Sharing God’s Holiness
He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10)
To share in God’s holiness is an equivalent expression to being conformed to the likeness of Christ. God knows exactly what He intends we become and He knows exactly what circumstances, both good and bad, are necessary to produce that result in our lives.
Note the contrast drawn in Hebrews 12 between the finite, fallible wisdom of human parents and the infinite, infallible wisdom of God; “We have had earthly fathers who disciplined us….for a short time as it seemed best to them”(Hebrews 12:9-10). As a parent, I can readily identify with the phrase “as it seemed best to them.” We sometimes agonized over the proper discipline for our children, both in kind and amount. Even when we thought we knew what was best, there were many times when we erred.
But, the writer of Hebrews says without qualification, that God “disciplines us for our good.” There is no agonizing by God, no hoping He has made the right decision, no wondering what’s really best for us. God makes no mistakes. With infinite wisdom He knows infallibly what combination of good and bad circumstances will bring us more and more into sharing His holiness. He never puts too much of the “salt” of adversity into the recipe of our lives. His blending of adversity and blessing is always exactly right for us.
“For the moment,” God’s discipline of us “seems painful,” but it is assuredly profitable; it produces “the peaceful fruit of righteousness”(Hebrews 12:11). The purpose of God’s discipline is not to punish us but to transform us. He has already meted out punishment for our sins on Jesus at Calvary: “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5). But we must be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. This is the purpose of discipline.
At the root of our perception of God must lie the full knowledge and assurance of His great love for us. Otherwise we will view adversity as though God were angry with us and is punishing us rather than disciplining us. We observe that in human thought both discipline and punishment is often the same partly because human discipline has an element of punishment in it.
There are times when our children vex us to the point that we may punish them to in some way cause them to suffer the consequences of their wrong behavior. We have difficulty separating ourselves and our feelings from the situation and solely considering what discipline is appropriate to transform our child into what we believe is a desirable form.
We alternate between mercy and judgement hoping we show each of them at the proper time and in the proper measure. We are driven by our love for our children and we attempt to choose the best course but because we are fallible and lack full knowledge we find ourselves sometimes in error even with the best intentions.
We bring into our relationship with God our feeble human ways and views for that’s all we know and far too many times our perception of God is distorted by our human experiences.
We know love from a human perspective and because the human love we know is flawed and imperfect we have difficult perceiving a perfect love with no ulterior motives or selfishness. As children, I’m sure we wondered if disciplining us gave our parents pleasure or satisfaction for making us suffer for the havoc we had wrought and the disruption to the tranquility of the family.
We know that God is all powerful and when it comes to disciplining us, we have no defense. Job in his conversation with his friends says that if somehow he could bring his case before God and argue it, he would be exonerated, but there was no courtroom available. I’m sure we sometimes feel that if we could make God understand our point of view, He would change His mind. We feel that for in our human experience, we’ve discovered that that can be an option. Our reasoning is flawed for unlike humans, God decides with full knowledge of all the facts. He also decides with full love and grace. God never disciplines us as an emotional response to our conduct.
Our suffering, adversity, or challenges then, are never designed to punish us. True discipline is never punishment for the sake of making the child suffer for their actions. True discipline is the process of transformation and it is totally about the best for the child rather than the parent. I can tell you that as a child, I thought my mother and father at times hated me when they disciplined me. In my childish thought, I believed that if they truly loved me, they would let me do anything I wanted to do. I thought that their rules were silly restrictions designed to rob me of happiness. So I chafed at discipline, seeing it only in the moment as suffering without cause.
Then I became a parent, and how my perception changed. I grew up and realized that all those years, my parents worked toward developing me into a better person and truly they were the one who suffered. Their hearts must have ached and they must have shed many tears over my silly destructive ways. They did what they did out of love for me.
Hebrews says that if this is how parents discipline, how much more so does God as our Heavenly Father.
What I’ve learned in my journey is that God only allows suffering when it grows me into more of the image of Christ. I’ve learned that though it may be dark and seem to go on forever that He never drops me off to go by myself but with His strong gentle hand, He guides my steps. I’ve learned that God loves me so much that if necessary to remove the flaw, He will crush the clay, grind it up and put it back on the potter’s wheel to shape again. And even in the crushing and the grinding, He never cast me from His hands. He holds me even in the breaking for He doesn’t see me as broken clay but the vessel He is designing.
Some years ago, a very dear pastor friend of mine showed me how this discipline of God works. It was a dark time in my life. The church where I pastored was going through a time of great conflict and at the same time my grandson was in and out of the hospital having various procedures. It literally became a time of no relief. If it wasn’t issues with the church, it was sitting in another waiting room waiting for the outcome. There came a time when I wondered if God was just going to let me be destroyed. O I was praying and trying to believe but there comes a point when the strength to hold on begins to fade.
It was at this time, and I know it was God directed, that my friend dropped by the office. One of his hobbies was wood carving. He offered to do a carving for me. I was to bring him a log and together we would do a chainsaw carving of a bear for my house. The funny part is that he told me to bring any log I wanted and we would carve it. So I did. The tree guys had cut down a big oak on my property and so that’s what I brought. I think he was expecting a four foot pine log and he got a nine foot log about three feet in diameter. He looked at this log and said well this is more than I bargained for but you’re my friend and I promised so we’ll tackle it. My first lesson that God taught me is that He chooses the clay and sometimes it’s a large job to make it into what He desires it to be. I met with my friend and he said to me, “You can do this.” He could look at that log and see a bear, I looked at it and saw firewood. My second lesson: I see what I am, God sees what I can be. So we fire up the saw and sawdust and chunks of wood began to fly off the log and I watched the outline of a bear begin to appear. Lesson three: Sometimes God has to cut away those things which hide to image of Christ in me. I know the log didn’t feel pain as the saw cut away parts of it, but I do. As I watched my friend would say to me, “Why don’t you take the saw and make the cuts, anybody can do it.” So I said to him, “If I start cutting all we’ll have will be sawdust and blocks of wood. Lesson four: Only the Master knows what to leave and what to cut away. Day by day I watched that log look more and more like a bear until the day came that in full detail it became something more than a log, it’s image was that of a bear. Final lesson: One day we will stand before Christ and were there to be a mirror, we will appear as His twin, in His very image.
All the carving, all the pain and suffering, all the heartache and disappointments, and all the moments of discipline will be seen as tools in the hands of an all-knowing, all-loving God who was shaping us into the image of His dear Son. Then we will see how all things worked together for our good. For now let us trust in the grace and love of God in those times when we don’t understand the why and let us believe that discipline is for the moment but the results are for eternity.
“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, we are [even here and] now children of God, and it is not yet made clear what we will be [after His coming]. We know that when He comes and is revealed, we will [as His children] be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is [in all His glory]. And everyone who has this hope [confidently placed] in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (holy, undefiled, guiltless).”
1 John 3:1-3
Dr. John Thompson