In a recent conversation someone cited Hebrews 12:6 as proof of God’s love towards a person suffering because he was caught in sexual immorality. The text reads, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” The logic was, “So and so got caught in sin. Being caught hurt. Being hurt is discipline. God disciplines the one he loves. Therefore, being caught is God’s love to the one who was caught in sin.”
No doubt God does love the one caught in sin, but applying that text to that scenario betrays a bad interpretation of that text and a lack of biblical knowledge. The discipline mentioned in Hebrews 12:6 is not the discipline for gross immorality. To the contrary, it is the discipline acquired by suffering for righteousness. The text falls on the heels of Hebrews 11 which tells of past saints who suffered for righteous deeds, not unrighteous deeds. Chapter 12 opens with exhortations to “lay aside every weight and sin,” “run with endurance,” and look “to Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2). It is a call to fight sin even if it costs us our comforts and our lives, just as the saints of Hebrews 11 and even as Jesus did. Suffering for righteousness is God’s sweet discipline to His beloved children. It teaches us to walk by faith in the unseen God and not to live for the fleeting pleasures of the world. In essence, through faithfully suffering we become a people with disciplined lives. Discipline is not punishment, but rather the reward for faithfulness. Just like a coach trains an athlete to be disciplined on the field, God uses trials to train his people to be disciplined in the world. To say this text refers to the havoc of sinful choices is a bad interpretation, and it also is a slap in the faces of persecuted believers.
Peter talks about two types of suffering. The first is “suffering unjustly,” which is a “gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:19, 20). The second is suffering for sin, which is not commendable at all. Peter rhetorically asks, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” (1 Peter 2:20). The obvious answer is no credit. In chapter 4, Peter repeats himself, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Suffering for sin is not a good thing. It is not a badge of honour. Rather, it is the consequence of embarrassingly foolish behaviour.
Reaping sin’s destruction is not usually seen as a sign of God’s favour. Rather, it is quite often a sign of His anger. Proverbs 22:14 says, “The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it” (See also Psalm 81:11-13 and Romans 1:18-32). That brings us back to Hebrews 12:6, which is a direct quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. Proverbs, itself, serves as an instruction manual for Hebrew boys so they can flourish in God’s Kingdom and avoid the landmines of sin that destroy so many lives. That’s why Proverbs 22:14 refers to the mouth of the forbidden woman as a “deep pit.” On the outside she is desirable, but in reality she is a trap that people fall into and wreck their lives. In the first nine chapters, Proverbs extensively and almost exhaustively repeats warnings about sexual sin and their deadly consequences. The discipline of Proverbs 3:11-12, and consequently of Hebrews 12:6, is not the result of sexual sin, but rather the painful exhortation to avoid it. Sometimes, this exhortation comes from an earthly father’s reproof (Proverbs 29:15), and other times it comes from our Heavenly Father who leads us through trials so that we learn to walk by faith, not by sight. The fiery trials of this world burn away our taste for temporal pleasures and enhance our taste for the everlasting pleasure of fellowship with God.
If being caught in sin leads to repentance towards God, is that a sign of God’s favour? Certainly. But generally speaking, the Scriptures are very quick to see entrapment in sexual sin as a sign of God’s anger.