anxious by the presence of discipline in your life. Be frightened by its absence. God disciplines those whom he loves. It is proof of your relationship. God does this so that you “may share his holiness” (v. 10) and be “trained by it” in order that your life may yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (v. 11). As believers, God relates to us no longer as Judge, but as Father.
So, how does God discipline us? One way is by withholding answers to prayer. Indeed, recognizing the validity of fatherly displeasure and our ongoing need for correction is key to understanding the issues surrounding unanswered prayer.
[Excerpted from my forthcoming book BRASS HEAVENS: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer, now available for pre-order from Cruciform Press]