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Getting to Know Our God and Jesus – Part 3

Our heavenly Father loves us and wants us in His family forever. So why does our loving Father sometimes bring troubles and trials into our lives?
Read Time: 9 minutes

God’s Punishment vs. Discipline

Some of us have grown up with a relationship with God, much like Job and his friends. We viewed God as an austere judge, watching our every action, keeping track of all our failures, and ready to punish us for our sins. This view is a total misunderstanding of the merciful, loving relationship our God wants to have with us.

Our heavenly Father loves us and wants us in His family forever. He sends His angels to guide us into His eternal way of life so we will learn to live more like Him. He sent His Son and was willing to put him through all the pressures of false accusations and a torturous death to draw us away from sin and become more like him. So why does our loving Father sometimes bring troubles and trials into our lives?

It’s certainly not to punish us! The Merriam-Webster definition of punish reads: 

1a: to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation. 1b: to inflict a penalty for the commission of (an offense) in retribution or retaliation. 2a: to deal with roughly or harshly. 2b: to inflict injury on: HURT.”

Did you notice all these uses of the word “punish” are connected with extremely negative penalties or retaliation? Do you think our God treats us like that? This idea came from pagans and some Christians who believe God is angry at all of us for our sins and wants to make us pay. But it is not the loving God of our Bible. An angry God who wants to punish leads to a fear-based relationship with God, not a loving, trusting relationship. As John reminds us: 

Our heavenly Father loves us and wants us in His family forever.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:18-19).1

After meditating on and appreciating the love God has for us, we need to re-examine why He sometimes brings difficult trials into our lives. He challenges our faith through extreme, dire circumstances because He loves us, and He knows that these rough situations of life can cause our faith to grow and mature so we will be ready for immortality.

It’s not punishment; rather, the Bible describes it as instruction, discipline, chastening, or training. All the challenging experiences of our lives we find devastating and discouraging are carefully designed by our loving Father and His angels to change, mold, and train us to become His immortal children.

Sadly, Job had to learn this the hard way so he would no longer see God as watching his every move, wanting to punish him for all his sins. When Job finally realized that everything was designed to instruct him and save him as well as others from going down into the pit, he said: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6). 

Understanding God’s relationship with us will change our relationship with Him.  We will no longer fear what He brings into our lives, viewing it as punishment, but rather completely trust that God is disciplining and training us to become His children. 

Look at how Paul presents this in Hebrews 12:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.
Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
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. (Heb 12:7-11).

Do you see the difference between punishment and discipline (or training)? God doesn’t come after us to inflict a penalty or retribution for all our sins. He forgives our sins and works to train us to become more like Him so “we may share His holiness.” (Heb 12:10).

Everything God brings into our lives is positive, designed for our good and the good of others. It’s like having a coach or teacher who talks to us about something we did wrong and then works with us to improve our lives. Who wants to play for a coach who keeps track of all our mistakes and then punishes us with extreme exercises to make us pay?

That doesn’t develop a loving, trusting relationship that provides for growth and improvement. Thankfully, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8). God didn’t make us pay, but instead, He developed a plan to change us, forgive our sins, and turn us into His children.

The implications of this topic are huge. God is the model we use for learning how to raise children and work with people in our ecclesias. If God doesn’t punish us but trains us, we should have the same attitude and use the same language when raising our children. We don’t punish them, but we show them the mercy of our God and then discipline or train them to change their ways.

The same is true about how we treat our ecclesial members who fail through the weakness of the flesh. We don’t make decisions about how to punish them, but we extend God’s mercy and forgiveness while at the same time helping them to become more faithful to God’s ways.

If we talk about punishing our children or ecclesial members, they may come to believe God is punishing them throughout their lives, which is very depressing and discouraging. This topic can change the way we treat other people and hopefully help them understand the God we worship. We learn to treat them the way God treats us, but this only works if we correctly understand how God does treat us.

God has always been motivated by His love for all His children. The angry God concept of pagans and some Christians has crept into our Bible translations because many of the translators believed it. The translators of the NIV and other versions even went as far as to render Isaiah 53:5 as “the punishment that brought us peace was on him” because they believed God made Jesus suffer the punishment we deserve. These same translators chose to translate this Hebrew word over 30 times in Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah as “instruction,” “discipline,” or “chasten.” How sad and misleading is that!

God loves us and wants to forgive and save us

The angry God concept of pagans and Christians has also slipped into our community by our adopting the belief that God needed to provide Jesus as our intercessor between Him and us, so he could beg and plead with God to forgive us! Even our green hymn book has three hymns that refer to Jesus’s pleading with God, or being our Advocate (238, 249, 262), as though God needed Jesus to beg Him to forgive us and not wipe us out! We must come to better understand and know our God and His son, Jesus!

God has always wanted to forgive us, and He provided His son “to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26). He employs His angels every day as “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” (Heb 1:14).

As Paul developed in Romans 8, Jesus doesn’t intercede between God and us. He intercedes between our mind of the spirit and our mind of the flesh, to help us in the war against us. That is the same battle Jesus fought in the garden when an angel strengthened him, and he defeated the devil by praying to God, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42).

God doesn’t need or want Jesus to intercede between Him and us. He already loves us and wants to forgive and save us more than anyone! But as He grows a spiritual mind in us, we feel the intensity of the battle with sin and appreciate that the spirit of Jesus can at times strengthen our spiritual minds to choose God’s will, not our own.  As Paul reminds us: 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27).

This intercession is not to change God but to change us! We are the ones who need help to overcome and choose God’s will, just like Jesus in the garden. We must be strengthened to resist the sin our minds want to enjoy. This need is why the spirit intercedes “according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:27).

God wants to help and strengthen us in the battle with sin. This help gives us the confidence that we “know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28).

Jesus told his disciples, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27).

Jesus doesn’t need to ask his Father for us because God already loves us and wants the best for us.  Here is the explanation John Carter presents in his book on Paul’s letter to the Romans:

You might still be thinking that Jesus is our mediator and stands between us and God to change God, but that idea also came from Pagans and Christians. Jesus is never referred to as “our mediator” in the Bible. He is three times mentioned by Paul as the “mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 9:15; 12:24) just as Paul shows that Moses was the mediator of the old covenant (Gal 3:19-20).

In the same way Moses communicated and taught the old covenant to Israel (Deut 5:5,28-30), Jesus is God’s mediator of the new covenant because he has communicated and taught it to us, both with words and by living it throughout his life. This has nothing to do with pleading with God to change His mind, but it is all about God providing a new covenant based on faith through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Make no mistake: God will punish the wicked! This concept appears all through the Bible. But we sometimes blend the passages about God punishing the wicked with how God treats His children. God did punish the wicked, unrepentant Israelites who refused to follow His ways, and He made them pay for their sins.

But when dealing with His true sons and daughters, He disciplines and instructs them so they will change their ways and receive His mercy. Notice how Paul separates the believers from those who will receive God’s punishment at Christ’s return:

Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess 1:6-9).

Most of the Old Testament is about God working with the community of Israel, a mixture of believers and unbelievers. Usually, the Jewish community had far more wicked unbelievers than believers. Therefore, God often had to bring punishments on the people because most of them were wicked.

This situation is why, in the parable of the wedding feast, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matt 22:7).

We may make the mistake of confusing God’s dealings with the Jewish community with how God deals with His children today. Our ecclesias are comprised of believers who willingly chose to be baptized and enter a covenant with God. That was not true of national Israel.

When the Babylonians destroyed Israel, God punished many of the wicked, unbelieving Jews. But when some were taken captive to Babylon (like Daniel and Ezekiel), these were referred to as “good figs.” (Jer 24:5). Their removal to Babylon was not a punishment for them. However, it would appear that way to those without understanding. Instead, it was God’s way of saving His remnant.         

God is working to save us

If we are not careful, we might make the mistake today of thinking God is punishing either ourselves or our ecclesia because of the challenging circumstances we are going through. In fact, He is working to save us, and we can have confidence that all things will work together for good in the end.

This idea is why there are not as many references to “punishment” by God in the New Testament (only five in the NKJV), as in the Old Testament. It’s not because the God of the Old Testament was a vengeful God, versus the New Testament God being loving. We know He is the same loving God. Still, He was dealing with national Israel, a vastly different community through most of the Old Testament, as opposed to the New Testament ecclesias and our ecclesias today.

Let’s try to be more careful about how we discipline and talk to our children, grandchildren, and ecclesial members. We don’t want to give the impression we are punishing them or exacting some retribution payment. It is our responsibility to teach them about the love of God and then show them the great love, compassion, and mercy He has for us by how we treat sinners who are trying to live like Jesus but fail.

Suppose we choose to raise teenage children with a fear-based relationship. In that case, it will eventually backfire, and our teens may walk away from the Truth because they never understood the love and compassion of our heavenly Father and that in everything, He works for our good so we may share His holiness.

Our awesome Father greatly desires us to join His family forever. Let’s get to know Him better so we can truly demonstrate His eternal way of life to all we interact with in our lives today and understand why He brings some sad and challenging events into our lives today as He trains us to prepare for immortality in His family. 

Sue and Jim Styles,
Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA

  1. All Scriptural citations are taken from the English Standard Version
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