God’s Encouragement for Today’s Christian – Program 5

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1997
How can we know when difficulties in our life are as the result of God disciplining us? Not every hardship we face is as a result of our sin or some area God needs to correct. But how should we react when facing difficulties?

Experiencing God’s Discipline

Do you need to experience God’s encouragement for what you are facing? Many Christians go about their daily lives feeling as if they are carrying the whole world on their shoulders. They seem to be surrounded by troubles that make them sad and confused. They also worry a lot. Life seems to overwhelm them at times. As a result, they have a hard time controlling their feelings and very seldom feel any joy. Is that what you’re feeling right now? Others have nagging doubts. How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your past sins? Or, maybe you’re asking, “How can I live victoriously and actually experience Christ’s joy and peace moment by moment?” On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show we will answer the question: “How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your sins?” We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Our topic today is an interesting one-God’s discipline of His own; why it happens, and how not to lose heart during the process. All Christians are familiar with the verse Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Christians usually quote this verse when tragedy hits, when they’ve lost their job, when difficult times come. In doing so, we are saying, “Yes, we believe God is still in charge and has allowed these things to come into my life for my ultimate good.”
Today we want to examine this a little closer and see what God says is going on in our lives. To begin, in 2 Corinthians 1, the great apostle Paul tells us about the problems that he faced. He said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure.” [2 Cor. 1:8]
Let me stop right here and say that Christians do suffer hardship. Some in the Church are wrongly teaching that whatever circumstances you face, God will give you total and complete victory in the sense that if you’re sick, you’ll always be healed; if you’re financially poor, you’ll always get more money than bills; if you have troubles in your marriage, it will always work out just right. That was not the experience of the apostle Paul. He says he did suffer hardships in the province of Asia. Paul suffered, not because he hadn’t prayed enough or because he forgot to ask God to remove these hard circumstances. No, Paul was the very one who told Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 to pray continually, and to pray on all occasions. [cf. Eph. 6:18] So from Paul’s own life we can learn that a Christian can sometimes pray and ask God to remove hardships and God doesn’t. But He always promises to give us His strength and His peace if we are to go through hardships.
Paul then writes, “We were under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure.” In other words, the circumstances he faced drained him completely. He did not have enough strength and ability of his own to endure them. He says it got so bad, “that we despaired even of life.” [2 Cor. 1:8] In other words, he didn’t think he would make it. He had gotten to the point where he had given up on the idea that he could live through his circumstances.
Then Paul says, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” [2 Cor. 1:9] Notice he says he felt like death or that death was hanging over him, coming his way. Is that the way you feel? Have you gotten that low? Is all of your energy and strength gone? Have you even despaired of life itself? Well, that is what the apostle Paul says he experienced.
But then notice what he says. He tells why these tough times happened to him. The reason is this: “But that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” [2 Cor. 1:9] The terrible feelings, the despair of life, the hard circumstances happened so that Paul would realize he had come to the end of his own resources – his own strength and energy – and would have to rely totally on God. The hardship came so Paul would come to the end of his own self-confidence and he would know there was no way he could get through those events in his own power. We are to trust God moment by moment for all the events of our life. Is that what you’re learning right now? The Scriptures teach that God allows these events to come into our lives so that we will ultimately be broken of relying on our usual resources, our usual methods of dealing with things, and find our total strength and security in God alone.
Notice, when Paul learned this lesson, what did God do? He says in verse 10, “[God] has delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” [2 Cor. 1:10-11] So Paul’s testimony was this: in the midst of his dreadful circumstances, God delivered them. As a result, Paul could say his hope and his security for the future were totally in the Lord. The main point of all Paul says is this: God wants us to rely totally on Him for our strength, for our energy, for our future.
Right along this line, the Bible teaches in Hebrews 12:5-11, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves; and he scourges everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
A couple of things here: one, the Bible teaches that every Christian, every true son or daughter of God, will experience the loving discipline of God in his or her life. Now, think about it for a moment. If you’re a mother or father and you have children, when you see them putting their hand toward the bright flame on the stove, or starting to put their finger into a wall socket, or going close to the stairs where they could fall down, what do you do? Because you love them, you rebuke and discipline them. You say, “Don’t do that,” and explain why.
Now some children obey immediately. They trust their parent’s word. Others don’t obey, and as a result, you have to discipline them again, maybe spank them to get the message across. The first time the punishment can be light, but if a child remains disobedient, you increase the punishment. Your goal is to rid them of harmful behavior. It is for their own good. Further, even though you lovingly discipline your children, sometimes they will persist in their disobedience to the point that they must learn the hard way. They put their hand in the fire and they get burned. Or they go over the steps and fall down and hurt themselves. After they get hurt and feel the pain, they realize that what their parents told them was for their own good.
This brings us to the second point. Parents don’t correct their children because they want to punish them or discourage them. No, just the opposite; they correct their children because they love them. And the same is true of God. God loves us. When we admit we are sinners and put our trust in Christ to be our Savior, God makes us His children and begins treating us as His children.
The Bible says, “As many as received Him [that’s Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” [John 1:12] Further, the Bible says, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” [1 John 5:12] The moment that you believed in Jesus Christ, God gave you life, exciting, spiritual life that begins now and continues after death. That’s why it’s called “eternal” life. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.” [John 6:47] In John 10:10 He said, “I have come that they might have life and might have it more abundantly.”
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” [John 6:37-40]
So God, out of His grace, has showered His love on us, giving us His gift of eternal life and forgiving us of our sins as a result of having His Son die on the cross and pay for the punishment we deserve. The moment we believe, God appropriates all of this to us and we enter into a love relationship with Him. He is our loving Heavenly Father. And we start to walk with Him, trusting Him to show us how to live for our own good, our own eternal good.
This brings us to the third point. If we are sensitive to God’s leading and obey Him, His discipline is light. As we read God’s Word and allow the Holy Spirit to use Scripture to guide us, the Holy Spirit provides the power we need to live in relationship with God. But some of us are like stubborn children who refuse to obey their parents. After the Lord instructs us in His Word and through the teaching of the Word of God at church, there are still times Christians refuse to put into practice what they have learned. We all have ingrained habits that we have developed over a lifetime. We have our own way of doing things to get self-acceptance and self-esteem. According to Romans chapters 6 and 7, these are fleshly patterns; worldly, fleshly ways of living life, not the ways and patterns for living that God wants. What does God do to break us of these bad habits? God begins to work in our lives so we will really know and experience His love. He begins to work in our lives so that we will realize He is, and should be, the true Source of all our needs.
Maybe as a Christian you have never realized what God has said He intends for your life. First, the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 3 that God wants you to be rooted in love so that Christ can dwell freely in your heart, that is, so Christ can be at home in your heart.
Second, Paul says in Ephesians 3:16-19, “I pray that out of God’s glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge….” So God wants you to be rooted and established in His love for you, and draw on His power to allow Christ to live in your life.
Third, God’s Word also tells us in Romans 8:29, “For whom he [God] foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ.” God’s goal is to conform us to the image of His Son. What does this mean? How are we to be like Christ? Many people think that Jesus Christ was the most independent person who ever lived. He had all power and wisdom in Himself and did not need to rely on anybody else. Yes, He was God the Son, but the fact is, according to the Bible, Jesus modeled for us how to live dependent upon His Heavenly Father.
In John 6:38 Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me.” He said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.” [John 7:16] Jesus said in John 8:28-29, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Further, in John 12:49-50 He said, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it…. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” Finally, in John 14:10 Jesus stated, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”
So Jesus lived here on earth dependent on the Father for every part of His life, His work, and what He taught. Even the miracles Jesus did and His sacrificial death on the cross for mankind’s sin were part of the Father’s will that Jesus obeyed. So when the Scripture says that it’s God’s will for us to become conformed to the image of His Son, it is teaching that God intends for every Christian to learn how to be as dependent on Him as Jesus was.
Like Jesus, we too are to allow the Father to guide and direct us, allow Him to be the Source of all our needs. Our security is to come from God the Father; we are to look to Him to give us our goals in life; the jobs we do; the people we marry; how we raise our children. In all of these things we are to be dependent on the Father and obey His will. When we rebel, when we sin, when we push aside the Father’s will for our life, He lovingly disciplines us as His children. He does it for our own good in order to put us back on the path where we need to be.
As author Bill Gilliam has written in his book, Lifetime Guarantee, when we rebel or just get out of line through sheer ignorance, God allows a little bit of the “all things” of Romans 8:28 to enter into our lives. These circumstances get our attention and bring us back to depending solely on God. The apostle Paul had to learn this. The disciples of Jesus had to learn this. And every Christian down through the ages, according to Hebrews 12, has been disciplined in a similar manner. [Heb. 12:5-6] That means you and I will also be disciplined by God.
Our eternal security is not at stake. No. It is our relationship to God. It is our conformity to God’s Son. If before you and I die, on a scale of one to ten, if we are only conformed to the image of God’s Son at a level two and God wants us to get to at least a level six, then He can allow a little of the “all things” to come into our lives. As a result, we will abandon our own way of doing things and totally surrender to the Father’s will. He wants to be our ultimate source of strength to meet all of our needs.
Let’s see if we can illustrate this from the life of the apostle Peter. From what we read of Peter in Scripture, he was a man of great self confidence in his own strength. His own personal code seemed to be that he would never quit in any tough situation. If Peter couldn’t trust others to get the job done, he always figured that he could count on himself; he would never quit; he would always come through. He would die rather than fail.
It was Peter who told the Lord in Luke 22:33, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” When he said this, Peter was trusting in his own strength. He was confident in his own abilities. The problem was, his faith was in the wrong source; it needed to be in God, not in himself. It’s interesting to read Jesus’ reply to Peter. Jesus told him in Luke 22:34, “Peter, I tell you, before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”
Now, was Peter just blowing smoke at Jesus when he bragged that he was ready to go to prison or die for Jesus if necessary? No. If you look at John 18, you’ll see Peter really meant what he said. In this account we find Judas coming out to betray Jesus. It says, “So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.” [John 18:3]
Question: How many men were in a detachment? Luke 22:47 says, “A crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them.” Matthew reports, “Judas… arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs.” [Matt. 26:47] Some scholars state that a detachment of soldiers consisted of 600 men. So picture 600 armed soldiers coming for Jesus.
And what did Peter do? The Bible says, “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” [John 18:10] Think about this. Peter steps up and draws his sword and is willing to take on 600 soldiers. One against 600 is pretty poor odds. What it tells me is when Peter had told Jesus he would die for Him, he meant it. But Jesus healed the servant’s ear and told Peter, “Put your sword away.” Then Jesus was seized by the soldiers and they led Him away. And the Bible says Peter followed Jesus and the soldiers at a distance. [Luke 22:54] He was confused and worried, wondering what was going to happen.
The next thing we read about Peter, he is around a fire in a courtyard near where Jesus was being tried. A little servant girl saw him and said, “Weren’t you one of those fellows with Jesus?”
And he denied it. He said, “Woman, I don’t know Him.”
About an hour later, another girl came up and said, “Surely you were with the Galilean.”
Peter said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
To prove it, he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man.” [Luke 22:54-60; Matt. 26:69-74]
Is this the same guy who was just willing to take on 600 soldiers? It is. But Peter’s courage evaporated in front of two girls. His ability to maintain control no matter what situation he faced was gone. He was proved to be a coward in the most humiliating way. Two little girls were able to defeat him. And as soon as he denied Christ, the rooster started to crow and Peter remembered what Jesus had said. With dismay, he thought back on his declaration to Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
What had happened? Jesus had told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [plural – this included the other disciples] as wheat. But I have prayed for you [singular], Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” [Luke 22:31] Apparently, Satan had asked permission from God to tempt Peter. Revelation 12:10 says, “Satan is the accuser of the brethren before God day and night.”
In Job 1:9 Satan accused Job, a righteous and blameless man before God. In Zechariah 3:1 Satan accused Joshua the high priest before God. Notice, in both accounts God is in charge. Satan must ask permission of God to tempt us in any way. God knew Peter was relying on his own strength, his own self-confidence, his own abilities to follow Jesus. God removed his courage to put him in a situation where Peter’s ability to maintain control was gone, and he acted like a coward. Peter had apparently grown up always believing he had the strength and ability to meet any situation. He believed if he promised God he would obey Him, then He could pull that off by himself. In other words, he had the integrity to impress God. He had the self-confidence that he himself could pass whatever test would come his way. These ideas had been patterned and maintained by Peter for years. But now Peter was broken. After he had failed and denied Jesus three times, the rooster crowed and he remembered what Jesus had said. He now understood and went out and wept bitterly.
Later, Peter responded properly to this experience of brokenness. The Lord forgave him; removed his cowardice and gave him back his courage. But He said, “Now you’ll trust solely in me, in my strength. Your boldness will be my Holy Spirit working through you. It will be loving and gentle; not brazen and self-serving. People will see Christ in you and you will bring glory and honor to my name.”
Have you come to the end of your resources? Are you trusting solely in God’s power, in His strength for your every need? When we hold things back, when we do things our own way, our loving Heavenly Father says He will discipline us and bring us to the point of realizing our need of Him. He can allow our own stubbornness, our own rebelliousness to affect us, or even allow Stan freedom to touch one particular area of our life. God is always in control, and always disciplines us in love. He deals with each of us personally.
The book of Hebrews says when we experience God’s discipline, we are not to make light of it; we are not to lose heart knowing that He only disciplines those He loves. We are to submit to God, learn our lesson and move on. It is good. The Bible says if we do, God’s discipline will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. [Heb. 12]

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