Thursday, September 06, 2012

Discipline, Love and the Gospel for Life

Hebrews 12:6
“6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

James 4:17
“17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Romans 8:29
“29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Matthew 22:37-40
“37 And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

As I grow in grace in my walk with the Lord, I am beginning to understand that I have not properly understood Hebrews 12:6 and the word ‘discipline’ as it pertains to the Christian who is trusting in Jesus alone for salvation. In other words, as my understanding of the gospel is deepening beyond the gospel being just the ‘A,B,C of becoming a Christian, to understanding that the gospel is necessary for all of life - the sanctification of the believer - beyond that initial entry point of understanding, I am beginning to see that my understanding of discipline has been more rooted in law than it is in grace, thinking that discipline means punishment and legalistic rules rather than what it really is, which is instruction in godliness and spiritual growth. How freeing it is to begin to see it in that way - instruction in godliness and spiritual growth. He instructs us because He loves us. We are not left alone. Can you grasp how awesome that is?

You see, finally I am coming to grab hold of the understanding that there really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He was bruised for my transgressions. The punishment for my sin was paid on the cross. Hallelujah, and amen. So, when I encounter trials, I ought not to view them as punishment for some sin. What I ought to be asking, in trial and in blessing and everything in between is, what is God teaching me in this? What am I to learn from this to grow in godliness? How is God conforming me to the likeness of His Son in this? Do you see how different that is from cowering and thinking I’m being punished or, even worse, thinking I can earn reward or favor for some supposed good I think I've done, when the ebbs and flows of life come along? Better to rest in Christ and know that I am secure in His work of atonement on the cross and am being saved to be conformed to His likeness for His glory - and that I am loved, not just tolerated, but really and truly loved, with an everlasting, covenant love, not on the basis of anything I have done, but all on the basis of what Jesus has done! I can trust myself to Him completely.

So, as I’m growing in grace, I’m beginning to realize a bit what chastisement can look like in a life that has been submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I had something happen recently that led me to something of a small personal crisis. The details don’t matter, and it wasn’t a big, major thing, but there was something I I knew I needed to do that I did not want to do (James 4:17), because the doing of it demanded I deal with the idol of pride in my heart.  It was something I could have left undone, no one needed to be the wiser, in fact, no one would have known anything about it. But I knew. And God knows. 

As I wrestled with what was the right thing to do overnight, I found all kinds of justifications about how no one would even know, it’s not even that big of a deal, you know the way our minds work when we’re seeking to preserve our precious pride, right? Well, as God has allowed me to have a conscience steeped in His word because He’s given me a desire and love for reading and studying it - and a desire to obey it - scripture kept coming to my mind, and I kept thinking, “How can I sing on Sunday in the choir, how can I go about my business training up my children, how can I even pray when I know that to neglect this supposedly little thing I am effectively not loving my neighbor as myself? How can I  leave this thing undone and walk away from it, knowing it’s the right thing to do?” So, I prayed for wisdom. And you know the funny thing? Even as I prayed it, I knew, knew, that I was fooling myself to not just admit right then that I knew what the right thing was to do. Now I just needed to be obedient and do it.

So, with tears I decided to do the thing I knew I needed to do. And I’m at peace, and able to leave it with my Heavenly Father.

Now, the incredible, amazing thing about God's grace is that I was no less saved, no less loved, and had no less favor with God when I was wrestling with what I knew I needed to do but didn't want to do than I was and did when I quit wrestling and surrendered it. But I do have great confidence, joy, and peace in the fact that I am His, because He would not leave me alone while I was wrestling with that issue of pride and selfishness. Scripture kept coming to mind confirming what I knew I needed to do. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say that I love the Lord my God with all my heart yet let an unconfessed, unrepentant, but recognized idol sit in disgusting prominence in my heart. It is because I am saved and forgiven and have God’s favor that as He grows me in grace He will not leave me alone in that kind of sin, no matter how insignificant I may try to believe it to be, and He is ever making my conscience more sensitive to the idols that tempt me, and teaching me that I am free from the dominion of sin - I no longer have to be ruled by it, yet I learn to obey because He already loves me, not so that I can earn His love. That kind of discipline is loving and kind and gracious. And I am amazed beyond words that He loves me that much.

And how cool is it that while I was already working on this post, I found this one from Tim Challies in my reader? And later today I read this and rejoiced. God is good all the time.