From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 2 – A closer look at how God develops us as disciples
There is today a misguided over-emphasis on God’s love in many Western churches. There is also a misunderstanding of what His love really means. That error causes many of us to assume that God would never rebuke or discipline a Christian. Actually, the opposite is the case. The very fact that God disciplines us is one of the things that proves that we really belong to Him and are His children. No adult would go around chastising other people’s children. But no right-thinking parent would fail to discipline their own child.
Therefore, whenever you see an adult disciplining a wayward child, it indicates that they are related as parent and child. You would never think of it as evidence that they are not related. Likewise, if we are real Christians, we need to expect to be treated as God’s children. That means being disciplined and punished by Him when our attitudes and behaviour require it. If He did not do these things it would actually indicate that we are not His children:
5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.Deuteronomy 8:5-6 (ESV)
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?Hebrews 12:5-11 (ESV)
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 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? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 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? 10 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. 11 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.
So, the very fact that God disciplines us is proof that He does love us, because He knows we need it and benefit from it:
Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O LORD,Psalm 94:12 (RSV)
and whom thou dost teach out of thy law
“—-that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end”Deuteronomy 8:16(b) (RSV)
Accordingly, we need to expect God’s discipline and cooperate with it. We should repent voluntarily, even before we are disciplined by Him for the wrong things that we do:
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.Revelation 3:19 (ESV)
God is very careful in His disciplining of us. He will chastise us, and sometimes it will need to be severe, but He will not usually bring our lives to an end. His aim is to change us and mature us. So He limits the chastisement to what we can stand and what will help us. He does not ordinarily go beyond that:
The Lord has disciplined me severely,Psalm 118:18 (ESV)
but he has not given me over to death.
However it has to be said that there can be exceptional circumstances which arise if we become carnal and live in immorality, as some Christians do. If so, then God might reach a point where He chooses to take our lives in order to stop us continuing in such sins. Apostle Paul addresses this disturbing and controversial theme in 1 Corinthians:
1 I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same supernatural food 4 and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance.” 8 We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.1 Corinthians 10:1-12 (RSV)
Such a drastic response as this is rare. Even so, we do need to be aware that it is a valid part of what God sometimes does to discipline His own people. God caused the premature death of many of the Israelites when they were in the Wilderness. He also refused to allow the older generation to enter the Promised Land. Many of those people who died in the wilderness, or who were even directly put to death or destroyed by God Himself, were believers and were saved. They had eternal life. But their lives were ended or shortened and they lost their inheritance, i.e. their right to live in the Promised Land.
That is, many of them were real believers who were saved and had eternal life. They were simply carnal, unbelieving and disobedient in their lifestyles and attitudes, as many of us are. So, God took away their lives because they disobeyed and displeased Him.
In the book of Exodus, Moses sets out how God will deal with those Israelites who afflict widows or orphans. He makes clear that they will receive God’s wrath and that God will actually kill the wrongdoer:
22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.Exodus 22:22-24 (RSV)