I bet I’ve prayed the “sinner’s prayer” a thousand times in my life. Most every week when I was a kid, our pastor would present the gospel, ask the congregation to bow their heads and close their eyes, and if anyone wasn’t completely sure that if they died that day that they would go to heaven, to repeat the words of the simple prayer of repentance and faith after him.
I did. Many times. My reasoning in those days was pretty simple – why not just make sure? I knew I had prayed this prayer before, but perhaps I didn’t mean it then, or maybe it didn’t work like it was supposed to, so why not do it one more time just to be sure?
I wanted to know – I mean know – that I had been saved from the punishment for my sin. I wanted to know that I was a child of God. Perhaps you resonate with that experience. Or perhaps you are still living there now – wanting to know.
Let me encourage you with this, then – God wants you to know, too. In fact, this is one of the reasons the Hoy Spirit lives in us – to bear testimony with our spirit that we are indeed the children of God (Rom. 8:15-16). Not only that, but the book of 1 John is largely dedicated to this purpose:
“I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
So how do we know? The presence of the Holy Spirit. The ongoing conviction of sin and desire for holiness. The fruit the Holy Spirit bears in and through our lives. Our love for the people of God and our ongoing confession of Jesus as Lord. These are ways we know. But there is another one, this one perhaps more surprising.
One of the ways we know we are a child of God is because of God’s discipline in our lives. This is surprising because when things don’t go the way we think they should in life, there is often a creeping, prosperity-esque thought that comes to our minds: “Doesn’t God love me? Because surely if He did, then this wouldn’t have happened.”
But Hebrews 12 torpedoes that line of thinking out of the water:
“Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).
The discipline of the Lord isn’t evidence of His lack of love; it’s proof of it. In fact, if we never received discipline from God, that’s when we should be wondering about the Lord’s love. He disciplines us because He is not only our Father; He disciplines us because He is the best Father imaginable. The evidence of that bestness is His discipline for our good.
Think about it for a minute. Let’s say there are a hundred children on a playground, and as you look across the landscape you see a group of kids doing something dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that someone’s going to be permanently disfigured, but unsafe nonetheless. Now you might be compelled to step in, but then again, you might say to yourself, Those aren’t my kids. There are a bunch of parents out here, and so I’m going to mind my own business. But your posture completely changes when your own child is involved, simply because that is YOUR child. And as your child, it is your duty to intervene for their welfare. Chances are they will look at you as someone who has spoiled the fun, but you know better. You are acting for their good. In a similar way, God intervenes with His discipline because He is our Father. We aren’t somebody else’s kids – we are His. Because we are, He is compelled to act.
So, Christian, perhaps today you sense the disciplining hand of your Father upon you. It does not mean He has abandoned you or ceased to love you. Quite the contrary. It means you are His true child.