Grace and Discipline: A Surprising Blend to Help Us Stay Faithful
Excerpted from The Faithful Way by Cynthia Heald
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Titus 2:11-14, NIV
We all need to teach and encourage one another with the theology of uncomfortable grace, because on this side of eternity, God’s grace often comes to us in uncomfortable forms. It may not be what you and I want, but it is precisely what we need. God is faithful; he will use the brokenness of the world that is your present address to complete the loving work of personal transformation that he has begun. Now, that’s grace!
—Paul David Tripp
Grace is a lovely word; it promises kindness, favor, and goodwill. The word discipline, though, carries the connotation of training, strictness, and correction. Although these words seem unlikely companions, God creatively unites them when he trains and disciplines his children. Certainly it is his unmerited favor that offers and bestows salvation. Our relationship with God begins with his grace and his grace alone. But this unconditional grace he showers upon us spills over into our everyday lives as he purposes to mold and conform us to the image of Christ and to correct us when we sin. Jerry Bridges clarifies this concept:
What does it mean that God administers His discipline in the realm of grace? It means that all His teaching, training, and discipline are administered in love and for our spiritual welfare. It means that God is never angry with us, though He is often grieved at our sins. It means He does not condemn us or count our sins against us. All that He does in us and to us is done on the basis of unmerited favor.[i]
God’s faithfulness to complete the work he began in us can often be viewed as uncomfortable grace—the blending of grace and discipline.
The melding of God’s grace and training are clearly exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul. We’ve studied the blessing of God’s grace for Paul as he lived with a humility-producing thorn, which was sent to counteract the remarkable revelations he received from the Lord. When Paul prayed for the thorn’s removal, God’s answer was, “My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9, AMPC). The thorn was God’s chosen way to care firmly for Paul’s soul. Although the thorn was undeniably uncomfortable, it was accompanied by the Lord’s empowering grace to endure.
God’s discipline of Miriam for challenging Moses’ leadership was grounded in grace. Her conduct needed to be called into account; she needed to be reminded to say no to worldly ambition and to live a self-controlled life. Miriam was chastened, swiftly and temporarily. I am sure she would attest to this truth: “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11).
I am grateful for God’s faithfulness in wanting to complete his personal work of transformation in me. If I am impatient with someone instead of being kind, the Holy Spirit immediately prompts me to apologize. In this instance God disciplines me. Occasionally, I receive notes from people who express their differing thoughts about my writing. I view God’s use of these “thorns” as his method of instilling humility and selflessness in my life. Although his training and discipline are uncomfortable, in my heart of hearts I do not want to be prideful. I do not want to sin and be unaware that I sinned. I want to learn to say no to ungodliness and worldly passion. I want to continually be in the process of becoming more and more like Christ.
God loves us too much to let us alone. He is a faithful Father who desires the highest and best for us, and his intention is to reshape us into wise, righteous, and devoted children who live the faithful way.
[i] Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 90.