The Truth About Discipline
Discipline is like a vaccination
We stick needles into our children to inject vaccines because we love them. Even though being stabbed with a needle hurts, and the vaccine can cause some unpleasant side effects, we still do it. We do it to inoculate them against something worse in the future. We do it to prepare their immune system to fight that disease before they are exposed and get sick.
Similarly, children should be disciplined for their benefit. Parents should not like disciplining their children any more than they like having a doctor or nurse stick a needle in the arm of their baby to vaccinate them. But they should still do it for the good of the child.
Prov. 22:15 – Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (KJV)
Just as not vaccinating children can lead to serious illness or even death, the parent that fails to discipline their children because they do not want to hurt them is setting them up for something far worse down the road.
Prov. 23:13-14 – Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (ESV)
Proper discipline teaches a child about the law of cause and effect. It teaches them that their actions produce results, and the consequences of bad behavior are painful. It teaches them that they reap what they sow, so they learn not to sow foolishly. It teaches them to stop doing bad things.
Prov. 19:18 – Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death. (NIV84)
For discipline to be effective, the reason must be clear. The one being disciplined, whether a child or adult, must understand why they are being disciplined. If they are to learn the right lesson, they must understand the exact cause of the negative effect.
But discipline only teaches half of the lesson. It only teaches what not to do. In some cases, it only teaches people to be careful not to get caught. Discipline by itself is not enough because it does not teach them what they should do or motivate them to pursue good.
Discipline by itself can lead to discouragement, resentment, and anger (Col. 3:21). This is why it is important to discipline in love, and to make it clear what specific behavior caused the discipline. It is important to separate the behavior from the person.
People need reassurance that you still love and value them as a person (created in the image of God) even in the midst of disciplining their bad behavior. They need to believe that the goal really is their improvement and the restoration of fellowship.
To teach the full lesson, it is important to reward good behavior. This will teach them what is good, and which behaviors are desired. Rewards encourage people to do what is good and right. Children, and adults, need to know that good behavior will have positive results. This is what will train them to not only avoid evil, but to actively pursue good.
Prov. 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (KJV)
Some people may object to giving bribes to get someone to do what they should anyway. Parents may worry about spoiling their children. But failure to teach and reward good behavior may actually encourage bad behavior.
Children desperately want their parents’ attention. They may consider the angry attention of a frustrated parent better than being ignored. If the only time you notice them is when they do something wrong, then they may misbehave just to get your attention.
Rewards do not necessarily have to be big or costly. A hug, a nod and a smile, a little praise, or a simple “thank you” can go a long way. Giving a child your time doing something they like to do can be a great reward.
People want to be noticed, acknowledged and appreciated. Anything that lets them know you noticed their good behavior and that you appreciate it will reinforce that behavior.
The size of the reward should correspond to the size of the achievement. Too small a reward can be worse than no reward; it may be considered insulting (like leaving a one cent tip for a server at a restaurant). Too big a reward may confuse them or make them wonder what is really for.
Rewards must be appropriate for the individual. Everyone is different and likes different things. Rewards should not necessarily be something you would like; rewards should be something they will like. This does require you to know what they like. Knowing them well enough to pick a reward they really like can essentially be part of the reward because it shows them you have been paying attention well enough to know.
If you do not know what they would like, then ask. It is better to ask them and give them what they want, than to give them something they will not appreciate or might actively dislike. The goal is to reward them; not punish them.
Bigger rewards may be needed when you are first trying to establish a good behavior. As that behavior becomes a habit, then smaller rewards can be used to reinforce it. Once a behavior becomes a fully ingrained part of their character, a permanent reward can be used in recognition of their increased level of responsibility. This might be a later bed time or an allowance for a child. It might be a promotion or a raise at work.
God disciplines His children too
God loves His children and works in their lives to mold them into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). He does this through the process of sanctification and the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within His children. (1 Thes. 4:4-5; 2 Thes. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2)
However, we are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:10). When a believer walks according to his flesh and sins, ignoring the guidance and conviction of the indwelling Holy Spirit, then God will use chastisement to bring him to repentance. The goal of this discipline is to correct the erring believer’s behavior and restore him to fellowship.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Heb. 12:5-11 / KJV)
So the Bible teaches that God loves His children and will chastise them to correct sinful behavior and bring them into subjection to His will. In fact, God’s discipline is beneficial not only in bringing erring Christians back to their heavenly Father, it also demonstrates their salvation. While everyone will eventually stand before God and be judged, God does not chastise unbelievers in this life.
If it ever seems like the lost can “get away” with things that believers cannot do, that’s because it’s true. While unbelievers will eventually pay for their sin, the Holy Spirit does not indwell them and God is not sanctifying them. Rather than thinking it unfair that Satan’s children can do things they cannot, God’s children should be seeking to become more like God’s Son, Jesus.
God’s discipline can take many forms. When God wanted to chastise the nation of Israel, He often sent a drought, a famine, a plague, or the oppression of enemy nations. Chastisement can result in financial loss (Hag. 1:5-7). It may result in sickness or even physical death (1 Cor. 11:29-30; 1 Cor. 5:5). It often just involves allowing us to reap the natural consequences of what we have sown (Gal. 6:7).
It is encouraging to remember that if we judge ourselves, then God will not judge us (1 Cor. 11:31), and when we are chastened by God, it is so we will not be condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32). Repentance is easy. All we have to do is confess our sin and ask for forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9 / KJV).
It should be remembered that having your sins forgiven will not keep you from reaping the physical fruit of your actions in this world though. The law of the harvest still applies.
Many articles have been written on the question of why “bad things happen to good people.” While it is not the purpose of this article to examine that question in depth, it must be noted that there are other reasons why something negative may occur in a Christian’s life. God sometimes allows trials in the lives of His children to test them, mold their growth, and for God’s glory (Jms 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:4-6). Job is the best example of this.
The law of the harvest as noted before also applies. People reap the natural result of the things they say and do. Something does not have to be morally wrong or intentional to have adverse consequences. The book of Proverbs lists many ways people may be harmed by foolish behavior, or benefit from wise behavior.
Then there are the general consequences of sin. We live in a sin cursed world full of sinful people. Death, disease, trouble, and accidents are the natural outcome of that curse. Apart from the rapture, we will all die someday as a result of something. And sometimes “innocent” people are harmed by the foolish or sinful behavior of others.
So how can you tell if the trouble you are experiencing is the result of chastisement or something else?
First, examine yourself to see if you are even in the faith. If you have never believed in God and trusted in the blood Jesus shed on the cross as the payment for your sin, then you are unsaved, and not subject to chastisement. In this case, you need to confess your sin to God and trust Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
Second, evaluate whether what you are experiencing is a natural consequence of something you have said or done, and be honest with yourself. People can be pretty blind to their own faults. So you may want to ask the opinion of others. If this is the natural result of your actions, then you need to change your behavior. You should pray for wisdom (Jam. 1:5), and seek wise counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). But even if you change your ways, you cannot expect immediate relief. Once you plant the crop, you will reap the harvest. By changing your behavior, you change the next crop.
Examine your spiritual life and consider your ways.
Third, examine your spiritual life and consider your ways. Do you routinely read the Bible and pray. Do you regularly gather with other believers to praise and worship God, hear His Word, and fellowship with His children? Do confess your sin and ask forgiveness whenever you sin? If you are living for God and have no unconfessed sin in your life, then it probably is not chastisement.
Or have you been living in sin? Do you routinely behave in sinful ways? Do you do things that the Bible says are wrong? Do you do things that your conscience tells you are wrong? Have you been quenching the Holy Spirit? If you have been sinning against God in any of these areas, then yes, you may be experiencing the chastisement of God. In this case, you need to repent, confess your sin, and get your life right with God.
If none of the above apply, then what you are experiencing may be the general consequences of sin, like health issues as you age. They may also be trials that God is allowing in your life for your growth and His glory. When this happens, we need to copy this response of Paul to an infirmity in his life:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10 / ESV)
It is also encouraging to remember:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. 10:13 / NKJV)