How can we tell if we or anyone else are under God’s discipline? We are told in Scripture that God does use circumstances to discipline His children (Hebrews 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-32; Psalms 94:12). But we are also told that we cannot conclude that all suffering is due to sin (Job 1,2; John 9:1-7; Hebrews 11:35-40). How, then, do we tell the difference? It is often too easy to jump to the conclusion that suffering is a result of sin. However, if God is disciplining us we need to recognize our sin and repent. How do we balance these?
We need to remember that the Lord Jesus has paid the price for all our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But God still calls His people to repent and confess their sin (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Psalms 32:5). Further, God wants us to let Him work in our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14). One of the things He uses in our lives to do this is difficult circumstances (James 1:2-4; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; 12:7-10). But this is more than just a direct response to specific things we have done wrong. Now it is appropriate to ask God to show us if there is something in our life that needs to change, and troubles can bring us up short to ask this question (Psalms 139:23,24, 19:12; 1 Corinthians 11:28). The problem comes when we find no obvious answer. It is at this point we can start to blow things out of proportion or dredge up things from the past that have already been dealt with. In this case we need to understand that God forgives us (Romans 8:33,34; Hebrews 8:12; Psalms 103:12), and we need to leave our past sins behind and go on with Him (Philippians 3:13,14; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2:6,7).
There is an old preacher’s saying that the preacher should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The problem is, this is hard to do because there are people of tender conscience, easily afflicted, and people of callused conscience, who are hard to rouse. All we can do is point to the principle that we need to examine ourselves enough to be make sure we are not ignoring the obvious and avoid gazing at our deficiencies so much that we become over whelmed and discouraged. One thing that helps with this is to trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 40:31). Trust God to bring us through the trial. Trust God to show us if there is anything in our lives that needs correcting. We also need to be very careful about judging others who are going through tribulation (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; James 4:11,12; Romans 14:4). But rather, let us trust that whatever troubles we or others encounter in our lives will be used by God for our good, even if we do not see how that could happen at the present time (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20; Romans 5:3-5).