“If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8).
Let's examine the idea that God disciplines His children. The original audience of the epistle to the Hebrews needed to be reminded of this, for their suffering was causing them to question their status as children of the Father. Many wanted to go back to the old covenant to free themselves from suffering. Many thus equated assurance of sonship with a life free from suffering.
However, this assumption was manifestly false. Hebrews 12:5–7 makes it clear that their sufferings in fact proved that they were God’s sons. God allowed these sufferings to come into their lives precisely because He loved them and wanted them to be corrected for their sin.
As God disciplined the original audience of this letter, so too does He discipline us today. He allows difficulties to come against us so that we will be purified. He walks with us through suffering so that we will better know our absolute dependence upon Him and so that we will know that we are His children.
Before we discuss the issue of sonship and discipline any further, let us clear up one possible misunderstanding of suffering in our lives. As we have seen, God does allow suffering on occasion so that we may be chastised for our sin. However, that we experience suffering does not automatically mean that we have done something wrong. Sometimes the suffering that comes to us does not come as the result of sin (John 9:1–3). The suffering that we experience might be disciplinary or it might not be related to any sin that we have committed.
In the midst of suffering, we must seek God in order to find whether or not he is trying to discipline us with it. When we suffer, it is appropriate to ask whether or not the pain is due to unconfessed sin. It is appropriate to seek whether God is trying to wake us from slothfulness so that we may diligently pursue Him.
When we see that God is disciplining us through suffering we should thank Him for doing so. Such discipline proves that He loves us and that we are His children. It demonstrates, as Hebrews 12:8 says, that we are legitimate children. And only legitimate children of the Father will inherit heaven.
A wise man once said that we are not really mature Christians until we look at how the Lord may be disciplining us and thank Him for it. Discipline may be as simple as conviction for sin or may manifest itself more harshly. However God may be disciplining you today, ask Him in prayer to help you thank Him for His correcting hand.
Passages for Further Study
Deut. 8:5; Hos. 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 11:32; 1 Thess. 5:18