How do we know if God is disciplining us? When we feel guilty after sinning, is that discipline? The Bible says that God disciplines those He loves. I sometimes wonder if God disciplines me, and I find it comforting to imagine that He does because it reminds me He loves me.
"You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:4-14).
The discipline being spoken of in Hebrews 12 is not always a result of sin. God uses hardships to cause us to grow, just as a coach uses laps to strengthen an athlete. "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).
These hardships can take on various forms, but neither the Hebrews writer nor James is talking about feeling guilty after sinning. You should feel guilty when you realize you have done wrong, but this is your feeling about the matter. Your feelings can be wrong (Proverbs 28:26). You can feel guilty about something that was not a sin. You can sin and not feel guilty about it (Jeremiah 6:15; I Timothy 4:1-2).
Unlike feelings, discipline comes in facing difficulties. "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:3-5). So we are talking about religious persecution (Matthew 5:10-12), financial hardships (II Corinthians 11:27), dangers (II Corinthians 11: 25-26), sickness (II Corinthians 12:7-10), etc.