Discipline is Not About Retribution

Posted on · Posted in Discipline

Instilling discipline is huge for your children. Discipline and structure are vital for any child to function well in life. Up to this point, I believe we can all agree that this is precisely what the Bible teaches about the importance of discipline. 

However, here is one significant biblical insight that is just as important to grasp:

Biblical discipline must not be seen as payment for the sins for which the discipline was administered. Retribution is not the goal of biblical discipline!

Correct understanding of this truth is equally important for both parents and children. Only the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ can pay the penalty for sin. Therefore, to suggest that parental discipline is, in some way, payment for the wrong behavior of the child, diminishes the work of Christ and confuses the child. 

We learn in Psalm 103, and many other places, that God “has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our iniquities.” If God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, why then are we compelled to treat our kids’ sins as we believe they deserve to be treated? 

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting no discipline or easy discipline!  What I am saying is that both parents and children must not fall into the false understanding that discipline is payment for sin. If this is true, then how is discipline to be understood? 

Biblical discipline is meant to call you and your children to trust God and to see the seriousness of sin. The writer of Hebrews says it this way:

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

Notice there is no mention of discipline being payment for sin. The discipline is not pleasant, true enough, but it is also not about payment. Hebrews 12 makes another important connection about discipline. It reminds us that God’s discipline is an indication of his love for his people. This means that your children should also understand that your discipline is rooted in your love for them and is not about punishment or payment for their sin.

Discipline that truly represents the faithfulness of God is a gift rather than a payment. It represents hope and not shame. Loving discipline brings encouragement and not guilt. Biblical discipline is not concerned with getting even, but in showing the wonder of the gospel.

Look for upcoming posts on how to practically make discipline about the joy and wonder of the gospel.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.