Our gut reaction to the idea of discipline is almost always negative. Within Christian circles, we might even bristle at the idea of discipline in the Christian life, because we’re supposed to be all about grace, right?
What if discipline doesn’t have to be a bad word? What if it is a good thing for the Christian life? What if discipline isn’t opposed to grace? A better understanding of these questions can help us get closer to a biblical understanding of Christian discipline.
We see how grace and discipline work together in the book of Titus:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
— Titus 2:11-14 (ESV, emphasis mine)
The word, “training” is actually the word used for training a child, instructing, correcting/chastising, even physical correction. Basically, discipline. Paul says here that the grace of God is training the children of God to live differently. It’s disciplining us to have lives characterized by self-control, uprightness, and godliness. Jesus Christ doesn’t just forgive us, he is also interested in training us to be zealous for good works. This discipline is not a bad word or a vindictive punishment. God’s gracious discipline is not spiteful, selfish, or harsh.
It is gracious discipline that peels our hands back from harmful things that bring us death so that we can run to him who gives us life. It may not make you “feel” good, but it will make you alive.
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.
— Hebrews 12:11 (ESV)
Discipline is not fun, especially in the moment. However, that doesn’t make it a bad thing. We should not be afraid of discipline; we shouldn’t avoid it. Discipline is a gracious gift that God provides for his children, and it is aimed at conforming them into the image of Jesus Christ.
Even though we may forget it in the moment, our greatest need is always to be further conformed into His image. God uses discipline to make that come to fruition.
WHY DO I BRING THIS UP?
I need discipline. I need training. I need to be yelled at. I need to be reminded that when my friends tell me to stop sinning it is a part of the gracious correction of God helping me stay on the path of life. I need to be reminded that when I am convicted by a sermon, it’s loving, gracious discipline that is making me a better disciple of Christ.
This training can look like a million things in the Christian life. It might be formal: the preaching and teaching of a local church service, the singing in corporate worship, an actual local church putting someone under reformative church discipline (such as Matthew 18).
Discipline might be far more informal: your friend correcting you and encouraging you to obey Christ or your personal time in prayer and bible study. Training might be God giving you a sense of guilt and shame over sin in our lives. It might be walking through a tragic or sad situation. No matter what, God’s discipline always comes from a place of gracious love.
God’s discipline is aimed at pointing you back to Christ, back to the gospel; it is something to be embraced, not avoided.