Thinking aloud here:
- Discipline is different to punishment.
- The goal of discipline is restoration and growth; the goal of punishment is retributive justice.
- Therefore discipline, when exercised correctly, is always in the context of grace, regardless of how harsh it may appear to be.
- It is grace because restoration of relationship is always the goal. Justice does not and can not take into account relationship, or it would not be just.
- Discipline stops when a person is restored. Punishment only stops when justice has been served.
- The God-given role of government is primarily that of retributive justice (and therefore ‘punishment’). There may be disciplinary and restorative elements built into a compassionate legal system, but justice must be its primary function. Cf. Romans 13:4.
- God’s stance over his children is always grace, and therefore he does not punish us for the sins that Jesus has already paid for but disciplines us for our good. This is not in opposition to grace, but because of his grace. If God were to punish us, then there would be no possibility of restoration and he would simply ‘give us over’ to our sins and let us suffer their consequences (cf. Romans 1:18-32).
- Part of God’s discipline for us may be for us bear the legal ramifications (i.e. punishment) of our actions (e.g. when we commit a crime), but as far as God is concerned, he is exercising grace in his relationship toward us, because he is seeking our repentance, restoration, and growth.
- Church discipline and parental discipline are mirrored on God’s discipline. We don’t punish our church members or our children for the sake of justice, we discipline them out of love. This is grace. Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.
- To ask: ‘How do I show grace in discipline?’ is the wrong question. To discipline is to show grace. Seeking a person’s restoration after an offence is always more than that person deserves.
- Therefore parents and church leaders need to remember that the same hand that deals discipline is also simultaneously dealing grace. They are not in opposition to one another; and you do not undermine discipline by showing grace, nor undermine grace by exercising discipline.
I didn’t realise it until Bible study tonight, but it occurred to me as we studied 1 Kings 21 that the two worst kings in the history of Israel and Judah – Ahab and Manasseh – had both repented late in life and, even more unexpectedly, had both been shown mercy as a result (see 1 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33).
The Old Testament is riddled with such scandals of grace (think of Jacob, Samson, the Ninevites in Jonah, Nebuchadnezzar, even King David)…What a glorious prelude to the gospel of grace in the New Testament!