"I think these last three years have been God punishing me..." A weary friend spoke these words recently. Can you relate? Yeah, me, too. Life sometimes feels like one trial after another after another, with no rest in between. We faint under the heavy hand of God.
Scripture teaches the absolute sovereignty of God. Yes, we do face very real hardships in this life, but none of them come to us outside the purpose and plan of God. Scripture also teaches that God loves His children, and that He disciplines those He loves. But discipline, despite similar outward appearances at times, is not punishment.
"Punishment" refers to suffering or loss that serves as retribution. It's a form of compensation or payment for having violated a rule. It's a fine and a blot on your driving record for speeding. It's a penalty for paying your taxes late. It's hammering rocks on the chain gang for jacking up the Piggly Wiggly. It's death by hanging for rustling horses.
"Discipline," on the other hand, refers to training. It is instruction that corrects error, training that works to mold and perfect. It's white-knuckled driving practice for the 15-year-old. It's a ten-mile hike with full packs for recruits. Intense weight-lifting for a linebacker. Late night, in-depth literary analysis for the college English major.
Both punishment and discipline can be extremely difficult. Both can weary your body and your soul and sometimes seem absolutely too much to bear. But they proceed from very different motives, and aim for very different ends.
No, Christian brother, God is NOT punishing you - God punished Christ in your place. All the penalties for your sin, your gross violations of the law, have been paid in full, once and for all. Retribution has been made, completely.
But, God IS disciplining you. He is molding you to perfection. Sometimes, that discipline is uncomfortable, even painful, but it is always for your good. And God ALWAYS administers it in love.
At church Sunday evening, Justin Westmoreland preached on repentance. Repentance, he explained, is the method by which sinners are reformed. Repentance is seeing the righteousness of Christ - and knowing our own sin. It is desiring forgiveness and dealing with God accordingly. Repentance is personal and relational, and it alters our thoughts, our habits, our behaviors. Near the end of his sermon, Justin stated "calamities and disasters in our lives are designed to bring us to repentance and to conform us to Christ. They are NOT a punishment for our sin."
Jon Acuff had a powerful post recently on the difference between the two words caught and found. Under the gaze of God, the unredeemed person is caught in his sin - he is guilty, and payment must be made. The child of God, however, is not caught, but found - like the prodigal son, or the lost sheep. Found, and lovingly led through repentance back into his Father's arms.
Satan, the father of lies, accuses the children of God - "You are caught. You are guilty. You must be punished." Our Father, on the other hand, assures us - "You are found. You are forgiven. I'm leading you home."
Jon Acuff writes, "You are found, not caught. We've got a God who loves to find us....You are found. You are found. You are found." Amen, Jon.
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