In the Bible, discipline refers to moral training, instruction, and correction that leads to spiritual growth, character development, and Christian maturity. The book of Proverbs stresses the wisdom of accepting discipline with humility to experience a fulfilling and successful life (Proverbs 1:1–6; 5:23; 12:1; 13:24; 16:32; 21:23; 29:15). Sometimes God’s discipline comes to us in the form of punishment or difficult experiences, but it is always motivated by His love and concern for our well-being (Proverbs 3:11–12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19).
The Hebrew and Greek words translated as “discipline” in the Bible mean “instruction, training, rebuke, reproof, warning, and correction.” Discipline is a vital aspect of the spiritual life of the church and every follower of Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is a lifelong learning process of following Jesus and His way of life.
Discipline in the Old Testament carries a distinctly harsher tone than in the New Testament due to the legal aspects of God’s covenant with Israel (Leviticus 26:14–46; Deuteronomy 4:36; 27:26). Some Christians fear God’s discipline, but the Bible tells us not to be upset by it or reject His correction. Instead, we are to welcome the Lord’s discipline because it comes from a loving Father who delights in correcting His beloved children (Deuteronomy 8:5; Proverbs 3:11–12). It is God’s wrath that people should fear, but His wrath is only directed against His enemies (Romans 1:18–20; Matthew 25:31–33, 41–45; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4–9). Under both the Old and New Covenants, God’s goal for discipline was always the same—to train His people in righteousness and to bring them into respectful submission to His will and His Word (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75; Proverbs 1:3; Hebrews 12:9–11; James 5:19–20).
The Bible itself is one of God’s primary methods of discipline in the life of the believer (Deuteronomy 4:36; 29:29). The apostle Paul tells Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15–17, NLT).
Other instruments of God’s discipline are the knowledge of His grace (Titus 2:11–12), educational life experiences (Deuteronomy 8:1–5; 11:2–7; Isaiah 48:17), hardships (Hebrews 12:7; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; 1 Peter 1:6–7), and punishment (Hebrews 12:6; Leviticus 26:21; 2 Samuel 7:14; Hosea 5:2; 1 Corinthians 11:32). The Bible says discipline is God’s way of preparing us for eternity (1 Corinthians 9:24–27; 2 Corinthians 4:17–18; Romans 8:18; James 1:12).
Scripture encourages believers to love God’s discipline (Proverbs 12:1; Psalm 141:5) and expect it: “If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all” (Hebrews 12:8). Those who accept the Lord’s discipline are blessed with joy and wholeness (Psalm 94:12; James 1:12). According to Proverbs 6:23, “Corrective discipline is the way to life” (NLT). The Bible has a lot to say to parents about training and correcting their children (Proverbs 13:24; 22:6; Ephesians 6:4).
Discipline in the church is a pastoral responsibility (2 Timothy 2:25). Jesus outlined the process in Matthew 18:15–20, and the apostle Paul cited specific cases of sinful public behavior, division, and false teaching in which church discipline was necessary (1 Corinthians 5:1–13; Romans 16:17–18; Titus 3:10–11). Discipline should always be exercised with kindness, gentleness, and love (2 Corinthians 2:6–8; Galatians 6:1). In every case, the purpose of church discipline is to bring repentance and restoration (Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 7:8–10).
The Word of God mentions several spiritual disciplines we can practice as believers, including prayer (Luke 6:12; Acts 6:4; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Peter 4:7), fasting (Matthew 6:16–18), Bible study (Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16–17), and giving to those in need (Matthew 6:1–4; Acts 11:29, 30; 2 Corinthians 9:1–15; 1 Timothy 6:17–19).