Reflecting God’s Heart in Christian Discipline

Reflecting God’s Heart in Christian Discipline September 23, 2023

Young African American girl sitting at a table with her mother.
True Christian discipline disciples and models God to our children. Photo: Kampus Production/Pexels.

As Christian parents, we know that God calls us to discipline and teach our children. However, often we don’t know how to do it well and end up punishing and pushing away our children from ourselves and God. Let’s take a look at Christian discipline that we can feel confident disciples our children and reflects God.

What is Christian discipline or biblical discipline?

Christian discipline, or biblical discipline, is the way Christian parents are called to teach their children about loving God, their neighbors, and themselves. Biblical discipline models the way the Triune God loves and teaches His children. 

It is most often associated with times of misbehavior or opportunities for growth, but it comes from the Latin word discipulus which means “pupil” and is also the root for disciple, such as the disciples of Jesus (Merriam-Webster). This leads me to see a much wider opportunity for discipline to disciple and point our children to Jesus.

What is the Goal of Christian Discipline?

The goal of Christian discipline is to help our children to know, experience, and seek to follow God. We do this through our modeling, coaching, and equipping our kids. In short, Christian discipline means teaching our children the way God desires them to live.

True Christian discipline is based on relationship and cooperation, not fear. It is heart work at its core, not simply behavior management. Jesus desires obedience to be an outpouring of our love for him, not a fear-based response. He said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15 NLT)

What is the Difference between Christian Discipline and Punishment?

Now, admittedly to some, there is no difference, but as I explore Scripture, research, and other resources that I respect, there is a huge discrepancy. Christian discipline has the intent to impart wisdom and guidance. Punishment desires to cause pain, shame, or embarrassment because of misbehavior. 

True discipline takes more time and effort on the part of the parent, but will reap more eternal rewards for you and your children. It involves natural and logical consequences that grow wisdom. It isn’t an easy fix with immediate results. Biblical discipline takes a look at the heart of God, ourselves, and our children.

For the parent, punishment is typically easier, faster, and not always directly related to the misbehavior.

Bible Verses about Disciplining Children

  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4 NLT
  • Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad.” Proverbs 29:17 NLT
  • “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.” Proverbs 19:18 NLT
  • “To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child.” Proverbs 29:15 NLT
  • “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Galatians 6:1 NLT (while not exclusively for children, still teaches how to help others in their sin)

This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other verses on discipline, especially in the Book of Proverbs. I have left out those that are often misinterpreted as being in favor of spanking for simplicity in this particular conversation. For more on these verses and spanking, please see the Connected Families’ free e-book on spanking, Flourishing Homes and Families’ audio workshop and workbook, or the free e-book Thy Rod And Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy by Samuel Martin.

How Does God Discipline?

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.”  Hebrews 12:10 NLT

How does God discipline? With patience, love, mercy, gentleness, consistency, grace, and compassion. 

In Numbers 14:18, Moses writes, “The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.” (NLT) God isn’t immune to anger or feeling emotions because of our sin. Yet, he responds slowly and with forgiveness.

That was even before Jesus’s crucifixion. Now, ‘since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” (Romans 5:9 NLT) We don’t have to worry about the anger at all. It has been satisfied. God sees us through the blood of Jesus. Do you see your children that way in their misbehavior?

In my free Bible study on disciplining like the Triune God, I point to God’s gentleness, Jesus’s consistency, and the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. These are the three traits that I seek most to model in my own parenting of my five girls. I can’t be God or even perfectly reflect him, but I can try. 

3 Simple Tips for Christian Discipline

  1. Pause – You do not need to deal with most situations immediately. As parents, we can take a moment to practice self-control and be sure we are modeling a loving, wise, and respectful response to our children. Take a moment to get the log out of your eye, before dealing with your child’s splinter. 
  2. Pray – Ask God to help you come to your child gently and humbly (Gal. 6:1) with his words and his heart for redemption, wisdom, and reconciliation.
  3. Play – When we approach discipline with playfulness, it allows our relationship with our child to remain strong, your child to feel safe and loved, and their frontal cortex to remain engaged. This allows for maximum thinking skills, fewer power struggles, and more cooperation.

By following these tips and choosing to model God in our discipline, we will be discipling our kids, growing more like Jesus ourselves, and finding more joy in parenting.

My Favorite Christian Discipline Books

For further reading on this subject, please check out some of my favorite books on Christian discipline. Please note some of these may be affiliate links. By purchasing through these links you will be supporting my ministry at no extra cost to you. 


  1. Discipline the Connects with Your Child’s Heart by Jim and Lynne Jackson (also offered as an online course)
  2. Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake
  3. The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson – Note: This is not a Christian book, but it does an incredible job explaining how God designed our children’s brains to work.
About Joy Wendling
Enthusiastic. Passionate. Profound. Joy Wendling is a writer, speaker, podcaster, certified parent coach, and founder of Created to Play. She has over 20 years of experience in children, youth, and family ministry, as well as a Master’s in Youth, Family, and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary. Her idea of relaxing is gazing at the mountains from her island home with an ice-cold Diet Coke and a good book. Joy lives in the Pacific Northwest and enjoys laughing and playing with her five daughters and husband. Get to know her better at and on her podcast titled Playfully Faithful Parenting. You can read more about the author here.

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