The Nature of Discipline


The purpose of discipline is to expose sin, to bring you to repentance, and to reinstate the true worship of God in your life. Dr. R.C. Sproul explains.

“Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered; and this is all the fruit of taking away his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altar like chalkstones that are beaten to dust, wooden images and incense altars shall not stand” (v. 9).

- Isaiah 27:7-13

One can’t read the prophets without dealing with the fact that God chastises His people. This is something God did throughout the Old Testament, and it is something God continues to do today, even though we live under the Gospel: “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?… Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:7–11).

This passage from Hebrews is a perfect commentary on today’s passage in Isaiah. We read in verses 7 to 13 of the punishment of both foreign nations and Israel. Both had sinned by turning to idols for security and prosperity, but in the case of the foreign nations, God punished, while He disciplined Israel for its disobedience and brought it to repentance. When God takes vengeance on the reprobate, He has no other aim than to destroy them, for they are “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22). But when He chastises the godly, He restrains His wrath and has another and totally different object in view. He wishes to bring them back to the right path and to draw them to Himself through repentance.

Some, who think God no longer disciplines His children, argue that Christ bore the stripes for our sin, and so we no longer suffer under the rod of our heavenly Father. It is interesting that in verse 9 of Isaiah 27, the term expiated (to give satisfaction for sin) is used in reference to chastisement: “Therefore, in this manner shall the iniquity of Jacob be expiated” John Calvin’s translation). If we do, as is implied here, satisfy God for our sins through punishment, then our theology concerning Christ’s satisfaction is indeed altered. But this is not what is meant here or in any passage dealing with discipline. God’s discipline does not cover our sins, for only Christ’s righteousness can do that. Rather, it is a way God roots out the sin in our lives. By making us suffer and convicting us by the Holy Spirit, God brings us to an acknowledgement of our sins. In no way does discipline bring satisfaction, but it does prepare us for repentance. As Calvin says, “chastisements expiate our offenses indirectly, but not directly, because they lead us to repentance, which again, in its turn, brings us to obtain the forgiveness of sins.”

Coram Deo

The passage for today tells us that discipline caused the Jews to repent of building altars to idols and to return to Mount Zion, where they were to worship the Lord. The purpose of discipline is to expose sin, to bring you to repentance, and to reinstate the true worship of God in your life. Repent of your sin today. Memorize Psalm 94:12.

Passages for Further Study

  • Deuteronomy 8:5

  • Proverbs 3:11–12; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13

  • Hebrews 12:3–11
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