Christian Discipline


What is the Heavenly Father’s will for all? His will is clear from the Scripture. After the fall into sin in the garden, He could have destroyed man. He owed him nothing. But He did not. Instead He gave a promise. Out of the graciousness of His own heart He promised a Savior. We know the passage well: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He fulfilled His promise of a Savior because He “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). For this cause Jesus came into the world, namely to redeem lost mankind. For this reason the Holy Spirit through the power of the Gospel creates faith unto eternal salvation. Let this suffice as a summary of all the passages that speak of God’s will for our salvation.

There is another will. It is the will of Satan. Need we spend time explaining His will other than to say again, “Satan’s will is to destroy in hell?”

For that reason he works mightily to lead us into “misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” Like a sniper aiming at his prey from the shadows, the devil snipes at us. Because we have the flesh, he finds an inviting target. Because we believers still have our flesh about us and are so often forgetful of God, the devil succeeds more than any of us wants to admit. We sin.

Therefore the Lord God finds it necessary to discipline us. In the bo of Judges we read how God time and again disciplined a forgetful people who “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Did He do this because He wanted to destroy His people? No! He did it because He loved them. He disciplined them lest they go on in their sin and destroy their own souls. He disciplined them, sometimes harshly, but always in love, because He wanted to bring them to repentance. The message of his discipline was always “Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). His discipline always has a saving purpose.

By His Spirit the Lord has called us into His family. We are children of God. By his Spirit He has called His children who are one in faith and confession into a mini-family, which we call a Christian congregation. In this family believers find mutual joy and strength through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. As family members we sit at the cross together in humble confession of our sin, and with thankful appreciation for the forgiveness that shines from the cross of Jesus. Within this family we are called to help one another, warn one another, support one another, comfort one another, and care about each other. Within this family we hurt when we see one of our spiritual siblings neglect these blessings and responsibilities, or even wander from the path of righteousness to follow the path of Satan and the world. Members of the church family are not to sit idly by. We cannot sit by while one of the family appears to be walking the path to eternal death. It is our responsibility to care, not as “nosey people” but as concerned Christians who themselves have been rescued from the way of death. And surely if the evidence is clear that one is spurning God and manifesting impenitence we have the God given responsibility (Matthew 18:15-18) to intervene, and to exercise discipline. Not because we delight in causing grief, but because we desire to spare our brother or sister the grief that will indeed come if he or she continues in a life of spiritual neglect and impenitence.

The exercise of Christian discipline is hardly practiced in the church any longer. That is not surprising when the Word of God, which is the wellspring of the Christian life, is no longer received as the power of God unto salvation, and the foundation and energizer of Christian living. Where God is no longer permitted to speak with authority there is no longer fear of sin, much less appreciation of forgiveness. Consequently the concern of a pastor or a Christian congregation for a brother or sister caught in sin is loed upon as meddling and vindictive. All the protestations that “I am a Christian” are at best suspect and at worse a cruel self-deception if one chooses neglect and sin as a way of life, and rejects the loving concern of members of the family.

Exercise of discipline is not often appreciated by those are on the receiving end. Rest assured that no one who exercises this responsibility finds delight in doing it, much less is one seeking situations in which to practice it. Yet it is necessary, for the Lord who shed His blood does not want his blood spilt in vain. He “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

When we exercise discipline we should do so as people who are well aware that we too are sinners. But in fulfilling our call we are also the voice of God as we bring His word to bear. If we are one who is receiving discipline we should not resent it or reject it because they who are bringing it are also sinners, but rather we should see them as ones sent by God on a rescue operation. They who speak God’s word to us are God’s voice. If there is an edge to that voice, it is nevertheless one of love. If we listen to it we shall hear the softness of that voice in the words, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” As one goes in peace the purpose of Christian discipline has been fulfilled. God’s will and purpose is done. The will of the devil has been thwarted!

Thank God for His love exercised by discipline, and for fellow Christians who love us enough to practice it!