Is adversity necessarily fatherly discipline for sin?

(Funny – looks like Shane and I both had Jerry Bridges’ books on the mind at the same time! See the previous post.)

This is a tricky question. On the one hand, even if there is sin in our lives, are we really able to draw a one-to-one correlation between present adversity and that sin? (After all, the curse affects all of us; our bodies are daily in the process of returning to the dust. Sometimes diabetes or cancer is just a result of that.) On the other hand, if we know that our heavenly father disciplines us when we sin, should we be overly skeptical when adversity occurs at the same time we’re engaging in our sinful actions?

I’m not sure if Jerry Bridges has the final word on this matter, but I thought this was an interesting couple of paragraphs to chew on:

Hebrews 12:7 is key to understanding the purpose of adversity in our lives. The writer says, “Endure hardship as discipline.” There is no qualifying adjective. He did not say, “Endure all hardship”; neither did he say, “Endure some hardship as discipline.” In the absence of a qualifying adjective, we must understand him to have  meant all hardship. All hardship of whatever kind has a disciplinary purpose for us. There is no such thing as pain without a purpose in the life of a believer.

This does not necessarily mean a particular hardship is related to a specific act or habit of sin in our lives. It does mean every expression of discipline has as its intended end conformity to the likeness of Christ. It is true we often cannot see the connection between the adversity and God’s purpose. It should be enough for us, however, to know God sees the connection and the end result He intends.

Can we tell if a particular adversity is related to some specific sin in our lives? Not with certainty, but it is my own belief the Holy Spirit will bring such a connection to our attention if we need to know in order to deal with a particular sin. If nothing comes to mind, we can pray, asking God if there is something He wants us to consciously learn. Beyond that, however, it is vain to speculate as to why God has brought a particular hardship into our lives. Part of the sanctifying process of adversity is its mystery or our inability to make any sense out of a particular hardship.

Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ, Pgs. 147-148.

I appreciate the care in the final paragraph. It seems reasonable that if God wants us to know something about his displeasure over a sin in our lives, the Holy Spirit will indeed “bring such a connection to our attention.” And yet Bridges also notes that it is “vain to speculate as to why God has brought a particular hardship into our lives.”

I’ve met people who are convinced that a particular health trouble was directly related to a known sin.They firmly believe that were it not for “X” sin in their lives, they would not have gone into the hospital for irregular blood levels or chest pains or an ulcer or whatever. They are profoundly grateful for God’s gracious fatherly discipline.

And yet all of this raises a host of questions for me. Is this new revelation being given? Or is this just insight given (generally) into the gravity of  sin and God’s desire to eliminate it from the lives of his children? Perhaps the main question is: what is the nature of the Holy Spirit bringing the “connection to our attention”? What do we call that?

Challenging stuff … more reading to do. Any thoughts?

Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church
Anaheim, CA

4 thoughts on “Is adversity necessarily fatherly discipline for sin?”

  1. I was once chastised for grievous sin, entailed illness and hospitization, I cannot explain this to anyone else, I knew the Holy Spirit was doing it to bring me back to holiness, one thing though, for a period after, I believed every hardship or adversity, sickness or otherwise was His displeasure, took some time to learn it was not. I am so glad He did what He did. The blessings since then are overwhelming. Greetings to all.


  2. Perhaps the main question is: what is the nature of the Holy Spirit bringing the “connection to our attention”? What do we call that?
    Well i suppose an absolutely necessary prerequisite for the Holy Spirit bringing the “connection to our attention” is being regularly in the Word of God. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of our whims and imaginations. Isn’t that so ?

    He is Sovereign and i have seen from personal experience that my daily reading many times is uncannily relevent to and a verbal confirmation of something i need to change or some sin i need to forsake. The accompanying Providence of hardship is strong confirmation. But it’s not just hardship. The other side of the coin — pleasant providences — also occur as often or more so and are confirmed by some encouragement from the Word.

    Also i think we need to have a sensitive conscience so that we are keen to take correctve action when the Holy Spirit speaks. Otherwise, I don’t think God will take into His confidence, as it were. Why should He ?

    But not too sensitive a conscience such that we take any and all adversity as a mark of God’s displeasure. I suppose the balance is struck and maintained when we know what God’s calling is on our lives and are walking in it.

    I’m not sure if I’ve explained clearly.


  3. Thanks for the comments, Mark and Celal! Both have been helpful contributions to my thinking about this topic!


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