Punishment vs. Discipline

As part of the lesson for Oasis (high school ministry) this past Tuesday, we talked about the difference between punishment and discipline as they relate to our relationship with God. They’re similar terms, but I think there’s a significant difference between the two. Understanding the difference can help clear up some misconceptions about God.

Punishment is primarily about penalty.

Discipline is primarily about correction.

To help illustrate the difference, consider this scenario. A small child throws his crayons on the floor. This is unacceptable behavior and so the parent intervenes. Punishment looks like a swat on the hand and sending him to his room (penalty for his action). Discipline looks like explaining to the child why we don’t throw crayons, putting the crayons out of reach for the rest of the day, and trying again tomorrow (focused on correcting the behavior). Now, I know both of these could achieve the desired result (not throwing crayons). I would even argue that each have their time and place. However, it’s important to understand the distinction between the two when we consider how God relates to us regarding our sin.

Punishment = penalty for sin

Discipline = correcting sinful behavior

Praise God that the penalty for our sin has been paid in full! (Romans 8:1). In his death on the cross, Jesus took the punishment that was meant for us. God the father poured out his wrath on God the son as he judged our sin. The penalty has been handed out. So, when bad things happen, it’s not God punishing us. God isn’t sitting up in heaven keeping track of wrongs and dishing out punishments – a stubbed toe here, a sickness there. The scriptures are clear, however, that God, as a loving father, does discipline his children. (Hebrews 12:1-13). Keeping in mind that discipline is about correcting, it would make sense that God would discipline his children as way of making us more like his Son. Each of us is a work in progress. We stand before God as if we’ve never sinned, but our lives tell a different story. As long as we are here on earth, we struggle against our sin nature. Sometimes we give in and lose that fight and God needs to step in and correct us. God disciplines those he loves. So what does God’s disciple look like? We’ll save that one for another time…