How do you know that you are a child of God? Some people base their assurance on a decision that they have made, a prayer that they have prayed, or an experience that they have had (baptism, confirmation, church membership). The Bible offers one clear evidence to prove that we are God's children: discipline. The writer of Hebrews addresses discipline in Hebrews 12:1-13.
Discipline characterized all the great saints of the past (Heb. 11); they chose against self to walk with God. They are "God's Hall of Faith" to motivate current believers to run the race well. They are a "cloud" of witnesses, whose running of the race calls us to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us" (12:1). Each of the lives mentioned in the "Hall of Faith" demonstrate three primary truths about discipline:
Discipline that identifies us as God's children is principally positive; God's Word uses the illustration of the athlete who strips off every hindrance and avoids every transgression of the rules so that he may run the race well. Each of us has his own race to run; we are not in competition with one another so much as we are runners to receive the prize. We are not to look at others; we are to "focus our gaze on Jesus" (12:2-literal translation), both as the ultimate Example and as the One who hands out rewards at the finish line. He ran the race perfectly and has received the reward; He suffered discipline and stayed true to the course (12:3). Positive discipline means that we exercise ourselves toward godliness (1 Tim. 4:7) in our striving against sin (Heb. 12:4).
Discipline that identifies us as God's children also includes chastisement. Hebrews 12:5-6 says, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." Those who belong to God practice positive discipline in their lives as they move toward Christlikeness and run the race. They also fail-they sin-and experience the chastening hand of God. This primary mark of God's children shows up in both testaments; in fact, the writer of Hebrews is actually quoting Proverbs 3 in the passage above. Chastisement is the negative discipline God's children experience when they disobey, drift into sin, or get off course in their walk with God. This discipline is God's mark of ownership for His children; He disciplines those He loves, and those without discipline are illegitimate children (12:7-8). They are not God's children. Those who can get away with sin and not experience God's discipline are not His children.
Discipline that identifies us as God's children moves us to holiness; He disciplines and chastises us "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness" (12:10). It is presently painful, but ultimately fruitful. God's discipline trains us to bring the fruit of peace and righteousness. Discipline guides us to choose what we want most over what we want now.
Further truths about discipline and relationship from today's reading:
Which saints of the faith endured trials of discipline to gain God's rewards?
What happens when people fail the grace of God?
How does the writer of Hebrews describe God as he concludes chapter 12? What does this mean, and where have we seen it before?
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