Chastisement and the Christian
By Jeff Paton
A THEOLOGY OF SIN
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers,
then ye are bastards, and not sons.
Some may be wondering why this subject is specifically dealt with in A Theology Of Sin. What appears to be a peripheral issue to most theologies, comes to have a direct bearing upon a balanced understanding of the issue of sin set forth in the previous seven articles.
The issue of chastisement is all throughout the Scriptures. Examples are given how God disciplined the nation of Israel in order to keep them in line with His purity, and to make them stay the course. The example of Israel however, pictures the grave tendency for believers to get distracted and off track. It is a glorious picture of the unwillingness of God to violate the free will of man. Those that hammer on the merits of an oppressive “Sovereignty” have no real answers as to why God must work so hard at discipline, especially when a simple snap of His fingers could bring all creation into perfect obedience and holiness. God is Sovereign, but in His Sovereignty He wills to only have people that wish to worship and love Him of their own accord. Anything less than that, and it would be the forced worship of a victim without a free will and true capacity to love. A manikin forced into a posture of worship in store window would be an unfulfilling and unworthy subject for our majestic and glorious God! Not to say that to create such “worshippers” is to make Almighty God look quite pathetic and desperate!
The New Testament also deals with chastisement, which concerns the believer directly. As both an Old Testament topic, and a New Testament one also, I have always been dismayed at the seemingly utter neglect of Arminianism to discuss the topic. But in my research, it is surprising to see the neglect of the topic in the theologies of other persuasions also. The discussion of the issue seems to reside mainly in Biblical commentaries, and Bible dictionaries. The absence of integrating it into a theological scheme seems to be one of the strange anomalies of systematic theology.
I will readily admit that the Arminian response to chastisement has been less than adequate. The approach to the subject has been silence in most cases. One must get their information from commentaries in order to fill the gaping hole that theologians have left. Those that have to teach a practical theology to the people deserve answers! I don’t know what impact it may have on the academic front to be definite and clear on the issue, but what I do know is, since God puts a sense of importance upon it, we should find it important enough to understand it. This is where the rubber hits the road in Christian living. It is practical! Because of this, people need straight answers; not evasions on the subject.
Chastisement has not been displayed as an urgent or central doctrine of theology. On a rare occasion, I have heard it taught as a practical doctrine, but it seems to become a more important issue when it is seen to be able to draw theological blood. I have heard it raised as an objection to the Arminian view that sin can separate a person from God after conversion. When used as an argument against Arminianism, it has been effectual, and has shaken many an Arminian, because an unambiguous answer has not been readily available. Those critics, who smell a weakness, are quick to cast the first stone when an Arminian is fumbling for an answer. I don’t blame them; I blame the theologians of Arminianism for leaving a gap where there never had to be one!
I pick on the Arminian view of sin, not because I want to promote Arminianism per se, but because I have found the Scriptural view of sin to be most accurately described and defended by Arminian theology. Unfortunately, this area of chastisement seems to have stopped them in their theological tracks. What I seek to do here is to align the Biblical view of chastisement with the Scriptural view of sin, showing that there is a harmony of continuity, and not a contradiction as some assert. I do not care what theological view we arrive at; the Scriptural view is all that matters.
There are two meanings in
Scripture for the word. One is punishment, and the other is discipline.
Discipline is not punishment. Punishment does not have the objective of
correcting or teaching, but retribution. We cannot just pick and choose which
meaning that we want to append to it. For example, many have erroneously read
the idea of punishment into Isaiah 53:5. “But he was wounded for our
transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace
was upon him…” Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies points out that
there are two words in Hebrew that are translated as “chastisement.” One as punishment,
chastening; and the other as, to discipline, to correct, to chasten..,”1
The passage in Isaiah being the latter definition, which excludes
punishment. While the word can be used two ways, depending on the meaning of the
original word used, it is wrong to suggest that we have license to interchange
meaning because we cannot differentiate the meaning from its singular English
usage. In the New Testament, the word is limited to discipline and training. The
word “chastise” has its root on the Greek paideuo, and paideia, which
have their root in child.2
God is not a sadist that enjoys punishing children without purpose. A child is disciplined
with a view to training and correction. The notion that God is a bullying
Father, that beats His children to instill fear, is beyond any plausible
consideration. “So, chastening is discipline and instruction of the sort that
is lovingly provided by the benevolent parent. Chastening has as its objective
the welfare of the person being disciplined… the biblical concept of
chastening/discipline thus is no harbor for child abusers.”3
But chastisement is a positive thing! “Should a father fail to discipline his
son properly, it would indicate that he considered him of little consequence,
perhaps no better than an illegitimate son towards whom he felt no sense of true
affection, and for whom he had no sense of responsibility.”4
Does Chastisement Relate To Sin?
With a clearer idea of what
chastisement is, and is not, how does it relate to this idea of sin? It is
certain that chastisement is for Christians. “If ye endure chastening, God
dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth
not? (Heb. 12:7). How do we implement this with what we already know about sin?
Can chastening be reconciled with the idea that “whosoever is born of God doth
not commit sin” (1 Jn. 3:9)? We have seen that sin carries a non-negotiable
penalty, which is
death. We have seen that a Christian not
only can live above willful sin, but that they must live above
willful sin. We have investigated and found that it only takes one sin to
condemn a soul. But how do we explain the idea that God chastises His children?
If they have willful sin, they can no longer be children, and therefore the idea
of one sin causing separation would eliminate the possibility of
chastisement! Would it? Are we to conclude that the idea of chastisement defeats
all of the evidence that sin damns, and that it only takes one sin to
bring condemnation? We certainly cannot arrive at truth if we must pit the Bible
against itself in order to find reconciliation! This false dilemma exists
because some teachers impose something into the idea of chastisement that is
just not there… willful sin. We can “read it into it,” but we
cannot draw it “out of it.” Since the passages in question, which assert
chastisement, never connect willful sin to the chastisement, we must look
to see if there is another option that is in concert with what we know the Bible
says about sin.
We discussed the issue of
defining sin in an earlier paper,
What Is Sin? The discussion admitted of more
than one type of sin, but centered on the type of sin that separates a soul from
God. We saw that sin was a willful transgression of a known law of God. But what
does the atonement do with unwillful sin, or sins of ignorance? What I am
suggesting is, that even those actions, which do not involve rebellion in our
hearts, are technically sins that need atonement. They displease God because it
is sin, so God makes atonement for them. But God does not condemn us for these
“sins” because they do not involve guilt. They are missing the elements of
rebellion, knowledge, and willful action. Paul confronted the same issue with
the pagan Corinthians. In exasperation, Paul is astonished that these Christians
were so ignorant of sin. Paul still considered them Christians, for they were
ignorant of God’s laws. “Did you not know?” is his astonished plea! (1 Cor.
6: 9, 15, 16, 19, and many more!). He even encountered a man that was having
sexual relations with his stepmother! (1 Cor. 5:1-3). On this issue, the context
tells us that the offender and the Church at Corinth were not ignorant of
God’s law about fornication (v.7, 9). Paul scolds them for tolerating such a
person in their midst, and demands an excommunication, turning such a one over
to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5). I tell you, God had already turned him over, the Church
just had not! Paul acted, as God would have if He were there in person. The sins
of ignorance were patiently explained to the believers, but those sins that were
known to be sins, and were willfully violated, received no tolerance whatsoever!
There is nothing in Scripture
that states that chastisement is dealing with sin as a known and willful
rebellion. With that being a fact, it is prudent not to read it into it, for we
know that “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” Why bring the
Bible into contradiction when we can have consistency and the truth? We do not
derive doctrinal concepts upon those things that we wish to read into
chastisement, but only those things which God reveals to us.
Christians are a work in
progress. What I mean by this is, Christians don’t have all the light that
they will receive at the moment of salvation. God may reveal through Scripture
that they are doing something wrong… it is sin! Upon the reception of that
light, the believer can reject the sin, or reject God. The choice is theirs.
More subtle forms of conviction come in the matter of new light. Perhaps one
young lady is convicted about the length of her hemline. If you have looked, you
probably noticed that the Bible does not establish a hemline for a dress. One
woman may have a hemline at her knees, and God does not give her a strong
conviction. To another woman, God convicts, and even chastens her about that
same hemline. You see, if God convicts you that something is a sin for you,
it may not be a sin for someone else! But if God convicts you, it
is a sin! We may not know the will of God concerning everything that is
written in Scripture, alone that which He may personally convict us of in the
future! If we suffer chastisement, it is most likely that God is reaching us
with new light, letting us know that some unknown sin is in us! This has no
bearing upon our relationship with Him, for we are not in any rebellion towards
Him! We do not know of the sin until He tells us about that sin! “The object
of the discipline is to deliver the subjects of it from sin, to establish them
in the faith, and to perfect them in holiness.”5
The end result of chastisement is to bring our personal holiness in line
with God’s holiness. One can be a Christian for years, and can be 100%
obedient to God in their hearts, but be innocently ignorant that something they
are doing is wrong! Are they disobedient to God? No! Absolutely not! But once
God reveals the sin to them, they cannot continue in that sin any longer and be
Some may see the idea that God
deals with unwillful sin differently than He does with willful sin as being an
artificial division. They see the chastening of the Lord towards sinful Israel.
This is a legitimate concern, but in the New Testament, the chastening is not
spoken of as corporate, but individual. Even in the Church today, not all are in
line with the will of God. God can and does chastise even a fallen Church, for
even within a largely apostate body, there remains a remnant of true believers.
But as for individuals, God personally speaks to them, correcting believers in
order to bring them in alignment with His will for their lives.
Another problem that makes this
concept difficult is that people have been led to believe that there is no
differentiation in sins before God. This is quite to the contrary of the
Scriptures. It is obvious that God does not damn a soul for that which they did
not know was wrong, or was accidental, for God does not send babies to hell for
waiving their arms and injuring someone. Sins of ignorance carry no personal
guilt, for there is no rebellion. Murder is worse than a “white lie,” even
in God’s eyes. Yet the wages of sin is death, whether it is a white lie, or
murder. Many people have bought into the nonsense that all sins are equal. Even
in the Old Testament, all sins were not equal. Some carried a death sentence,
and others did not. God requires atonement for all sins, known or
unknown. He does however require different levels of atonement for willful sins
verses unwillful sins. God treats them differently. “In the case of
unintentional sin, remorse and sacrifice are sufficient for atonement. But where
sin was “high-handed,” i.e., deliberate, reparation and public confession
were necessary prerequisites to sacrificial atonement.”6
“And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly,
when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and
it shall be forgiven him” (Num. 15:28). But we see something different for
those who sin presumptuously with a “high-hand.” “But the soul that doeth
ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same
reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Because he hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his
iniquity shall be upon him” (Num. 15: 30-31). There was no atonement for a sin
of defiance. The person was cut off. “Herein is at once contrast and likeness:
contrast, in that the gospel hath forgiveness for all sin and wickedness (Mark
3:28; Acts 13:39; Rom. 8:1; 1 Jn. 2:1); likeness, in that a marked distinction
is made between sins against the light and other sins (Mark 3:29; Luke 23:34;
John 19:11; 1 Tim. 1:13; Heb. 6:4; 10:26; 1 John 5:16.”7
There was a distinction in the Old Testament as there is in the New.
“And the priest shall make an
atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance
before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him”
(Num. 15:28). Jesus is our High Priest. “Seeing that we have a great high
priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast
our profession” (Heb. 4:14). “But this man, after he had offered one
sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).
Jesus as our High Priest has made sacrifice for the people of God concerning
sins of ignorance. As it was symbolically covered in the Old Testament, Jesus
completes it in the New. What do we make of the matter of sinning with a
“high-hand”? “But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be
born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul
shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath broken his commandment,
that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him” (Num. 15:
30-31). As the sacrifice that the priests offered for the “sins of
ignorance” was for the people in the Old Testament, it represents that Jesus
has automatically covered unwillful sins of ignorance for the people in the New
Testament. Willful sin did not have an available atonement in the Old Testament,
perhaps because it was not yet completed in Christ. We do have however, a
parallel between the two Testaments concerning the effect of willful sin. In the
New Testament, a willful sin causes an immediate separation, but has the hope of
forgiveness upon the conditions of confession and repentance (1 Jn. 1:9). There
is nothing in the way of an automatic covering. While this may seem to be harsh,
we must put it in perspective with the Old Testament lack of provision!
Willful sin separates the sinner
immediately. Thus, chastisement may be used to convict and bring one back to
Christ, but their son-ship is nothing more than that of the Prodigal son, who
would have been in hell if he had never repented. Chastisement is primarily for
those that are currently sons of God. The purpose of chastisement is stated,
“For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but
he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness”
(Heb.12:10). While chastening is not pleasurable (12:11), it has its purpose to
make us holy. “No man can understand the benefit of divine chastisement, who
understands not the excellency of a participation of God’s holiness.—No man
can find any good in a bitter potion, who understands not the benefit of health.
If we have not a due valuation of this blessed privilege, it is impossible we
should ever make a right judgment concerning our afflictions.” “There can be
no greater pledge or evidence of divine love in afflictions than this, that God
designs by them to “make us partakers of his holiness,”—to bring us nearer
to him, and make us more like him.”8
“Our earthly fathers may sometimes have been mistaken in their estimate of the
discipline that we needed; our heavenly Father, in the perfection of His wisdom
and love, can be relied upon never to impose any discipline on us that is not
for our good. The supreme good that He has in view for His children is this,
that they should share in His holiness.”9
Discipline has the objective of teaching and correcting. Justice is therefore
not the goal of chastisement. Chastisement is intended to teach us, to reveal
wrongs that need to be corrected. It is to make us holy, not to punish us for
The Theology Of
Sin starts with God’s holiness, and ends in God’s holiness. It is His
design and purpose for man. It was that way in the Garden, and it remains so
now. God has not changed His mind about sin. We have no license to make the
matter of God’s chastisement to be an excuse for sin in the believer. While
there may be a secondary chastisement of apostates and rebels, the chastisement
of “sons” is restricted to believers. The sin therefore must be sins of
ignorance and not willful sins. We have no logical reason to claim rebellious
sinners as “sons.” The Scriptures do not affirm or associate “sons” with
those that are currently in willful rebellion. If the Scriptures do not make the
connection, we should not. Nothing good can come from such artificial
interjections of theology. Therefore, chastisement cannot be used as
justification for continued sinning, nor does it establish any such doctrine as
If chastisement is God’s way of
getting our attention so we can receive more light, then, are we missing God’s
message if we are dismissing chastisement as just “troubles in our life?”
What grief could we avoid if we were only more sensitive to the chastisement of
the Holy Spirit? Is God disciplining us because we have become complacent? Are
we no longer listening to God to see if there is anything in us that is
unpleasing to Him? Have we become complacent because we are satisfied with the
fact that we do not “willfully sin” right now? Are we ignoring that God
still has a plan to reveal new things to us that will require an adjustment?
Possibly so! Even holy people sometimes miss that God is asking something new of
them. Some, who are 100% obedient to God, can be made more holy still, if they
can perceive and understand the chastisement of God.
1 Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, William Wilson, Mac Donald Publishing Co., McLean, VA. No Date. Page74.
A Theology of Sin
The Holiness of God
What is Sin?
The Wages of Sin
The Depravity of Man
The Grace of God
Sin and the Atonement
Must we Sin?
Chastisement and the Christian