Endure hardships as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
To discover the meaning of the discipline of God in Hebrews 12:7, we must first understand the context of the verse. To understand the context, we must understand the author's purpose in writing the letter.
The author is writing to the Hebrew people to convince them that God has replaced the old covenant of law with the new covenant of grace. Hebrews 9:15 and 10:9 says:
Christ is the mediator of a new covenant...
He sets aside the first (old covenant of law) to
establish the second (new covenant of grace).
The first covenant was a temporary covenant of law based on the book of Leviticus where the blood of bulls, goats, and lambs was sacrificed as an atonement (to temporarily cover the sins of people until the full payment was made by Jesus) for the sins of the people. In addition, various ceremonial washings were temporarily instituted as a way to make men outwardly clean. However, these sacrifices and washings could never permanently forgive sin or make people internally clean before God. They were only external shadows of the real blood of Jesus that would internally and eternally forgive people their sins, washing them totally clean.
The law (the priests, the blood sacrifices, foods, drinks, and ceremonial, washings) is only a shadow of the good things that are coming (the blood of Jesus, the new covenant of grace, complete and eternal forgiveness, holy and perfect before God, writing his love on our hearts)- not the realities themselves (Jesus' blood, complete and eternal forgiveness and righteousness, writing his love on our hearts)...it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.
They (regulations and sacrifices required by the old covenant of law) are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings - external regulations applying until the time of the new order (new covenant of grace).
He (Jesus) did not enter (the Most Holy Place where the shed blood of bulls, goats, and lambs were taken as a atonement for people's sins) by means of goats and calves (as did the high priest); but he entered the Most Holy Place (the actual presence of God in heaven) once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (the complete, final, and everlasting payment for forgiveness of our sins through his blood)
Through the death and blood of Jesus, the new covenant of grace fulfilled and replaced the old covenant of law (see also Matthew 26:28 and Luke 22:20)
Christ is the mediator of a new covenant...a covenant is in force only when somebody dies; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.
Day after day and year after year the priests stood and made sacrifices and offered them to God to cover (atone for) the sins of the people. However, their work was never done. Yet, Jesus offered his own blood for all people at one time when he sacrificed himself and carried his blood poured out for our sins into heaven itself as the complete, final, and eternal payment for our sins. Jesus' work was completely done!
For Christ...entered Heaven itself (to present his blood for our sins before God), now to appear for us in God's presence.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down (finished) at the right hand of God.
For about fifteen hundred years, the Hebrew people had lived under the law. Now, through the blood of Jesus, God had replaced the the old covenant of law with the new covenant of grace.
The Hebrew people had a choice to make. Whose blood would they now place their faith in ...the blood of animals or the blood of Jesus? Would they show unbelief in Jesus and disobedience to God (Hebrews 3:12-4:11) by continuing to live under the old covenant of law through sacrificing animals and participating in ceremonial washings (this was the deliberate sin of Hebrews 10:26)? Or would they believe in Jesus by placing their faith in his shed blood?
Placing their faith in Jesus would result in severe persecution that could possibly cause some to shrink back into the old covenant of law in fear, rather than step forward into the new covenant of grace by faith.
But my righteous one will live by faith (in Jesus' sacrifice for sin). And if he shrinks back (into the old covenant of law) I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back (into the old covenant of law) and are destroyed, but of those who believe (in Jesus, the new covenant of grace) and are saved.
Remember, we are seeking to understand God's discipline in Hebrews 12:7 by looking at the purpose the letter of Hebrews was written. Again, Hebrews 12:7 says:
Endure hardships as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
Now that we have looked at the author's purpose for writing the letter to the Hebrew people, let's take a look at the immediate context of Hebrews 12:7.The immediate context is the perseverance of those who would be persecuted if they accepted the new covenant of grace by putting their belief and faith in Jesus . In the face of this persecution, they were on the verge of deliberately rejecting the blood of Jesus as the payment for their sins, the new covenant of grace, and returning (shrink back) to sacrificing bulls and goats for forgiveness of sins under the old covenant law (Hebrews 10:26-34). As a result, they were being encouraged by the writer of Hebrews to persevere by faith in the face of these persecutions or hardships. He was encouraging them not to allow the persecutions and hardships to cause them to deliberately reject the truth of Jesus they had been enlightened to by stepping back in fear, but to see these persecutions and hardships as opportunities to step up in faith and be saved by believing in Jesus.
See to it that you do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God (embrace the new covenant of grace through belief, faith) you will receive what he promised...But we are not of those who shrink back (into the old covenant of law) and are destroyed, but those who believe (in the new covenant of grace, namely Jesus) and are saved.
In Hebrews 11, to encourage these who were on the brink of rejecting Jesus through unbelief because of persecutions and hardships, the writer of Hebrews gives examples from the history of Israel of those who stood their ground by faith when faced with hardships and persecutions. The lesson the writer wanted them to learn was that if they persevered and endured by placing their faith in Jesus in the face of persecutions and hardships and did not reject Jesus because of fear, they would experience all that God had for them (richly rewarded). The writer then encouraged them to endure the current persecutions and hardships they were facing in the present because God had so many good things he wanted them to experience in the new covenant of grace (Hebrews 10:39).
These people from Israel's history who, by faith, stood their ground in the face of persecution and hardships, are called a great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1. In view of the faith of these great cloud of witnesses, the writer of Hebrews encourages these Jewish people to throw off the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for them.
The sin that so easily entangles in the book of Hebrews is the sin of unbelief. Hebrews 3:12 says:
See to it, brothers (my Jewish brothers, not Christian brothers), that none of you have a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (by rejecting the new covenant of grace).
A sinful heart in the book of Hebrews is unbelief in Jesus (Hebrews 3:7-4:3). Many of the Jewish people who initially thought Jesus was the Messiah were now turning away from him by rejecting Jesus' payment for their sin. They were holding on to the old covenant of law (Hebrews 10:1-4) even though the blood of Jesus ushered in the new covenant of grace (Hebrews 9:15-17, 10:5-20). By continuing to sacrifice bulls and goats, they were crucifying Jesus all over again (Hebrews 6:6) and trampling under foot the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:29) . In Hebrews 4:2, they were refusing to enter into by faith the "rest of the new covenant of grace". Instead, they were remaining in the works of the old covenant of law. This was the deliberate sin of Hebrews 10:26. As a result, they were entangled in unbelief by rejecting the new covenant of grace just like their ancestors did when their ancestors refused to enter into the Promise Land because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19).
Just as their ancestors were entangled in the sin of unbelief, by not entering the Promise Land, the current generation of Jews the author of Hebrews was writing to was about to be entangled in the sin of unbelief as well by refusing to enter into the Promise Land of the new covenant of grace.To those who were about to shrink back into the old covenant of law because of fear, in light of persecutions and hardships, the writer of Hebrews encourages them to throw off the sin of unbelief and run with perseverance the race marked out for them and modeled by their ancestors and Jesus himself. The race marked out for them is faith. The race of faith was marked out for them by the great cloud of witness of Hebrews 11 and Jesus on the cross.
Perseverance in the book of Hebrews is this: in the face of hardships and persecutions, embrace the new covenant of grace, which is the blood sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, rather than shrink back in fear into the old covenant of law, knowing, as they embrace grace, they would experience all that God had for them through Christ.
Jesus himself modeled perseverance by faith in the face of persecution from sinful men by enduring the shame of the cross for the joy set before him. Those considering shrinking back were encouraged to consider and follow the endurance of Jesus in his own struggle against the sinful opposition or persecution of men (Hebrews 12:2-4).
The writer of Hebrews was encouraging the people not to be ashamed of the cross or the blood of Jesus when faced with persecution from those who rejected the blood of Jesus and who saw the cross as something of which people should be ashamed.
Putting all this together, the sin that so easily entangles in Hebrews 12:1 is the sin of unbelief in the new covenant of grace ushered in by Jesus through his blood. This unbelief in many of the Jewish people was caused by the sinful opposition and persecution by those who were against the new covenant of grace.
The writer of Hebrews 12:7 then encourages these Jewish people to endure the hardships and persecution associated with embracing grace by placing their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus just as Jesus did when he went to the cross in the face of persecution. The author of Hebrews called this God's discipline. They were not being disciplined for sins of immorality in their lives. God was using the current hardships and persecutions to discipline or grow them in their faith. The discipline of God in Hebrews 12:7-13 is not punishment or discipline for sins, but rather training that would result in the growth of their faith and development of their character as they persevered by faith in the new covenant of grace in light of the hardships and persecutions they were experiencing from those who rejected it.
This discipline is similar to the book of James in chapter 1:2-4 and 2 Timothy 2:3.
Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its course so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3
So what is the discipline of God in Hebrews 12:7?
In Hebrews 12:7, rather than God's discipline being punishment for our sins, the discipline of God is when he uses the hardships and persecutions we experience because of our belief in the new covenant of grace, which is the finished work of Christ, to train us and develop our character so we can share more abundantly in all he has for us (Hebrews 12:11).
When people embrace the new covenant of grace, by placing their faith in Jesus' finished work for the eternal payment of our sins, they will be persecuted by those who don't. Today, this persecution will typically come from the religious crowd who embrace a portion of the new covenant of grace, but not all of it.
Those who fully embrace what the author of Hebrews says about the new covenant of grace believe the following:
TRUTH #1: The New Covenant (Testament) does not start at Matthew chapter one, the birth of Jesus, but starts with the death of Jesus at the end of Matthew. (I know this sounds strange, but let's look at this through the lens of what is biblical, not at what is traditional).
Then he (Jesus) took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many
for the forgiveness of sins."
"This cup (the death of Jesus) is the new covenant (of grace) in my blood which is poured out for you."
...by the grace of God, he (Jesus) might taste death for everyone.
To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant (grace)...In the case of a will (covenant or testament), it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died. It never takes effect while the one who made it is living.
Hebrews 9:15 - 17
So, according to the very words of Jesus and the word of God, the New Testament or Covenant does not start at Matthew chapter one, the birth of Jesus, but starts at the death of Jesus. Jesus was born under law, lived under law, and died to redeem us from the law.
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
born under law, to redeem those under law...
The entire time Jesus was alive, prior to his death, the old covenant of law was in effect. Jesus lived and taught under the old covenant of law. This sounds strange to us. Why? Because traditional teachings of men have taught us the New Testament starts at Matthew chapter one, when the biblical teaching clearly shows us the New Testament or Covenant starts at the death of Jesus.
The birth of Jesus is not where God divides the Old Covenant (Testament) from the New Covenant (Testament). Rather, God's dividing place is the death of Jesus, the cross. During Jesus' life on earth, he fully obeyed the law, becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins, he drank of the cup of death, having all our sins counted against himself and ushering in the new covenant of grace. Through the new covenant of grace, we experience complete forgiveness and are able to go boldly into God's presence just as we are, without fear or condemnation, but assured of his love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Why does understanding that the New Covenant of Grace starts at the death, not the birth of Christ, matter? It matters because it has everything to do with how we understand and apply Scripture to our lives. For example, Jesus, in the Lord's Prayer, tells us that if we do not forgive, God will not forgive us. Thus, placing conditions on our ability to experience God's forgiveness.
Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors...For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:12 and 14-15 (as well as Matthew 18:35)
This is the teaching on forgiveness Jesus instructed us on before the new covenant of grace was put into effect through his death. However, following his death, resurrection, and ascension, he revealed the truths of the new covenant of grace to Paul. Concerning forgiveness, Paul teaches us the following.
...forgive one another just as God in Christ forgave you.
He forgave us all our sins...Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 2:14 and 3:12
Under the new covenant of grace, the motivation for forgiving one another doesn't come from fear that we will not be forgiven if we do not forgive. That was under the old covenant of law which was designed to produce fear and drive us to Jesus for salvation through grace. Following the cross, the motivation for forgiving others comes from the fact that all our sins have been forgiven by God. We are instructed by Jesus through Paul to forgive others the same way God has forgiven us...completely by grace. This is the teaching on forgiveness under the new covenant of grace.
The majority of times when I am reading an article or listening to a teacher on the subject of forgiving others, they seek to motivate others to forgive those who have wronged them by quoting the Lord's Prayer..."If you don't forgive others, God will not forgive you." They are using the law to motivate people to forgive by fear. They do not take into account the cross and how it changes our motivation for forgiving others. Grace doesn't seek to strong-arm us with fear in the area of forgiving others, but empowers us to forgive others through the forgiveness God has already provided us when he forgave our sins through Jesus. The law demands we forgive, giving us no power to do so, and condemning us when we do not. Whereas, grace empowers us to forgive others because God has forgiven us of our sins.
This grace teaching on forgiveness should not be a strange teaching to any Christian. It should be the dominate teaching on forgiveness in churches everywhere. Yet, it is a strange teaching because many teach what is traditional rather what is biblical. They continue to teach that if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you, failing to take into account the new covenant of grace has replaced the old covenant of law.
Another example of why understanding the new covenant starts at the death of Jesus and not the birth of Jesus, relating to understanding and applying the bible to our lives, has to do with salvation. Under the old covenant of law, Jesus said to those who thought salvation was achieved through self-effort that they were to daily pick up their cross and follow him for salvation. He also said whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for God's kingdom. Additionally, he said a person must be as perfect as God for salvation and that to have eternal life one must obey the law completely. No one can do any of these. No one daily picks up his cross. No one has never looked back. No one is as perfect as God. No one can obey the law. All of these teachings were designed to show us our utter inability to save ourselves through self-effort and to lead us to grace alone for salvation.
To those who were aware of their sins and inability to save themselves, Jesus said salvation simply comes by believing or by faith. This was the case with the immoral woman who came into the Pharisees home and wiped the feet of Jesus with her tears. Jesus told her that her faith had saved her. He did not mention taking up her cross, putting her hand to the plow, being perfect as God is perfect, or obeying the law. The reason why is because she was very aware of our inability to save herself...she was very aware of her sinful condition...her only hope was grace, which she received by faith in Jesus.
The Bible says the law condemns us for sin and grace saves us from sin. The law reveals our sin and grace rescues us from our sin. This was the message Jesus gave to Paul.
Paul, writing under the new covenant of grace, said the following:
There is no one righteous, not even one...Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known...this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.
Under grace, we are not saved by taking up our cross and following Jesus daily, by putting our hand to the plow and never looking back, by striving to be perfect like God, or by obeying the law. If these could save anyone, then why did Jesus die on the cross? The fact is they couldn't. Only by grace, the shed blood of Jesus for our sins, can we be saved.
Paul, in rightly dividing the old covenant of law from the new covenant of grace, said the following in Galatians 2:21:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Salvation through grace alone and not by the law is very important to understand. Someone came to me at a point in his life when he was broken of his sin and wanting to be saved. He wanted to begin a relationship with Jesus. He was told he needed to pick up his cross daily and follow Jesus. He was told that if he put his hand to the plow and looked back he would not be fit for the kingdom of God and could not be saved. After hearing this, he was convinced he could not be saved because he knew himself, and he could not do it. In explaining the way of salvation to this broken man, no one shared the gospel of grace with him...the cross...the shed blood of Jesus.
From there, I had the opportunity to tell him about the cross of Jesus. I told him that Jesus died for all his sins and by faith in Jesus he could experience God's forgiveness and begin a relationship with God though grace.
These are just two examples of why it is extremely important that the sections of the Old Covenant of Law and New Covenant of Grace in the Bible be understood if we are to correctly interpret and apply God's word to our lives.
Let's continue to look at ten truths of the new covenant of grace, from the book of Hebrews, which God wants all Christians to be familiar so we are not carried away from grace by the teachings and traditions of men.
TRUTH #2: Jesus completely and eternally paid our sin debt.
He (Jesus) sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself...so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.
He (Jesus) entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his blood,
having obtained eternal redemption.
TRUTH #3: Jesus entered heaven itself to appear for us before God with his own blood poured out for all of our sins.
He (Jesus) entered the Most Holy Place (heaven itself) once for all by his blood,
having obtained eternal redemption.
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary, that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.
TRUTH #4: Because of the blood of Jesus poured out for our sins, all of our sins have been completely and eternally forgiven by God.
He (Jesus) entered the Most Holy Place (heaven) once for all by his blood,
having obtained eternal redemption.
Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins.
TRUTH #5: Because all of our sins have been completely and eternally forgiven by God, we do not have to repetitively ask God to forgive us of our sins. This would be the same as the high priests who day after day and year after year made sacrifices for the sins of the people because, under the law, forgiveness was temporal and never complete. To continue to ask God to forgive us of sin would be daily reminding ourselves that we are not forgiven, as did those under the old covenant of law, rather than daily remembering we are forgiven, which is consistent with the new covenant of grace. In addition, to continue to ask God to forgive us for sins after receiving the good news of the new covenant of grace would be trampling under foot the blood of Christ as did those who repetitively sacrificed animals after hearing about the new covenant of grace.
Unlike the other high priests, he (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he sacrificed himself.
But those sacrifices (animal sacrifices under the old covenant of law) are an annual reminder of sins...
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sin, he sat down at the right hand of God.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened (to Jesus and the new covenant of grace)...if they fall away (fall back into the old covenant of law, sacrificing animals for forgiveness), to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (every time they sacrifice an animal for the forgiveness of sins).
TRUTH #6: Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we have forever been made holy and perfect before God.
And by that will (the new covenant of grace), we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus once for all...because by one sacrifice he has
made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Hebrews 10:10 and 14.
TRUTH #7. If there is more or ongoing forgiveness we need from God after coming to faith in Jesus, then Jesus would have to die again and again and present his blood before God again and again.
Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have to suffer many times (be sacrificed again and again, shed his blood again and again) since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people...
TRUTH #8: Because of the new covenant of grace, the blood sacrifice of Jesus, we have been cleansed from having to live with a guilty conscience.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (the blood of Jesus).
TRUTH #9: Because of the new covenant of grace, the sacrifice of Jesus, we can draw near to God in a real and honest relationship. In this grace-based authentic relationship, we share everything about ourselves with God: our hopes, dreams, struggles, sins, fears, etc. Only in grace can our relationship with God ever deepen and strengthen. The old covenant of law will never allow us to grow in our relationship with God. We will continually live in guilt and condemnation. We will never experience the freedom of forgiveness. Under law, we will feel far away from God. We will hide from God and others. Under grace, we draw near to God and are honest with others. The Bible is in opposition to those who say too much teaching on grace will lead to sin. It is also in opposition to those who accuse teachers of grace as giving people a license to sin. Actually, grace brings us closer to God, makes us more aware of sin, and takes us farther away from sin.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The former regulation (the old covenant of law) is set aside because it is weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect) and a better hope (the new covenant of grace) is introduced by which we draw near to God.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart (completely honest and transparent, just as we are) and full assurance of faith (assured of his love, acceptance, and forgiveness), having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience
and having our bodies washed with pure water.
TRUTH #10: Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we now spend our lives praising and thanking God we are forgiven rather than seeking to obtain more or ongoing forgiveness from him.
Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is,
the fruit of lips that give thanks (for the new covenant of grace) to His name.
It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace...
When we fully embrace the new covenant of grace, as presented in the letter to the Hebrews, persecution will come from the religious crowd. The persecution we who fully embrace the new covenant of grace receive does not even compare with the persecution of those who embraced the new covenant of grace when the letter of Hebrews was first written. Nor does our persecution compare with what Jesus endured when he ushered in the new covenant of grace through his death on the cross (Hebrews 12:2-4). The persecution we receive is verbal accusations by the religious crowd of being light on sin, watering down the gospel, or preaching a feel good message of grace. Which none are true. Little do those know , who make these accusations, that they are the ones who are being light on sin (by saying Jesus' payment wasn't complete and eternal), who are watering down the gospel (with religious requirements such as continuing to ask God to forgive them), and who preach a feel good message (feel better about yourself by fulfilling your religious requirements).
So what is our response when these false accusations come from the religious crowd? We endure them as discipline from God (Hebrews 12:7). Because through their verbal accusations (hardships) God is disciplining us, meaning he is training and developing us so that we can share more and more in the grace he has for us.
It is my prayer this teaching has helped you understand the discipline of God in Hebrews 12:7. If it has been helpful, please join with me in sharing the good news of God's grace with others by clicking the Share button at the bottom of this blog. Also, if you would like to be updated when I post a new blog, simply complete the form on the Contact page and you will be sent an email when each new blog is posted.