You wrestle, contest, and fight, like an athlete in a bout or a warrior in a battle. Your face your opponent at every step, turn, and meter of the race. Your opponent is sin. Father’s response to your struggle with sin is discipline – not punishment for the fact that sin surrounds you and you struggle with it, but discipline that prepares you to win and finish the race route you must complete.
The context of this discussion in Hebrews 12 uses the metaphor of the athletic contest: we are running the race that Jesus has run and won. The writer discusses Father’s discipline in light of “running the race” and “looking to Jesus, our Source and Resource for enduring faith.” The struggle in this marathon comes from “the well-placed sin that surrounds us.” The sense of “well-placed” opposition calls to mind that our opponent remains a part of the entire route set before us, and we face this opponent at every turn. The race lifestyle meets up with this opponent continually; while we might assume the race struggles with our own limitations and training, Father knows that we have the ever-present challenge of a satanic method to entangle our feet and trip us up.
“Looking to Jesus” means seeing the Champion who has run and won this race. His victory in the race conquered sin. We are running against the same opponent but must receive more than we can ever possess in training ourselves, so He endured the hostility of sinners. We endure the surrounding sin that seeks to entangle our progress; He endured the hostility of sinners because He had no sin. He ran through endurance as we do, but His race broke the back of the opposition in ways that provide us with what we do not have, what we must have to win the same race.
At this point in the discussion, the writer of Hebrews says, “In our marathon battle with sin, we have not yet experience blood loss.” Jesus did. We have not. Instead of shedding our own blood, which wouldn’t provide us what we need in any case, we see Jesus who did shed His blood; His contest did go that far, the hostility against Him much more severe than what we must endure to win.
We are struggling with sin, however, and in that struggle we receive what God knows we need to endure the battle and win the race! We receive Father’s discipline. Jesus sits next to Father, so we don’t die to win the race. He already did that shedding of blood, so Father provides what His death makes available through discipline. We can win this race because of Jesus! We can endure the opposition with a course of continuous victory because of Father!
Father Disciplines His Children
Father disciplines authentic children who run the race with His jersey on their backs. The discipline isn’t for every contestant. He does not discipline people who are not yet born of God.
That first premise of the discussion of discipline specifies the relationship in which discipline occurs. Father disciplines true children. He deals with others in a different way.
Father’s discipline is spiritual. When He spanks you, you will not see welts on your body or experience the physical pain of the whip. Sickness and disease is not discipline. Fathers of the flesh (verse 9) would produce physical pain in the process of discipline, in other words, but not the heavenly Father. While His discipline cannot be experienced physically, it is more real than what our earthly fathers can provide us.
We submit to this physical process of discipline, provided by natural fathering leaders, and we should submit even more readily to the spiritual disciplines of our Father.
If you have no spiritual birth, you cannot receive God’s spiritual discipline. You are not His legitimate child unless you are born of God. That doesn’t say God isn’t involved in your life that mercy isn’t fully functional, creating opportunities as each day dawns through which you can turn to Him. God is dealing with people who are not His legitimate children, but not dealing with them in discipline. Discipline is for His true sons and daughters.
Father disciplines because we need discipline to win the battle and finish the race. The race isn’t the battle. The race is the process. The struggle we have with sin could knock us out of the race, hinder our progress, or entangle us in ways that put us on the sidelines.
Discipline provides us what we need to continue running toward the “finish” Jesus has provided for us. Because authentic children receive discipline and others do not, we understand discipline in its valid, empowering function: discipline strengthens us so we overcome sin.
Jesus overcame sinners because He had no sin. He overcame the temptation and tests of sinfulness surrounding Him, but He had no sin within Himself or in His history. On the other hand, His victory in this race opened this marathon route to us so we can run the race He ran. Before Jesus, we couldn’t run on this track! That is, the race set before us is for Father’s authentic children who enter this race to finish the same route Jesus finished. Unless you are born of God, you can’t run this route at all. You would be entangled to the point of complete immobility at the first step. Father doesn’t discipline you if you aren’t an authentic child simply because you can’t run this race route at all.
Father’s Discipline for Endurance
“Discipline strengthens us so we can overcome sin.” The sin mentioned here surrounds us, entrenched all along this route, well placed with battlefield strategy, and alert to every opportunity the route and our running provides for attack.
Listen to what Scripture tells you about discipline, and you will embrace Father’s discipline with quiet, restful concentration. You will embrace a lifestyle of His discipline because you have learned that your own discipline does not produce the necessary endurance for overcoming entanglements.
If you could overcome without Father’s discipline, He would not be applying His discipline. If you needed something else, or already had something else you needed, He would not be prioritizing discipline as His response to your daily contest! Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Father knows what you need when you do not know what to ask for!
Discipline strengthens the will so you endure. Discipline strengthens your will so you continue to choose to empty yourself out for the next step, the next turn, the next marker while you stare ahead at Jesus as the only Goal post for the finish line. Discipline strengthens you.
Physical discipline profits little, and that kind of disciplined determination can help you understand Father’s spiritual discipline. However, physical and spiritual disciplines are so different that your strength of will to endure physical discipline limits your endurance of spiritual discipline. [Yes, that is what I said. Read that again.] Your greatest hindrance to winning this race is your own strength and wisdom.
Physical and spiritual disciplines are so different that your strength of will for physical discipline limits your endurance of spiritual discipline.
Physical discipline produces selfish determination and makes you strong. Spiritual discipline produces God’s determination – what He determines for your life and how you can achieve what He wants – and He makes you strong through your submission to His grace and strength. Father will discipline your life so that you become weaker in your own wisdom and strength so receive ultimate grace and Divine strength!
Father knows you need enabling grace and heavenly strength to run this race, so His method for providing that is discipline and your response to receiving that is submission.
Discipling people to be strong in themselves defeats the power of the Cross and Spirit and provides people with substitutes for grace and strength that only comes from God.
Discipline Strengthens Your Will to Submit
To know the love of the Father is to know the discipline of the Father. To know His love more deeply, submit to His discipline. To mature in love so you can experience Father’s love, you need to trust. You build trust by submitting, resting, and enduring.
What does that look like? It looks like a sweaty runner pressing muscles, stretching tendons, gasping for air and reaching the next level of endurance while fully at peace, rest, and joy with the process.
Champions do not skirt confrontations with the enemy, quit running the race to rest on the sidelines in their efforts to avoid the strains of competition. Champions rest while running; they are at rest in the midst of their enduring, weak with surrender to Father’s grace and strength, and at home with pressing through entangling encroachments of sin.