What is chastening? How does God chasten us?Hebrews 12:5–6 says: "And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.'" In the KJV, the word "disciplines" in verse 6 is translated as "chastens." This passage refers back to Proverbs 3:11–12. God's chastening is, at its core, His treatment of us as His children (Hebrews 12:7; see also John 1:12; Galatians 3:26).
This leads us to a couple of questions: Why are we chastened? What does the chastening of God look like? We find a good starting point on answering both of these questions by looking to the dictionary. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word "chasten" as: "1: to correct by punishment or suffering: DISCIPLINE, also: PURIFY; 2a: to prune (something, such as a work or style of art) of excess, pretense, or falsity: REFINE; 2b: to cause to be more humble or restrained: SUBDUE." Chastening is for the purpose of discipline and purification.
When we are being chastened, we may have feelings of conviction, experience difficult circumstances in our lives, or have decreased peace. These signs may be indicators that God is chastening us or that there is an area of life that needs to be addressed.
Many times, we are chastened as a result of our own sins. Just as an earthly father must discipline His children when they are disobedient, so God must discipline us when we are not resisting temptation or are living in sin. Many times, discipline is for our own safety and wellbeing; God sees the areas of danger that we ourselves cannot see. God's chastening is done as a method of purifying us and guiding us back to holiness. God is not a vindictive father punishing us for our past sins; Jesus took the punishment and condemnation for our sins on Himself; there remains no punishment for those who have put their faith in Jesus (Romans 5:9; 8:1).
The Bible offers plenty of examples of chastening, a recurring example being that of God's response to the Israelite people's perpetual disobedience (Numbers 14:21–23; Judges 2:1–5; 2 Kings 18:12). God was patient with the Israelites and sent prophets to speak with them in an effort to motivate them to turn back to God, but when they refused to listen and worshipped idols instead, God chastened them with plagues and attacks from enemies (Jeremiah 40:3). Because He loved them, God could not let the Israelites continue living in ways that would ultimately destroy them (Zechariah 13:9; Isaiah 48:10).
When we are saved by giving our lives to Christ, God no longer remembers our sins (Hebrews 8:12; 10:15–18). Even though we have forgiveness for our sins, this does not mean that we will not experience negative consequences for choosing them in the first place. The natural consequences of our sins are things that God can use to teach and train us in righteousness so that we will not make the same mistakes. At the same time, they remind us of the grace and forgiveness that God has freely bestowed on us. While we may experience consequences for our sins, we know that they have been forgiven.
Chastening also functions as a method of God pruning us. Jesus said of God: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Pruning is a part of the process we must go through in order to continue bearing spiritual fruit. When God prunes us, the result is the refining of our faith and the humility of our hearts.
As the Hebrews scripture says, God chastens those He loves. In the Bible, people whom the Lord was close with and delighted in still experienced His chastening. A few examples include: Moses (Numbers 27:12–14), David (1 Chronicles 28:3), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:11). These men were still loved and walked in God's purpose for them, but there was a hindrance they allowed to enter into their own lives because of their sin. God's Father-heart in discipline is always to restore us into right relationship with Him.
God cannot let us get away with sinning because it would be contrary to His character (Psalm 18:30; Matthew 5:48). God is holy, and He calls us to holy lives, as well: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:14–16; see also 1 John 1:9). When we have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and been saved, there should be a marked transformation in the way we live our lives. If someone professes Christ and continues living in sin without repenting or showing remorse, they may not be a true child of God (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5–11; Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12; 1 John 3:4–10). When God provides correction, it is up to us to either positively respond or face whatever the natural consequences of our continued sin may be. Correction from the Lord is not easy, but we can be confident that it is for our good and it is motived by His love for us.
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