Scripture Study

Hebrews 12: Delightful Discipline

No one likes to talk about it these days. I mean, the time for hellfire and brimstone messages has faded in congruence to the rise of itchy ears and seeker-sensitivity within the church walls…

But what do we do with chapters like Hebrews 12 where God’s holiness is magnified, where His discipline is marked and where fire, yes fire, is His pronounced character trait!

Ignore it? Plug our ears and shout la la la la la I can’t hear you!

Tempting. But, I can’t! I’m longing to get it right. To understand…

It’s the kindness of God that draws us to repentance. But His holiness commands reverence; His righteousness, a working of sanctification through faith.

Grace saves us, restoring fellowship with the Living God. Then it teaches us to walk uprightly before Him (Titus 2:11-13). Those who haven’t come to God through Christ are still under God’s wrath (John 3:36), yet we enter in His courts with thanksgiving and are led by His Spirit in all truth (Psalm 100:4, John 16:13).

Who really likes discipline? And fire! That sounds a bit much, wouldn’t you say?

But our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Equally, a Loving Father to His children (Romans 8:15).

Flaming, Refining Holiness. Tender, Sheltering Arms of Love.

How awesome is our God? Our minds cannot possibly fully fathom it!

In Psalm 73, Asaph describes the embitterment of his soul towards wicked people who seem to flourish while he painstakingly pursues God’s ways. He confesses in verse 22, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.

Like a son to a father. Maybe, like the older child to the father in the story of “The Prodigal Son“? That selfish, self-seeking younger kid went astray but was welcomed in when he returned with a repentant heart. And the older—whom we all inevitably tsk tsk—despised his father’s grace and whined that he’d worked his whole life to win his father’s approval and be found faithful. In his own self-righteousness he presents the question, why the profuse display of love for a rebellious child that returned as a beggar?

Why. Why. Why.

Why, I now wonder, does God’s discipline not get equal attention as His grace? Can you imagine it? This whiny, sniveling child—still Beloved—bellowing his complaints to the Holiest of Holies, his Father?! Though this son isn’t the focus of the parable, the picture is still presented. And my mind’s eye can see it now: Perfect Love equally gifting both mercy and correction to His children.

Hebrews 12 reminds us not to regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor to despise it (vs 5). Love disciplines. Love demands righteousness. And when we fall short, being brutish and ignorant, love chastens us that we might share in Love’s holiness (vs 10).

The wicked, those unwilling to yield to the Consuming Fire, will be justly consumed. But we, those drawn into His warm embrace, receive refining discipline. Love, that purifies us.

What then? The call to action:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (vs 13).

Wow! Bold, right! But wait! There’s more…

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (vs 14).

Lift your drooping hands. Strengthen your weak knees. There’s an awareness here of destitution and an acute distress that arises when broken by sin and requiring discipline. The end goal is healing of what is out of joint.

God is calling each of us to sanctification. To the pursuit of straight paths, to holiness. Not on our own strength, but certainly with regard to submission to His strength; to His power at work within us.

This world is hard. It’s messy, confusing, and sorrowful—especially when good gets called evil and evil good. Asaph knew it, and he recognized his own brutish response within it. But also his firm confidence, and, the declaration that changes things:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
And afterward you will receive me to glory (Psalm 73:23-24).

More so:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever
(Psalm 73:25-26).

Hallelujah! What a promise, what a hope! From a Loving God. From a Consuming Fire.

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