Punishment vs. Discipline

During a small group discussion last week, our group leader read a Scripture that used the word punish in places where I have always read the word discipline. I interrupted her and asked what translation she was reading. I expressed my personal objection to the translation of punishment as opposed to discipline and said that, in my opinion, the words were not interchangeable. Most in the group who spoke up said they did see the words as somewhat interchangeable. But one other person was also having a great deal of difficulty with that word. The two of us told the rest of the group that we were going to do some word study this week and possibly share what we learned.

Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was being a little overly sensitive semantically or if my conviction was merited. But the reason the word-substitution bothered me so much was that my understanding of the Gospel is that Jesus took my punishment for sin on the cross. Feeling a bit like an odd ball, I was really thankful for that one other person who felt as strongly as I did (for the same reason).

Prior to my present understanding of the Gospel and grace, I don't think I would have had the same sensitivity to the words being used interchangeably. But back then, I did not understand fully what Jesus had done for me on the cross. Now that I do, I see God's discipline as loving correction and never as punishment. His goal for my life is to conform me into the likeness of His Son. His correction and discipline help me to understand how and in what areas I need to be changed. But His correction is not retribution (which I do see as interchangeable with punishment) for my sins or failures.

When we repent of our sins and put our faith in Christ, we have forgiveness through His blood.

I will never forget a conversation I had with my son Danny years ago. He was explaining to me that God does not punish us for our sin because He is just and, if we are in Christ, He has already punished Jesus for our sin. Jesus sacrificially took the wages of our sin (death) and the penalty of God's wrath upon Himself though He was perfect and sinless. We have grace and forgiveness through Christ and His atoning work on the cross when we receive salvation through Him.

If God punished Jesus for our sins and then also punished us, He would not be just.

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV) states:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Therein lies my problem with the two words being used interchangeably and synonomously. There are consequences in this life for all our choices, both good and bad. If we sow certain behaviors, we will reap certain rewards or consequences. I have suffered unpleasant consequences many times, but God has never given me what I deserved. He's shown me mercy.

We spent a relaxing weekend in Atlanta and I forgot about the word study I had planned to do until we were on our way home today. When I remembered, I grabbed my phone and Googled "Punishment vs. Discipline." Most of the articles were addressing parental discipline issues, not biblical discipline. But this one commented on both and, in my opinion, articulated the distinction well...

I was inspired this past week by something my pastor said in the sermon. “Punishment focuses on the past and what you did, discipline focuses on the future and how you can grow.” After twenty years of parenting, this was a new view for me. As a pastor, he was using this to talk about how God does not punish , but He does discipline....
(The link will take you to the full article.)

Please feel free to share any thoughts you may have on this subject.


justme said…
Shari, I'm with you and the one other person in your small group.

"I will never forget a conversation I had with my son Danny years ago. He was explaining to me that God does not punish us for our sin because He is just and, if we are in Christ, He has already punished Jesus for our sin. Jesus sacrificially took the wages of our sin (death) and the penalty of God's wrath upon Himself though He was perfect and sinless. We have grace and forgiveness through Christ and His atoning work on the cross when we receive salvation through Him."

I agree wholeheartedly!
Anonymous said…
I would have to agree with you Shari. I am a little flabbergasted that anyone would try to interchange the words punish and discipline in the context of scripture. I study using the ESV and NASB bibles. In both translations the word punish is used in the context often referred to God's wrath. Also in both the word discipline is used in the context of training or instruction. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ we recognize these somewhat subtle differences as they may be used in the context of scripture. I believe it is the Holy Spirit of God training us to be discerning where it comes to the revelation of God.
Shari said…
Barry, it wasn't my friend who was advocating the word. She was reading from a book that quoted a certain translation. She told me what translation it was, but I can't remember. I can't even remember the exact Scripture. It was just one that I had heard and read many times and I was hearing the word "discipline" when that translation was using "punish." But it led to a great discussion. I know my friend reads my blog, so maybe she can remind me what translation it was and the verse.
Anonymous said…
If Jesus paid the wages of our sin(death) then why is he still alive?

Also, if Jesus took the wrath of God that we deserve,upon himself, why is he in heaven and not Hell for all eternity suffering the wrath of God for our eternally punishable sin?

To be upfront to your readers, since you already know, I don't even believe in the premise of my own question, but am curious as to how this is resolved in your belief.

Also i'm not asking in some sort of gotcha fashion either, as I've just never understood this, even under the teaching of the church that you and I were raised in.

Matthew C.
Shari said…
Hey Matthew,

I believe you that this is a sincere question and not a "gotcha." And I want to give you a thoughtful and honest response. I have had some distractions that delayed me from responding. But here are my thoughts.

To be completely honest, these are not questions that have ever really come up in my own mind. I completely accept the Bible as God's Word and I accept what it tells me, even when I can't fully understand it or explain it to someone else. I realize that to someone who does have these questions, I probably sound simple minded. But I'm just being honest. Here are some of the things that I would offer as a basis for what I believe...

The Old Testament foretold that Jesus would come, suffer, shed His blood for mankind, be our sacrificial Lamb, redeem us, and rise again. It was foreold He would be raised up on a cross. Down to the details, He fulfilled all of the prophecies made of Him. He died before the theives. His legs were not broken, just as was prophesied.

Jesus said of Himself that He would lay His life down willingly, but that He would raise it up again in three days. So, to me, I see that the only reason we DO have hope in His promises and KNOW that He did accomplish His mission on the cross is that He DID in fact resurrect from the grave and did not stay dead. If He had not risen as He said He would, then there would have been no power in His death. Does that make any sense to you? (It does to me, obviously.)

Romans 1:1-6 tells us this:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

In this passage we are being told that His resurrection was a declaration of Who Jesus was; that He was not just a man but the very Son of God. This Scripture establishes that Jesus was both man AND God in that He descended from David in His human nature and was also the Son of God in heaven (His divine nature). Things I did not understand under our former "teaching" are much more easily understood for me today. But the way we used to believe, I can see where you would have a bigger problem here, because we did not believe Jesus was God made manifest in the flesh. He was not much more than an angel. If that were the case, I think the questions you pose would make more sense even to me. But I believe Jesus was not just a man or a created being, as we were formerly taught.

Jesus took our sins on His physical body. He atoned for our sins with His own blood. And then He proved that He was who He claimed to be by raising from the dead and thereby offering eternal life to all who would believe on Him for salvation. To me, it is just that simple. I believe that He told the truth. If I didn't, I would not follow Him. I don't understand how people can say He was a good man and an example we should follow in how He lived His life, but then disbelieve the things He said about Himself. If He lied to us, He was not a good man. But He is so much more than a good man. He is Savior, Redeemer, and Messiah.
Shari said…
I don't know how far your interest goes in this subject. But if you have any interest in exploring what I believe further, there are two books I would highly recommend to you (because they have been a great deal of help to me in overcoming my past teachings).

The Apologetics of Jesus
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist

I LOVE both of these books. I didn't read either of them because I needed to be convinced. I wanted to learn the convincing evidence that exists in order to be able to have a more intelligent discussion with someone like you who is unconvinced. But in reading them, my understanding of so many facets of my faith has been enhanced.

I only recommend books to you because I feel that I am so inadequate in responding to your honest questions. I am no scholar. There are links on my blog to both of these books. I really don't think you would regret reading them. But I'm not trying to push them on you, either.

Thank you for commenting and sharing your questions. Maybe someone else will have something to offer on this subject that I have overlooked.
Anonymous said…
I understand what you are saying about prophesy being fulfilled. And what he said would happen, happening to prove who he was. I'm actually granting all of that. In other words If all of that is true, it still leaves a contradiction (to me) that if our just penalty is death or hell, then I still don't see him paying the same penalty, but a modified version of it. If that makes sense.
Shari said…
Well, Matthew, based on what we were taught in CGT, that IS a contradiction. If Jesus were just a man, or an angel, or a creation brought into existence to be a sacrifice (like the "Person C" analogy in the blog I shared earlier), then I can see your point. How would He have paid the penalty for my sin?

However, if Jesus is God and an eternal member of the Trinity, then the Father's silence at the cross and even a minute of separation in their eternal relationship is immensely MORE sacrificial than the penalty of an eternal hell for a human being.
Anonymous said…
This is going to sound smart alec, but it's not meant to be it's what it really sounds like what you are saying.

Are you saying that the Being God, equates the torture of one of the persons of the Trinity for 1 day and a separation for a few hrs from the Trinity (wouldn't that make him no longer God?) to the eternal torture of all those who he saves? If he does I can accept that as an answer. But that just makes me think of him as kind of a weirdo.

***Watches everyone take 5 steps away from Matthew to miss the lightning*** :)

To me it's just confusing. Like I'm supposed to die for my sins, but Jesus died for me. But it was only his body, because the second person in the Trinity cannot die. Well, then why do saved people still physically die if Jesus's physical body took the death penalty for them?

If we assume that Jesus was fully man and fully God, then really just a man died, because the Deity of Christ can't die, correct?

Just a lot of questions i have that probably sound like I'm trying to be nit picky, but it just doesn't add up logically (to me).

I hate asking these questions because I'm usually told stuff like "well it's obvious that you will never be satisfied with any answer", and I also know the theology that unless I'm saved I cannot understand these things and will hate everything about God, so it's sort of a catch 22, but I really am interested in this point.

I totally respect that this is your blog and I don't want to hijack it with going into some theological issue. It's just that your post brought these questions back into my mind.
Shari said…
"***Watches everyone take 5 steps away from Matthew to miss the lightning*** :)"

Matthew, this comment made me laugh. I would not be afraid to stand next to you. Just so you know. : )

I couldn't answer you earlier in the day because I was gone all day.

Your interpretation of what I'm saying isn't what I'm trying to say. But it's obvious to me that what I find to be convincing is not convincing to you. I'm okay with that. I don't feel like you are hijacking my blog. I'm actually glad to have the opportunity to converse with you, no matter what the topic. I love you and always have. I'm just not sure we are getting anywhere. But I respect your questions and I don't want to invalidate you in any way with trite answers.

I do believe that faith is a gift from God. I don't feel like I am smarter or wiser than anyone else. Maybe I'm simpler minded than someone like you. All I can tell you is that I believe and I don't struggle with what seem to you like inconsistencies. To me, the evidence for Christ is overwhelming.

Please feel free to comment ANY time on my blog. If I think you're a smart alec, I'll tell ya. But so far I don't feel that way at all. I miss you and it's good to talk with you.