No Pain, No Gain: What Hebrews 12 Has To Say On Discipline

I think everyone has their own personal definition of ‘discipline.’

The adult who grew up with super strict parents may cringe at the word, scenes from their childhood spilling into their mind. The fitness junkie may get hyped up at the word, thinking about the things they put themselves through for their passion. For others, the word may be generic, just hanging in the air like any other one that could have been spoken.

I desperately need definitions in my life, and this word is no exception. Merriam-Webster defines ‘discipline’ as, “control gained by enforcing obedience or order; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; self-control; punishment; or training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”

So, that narrows things down.

Since the by-the-book definition is of little help, allow me to summarize. Discipline is the obedience and submission to certain patterns or orders that occurs through training or control. For an even simpler definition, all we have to do is look at the book of Hebrews.

The author of Hebrews redefines ‘discipline’ in one word: submission.

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” states the author.

“And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’”

(vv. 4-6)

In this context, discipline is the disciplining of our flesh. Those being written to had not had to sacrifice it all at this point, but from the words that are written to them, it seems as if they have sacrificed a lot. Maybe some were looking at the discipline they were undergoing and wondering if it was really worth it.

The author seemed to know this, and encouraged them by reminding them that if all good parents discipline their children, why would we expect anything less from our heavenly Father? Jumping back into the text, verses 9 and 11-13 read,

“How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! …God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.”

Discipline, as exemplified in this passage, truly means submission. In everyday life, maybe that means submission to the order of things that may not be ideal (for example, eating veggies instead of ice cream because the order of things dictates that your body only needs one of those). However, discipline takes on a particular quality when it comes to the spiritual realm.

What would our lives look like if we embraced discipline and radically submitted to God? What would change if we truly embraced verse 11’s explanation that a harvest of righteousness and peace awaits those willing to be trained and disciplined?

These verses struck me in a particular way when read this past week. God has been revealing areas of sin and complacency in my life, and although motivated to change and grow in godliness, I had really been feeling the tug of my flesh back to old patterns, old ways. Yet, in reading this, I was reminded that the discomfort and the screaming of my flesh, while terrible in the moment, will always be worth it for the peace and righteousness garnered.

Ultimately, discipline makes us more like Christ. How could we want anything else?

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