A Theology of Suffering & Faith
A THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING & FAITH
(A Study of Pain, Suffering, the Flesh and Faith)
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
After serving and ministering in churches for thirty years, the Lord then moved me into the realm of “studying theological issues,” and teaching in numerous colleges and Grand Canyon University; so I have been doing this now for about seventeen years. In so doing, God has given me a passion to not only know divine truth, but to know why things are as they are. For instance, as most of us know, man exists for the glory of God, but the reason “why” that is the case and “why” God created man in the first place is an-other issue altogether. Incidentally, if you’re interested in studying this subject, let me encourage you to read a study I did on it titled, “Sin & Man’s Eternal Purpose;” you can access it on my website — www.thetransformedsoul.com Of all the studies I have done in life, that is probably the most significant one for me, because it gave me a contextual understanding as to why I really exist; in spite of the fact I have more than eleven years of college, I had never understood that; yet without question it defines the very reason why each of us exist. I mention the foregoing, because about eight months ago God laid upon my heart the issue of pain & suffering and its significance in my life. Though I have experienced it on numerous levels, I never wrestled through it to the extent that I needed to. I had not only experienced physical, relational, psychological & emotional pain in my life, but spiritual pain as well; obviously, there are several levels of pain that we all experience in life. Interestingly enough, once I launched into the subject, I started ex-periencing additional physical problems including bladder cancer, which is no joy-ride; in the past six months I’ve had two surgeries and six procedures where they put some kind of bacteria solution into your bladder to help quell the problem; i.e., they actually place a “sick solution” in your bladder to fight the sickness of cancer; though it has the tendency to make you sick (that’s what bacteria does), it does have a negative effect on cancer; in other words, you fight fire with fire. To top it off, four months ago our house was destroyed by lightning; according to the contractor who is rebuild-ing our house, we still have at least another five months to go before they will be able to complete its restoration. Since there are three significant entities involved in the restoration process (the city of Scottsdale and “its building codes,” the insurance company and our contractor), each issue must be addressed by each group and fully-agreed upon, and some of those issues aren’t easily settled, because the insurance company naturally tries to keep their expenses as low as possible (remember, we’re talking about $300,000); so problem after problem surfaces. Now with all the foregoing in mind, that’s how the Lord has operated in my life — in order to get me to deal with the issues of pain and suffering, He has subjected me to it on a number of different levels. Think about it, how else would one learn something if he never experienced it? Life is not just about abstract human thinking, it is about what we experience in life and how it corresponds with divine thinking; and one is only able to accurately define such things when he is humbly subjected to them. One cannot understand pain until he has been subjected to it; conversely, one cannot know what it is like to be in outer-space until he has actually been there. We learn things in life by experiencing them; that’s the economy God has ordained for us. The reason we know we are sinful creatures is because our thought life and behaviors don’t measure up to the standards that God has established; both our God-given conscience and God’s Word confirms that. It is only when we humble ourselves before God and confess our transgressions, that He then affirms the truth of it to our hearts and cleanses us from all our wrong-doing.
Having a “contextual understanding” of things is essential to living in the light; to take things out of context leaves us in the dark. All of us have a theology of thought whereby we visualize God — some see God the way they want to see Him, others see Him as they were taught, and others see Him as they fear He is. The reality is, we must see God as Scripture defines Him and refuse to change the discourse. As David said in the 139th Psalm — “Lord, You have searched me and known me… You understand my thoughts from afar. You laid Your hand upon me, and formed my inward parts in my mother’s womb…. You saw my substance before it was formed… and in Your book are written all the days that You have ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Though that construct of thought is troubling to some believers, that is precisely what Scripture teaches — just because God is absolutely sovereign, doesn’t mean in any way that we are robots… God has given us a free will to do as we please, yet He is the one who superintends our lives and deter-mines the outcome of our actions — we don’t dictate reality, GOD does (cf. Prv 16:1, 9; 19:21). If you need to study this subject in more detail, let me encourage you to read a study I did titled, “The Eternal Nature of Our Faith.” As believers, our lives are not the product of our doing, nor is God simply the person we want to make Him out to be; it is just such thinking that causes man to run amuck. Think about it, here’s this little tinker-toy brain thinking it is actually smart enough to determine what ultimate reality is? Is it any wonder why God calls the wisdom of man “foolishness”? (by the way, that is a corollary of the word “stupid” – cf. 1 Cor 3:19; Ps 14:1; Prv 12:15). The reality is, God formed yours and my inward parts — He is our creator; as such, we are all the product of His doing. He made our physical bodies and our personalities and gave us our brains (that doesn’t mean that we can’t misuse them). Furthermore, God chose our families and determined when and where we would be raised, and has also subjected each of us to numerous things in life, all of which ulti-mately serve His purpose in developing us to be the persons He has ordained us to be.
As I reflect upon my own life, it is now easier for me to see what God was doing. I was raised in a Christian home and a Christian church that was highly legalistic (that was very common back in the 1950s)… after years of struggling with spiritual issues I finally walked away from the church in my late teens, because I simply could not reconcile those issues… but God was not at all surprised, He knew full well the road I had traveled. By the way, six years prior to committing my life to Christ He subjected me to a very tough life — I was drafted into the Army where I served as a light weapons infantryman; while we were on a reconnaissance mission up on a mountain in training, I seriously injured my right leg in a fall (a small branch of a tree went into my leg about three inches); after spending several weeks in a hospital ward, they finally told me that I was extremely fortunate because gangrene had set in (and apparently that's not easy to remove), so they came very close to amputating my leg… that was shocking to me because I had no idea that I was suffering from gangrene (they had never told me that; that’s how the Army works — they don’t mention things unless they need to). So God graciously spared me the amputation of my leg; incidentally, two years later that was the same leg I used as a place-kicker in playing football. After being released from the hospital, I then ended up on crutches for about three months. Following my stint in the Army, I then went to college where I also played football for four years; and having Frank Kush as my coach (at Arizona State University) was no little walk in the park; he was known as one of the toughest coaches in all of football. So for six years God subjected me to a very disciplined life; when mixed with my upbringing, I pretty much became a perfectionist of sorts — though there is an upside to perfectionism, there is a down-side to it as well, because perfectionists also insist on others measuring up. By the way, it was at the end of that six year period that I came to the realization that life must be more than I had made it out to be, and within a few months God opened my eyes to a spiritual reality that was completely unknown to me, and within months my life changed drastically and I began serving in ministry at Grace Community Church in Tempe, Arizona. God had not only made me the person I became by subjecting me to a life that at times was very tough and disconcerting, He also “gifted” me with the ability to serve Him in various capacities… God has “gifted” each of us in numerous ways in order to accomplish His higher purposes in this world, and at the end of the age He is going to hold each of us responsible as to how we each used those gifts — in so doing He will reward each of us accordingly (cf. Rom 12:6; Jer 1:5; Mt 25:14ff; Is 44:24; 1 Cor 7:7; 12:4-11; 1 Pet 4:10; and 1 Cor 3:8, 12-15; Col 3:23-25). To take this a step further, we have all developed different dispensations & rules of thought in life that control much of the discourse that goes on in our minds; some of which we are going to have to “wage war” against. Our “likes & dislikes” are not all perfect & glorious; be it in the realm of politics, sports, values, behaviors, work habits, being responsible, and the standards of living that we insist upon. So we all have a modus operandi or modus vivendi whereby we live our lives; and for nearly every one of us, we simply want our life to be pleasant and we want to be happy; that’s pretty much the norm for the entire human family. Whatever the case may be, keep in mind, God placed each of us in a little corner of the world that He ordained for us — we are each very unique creatures; as strange as it may seem to some of you, no two things are alike in all the universe (that’s how incredible our God is; incidentally, that is something the scientific world discovered in the 20th century — no two physical things are identical; not even specks of dirt, snowflakes or the tiniest of cells). Furthermore God has gifted each of us with certain attributes, and has subjected us to numer-ous things that have significantly impacted our lives; though some things were positive, some things were negative. Being responsible for the death of my little sister when she was only 5 years old was extremely difficult for me to process as a young boy (I was 8 years old at the time). The reality is — we each have to deal with a myriad of issues in life that God has permitted us to experience (some of you may been seriously abused and rejected in life; others physically and emotionally impaled; still others, very painful failures) — whatever the case may be, God is only too aware of everything that you went through in life. Remember, everything He permitted you to experience in life served His higher purposes; yet nothing you and I went through in life came anywhere close to the suffering that Jesus went through for us on the cross. The truth is, none of us are the product of mere happenstance; that doesn’t exist in our world… though much of what we experience in life is the product of our own doing (i.e., things God has permitted us to do), God is also the premiere cause of much that we experienced; God is not a deist; He is God very God (cf. Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6). If you read my study on “Sin & Man’s Eternal Purpose,” this will make far more sense to you; I can’t encourage you too much to read it, it was life-changing for me.
What’s important for believers, is that they humbly believe what Scripture says, and not change the discourse and make it correspond with human thinking. The psalmist David said, “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me” (Ps 138:8); though that may appear to be a bit much to some of you, that is what Scripture teaches; to argue against such statements because it does not mesh with human thinking, is a not a path you want to travel. If you will “humble” yourself before God and contemplate what His Word says, He will disclose reality to your heart (Jam 1:26). Likewise said Paul, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Th 5:24). The “eternality of God” is a construct of thought that every believer must understand if he is to see God for who He truly is. In eternity past before He created man, God chose you (i.e., if you’re a believer) to be His servant and fulfill His higher purposes (remember, prior to creation you didn’t even exist, and it was way back then that God planned your substance and decided to make you one of His servants… it had noth-ing to do with your meriting it, or that God chose you because of something He foresaw in the future before it actually occurred). For argument’s sake, let’s say you did merit it… well, who gave you the ability to merit it? Who gave you eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to think? And who chose your parents? It’s pretty amazing how temporal man argues against eternal reality… though we do not completely understand what God intends to accomplish in and through us, we need to walk in this world knowing that He goes both before us and behind us, and that He has laid His hand upon us (cf. Ps 139:5), and will accomplish what concerns us. By the way, God has incredible ways of bringing us to the end of ourselves, and motivating us so that we might walk in the light and serve His higher pur-poses. As Paul said, “God is at work in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13), and “He works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). How one can visualize the eternal God as being someone who created everything without a plan, is completely beyond reason. Keep in mind, God created us, we are His creatures, to think that He created us without reason doesn’t even make sense; and since He is our creator, He does what He pleases, and that is not a negative (cf. Is 14:24, 27; 40:6-8; 42:8; 43:13; 45:5-7, 9; 46:9-11). The reality is, as believers we ought to be exceedingly grateful that God is on the throne and not us! The premiere problem of fallen man is this: “he insists on being a completely autonomous creature where he thinks he possesses some level of genius and does as he pleases,” which was precisely the problem that Satan had in eternity past. Take a moment and contemplate the following three verses (cf. Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16). Following are two abbreviated passages from Ezekiel & Isaiah that essentially describe Satan’s fall in eternity past —
Ezekiel 28:11-19 — You had the seal of perfection, you were full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering… the workmanship of your settings and sockets was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God…. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God and have destroyed you, O covering cherub…. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor… I cast you to the ground…. and you will be no more.
Isaiah 14:12-17 — How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weak-ened the nations! But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assem-bly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. Nevertheless, you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. Those who see you will gaze at you and ponder, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a wilderness and overthrew its cities?”
Satan in his original rebellion “refused to submit God.” In the Genesis account of creation, Adam was being “tested” to see whether he would submit to the authority of God out of recognition of God’s right to rule, or whether he, like Satan, would reject God’s right to rule and declare himself to be “independent of God’s law.” Would man properly execute God’s delegated authority, or would he succumb to the temptation to be “like God” and appropriate the arrogance of Satan in his moral fall? Scripture tells us that ultimately man fell, succumbing to Satan’s luring lies… and ended up giving dominion over the earth to Satan. So Satan ultimately succeeded in transferring a third of the angelic realm and all of God’s human creation into his domain (Rev 12:4; Jude 1:6). The earth then became a province of Satan’s kingdom, where its government changed from a theocracy to a satanocracy. This is the reason Jesus called Satan “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11); thus Satan had authority to offer all of the kingdoms of the world to Jesus (Lk 4:5-6). Satan is also referred to in Scripture as “the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4), and his angels as “the world rulers of this darkness” (Eph 6:12). In spite of the foregoing, Paul said of God, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom 11:36); by the way, all three expressions (from Him and through Him and to Him) are “emphatic” in Greek. Though Satan and his minions seemingly took control of our world, that in part does not fully define reality — in spite of the fact that Satan took control of the unbelieving world (cf. Jn 8:44; Rom 1:28-32; Eph 6:11-12; 1 Jn 3:8), ultimately, God is still on the throne accomplishing all of His good purposes… though every unbelieving creature is a child of Satan, and under his control to a degree, believers are children of God and are not under Satan’s control. Though all of us as fallen creatures have a difficult time justifying the sovereignty of God, that is the reality (cf. Ex 4:19-21; 5:1-2; 7:1-5; 10:1-2); God is GOD, and He has planned the end from the beginning (Is 46:9-11); there is not a single thing that has happened or will happen in this world that does not serve God’s higher purposes — even the most grievous action ever taken by sinful man (the crucifixion of Christ on the cross) resulted in the greatest good ever accomplished throughout the entire history of the human family (God redeemed sinful man through the cross and made them His own children). So God actually permitted Satan to execute the crucifixion of Christ, yet little did he know, it not only redeemed billions of sinful creatures, but sealed his own fate! The cross disarmed the demonic powers and forged the final triumph over Satan and his minions, thus insuring their ultimate destruction (cf. Jn 12:31; Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Col 2:15; Heb 2:14); so the cross was actually Satan’s greatest error! When Satan entered Judas in betraying Jesus, he undoubtedly did not realize that the cross would prove his greatest defeat. He could only respond with frustrated rage, knowing that “his time was short” (Rev 12:12); so Satan participated in his own undoing. Said the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (cf. Jer 32:27; 32:17; Is 43:13; 46:9-11; Mt 19:26; Ps 145:3). That is simply how amazing our God is; obviously, His actions transcend human thought (cf. Is 55:8-9). The reality is, nothing is impossible with God; when you consider the temporal thinking of every creature in existence, how could one not help but denigrate the thinking of anyone in opposition to the Eternal Sovereign Omniscient Maker of all things? Beloved, Satan can only do what God permits him to do (Job 1:8-12), and everything God permits serves His higher purposes. If one would simply contemplate the “eternality of God,” he would see that the entire world and Satan, essentially, are “less than nothing to God;” there is no such thing as a great secondary power in our universe (cf. Is 40:13-18). God’s greatness is inscrutable and completely incomparable (cf. Is 40:28; 46:5; Rom 11:33).
Because of the confusion some seem to go through when “interpreting Scripture,” I thought it would be good to address that issue. According to Scripture, the Bible declares or assumes itself to be the “Word of God” in hundreds of passages; following is a short list (Deut 6:6-9, 17-18; Josh 1:8; 8:32-35; 2 Sam 22:31; Ps 1:2; 19:7-11; 93:5; 119:9, 11, 18, 89-93, 97-100, 104-105, 130; Prv 30:5-6; Is 55:10-11; Mt 5: 17-19; 22:29; Mk 13:31; Lk 16:17; Jn 2:22; 5:24; Acts 17:11; Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 2:13; Col 3:16; 1 Th 2:13; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:15-17; 1 Pet 1:23-25). “Thus saith the Lord” was commonly used by the prophets when they would share divine truth with God’s people; this expression can be found hundreds of times in the Bible (1 Sam 2:27; Is 7:7; 38:1; 56:1; Jer 2:2; 6:22; 13:9; 26:2; Ezek 2:4; Amos 1:3; Mic 2:3; Na 1:12; Hg 1:2; Zech 1:3; Mal 1:6 to list a few). The constant assumption by all of the writers of Scripture, as well as Christ Himself, is that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. According to John, the disciples were to receive truth from the Holy Spirit after Christ ascended into heaven (Jn 16:12-13). Furthermore, Christ told His disciples that they were to be witnesses to the truth (Mt 28:19; Lk 10:22-23; Jn 15:27; Acts 1:8), and He gave them authority to speak the truth (Lk 10:16; Jn 17:14, 18; Heb 2:3). According to Scripture the “Word of God” is “inspired by God;” that is, it is “God breathed” — just as God spoke all things into existence (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24), He breathed into man the breath of life (Gen 2:7). Conversely, all of Scripture is “God breathed;” i.e., the writing of Scripture was superintended by God, thus it contains no errors whatsoever (2 Tim 3:16-17; Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Pet 1:20-21). If one somehow took the position that Scripture was not without error, in effect he would be making himself the final authority of truth (think about that); which is precisely what the liberal Christian world and Pope Francis have done. Beloved, if that is your position, you need to be mindful of the fact that God is going to question you at the end of the age as to “why” you elevated your own thinking and the thinking of other men above His thinking, and “why” you degraded His Word. If the thinking of fallen men is something you greatly admire, according to Scripture you are completely in the dark spiritually (cf. 1 Cor 2:14).
Now, God in His sovereignty chose “two languages” to convey divine truth to the world — He chose Hebrew to communicate the OT, and Greek to communicate the NT. Obviously, both languages have their own nuances and differences… as such, we can naturally assume that God chose these two languages because of their unique and diverse characteristics; after all, Scripture is “God’s revelation” to man. Keep in mind, God is the author of all languages; they are not the inventions of men (cf. Gen 11:6-9). Regarding the language of Hebrew, it has the rare quality of being a “picture language;” its words paint vivid pictures; as such, it is a wonderful language for poetry, telling stories, sharing historical narrative, utilizing puns and other rhetorical devices. So Hebrew as a language adds color and nuances (unlike all other languages), and is known for its vividness, ex-pressiveness, simplicity and density. In comparison, the language of Greek (NT) is referred to as a “scientific language,” in that it is a very exacting and technical language; as such, it is an excellent tool for vigorous thought, education, debate, argument, logic, philosophy and science, due to its strength and vigor. Because of its specificity and exact-ness, no other language has the capacity to fully communicate every little aspect of what the Greek language states — to keep this from being a “troubling issue” in your mind, it should be noted, no language perfectly translates what the Greek text says; yet they all have the capacity to sufficiently define what the Greek text says… so it is not like our English translations are seriously lacking. If you are a person who speaks two languages, you know how difficult it can be to translate thoughts from one language to another — there is no such thing as perfection in that regard; nevertheless, the central message is not so blurry that one cannot understand it; so don’t fret over what I’ve just stated. In a word, Greek is the most definitive and exacting language ever devised — it was this language that came from the mind of God to rule over the entire Roman world at the incarnation of Christ; thus it was the language God used to communicate divine truth to the human family. One of the most significant qualities of NT Greek is that it can say things in an unequivocal manner and with emphatic emphasis; no other language can do that. Because of the various qualities that New Testament Greek possesses, one can make statements that are of absolute truth; thus they are not to be argued against; so in that regard it is far more exacting and absolute than is the English language, Latin, or other languages. A particular aspect of ancient Greek is that it has the ability to state things emphatically; i.e., give significant emphasis to particular words and phrases, that normally would simply receive the same attention that other words receive. Thus God in His sovereignty created the Greek language to communicate divine doctrinal truths at a very precise level; in so doing, it left no thought unturned. Most of you will recall how Jesus often prefaced His statements with words like this: “Truly I say to you” or “Truly, truly, I say to you” — when God used the single word “truly,” it was gramma-tically placed in an emphatic position, yet at certain points Jesus employed redundancy in its usage; thus making it an emphatic absolute statement of fact. When Jesus would say, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” in effect He was saying, “Let there be no about what I am saying; this is the absolute unequivocal truth; do not question or argue against it!” And then He would proceed to make His declaration. Following are a number of verses where Jesus emphatically used the single word “Truly” (Mt 5:18; 5:26; 6:2; 6:5; 6:16; 8:10; 10:15; 10:23; 10:42)… conversely, here are several other verses where Jesus used the redundant words “Truly, truly” to make an even stronger emphatic statement (Jn 1:51; 3:3; 3:5; 3:11; 5:19; 5:24; 5:25; 6:26; 6:32; 6:47). Beloved, take the time to read those passages so that you might see the significance of what Jesus was saying; it should be noted, these two constructs appear over 100 times in the gospels. Now, though the English language is the most definitive language in our present-day world (it is the scientific language of the world), it is still not nearly as definitive and absolute as was the ancient Greek language. Now with all of the foregoing in mind, it is also important to know that both the ancient Hebrew language and the ancient Greek language are “dead languages;” i.e., they are no longer spoken in our world; modern-day Hebrew and Greek are not identical to these two ancient languages. As incredible as it may seem to some of you, this is actually a positive, not a negative, because dead languages never change! If we were believing something that was written two thousand years ago, but interpreting it differently than it was stated, we would have a problem… so God froze the languages of Hebrew and Greek so that His Word would never change! By the way, that is why one studies the biblical languages of Hebrew & Greek in seminary when being trained for ministry; it is to gain an appreciation for the absolute integrity of God’s Word. This construct should not be that difficult to understand; all one must do is look at the way our English lang-uage has “changed” over the past 500 years — it is not the same; the same goes for all other languages.
One more note regarding the ancient “Greek language.” Interestingly enough, after the Jewish world failed to respond rightly to all the prophets had shared with them down through the ages, God inspired Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) to conquer the known world and make the Greek culture and the Greek language and the Greek philosophy of life (as it was expressed by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), prevalent in the Greco-Roman world during the time of Christ. Starting in 330 BC, this “hellenization,” as it is referred to, spread throughout the entire western world including Judea and the Jewish people (the words “hellas” and “hellen” mean “Greece”). It wasn’t long until the entire Jewish world (with the exception of some of those who lived in Jerusalem) essentially was speaking Greek rather than Hebrew. The vast majority of Jews were no longer living in Judea; at least 80% of them were living in various parts of the Mediterranean world, with large numbers living in Rome and Alexandria; there were numerous synagogues in various quarters of both of those cities. The population of Jerusalem during the time of Christ was about 120,000, and of that number 6,000 were Pharisees. Incidentally, the goal of the Pharisees (which literally means “separatists”) was to keep themselves separate from those who were unclean; that is, those who did not live by God’s Law (i.e., the Torah). The Pharisees had a passionate concern to see the precepts of the Torah applied in every-day life… they also had a high regard for ritual purity and Jewish oral traditions. Regarding Alexander the Great, the city of Alexandria was founded by him in 332 BC, and was situated on the coast of North Africa near the Nile River — it quickly became the largest city in the Mediterranean basin; within a 150 years it became the greatest center of both Hellenistic and Jewish culture; hundreds of thousands of Jews lived there. So popular was the Hellenistic world, that Jews were often educated in the Greek gymnasium, including its training in athletics and in rhetoric. Remember, this was 150 years after Alexandria became a city — it was at this point that Hellenism ruled in the western world, and Alexandria became the greatest Roman provincial capital; it was home to a world renowned museum and university (far more glorious than those in Rome), and two royal Greek libraries that contained over 700,000 scrolls; thus, it attracted scholars from all over the world. It should also be noted that Alexandria rivaled Rome and Constantinople in the first century, and became a premiere center of Christian learning, and was the seat of a patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It should also be noted, the first renowned Christian scholar in the ancient world was Clement of Alexandria; he became head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria in about 190 AD — he was a philosopher throughout his life; he saw Greek philosophy as a preparation for Christ, even as a witness to divine truth… he saw Plato as a cherished guide… and believed sin was grounded in human free will… and that enlightenment by the Logos brought significant knowledge to humanity, which resulted in right decisions; such drew people to God until they were assimilated to Him (Stromata 4.23). By the way, around 202 AD Clement was succeeded in the Catechetical School by the famous theologian Origen, who had studied under Clement in the city of Alexandria; he produced the Hexapla text of the Old Testament, and wrote several commentaries on all of the biblical books. Incidentally, thousands in the pagan world were extremely attracted to Origin, so they would travel over a thousand miles just to here him speak. Origin is known as one of the Greek Fathers of the Church.
Now lets return to the ancient Jewish world… in the second century BC (i.e., about 200 years after Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria), the entire Western world was completely Hellenized… as a result, seventy Jewish scholars who lived in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek; this particular rendering of Scripture is referred to as “The Septuagint” (which is Latin for “seventy”). Since few Jews spoke or read Hebrew in the second century BC, this group of scholars translated it into Greek so that the Jewish world could study God’s Word in the vernacular of the day. It should be noted, so respected was this particular translation, “both Christ and the apostles often quoted it verbatim;” so to this very day the Septuagint is still a very popular rendering of the Old Testament. Now, since Jesus lived in the first century Greco-Roman world and carried out His ministry in that world, He spoke both “Greek” and “Aramaic”(a north Semitic lang-uage that was very similar to Hebrew) — incidentally, a few Old Testament verses were actually written in Aramaic (cf. Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Dan 2:4b-7:28; and Jer 10:11); keep in mind, the old Aramaic language started in Assyria back around 800 BC, and ultimately spread throughout much of the Mediterranean world; it also continued to be used widely during the Hellenistic period. Due to the prominence of Greek, however, the New Testament was written in Greek (so all of the apostles spoke Greek). Again, this was all a part of God’s plan from eternity past; it was at this time in world history that God purposed to reveal the full essence of divine truth to humanity, and have it proclaimed to the entire Greco-Roman world. It was in the first century AD that Rome made one empire of the whole world, and Roman roads made all parts of it accessible… and the Diaspora (the dispersion of the Jews among the nations) paved the way for the propagation of the good news of the coming of the Messiah in their Synagogues and their Scriptures. Once again, with all of the foregoing in mind, it is important to remember “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son” (cf. Gal 4:4; Mk 1:15; Rom 1:1-7) — those emboldened words are very emphatic in Greek; after God had prepared the entire world for the advent of His Son, it was only then that He sent Him into our world. Everything that existed then was a part of God’s plan for conveying divine truth to the world. If you are a history-buff, you may want to study this issue in far greater detail. Let’s return to the Old Testament era…
For 400 years God’s prophets (i.e., God’s spokesmen) had confronted His people with their sin over and over again (this would’ve been between 800 & 400 BC), and only a very few times did the Jewish world pay much attention to them… instead they often “killed the prophets” (cf. Mt 23:29-31, 37-39). Frequently God’s prophets were viewed with contempt; they were locked-up (Jer 37), ignored (Is 6:9-13), and persecuted (1 Kg 19:1-2). It was God’s prophets who called the Jewish people to obedience by appealing to Israel’s past and her future; as such, they frequently spoke of Israel’s destiny… the judgment of God on unbelief… the iniquity of the people… and the foretelling of the future. It was not at all uncommon for God’s people to worship foreign gods and reject divine truth. Their problem was they were not a righteous people; instead they were an unrighteous people. That word “righteous” in Hebrew is sadaq, and refers to “that which is right and just” (cf. Gen 15:6; Rom 3:10); conversely, the Greek word for righteous is dikaios and refers to “being right or just” (cf. Mt 3:15; 6:33; 21:32). Being as the ancient Jewish world placed a premium on “the Mosaic Law” (which laid at the center of God’s dealings with man), they believed it was by obeying the Law that people “obtained a right standing before God;” they believed that their actions would be suitably rewarded by God, either now or in the future; thus they believed they were creating a degree of “merit” before God. Though they acknowledged they weren’t perfect people, they didn’t see themselves as being innately sinful either… they not only believed their identi-fication with their father Abraham made them a people who were acceptable to God, every year on the Day of Atonement they humbled themselves before God that they might be cleansed of any sin they may have committed (Lev 16:30); special sacrifices were presented as an atonement for their sins, and special offerings were also presented (Num 29:8-11), hence they not only saw merit in their identification with Abraham, but in their obedience to God’s Law. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus Christ, just a few years before Jesus began His ministry in the world… said John to the multitudes, “Bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’… for every true that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (cf. Lk 3:8-9); essentially John’s message was this: “If you really mean busi-ness with God, then you will show that you have truly repented by manifesting a trans-formed life — genuine repentance produces fruit.” Interestingly enough, the physical descendents of Abraham rejected the Christ of God and crucified Him! Now, though the Torah (the Hebrew word for Law) consists of commandments to be kept, and the fact that God is just in rewarding there being kept (cf. Deut 6:20-25; Ps 24:3-6), most rabbis did stress that their acts not only must have the right intention, but that they must be done for their own sake (i.e., because it is the right thing to do), and not for the reward that they might receive. Thus, loving God was to be their true motive because of the grace He had shown in the choice of Israel and in giving them the Torah… but not even that line of thinking characterized the majority of the Jewish world. Due to the fact that great variance existed in the Jewish world, they all didn’t embrace the same doctrines (which, sadly, describes present-day Christianity). Since the Jewish world was so diverse, it is probably best to look at how Jesus and the Prophets responded to them —
Remember, “Jesus felt compassion for His people, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36); i.e., they weren’t being properly led by their rabbis. The majority of the religious leaders in ancient Israel during the time of Christ practiced righteousness before men to be noticed by them (Mt 6:1)… in addition to that, they were unforgiving and judgmental, and laid up treasures for them-selves on earth rather than in heaven (Mt 6:14, 19; 7:1-3); in short, they were not a people of love, thus they did not align their thinking with what God said, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13; Hos 6:6). Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me… in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (Mt 15:7-9). He also said to them, “Woe to you Pharisees, for you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Lk 11:46). To give a more complete definition to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, read what He had to say about them in the gospel of Matthew (Mt 23:13-39). Now because the Pharisees were who they were, Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16). It is because of their lack of love for others, that God will say to them on the last day, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t invite Me in; I was naked and you did not cloth Me; I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me — in as much as you did not do these things to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto Me; thus you shall go away into eternal punishment” (Mt 25:41-46). Essentially, Jesus was saying that one cannot claim to love God and be unloving to His people (cf. 1 Jn 2:9-11; 3:16-18; 4:7-8, 20-21). Though the ancient Jewish world was a “religious world,” it was not a world that had a “loving relationship with God;” God was not their life; they were simply trying to please this unknown God, so He was a very distant reality to them.
Before we go further, it’s important to remember “God’s revelation is progressive;” i.e., it was not fully given to man at the outset; the reality is, it was not completed until the first century AD. The Old Testament world did not understand the triune nature of God, or that the Messiah of which the Old Testament spoke was actually the Son of God. It wasn’t until the advent of Christ some 2,000 years ago (4,000 years after man’s creation), and His dying on the cross for sinful man, and His being raised again from the dead, and His ascension into heaven to be our High Priest, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men, that the fullness of divine revelation was communicated to mankind. Remember, Abraham (the father of faith and the father of Israel) didn’t enter into the picture until 2,000 BC… and it wasn’t until 1,400 BC that Moses (the deliverer of Israel from Egyptian bondage, and the giver of the Law) came on the scene… and it wasn’t un- til 1,000 BC that David (the chosen King of Israel & God’s man of faith) that he came on the scene… and it wasn’t until about 800 BC that the Prophets (God’s spokesmen) came on the scene; essentially they continued on the scene for about 400 years (until 400 BC). Throughout these 1,600 years of Old Testament history (i.e., between 2,000 and 400 BC), God kept disclosing more information to His people, but it wasn’t until the first century AD, that the fullness of God’s revelation to man was revealed through Christ and His apostles… obviously, there were reasons for that; man had much to learn and learning takes place one small step at a time, else wise one will not learn the depth of each of the principles that God wants them to learn — “divine truth” is not just an inch deep; the fullness of it transcends human thinking (cf. Is 55:8-9)… yet God has given each of us the ability to understand it at a level that is far deeper than what we have presently arrived at. Though divine truth is far deeper than man realizes, the wonderful truth is, the greater one’s knowledge the greater his joy and the greater his peace… and if one is to learn it as God has so decreed, he needs to humbly immerse himself in it (cf. Ps 1:1-2; 25:5; 64:6-8; 119:9-16; Job 23:12; Jer 15:16; Ezk 3:1-3; Rom 12:2; Jam 1:21; 1 Pet 2:2). By the way, when you give your-self to “knowing divine truth on a far deeper level,” once you come to understand it, you will experience far greater peace and joy in your soul; divine truth is never a negative to a person of faith. Let me illustrate it by using the concept of “God’s love;” the more one knows of God’s love for him and its assurance, the greater will be his faith, and the more encouraged he will be. If you have never studied divine truth on a deep level, you owe it to yourself to do so and see the merit for doing so — yes, in doing so one actually “merits” something in life (joy, peace, confidence and assurance). It should stand to reason, if one only looks at something on an “elementary level,” he will only have an “elementary faith.” Said the Hebrew author, “Many of you have become dull of hearing… by this time you ought to be teachers, but you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God; thus you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb 5:11-12). Beloved, please don’t buy into the concept that you don’t have the ability to understand divine truth, because GOD is the one who opens the humble heart to understand His Word; yes, your thinking initially will only be an inch deep, but eventually it will be two inches deep, then three inches deep, and so on; that is simply the way the economy of God was designed… none of us were born with the ability to read, we all had to learn it; well, the same goes with divine knowledge.
The problem of ancient Judaism was that they made obedience to the Law a con-dition of blessing and a condition of salvation; i.e., they developed their own religion, which is very similar to many modern-day cults (they pick and choose the values they embrace, and reinterpret things as they see fit; it’s all self-made religion). In ancient his-tory, the prophets railed against their people for substituting external rituals prescribed by the Law for true piety, which is demonstrated first in moral obedience (cf. Is 1:10-17; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8). In every age the Israelites misused the Law, thinking that performance of rituals obligated God to receive them favorably. They imagined that God looked upon their hearts through the lenses of their sacrifices; in spite of that fact, they actually violated God’s moral laws even while they continued to observe the ceremonial regulations (cf. Is 1 and Jer 7). The problem with man is that he simply does not see himself for who he really is — he sees himself as being “reasonably good,” and worthy of acceptance before God; and there-in is the problem. When we see ourselves as being pretty good, “self-pride” is ruling in our soul. That has been man’s problem from day one; Cain offered up a sacrifice that was not acceptable to God (i.e., he didn’t do as God comman-ded, instead he satisfied his own thinking), so when God rejected it Cain got angry and killed his brother Abel, whose sacrifice was acceptable to God (cf. Gen 4:1-8). Essentially, man strongly rebels when he is told he is “not good;” hence this godless world despises Christianity, because it tells them that they are sinners, and “they hate that!” (i.e., “they want nothing to do with it!”). Only people who humble themselves before God acknow-ledge their sinfulness; proud people refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness. The word “humble” in Greek (tapeinos) metaphorically means to “be brought low,” or “be of a low degree.” As Paul said, “Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought” (cf. Rom 12:3). The reality is, if we were glorious creatures that would be one thing, but we are NOT! So the idea is, we need to see ourselves as we really are. Remember, “God gives grace to the humble, but is opposed to the proud” (cf. Jam 4:6); and if there is anything we need as fallen crea-tures, it is grace. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are like white-washed tombs — on the outside you appear beautiful, but inside you are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt 23:27); remember, “God does not see as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance… God looks at the heart” (i.e., man’s inner life – 1 Sam 16:7). As a child I used to question the deplorable nature of man… after all, how could people be bad who look good? How could some of my friends go to hell, when they are so nice to be around? I didn’t know they were simply living a lifestyle that was culturally acceptable to others; I didn’t realize then that they essentially were completely “self-centered people” who simply wanted acceptance and honor, so they behaved accordingly. Now that I am older and wiser, I now see how “self-centeredness” operates in all of our lives… this matter of innate sinfulness is a profound construct in the human family. For those of you who have lived here in the United States for a number of years, the behaviors of people should make that concept a lot easier to accept… whereas years ago, people behaved far better than they do today (because societal standards were a lot higher); today our nation is about as corrupt and ugly as any nation in history; it’s hard to believe we have declined as much as we have… half of the people in our country today intensely hate Christians. The reality is, when committed unbelievers are told they are “sinful or unrighteous,” it angers them; that’s how sold-out they are to themselves and this godless world (by the way, their god is what they like and value in life; if something doesn’t mesh with their values, they will not accept it). So the innate sinfulness of man is far easier to see in our present-day world (at least here in America) than it was 50, 60, 70 years ago).
As the apostle John states, “Jesus is the light of the world (i.e., the light of men). The light shined in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it… Jesus was the true light that had come into the world to enlighten every man… but His own people (i.e., the Jewish world) did not receive Him… but as many as did receive Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God. This is the judgment, men loved darkness rather than light; for their deeds were evil; everyone who does evil hates the light lest his deeds should be exposed; in contradistinction to that, everyone who follows Jesus will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (cf. Jn 1:4-12; Jn 3:19; Jn 8:12). That word “evil” is often very troubling to people because of their tendency to equate it with despicable sinful behavior, though such would be evil, that is not the full essence of the concept of evil — the Greek word for evil (“kakos”) refers to that which is useless, destructive, malignant, bad, and worthless; it is antithetic to the Greek word (“kalos”) which refers to that which of great value, beneficial, advisable, fair, and good in character; the reality is, there is no inherent goodness whatsoever in anything that is evil. Now, because “love” is the foun-dation upon which divine Law is built, unless one humbles himself before God, he will never become a man of love; i.e., he will never become God-oriented or others-oriented; instead his “self-centeredness” will be the supreme ruler of his life. By the way, the “Law” wasn’t given to man so that he could make himself righteous… it was given to man to show him how sinful he really is — said Paul, “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified… instead, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (cf. Rom 3:20; 7:7; Gal 2:16). The problem with the Pharisees is that they reinterpreted the Law and made it the path-way to achieving a right standing before God; as such, pride ruled in their hearts. Now, regarding salvation, since man is completely lacking in righteousness (Rom 3:10), he must humbly acknowledge his sinfulness before God and place his trust in Christ and the cross, and ask Him for His forgiveness… as incredible as it may seem, when He does that God then imputes Christ’s righteousness to him (cf. Rom 3:20-28; 4:3-8; 10:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9); so it is God who makes us righteous creatures, not ourselves — think about it, how can an unrighteous creature make himself righteous? That would be like a human being flying in the sky like a bird, or living in the ocean like a fish; he simply doesn’t have the ability to do that. The apostle Paul reminds us that no man is justified (i.e., deemed righteous) by the works of the law, that it is through the law where-by one comes to a knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20)… righteousness is achieved through faith in Christ & His work on the cross, not by our works. Only Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, and our receiving Him and accepting His atonement for our sins, is the basis of our being found righteous in the sight of God (cf. Jn 1:12; 2 Cor 5:21). It is because the Jews rejected Christ as their Savior / Messiah, that they have not been justified; i.e., they do not have a righteous standing before God. It should be noted, the words justified & righteous are the same word in Greek (dikaios); so when we are justified before God, we are declared righteous before God (incident-ally, that’s the doctrine of justification). Now, the result of becoming the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus means living a life of righteousness before God… offering up our lives as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:13)… putting on the breastplate of righteous-ness (cf. Eph 6:14)… and pursuing righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 4:8) — and this we are able to do because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (cf. Rom 7:6; 8:13-14; 1 Cor 6:19; Gal 5:16; 5:22-25) — when we deny the flesh its desires, and embrace the desires of the Spirit, we will walk in righteousness; obviously doing so means warring against the flesh, because it is in opposition to the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:16-17)… so to somehow think that walking in righteousness and walking in the Spirit is a pleasant little life, is to misunderstand the cosmic battle that is to be the premiere characteristic of our lives.
The most wonderful truth for us as believers is this — God is omnipotent and ever at work in us conforming us to the image of Christ… and the work He has begun in us, “He is going to complete!” (cf. Phil 1:6); beloved, that is a given! As the brother of Jesus (Jude) said, “Genuine believers grow in their faith (i.e., they build themselves up in their faith)… they keep themselves in the love of God (which is the foundation of their faith)… and they look forward to their eternal destiny” (Jude 1:20-21). This is because GOD is at work in their lives (cf. Phil 2:13). The truth is, “God is able to make all grace abound to you” (cf. 2 Cor 9:8; Heb 7:25); again, He is GOD! Beloved, the omnipotent God who dwells in us, is constantly at work moving us in a godly direction… this incredible God “is able to keep us from stumbling (i.e., falling away), and present us faultless before the throne with exceedingly great joy” (cf. Jude 1:24). Obviously, if everything depended upon us as fallen creatures, none of us would ever be glorified in the eternal state. Yes, “we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but we are to do so with the realization that GOD is at work in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). As just mentioned, the “attitude” the believer is to have when he strives to walk with God, is first and foremost that of having genuine reverence for God, and not just treat spirituality as a remedial issue… remember, God had His Son crucified to redeem us from all of our sins and make us His children; obviously, He wasn’t treating the issue lightly. The truth is, as God’s children we now have a lot of growing to do, and in order to do so we must have great reverence for God for all He has done and is doing in our lives. Think of it this way, what other issue in life is more important that growing in your faith and walking with Christ? Remember the words of King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived — “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10); it is only when man takes God seriously that he values spiritual knowledge. If our reverence for God is remedial (simply lip service), we will not only be displeasing to the Lord, but our faith will be completely insignificant. The word “fear” in Greek (phobos) is often used of something that causes one to flee; so genuine fear has an effect upon our inward soul, and moves us in a divine direction; thus fear is the controlling motive of life in matters that are spiritual and moral — the reverential fear of God will inspire a constant carefulness in dealing with spiritual realities. As stated several times, having a contextual understanding of things is vital for us as believers; so never treat God’s Word lightly. Beloved, in a word, “strive” to walk with God through all the ups and downs of life.
The foregoing discussion was addressed to give you a “contextual understanding” of that which follows. I felt it was important to not only understand how God works in our world, but the integrity of Scripture, and the absoluteness with which it teaches. Obviously, this “study” is not just a casual read, so in order to gain the most from it, you will need to contemplate the various passages that are listed as well. As you probably noticed, I italicized, underlined, and emboldened a number of words & phrases; I did this to give extra emphasis to those words and thoughts; so note the significance of them while going through this study. Incidentally, since the last chapter of this study deals with the critical issue of “faith,” it is only when you read through that particular chapter that you will understand the fullness of the various chapters that lead up to it. Hopefully, you will find this a very meaningful study. My prayer is that God will give you the grace to believe those things that He wants you to believe.
MAN’S FALLEN NATURE
In the beginning God made man in His image and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it, and commanded him saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:15-17). Ultimately, man ate of the forbidden fruit and suffered the consequences of it; the reality was, he simply wasn’t satisfied with God’s provisions — he wanted more, he wanted to have his own way, and wanted complete autonomy. Little did he know, there was absolutely nothing to gain by going down that road; instead there was much to lose. That is what sin does; it deceives us — it is not able to give us what we want or meet our desires; instead it has a devastating effect upon us and destroys us. When Adam and Eve sinned, the consequences of their sin were passed on to their offspring (sinners beget sinners); as such, all of us were born with a sinful, corrupt nature (cf. Ps 51:5; Eph 2:1-3). So the result of the first sin was the corruption of the entire human family — we are all sinners in Adam (cf. Rom 5:12). We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. Though man may be reasonably good relatively speaking (i.e., from a human perspective), the reality is, he cannot even fathom divine holiness or absolute purity — why? because he is in the dark, not the light; only God dwells in the light (cf. 1 Tim 6:16). In our humanistically dominated culture, it is assumed that people are inherently good; yet there is no part of man that is left untouched by sin — our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil; we speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, and have impure thoughts. Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being, which defines it in its entirety; it permeates our hearts. Said Jeremiah, “The heart is more deceitful that all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Said Jesus, “Out of the heart (the inner core of man) come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, and slanders (Mt 15:19) — it is from the heart of man that sin comes, not from something outside of him. The problem with human beings is that “they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil… everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed” (Jn 3:19-20). It should be noted, “evil” isn’t that bad a thing to fallen man — remember, his thinking has been darkened by his innate sinfulness, thus he doesn’t see it as being that bad; when your inner core is totally in the dark, that which is light is an offense to you… after all, your inner core is pleasing to you, and not at all something that you want to reject; hence, the rejection of that which is antithetical to your inner core (i.e., divine truth). Said Jesus, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12; cf. Jn 1:4-5). Stated John, “God is light and in Him is no darkness whatso-ever” (I Jn 1:5); that word “light” is emphatic in Greek — God is the essence of absolute purity; not a single ounce of darkness dwells in Him (cf. Is 6:3; Rev 4:8); by comparison, man’s heart is completely dark and impure.
Regarding this matter of “sin” — by definition, the word “sin” in Greek (hamartia) means “to miss the mark;” i.e., it is to fall short of the holy standard of God that governs the entire created order — anything that falls short of that standard is sin. The reality is, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23); so sin is a lack of conformity to the law of God, thus it is a transgression of the law — we transgress the law when we walk where we are told not to walk. When we do what we know is wrong, we choose to disobey God’s law; in short, sin is an act of rebellion against God, and putting one’s own interests above God’s. Doing wrong is a consequence of the sinful nature that comes from inside us. Said the psalmist David and the apostle Paul: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God; all have turned aside… there is none who does good, there is not even one” (cf. Ps 14:1-3; Rom 3:10-12; Lk 18:19). It is because of the condition of our inner core that “we were dead in our trespasses and sins” prior to entering into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 2:1; Col 2:13); i.e., we were spiritually dead and lifeless toward God — we lived as if He did not exist. It was because God was rich in mercy and love, that “He made us alive with Christ” (cf. Eph 2:4-5; Col 2:13). Only by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit were we made spiritually alive (cf. Titus 3:5; 2 Cor 5:17). It was God who made us alive in Christ by His grace (i.e., His unmerited favor) — “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). Keep in mind, we are sinful creatures whom God has saved because of His incredible mercy and love — it had nothing at all to do with our own innate goodness, because we have none. It is here where many Christians err; as such, their faith is very shallow — faith is not just a matter of strongly believing something, it is a matter of strongly believing divine truth as it is stated in Scripture. The two most significant didactics the believer must understand are these — he must see himself for who he truly is, and he must see God for who He truly is; if these two constructs are deficient and lacking in any way, one will struggle greatly with his faith. If one sees himself as good, then God’s goodness will never be as great to him as it really is. Beloved, remember we are fallen sinful creatures, though we are Christians if we have placed our trust in Christ, nevertheless we are still “sinners;” the difference is we are now “saved sinners.” Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites,” because they were not at all what they were claiming to be (“righteous”); their hearts were far from God — the Law is not the ultimate thing, God is! Sin is a matter of the heart. All rules do is show us what is wrong; because we all stumble in life shows us that we are not perfect. Now to be in relationship with Christ, we must die to the law (i.e., stop making obedience to the Law the foundation of our life, as if that is the premiere requisite of life; cf. Rom 7:4; Gal 2:19, 21; 5:18; Col 1:21-22). If we don’t die to the law we will be making obedience to the law the foundation of our faith. Though the law is a good thing, because we are innately sinful it cannot save us (cf. Rom 3:20; 8:3) — only Jesus can save us; it is the law that points to Jesus (cf. Gal 3:24); i.e., it shows us how needy and deficient we are (not how wonderful we are); thus by showing us our sinfulness it points us to Christ. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (cf. Mt 5:3); literally, it means to be “beggarly poor,” because we have absolutely nothing to offer God – NOTHING! Incidentally, the word “theirs” is emphatic in Greek.
When man sinned, the resultant effect was he became extremely “SELF-conscious” (cf. Gen 3:6-7); as such, humanity became very “self-centered” rather than “God-centered.” Remember, all things were not only made by God, they were made for God (cf. Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16). Since man chose to live according to the dictates of his own inner core, sinful behavior is now a natural expression of who he really is. The renowned 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon essentially expressed it this way, “Just as salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so sin affects every atom of our nature.” The reality is this: wherever people are there is trouble; it is our earthly nature that produces sinful behavior (cf. Rom 8:3-4; Col 3:5). All of us have gone astray and turned to our own way (cf. Is 53:6). The apostle Paul humbly admitted, “the trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin” (Rom 7:14); in his sinful nature “he was a slave to the law of sin” (Rom 7:25). King Solomon concurs with that statement: “There is no one on earth who is righteous, who continually does good and never sins” (Ecc 7:20). Said the apostle John, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). Though God created us “good without a sin nature” (Gen 1:27, 31), because Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God, sin corrupted their nature… and when they had children, their corrupt nature was passed on to their children (cf. Gen 5:3; Rom 5:12-19). As Paul says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so; thus those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:7-8) — fallen human think- ing actually thinks the wisdom of God is foolishness; conversely, God calls the thinking of men absolute foolishness (cf. 1 Cor 1:18; 2:14; 3:19). It should be noted, we don’t lose our sin nature when we become Christians; the Bible says that sin remains in us and that a struggle with the old nature will continue as long as we are in this world — but we have “divine help” in the battle — the Spirit of God takes up residence in us as believers and supplies us with the power we need to overcome the pull of our sin nature; thus, “no one born of God continues to practice sin (i.e., no Christian lives continually in sin); since God’s seed abides in him, he cannot just keep on sinning” (1 Jn 3:9). The present tense verb implies that no believer continually walks in sin — though he may struggle with sin and frequently stumble and sin, he doesn’t permanently dwell in sin. The psalmist David expressed it this way: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the feverheat of summer… so I acknowledged my sin to God… and He forgave me of the guilt of my sin” (cf. Ps 32:3-5; also Ps 38:1-8; 31:10). That’s the way God moves in a believer’s life; it is by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that we are moved in a right direction; without God’s presence in our lives, we wouldn’t go in a godly direction. Remember, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; behold old things have passed away, and new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). Again, though we may sin often, sin does not rule in us (cf. Jam 3:2; Ecc 7:20); we are in a constant state of fighting our flesh and dying to it — that’s the essence of spiritual warfare. Before we became Christians, we were dead in our trespasses and sins (cf. Eph 2:1), but now that we are alive in Christ we fight against evil at every point imaginable; the reality is, there is still a root of man-centeredness that still needs to be purged from us. Even though we are Christians, we still don’t fully comprehend the ugliness of our fallenness and the depravity of the pit from which we were saved; yet a day is coming in eternity future when our sinful inner core (i.e., our flesh) will be removed from us, and we will be fully enlightened as to the essence of our existence, and the incredible work that God did in our lives, even though we stumbled time & time again in our earthly walk (cf. Rev 21:1-5).
In depicting the effects of the fall, the 17th century Scottish preacher Thomas Boston saw the fall as the corruption of the affections, the corruption of the conscience, and the corruption of the body. Boston described the fallen man’s affections as being wholly disordered and distempered; he compared them to an unruly horse that violently runs away with the rider. Fallen man loves what he should hate, and hates what he should love; he abhors what he should desire, and desires what he should abhor (cf. Prv 2:13-15); the reality is, sin has put all things out of order. Boston described the corruption of man’s conscience as an evil that fills one’s conversation with much darkness and confusion; the natural conscience is very defective because of its inability to discern reality as God defines it — it is only when the Lord lets new light in the soul that the conscience is awakened. To the chagrin of many, the natural conscience will call evil good, and good evil (cf. Is 5:20). It is an evil conscience which naturally disturbs a person and leads to despair (cf. Acts 24:25). The body is also a partaker of this corruption and defilement; Scripture calls it sinful flesh (cf. Rom 8:3); it not only has a natural tendency to sin, but incites sin. Boston called the body a furious beast that needs to be brought into divine subjection; if it is not it will cast the soul into much sin and misery (cf. 1 Cor 9:27). One’s flesh is that element that fights against God (cf. Rom 6:13); “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:17). The eyes and ears are open doors, by which impure motions and sinful desires enter the soul… the tongue is “a world of iniquity” (cf. Jam 3:6), “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (cf. Jam 3:8); by it the impure heart vents a great deal of its filthiness. To conclude — man by nature is wholly corrupted; there is no soundness in him whatsoever (cf. Ps 38:3, 7; Is 1:6); every faculty of the soul only serves to corrupt him more and more. The mind (swelled with self-conceit), the will (in opposition to the will of God), and the corrupt affections, all rise against the Lord and goodness (cf. Mt 12:30; Lk 18:19; Rom 3:10-13). Due to the fact many Christians struggle with differentiating believers from unbelievers, I thought I would identify some of the “characteristics” of each of these two creatures; though every believer and every unbeliever doesn’t necessarily fully exhibit these qualities (because of the various cultures in which they were raised), these qualities lie at the root of their souls. Again, though they may not be fully exposed at this point in their life, these characteristics are rooted in them. It should be noted, the full expression of “sinfulness” is not necessarily seen in the unbelieving world, nor is the full expression of “righteousness” seen in the believing world; since we are all fallen creatures (i.e., men of flesh) sin does evidences itself in all of us to some degree, but just as Satan is an angel of light, so also is the unbelieving world (i.e., the behavior of Satan and his children can be very deceptive; with that in mind, none of us have the capacity to judge every human being accurately – cf. Mt:13:30). However, just as the masses in Jerusalem cried out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (cf. Lk 23:21), so also would the entire unbelieving world today cry out with such language. It is the unbelieving world that will embrace the “anti-Christ” in the not too distant future; it’s only a matter of time until the unbelieving world violently persecutes all those who profess to be Christians… if you want to know what that world is going to look like, just take a look at what Hollywood looks like today — absolute garbage! The reality is, the root of evil that dwells within this godless world is simply awaiting that day. For a believer to actually think that this only characterizes a very limited number of people in our world, is to be completely deceived; remember, all of them are of their father, the Devil (cf. Jn 8:44), and when he ultimately moves in their hearts at the end of the age, his expressed hatred will be manifested throughout the world. Following are some of those characteristics that define believers and unbelievers; note the contrasts:
Children of Satan Children of God
Fleshly Values Divine Values
Believe in Evolution Believe in Creation
Disbelieve in God Believe in God
Live for Self Live for God & Others
Man’s will God’s will
Spiritually Blind Spiritually Enlightened
Spiritually Dead Spiritually Alive
Walk in the Flesh Walk in the Sprit
Live by the Flesh Live by Spirit
Live by Human Reason Live by Faith
Enslaved to Satan Enslaved to Christ
Walk in the Dark Walk in the Light
Darkened Minds Enlightened Minds
People of Untruth People of Truth
Human Wisdom Divine Wisdom
People of Conflict People of Peace
People of Merit People of Grace
Hopefully the preceding shed a little light on the difference between “Unbelievers” and “Believers.” Now regarding this matter of “the flesh,” it is a fallen dynamic of man’s innate sinfulness (Gal 5:17; Jude 1:23). In a word, the unregenerate (i.e., the unsaved) are said to be sinful flesh (Rom 8:3), and live according to the flesh (Rom 8:5). The chief characteristic of the flesh is evil human desires (i.e., lust – cf. Gal 5:16; 1 Pet 4:2; 2 Pet 2:10; 1 Jn 2:16); such enslaves them and controls their mind (cf. Eph 2:3); thus it is referred to as the mind of the flesh (cf. Rom 8:5, 7). The unregenerate’s life is given to fleshly satisfactions (cf. Col 2:23); as such they reap fleshly corruption (Gal 6:8). The unbeliever’s life is dominated by “sinful passions” (Rom 7:5), thus he is unable to obey God’s law or please Him (cf. Rom 8:3, 8). The life of the unbeliever is a “self-life, whereas the life of the believer is to be a “God-life;” the regenerate (i.e., the believer), though he remains “in the flesh,” is no longer “of the flesh” (Gal 2:20); yet he needs to be very watchful of its presence in his life, and be ever mindful that in his flesh dwelleth nothing good (cf. Rom 7:18). Without the life of Christ within, only the works of the flesh are possible; i.e., fornication, impurity, idolatry, licentiousness, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, carousing, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, and the like (Gal 5:19-21). With the life of Christ the fruit of the Spirit becomes possible; however, one must keep in mind, if he would be fruitful he must stay close to God by praying, feeding on His word, and keeping close company with other Christians. Finally, there must be pruning, which can be very unpleasant at times; it means things we treasure will be removed from our lives… thus it often involves suffering. Remember, the purpose of pruning is to bring forth more fruit. The apostle Paul expands upon “the conflict of the two natures” in the believer’s life in his letter to the Romans (7:14-25). In order to overcome the overwhelming presence of the flesh in one’s life, the believer must know that “he has died with Christ and has risen with Him to walk in newness of life” (cf. Rom 6:1-8); thus, instead of trying to improve the flesh (i.e., one’s inner core), the believer will relegate it to the grave of Jesus. The culprit in our lives is not the new man we are in Christ, but the sinful corrupt old man that still dwells in us — until the believer learns this truth, he will make very little progress in holiness. Unless we understand our sinful inner core (i.e., our flesh), and the fact that we have died with Christ and have risen with Him, we will struggle in our walk of holiness. Just as we have been united with Christ in His death, so also we have been united with Christ in His resurrection (cf. Rom 6:5 — Paul tells us that “we must RECKON ourselves as being dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11); i.e., we are to accept what God says about us as true, and live in the light of that truth. Obviously, this demands a definite act of faith, which results in a fixed attitude toward “the old self” — we see it where God sees it (on the cross, being crucified with Christ); though that is the reality, many Christians struggle with believing that because “sin” still plays a significant part in their life — what the believer must believe is that he will no longer be subjected to the penalty of sin (eternal punish-ment), nor will the power of sin be the supreme ruler in his life; will he stumble? absolutely! but he will not live a life of continual sin (as previously mentioned); instead he will confess his wrongdoing because God is at work in him! (read Ps 32:1-5 and Phil 2:13). As believers, we all know what it is like to not deal with some sin — it is painful! (cf. Ps 31:10; 32:3-5). Thank God it is painful or we would continue to walk in it!
The first step in a walk of practical holiness is this reckoning upon the crucifixion of the old self, and the fact that we are now a new creation in Christ (cf. Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:24). Since we are alive to God in Christ (cf. Rom 8:10; 1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:4-5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 3: 18), we are called to a life of holiness, worship, prayer, service, and fruit-bearing. It is not a matter of excusing our sinful behavior because of the presence of indwelling sin in our lives (i.e., because of our flesh or sin nature); it is a matter of understanding the nature of our sinfulness and the need to fully identify with the work of Christ on the cross. Keep in mind, we sin because our sinful inner core (i.e., our flesh) wants to sin; we don’t sin because we are forced to do so against our will — though our flesh may sometimes over-whelm us and grab control of the discourse in our minds in the moment, that is not the ongoing norm in a believer’s life. The apostle Paul grieved his sinfulness, nevertheless he rejoiced in the presence of God in his life and the law of God that was operating in him as well (i.e., the will of God – cf. Rom 7:22-23). When we understand the dynamics of our sinful flesh, and the redemptive work of Christ on the cross for us, we will reckon the truths of reality and submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ — like many truths, we must reckon them over and over again in life, because our flesh will continue to argue against them. Let me expand upon the concept of “reckoning” — when we reckon something to be true, we consciously affirm and contemplate that particular truth; so “understanding” what Scripture teaches is important… if you don’t understand it, you can’t reckon it to be true (because you don’t understand it); so reckoning something to indeed be the truth is more than just giving lip service with the right words — it means fully understanding the truth that you are embracing… now if this is super-troubling to you, then you need to study the issue until you understand it. Though sin works within us, so also does God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:17); either we fight the good fight of faith, or we will succumb to the flesh; remember, the Christian life involves warfare… if we refuse to fight against our flesh, it will dominate our lives; so rather than living a holy life we will live a sinful life. Holy living has always been God’s will for His people (cf. Ex 19:6; Lev 11:45; Deut 7:6; 28:9). The root idea of the Old Testament Hebrew word for holy (“qados”) is that of withdrawal and consecration; i.e., withdrawal from what is common or unclean, and consecration to what is divine, sacred & pure. On the other hand, the New Testament word for holy is “hagios;” its root meaning suggests that which has been “set apart” to God and that which exhibits “God pleasing conduct.” A corollary of “holiness” is “sanctification” (“hagiosmos”). The goal of holiness has an outward standard of morality coupled with an internal conformity to the will and mind of God; sanctification is a positive desire for and actual growth in Christ-like character. Although we are perfect in terms of our present standing before God (because of the cross), we are far from perfect in actual thoughts and conduct — sanctification aims to close this gap. The apostle Paul was aware of this when he said — “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12). Cross reference the following verses — Eph 1:4; Col 1:22; 3:12; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:15-16.
So “the sin nature” with which we were born is that part of us that compels us to commit sin; without a sin nature (i.e., without the flesh) we wouldn’t sin, and the Christian life would be a piece of cake… it’s our flesh that makes it so difficult. Not only do we commit sin, but it is our nature to do so — our fleshly feelings and thoughts and desires are constantly expressing themselves to us, and it is these things we must reject and fight against. That’s why Paul said “we must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). It is the flesh that motivates the selfishness we sometimes feel, the whining about our circumstances, the petty jealousies, the jockeying for power in the office and in marriage, the lure of pornography, the desire for money and possessions, and all other diabolical matters. As we seek to understand the flesh, it’s important to see that this is no benign competition — it is war against our spirits (cf. Rom 7:23). The prophet Isaiah expressed it this way: “All of us have become like one who is unclean… all our righteous deeds are like filthy garments; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Is 64:6). Man in his present fallen state is not basically good; he is deceitful and conniving — even the good that is in him is corrupted; no man is perfectly good; all is a mixture of good and evil. Said Jesus, “No one is good except God alone” (cf. Lk 18:19). Theologians have framed this as the Doctrine of Total Depravity; it is not that man has absolutely no good in him, but that in every aspect “man is flawed.” Adam’s sin started it all; as such, we’re all sinners (cf. Rom 5:12; 6:23). Only Christ through the cross can overcome the sin nature within us — though our sins are forgiven, our sin nature still remains in us, and just as Christ died for our sins, so we must die to them — that’s our calling in life (cf. Mt 16:24; Rom 6:12-13; 8:13; Col 3:5). The premiere war for us as believers is that we war against our sinful inner core (i.e., our flesh; cf. Gal 5:17). Stated Peter, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Pet 2:11). Said Paul, “If you will walk by the Spirit you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). Regarding the depravity of man and his sinfulness, reflect upon the following verses —
*Rom 3:23 — All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
*Psalm 51:5 — I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.
*Mark 7:21 — From within, out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, etc.
*Eph 5:8 — You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
*Jer 17:9 — The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.
*Ecc 7:20 — There is not a man on earth who continually does good and doesn’t sin.
*Gal 5:17 — The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
*Gen 6:5 — The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
*Rom 3:10-19 — There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who does good.
*John 3:19 — The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
*Titus 1:15-16 — To the defiled and the unbelieving, nothing is pure; both their mind and their conscience is defiled… they are detestable and disobedient and worth-less of any good deed.
*Rom 8:5 — Those who are of the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.
*Rom 8:6-7 — The mind of the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.
*Rom 8:7-8 — Those who are of the flesh cannot please God.
*Psalm 58:3 — The wicked are estranged from the womb; those who speak lies go astray from birth.
*I John 1:8 — If we say we have no sin, we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
*Eph 2:1 — Before you became a Christian you were dead in your trespasses and sins.
*1 Cor 2:14 — A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit, they are foolishness to him; he cannot understand them because such things are spiritually appraised.
*Luke 18:19 — No one is good except God alone.
The question is, “How do you see yourself?” That’s a tough question, but it is one you must answer. Fallen man sees himself as being “relatively good” and “reasonably good;” i.e., he sees himself as being pretty good when he compares himself with others, and sees him-self as being pretty good when he reasons within himself; in spite of the fact that he doesn’t possess the goodness that God demands; thus his self-perceived goodness does not equate with “divine goodness” — the truth is, he doesn’t fully understand this thing called “absolute goodness.” From a human perspective he thinks he understands what goodness is, but being as his thinking does not transcend human thinking, he doesn’t understand it — since he doesn’t understand divine thinking, he is judging things without knowledge (cf. Job 38:2; 42:3; Jer 10:14; 1 Cor 3:19). Now because there is a significant part of ourselves that is “still fallen” (i.e., our flesh), we naturally make wrong judgments regarding ourselves; incidentally, none of us are unique in this matter, such thinking dominates the entire human family — though unbelievers are more duped on this matter than believers, believers are also prone to embrace their own goodness, because they also inhabit sinful flesh. One could compare the foregoing thinking with scientists who believed certain things about outer-space that ultimately were disproven; it wasn’t until we entered into space that they started seeing things as they really were. Well, the same goes for human understanding of this thing called “goodness;” it is not until one is exposed to divine knowledge that he begins to see things in a different light. Though believers see themselves as sinful creatures, they don’t see themselves nearly as sinful as they really are; such is simply the essence of our human condition. So, the question is, “Is God’s standard the end all for you? or is man’s standard the end all?” Obviously there is a significant difference between the two; keep in mind, it’s only when we identify with God’s standards that we see ourselves for who we really are. As is the case with all men, we have a tendency to justify all of our thoughts and actions in life; that is natural for fallen man. The bottom line is, it is not a matter of liking or disliking ourselves for who we are, it is a matter of seeing ourselves for who we really are, and accepting ourselves for who we are. Perhaps this explanation will help: think of yourself as having a “terminal illness;” are you going to deny that you are terminally ill? are you going to beat yourself up because you are terminally ill? or are you going to accept the fact you are terminally ill, and deal with it accordingly? The reality is, you are sick and you are going to die; it is not a matter of living a lie and believing something that is not true; it is a matter of accepting reality… and glorying in the cross of Christ and His eternal love for you — it is not a matter of glorying in yourself, it is a matter of glorying in Christ and his holiness and His love for you. Remember, the entire human family is terminally ill; and we as believers are no different than anybody else in that regard — we simply need to humble ourselves and accept that fact. Acknowledging one’s weaknesses isn’t that difficult; it is simply who we are (cf. Heb 4:15; 2:17-18; 1 Jn 1:8-10). Our focus in life needs to be on Christ and not ourselves (cf. Heb 12:2) — Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith (i.e., our understanding and acceptance of reality); “in Him we live and move and have our being” (cf. Acts 17:28; Col 1:16). Life is not a matter of feeling good about ourselves (that’s the essence of human thinking)… life is a matter of feeling good about God and His eternal love for us. When we focus on ourselves, we make life all about ourselves; when we focus on Christ, we make life all about Him. Is this easy? No, not at all; this is “the war” that goes on in the believer’s soul, and it is this war that is to occupy our lives. This life isn’t just a comfortable little life that God so willed for us. Remember, to be a Christian is to be “a follower of Christ” (not yourself); “you are not your own, you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20). Said Paul, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, yet work with the realization that you work not alone, God is also at work in you, both to will and do His good pleasure” (cf. Phil 1:21; 2:12-13; Gal 2:20). When we are fully confident of the fact that God is doing an incredible transforming work in us, we will experience greater joy and peace in our lives. Now, focusing on oneself is akin to focusing on the law and our own merit; the result of which is, no peace and no joy. Though the temptation is great to focus on ourselves, it is a losing proposition (cf. Jn 16:33; Rom 15:13; Gal 5:22; Col 3:15). I mention the foregoing because of the negative effect it has on our lives; insisting that things go the way we want them to go is a very difficult construct, because life oftentimes isn’t going to go the way we want it to go (God is not going to permit that, and therein is the rub) — I can attest to this, because life frequently doesn’t go the way I want it to go… though sometimes that angers me, I have to work through it like everyone else; and sometimes that is a difficult process… I have flesh like everyone of you do, and it frequently controls the discourse in my mind — I say this, because every one of us experiences this in life; it is this “war” against the flesh that often frustrates us and destroys our peace, yet God permits it for a very significant reason; this will make more sense to you as you continue reading this study.
A BIBLICAL VIEW OF SUFFERING
God’s plan from the beginning was that we live in harmony with one another, and most of all with Him. . . but we shattered His plan and now live in a broken world. Day in and day out the world argues, people get sick, people suffer, people mourn, and people die. The biblical view of the world is that it is broken and full of suffering and pain; that all is vanity (cf. Ecc 1:2, 14; 2:11; 12:8). Thankfully, that is not the fullness of the biblical world-view, because when God expelled man from the Garden of Eden, He did not abandon him, in spite of the fact that He allowed him to go his own way and follow his own passions. However, when the Lord saw that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (cf. Gen 6:5), it grieved His heart, and He decided to blot out man whom He had created… only Noah found favor in His sight” (cf. Gen 6:6-8). Time and time again God has stepped into the world to right its wrongs, yet man has continued to stumble and goes his own way. The prophet Isaiah, when looking at Israel’s own punishment and suffering, offers encouragement and a glimpse of her future. He states: “The Lord of hosts will [ultimately] prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain… He will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples… He will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of His people He will take away from all the earth… and it will be said on that day, ‘This is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation’… the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain” (Is 25-6-10). The fulfillment of such promises is, of course, the Lord Jesus… and this is where our mourning turns to dancing. Death is conquered and is no longer the end; though our bodies may go down to dust, we shall be raised in Christ.
Jesus told His disciples: “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… those who are persecuted because of righteousness… blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (cf. Mt 5:3-11). The apostle Paul repeatedly reminds us that those who follow Jesus will often experience suffering and persecution in this world — “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (cf. Phil 1:29); those two emboldened words are emphatic in Greek, and are both the result of grace (the word “granted” in Greek (charizomai) is a derivative of the work “grace” (charis); thus it is by the grace of God that we are privileged to “suffer” for Christ’s sake. Since this world is transitory, we can endure all things because we know the ultimate victory has been won. It should be noted, this is the suffering that we voluntarily take up for the sake of the Gospel… but there is also another kind of suffering that accommodates all of us in this life — innocently we may be struck down by illness and death, by job loss or betrayal, by physical loss or injury, by problems and difficult circumstances, by psycho-logical issues and loneliness, by emotional pain and grieving… more often than not these things are simply the effect of living in a broken world.
Martin Luther’s famous theology of the cross, helps give understanding to the sanctifying work of God in our lives. It shows us that God is constantly providentially active in accomplishing His purposes in creation; this is especially true in the troubles people experience. Luther’s theology of the cross has two aspects: First, God reveals Himself and His work in the cross; the cross is how reconciliation was accomplished, and the cross clearly points out that God works through suffering. Jesus suffered the fullness of hell’s pain (i.e., the wrath of God), to bring about our redemption. Second, since the cross is God Himself saving through suffering, the theology of the cross means that all human works in salvation are void and counter-productive. The problem of good works is that we are tempted to trust in them alongside or instead of God’s works on the cross. John McKinley, an associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology (the seminary I attended back in the 70s), recently wrote an article on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross (it was published in the 2018 summer edition of Talbot Magazine); in it he addressed some very poignant issues; in order to appreciate the integrity of what he had to say, you will need to carefully contemplate his words. He stated the following: God works through the suffering of the cross to accomplish our sanctification (i.e., our being made holy) — “we are His workmanship” (cf. Eph 2:10). God does not look at our performance, but for our trust in Him and His transforming work. To apply the theology of the cross to sanctification as God’s work through the believer’s suffering, consider the following five theses McKinley states — First, the hundred or so references to suffering and affliction in the NT are commonly assumed to be limited to the troubles specifically incurred because of one’s Christian witness (e.g., persecution and martyrdom). Second, for the believer, all suffering has a religious orientation — by all the providential troubles we go through (be it physical or psychological suffering, cancer, depression, social distress, painful therapies, radiation, chronic back pain, or cruel family members), God is attacking our flesh that we might increase our dependence upon Him. Ultimately, all troubles and frustrations are the afflictions due to sin in a world that is hostile to God and life; so all people suffer these strains in daily life in varying degrees. The array of suffering includes the consequences of our own sins as well as the sins of others. The reason Scrip-ture identifies so many types of suffering is that we might see the full range of our everyday strains and pains — Scripture refers to our experiencing many trials, our being afflicted in every way, our being subjected to tribulations, our weaknesses and discipline (cf. Jam 1:2; 1 Pet 1:6; 2 Cor 4:8; Rom 5:3; Heb 4:15; 12:5-14); these are the instruments God uses to bring about our sanctification. Third, God uses these negative forces for the positive results of sanctification; i.e., He uses the pains and sufferings that He subjects us to in life to conform us to Christ. The reality is, everyday strains and pains are inevitable in daily life. The Fourth reason we are subjected to pain and suffering is this —
Essentially, to bear one’s cross daily means to deny one’s own self — that is simply the price we must pay as a part of engaging with costly grace (cf. Lk 9:23); Jesus expressed self-denial this way the night before going to the cross: “Father, not my will, but Thine be done” (cf. Lk 22:42). Saying “No” to self is our willingness to accept God’s use of suffering to help accomplish our sanctification; we must be willing to deny anything that obstructs us from Him (compulsions, fears, illusions, wounds, etc.). This attack coincides with God’s call that we are to hate anyone and any thing that would come between us and Jesus (cf. Lk 14:26); i.e., we are to have a strong negative reaction against anything that would separate us from Jesus. The Fifth reason pain and suffering are an integral part of our lives, is that troubles and distresses cause us to call out to God. Our hope is that God’s work to sanctify us will be effective even when we cannot make sense of all that is going on. Because God is holy, He is very different from us, so His works are extremely strange and exceed our ability to under-stand them (Is 55:8). Sometimes we will be completely blinded to the purpose in our pain. Nevertheless, we do have the assurance that God is at work, especially when things are troublesome in our lives. We simply must see our pain as something being more significant than what we are able to comprehend. A trouble-free life is not God’s goal on this side of our eternal state. Instead of dwelling on our temptation to despair and being angry with God, we are assured many times in Scripture that God is constantly at work in all of the difficulties of life; so we can have hope (Rom 5:3-5), joy (Jam 1:2-6), peace (Phil 4:6-7), anticipation of future glory (2 Cor 4:17), reminder of God’s love for us as “sons” (Heb 12:1-14), and overwhelmingly conquer (Rom 8:37) — such only makes sense because we “know” (Rom 8: 28; Jam 1:3) for certain that He is working beneficially in us (Phil 2:12-13). Though the foregoing are invisible realities of God’s work, as we walk in His grace and trust in His love, He will grant us His peace and our faith will transcend the misleading appearance of pain. Obviously these last two paragraphs are not the easiest reads, so you may want to re-read them — keep in mind that “our sanctification through suffering” is the key issue.
The theology of the cross is a term coined by Martin Luther to refer to the belief that the cross is the only source of spiritual knowledge concerning who God is and how God saves. As Martin Luther’s theology of the cross expresses it, “Great blessing comes through great suffering.” A professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Carl Trueman, says the following in his work “Luther’s Legacy” — This point is difficult for those of us in the affluent west to swallow, because we have been led to believe that great blessings should be expected. The most blessed person whoever lived (Jesus Christ Himself) was revealed as blessed in His suffering and death — since that is the way God deals with His beloved Son, those who are united to Him by faith should not expect anything different (cf. Mk 8:31; Acts 3:18; Rom 8: 16-18; 2 Cor 1:5; Phil 1:29; 3:10; Heb 2:10; 1 Pet 2:21; 4:1; 5:10). Luther would state it this way: it is through suffering that God blesses His children, and accomplishes His sanctifying work in us as believers (the opposite of what we expect); He actually blesses us by subjecting us to suffering. As Adam Welton says in his work “Logia” (a journal of Lutheran theology), “It should be obvious to everyone, that pain and suffering are a part of life — Genesis 3 portrays suffering as a result of original sin… the reality is, there is both temporal and eternal punishment… pain and suffering are part of the punishment that comes from sin; this is clearly a result of the curse (Gen 3:16-19). Though some suffering can be linked to a specific sin, in most cases suffering cannot be so linked; suffering is simply a part of living in this fallen world. While suffering is caused by sin, not all sin leads directly to suffering. Suffering is an integral part of this life because of the Fall and the subsequent curse. While Christians suffer, it is a suffering which Christ Himself has made holy for them.” As Robert Strong, a professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, says, “Both joy & agony, and evil & righteousness… will ultimately lead us to glorify God, even if we don’t understand how or why He sometimes chooses a path of great pain and trouble.” God can obviously prevent evil (should He so desire), yet oftentimes He chooses not to (cf. Job 3:11, 16-17; Ps 88:18; Jer 20:18); you’ll notice this troubling issue is taken before the Lord. So in that sense, one can make it a component of God’s higher will; i.e., it serves the higher purposes of God. We cannot abandon God’s omniscience or His omnipotence or His goodness or regard it as divine punishment or blame it all on Satan, simply because we are not able to fully understand it.
Suffering is incomprehensible. The nature of God’s involvement of all that happens in our world transcends human thought (i.e., it is beyond our grasp – cf. Is 55:8-9), but that doesn’t mean it is unjustifiable and irrational. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (cf. Is 55:8)… the end as much as the beginning is exactly as God has so purposed (cf. Is 46:9-11); He works all things after the counsel of His will ( Eph 1:11). God always overrules the actions of men to bring about exactly what He planned in eternity past (Gen 50:20). Suffering is central to our understanding of Christian discipleship. Christians are called to a life of suffering (Mt 16:24); i.e., getting what we do not want, and not getting what we want. Said Paul, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Christian life is lived in the realm of warfare (cf. 1 Pet 5:8). The entire created order groans in its current disorder (cf. Rom 8:21-22). We must trust in God, His ways and purposes, thru thick and thin, no matter what occurs, or how difficult it is — thus it is a problem of faith, not a problem of evil — in the end it was what Job faced; he learned to live with his ignorance and trust the kindness of his Heavenly Father (cf. Job 38:3; 40:15; 41:1; 42:6); like the man who brought his spirit-possessed son to Jesus wanting Him to desperately heal his son, in so doing he cried out to Jesus saying, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24); though we are not men and women of great faith, God hears us and empathizes with us, and brings healing and peace in the midst of darkness. The pathway to trust and rest is not always a smooth one… Paul’s thorn in the flesh was burdensome (cf. 2 Cor 12:8; also cf. Mt 26:39). We must learn to glory in tribulation; it is not enough to simply grin-and-bear the trials, we must learn to see suffering for what it accomplishes in our lives (cf. Rom 5:3) — Why do we rejoice? Because suffering produces endurance… character… and hope… and because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5). Ultimately, it is when we look to Jesus in our suffering that resolution comes; remember, “Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). As our fore-runner, he blazed a way for us to follow (Heb 6:20). Though many believers think Christ did all of the suffering for them, Scripture tells us that we are to “complete the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24).
Luther’s answer as to why God allows suffering is the “good” that it brings to us; that suffering forms us to Christ… that suffering helps to keep us from becoming secure in our sin… and that suffering is holy because it is suffering in Christ. So Luther helps us see that suffering is not an evil, but as something that is both necessary and good. States Luther, “We know that it is God’s good pleasure that we should suffer… that God’s glory is manifested in our suffering better than in any other way.” It is in suffering and weakness where God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity… that we are not able to provide for our own needs… that in suffering and weakness we are shown our true nature. Understanding suffering comes from understanding the suffering of Christ on the cross; by Christ’s suffering we are given forgiveness and eternal life. As we face suffering in this world we understand that we cannot avoid all suffering; when it comes, we know that in our suffering and weakness we see Christ. The reality is, our hope is never in this life but in the life to come; said Paul, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Ken Wytsma, the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon says, “Without a theology of suffering, we will assume something is wrong, broken, or out of balance whenever we face trials. We may then find ourselves wavering, frantically searching for prosperity and blessing that we believe is the Christian experience, rather than obediently moving forward in the steps of the Savior.” Our comprehension of suffering as intrinsic to the life of the believer is essential if we are to accept reality for what it really is. Even when things don’t make sense to us, God remains GOD in the midst of suffering and pain. In most of the world, the church is familiar with adversity… it is only the prosperous western world that is sheltered from hardship — sadly, this has led to an anemic understanding of the place of suffering in the life of believers. Time and again, when Christians from other parts of the world visit America, they find the Christian faith here radically different from theirs; that our prosperity has deceived us, and caused us to see things in a far different light — our prosperity doctrine has led us to believe that God wants us to experience positives in every area of life, but that is not at all what Scripture teaches.
The development of Pentecostalism here in America around 1900, is that element of the church that gave inordinate emphasis to “positives” in the Christian life, and the elimination of most “negatives.” Pentecostalism held that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” as expressed in Acts chapter four, should be normative for the Christian world; that the believing world should have physical evidence that they are truly born again children of God — thus they held that genuine believers should speak in a language unknown to them (again, such was deduced from their understanding of Acts 2:1-4); so Pentecostalism gave speaking in tongues doctrinal primacy. Though speaking in tongues was actually endorsed by some churches in both England and America in the middle of the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1900 that Pentecostalism fully embraced it. Furthermore, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Neo-Pentecostalism surfaced; it was in this movement that miracles became an important element in a significant portion of the Pentecostal world. By 1995, Charismatic Pentecost-alism had grown in number to more than 460 million people worldwide, making it the second largest family of Christians in the world after the Roman Catholic Church. The problem with this teaching is that “contextual understanding” is seriously lacking; hence “doctrinal aberrations” have become a part of many churches in our world. The “absence of negatives” in life is not at all what the Chris-tian life is to be all about; the truth is, negatives are an integral part of the Christian life. I cover the foregoing subject in a study I did on, “Signs, Wonders & Miracles” — you can access it on my website under the “Additional Studies Link” — www.thetransformedsoul.com — It should be noted, all Pentecostals are not equally radical, so it is the more radical element of Pentecostalism that is less knowledgeable. Remember, though 34% of the world claims to be Christian, only about 13% are true believers in Christ; so there is a lot of erroneous belief in the Christian world. Jesus shared some very sobering thoughts in His Sermon on the Mount; He said to the multi-tude: “Not every-one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but He who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mt 7:21-23). What is important for each of us is that we desire above everything “to know and believe the unequivocal truth,” and not simply let men, who have been deceived, teach us wrongly (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim 2:15).
Another important principle the believing world must not ignore is this: we must have a “contextual understanding” of what Scripture teaches; to take things out of context frequently results in a wrong interpretation (sadly, that is a very common problem in the Christian world). Just because your pastor or a close friend holds a particular position, doesn’t make it true; we need to do the same thing the Thessalonians did — “They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (cf. Acts 17:11). Just because I hold a particular position doesn’t make it true; truth is what the Bible teaches; should there be major differences between what two Christian groups believe, one needs to study the totality of what Scripture teaches on that particular subject… erroneous doctrine is almost always embraced because it sounds good, in spite of the fact that one has not studied the fullness of what Scripture teaches; people simply end up believing what they want to believe or what they have been taught, not what is absolutely true. Remember the words of Paul to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). If one will humbly study the fullness of Scripture, he is far more likely to accurately interpret what it says, because it is the Holy Spirit who instructs the heart (cf. Jam 1:21; Acts 16:14; Eph 1:13; 1 Th 1:5). Remem-ber, the ancient Jewish world had misinterpreted what Scripture says, because they refused to humble themselves before the Lord. For those of you who are teachers and pastors, take a moment and reflect upon what James had to say: “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that as such you shall incur a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1). Now with the foregoing in mind, contrary to what some may want to believe, one of the ways we come to know God for who He really is, is through suffering and adversity; the truth is, we draw close to Jesus in suffering. The late C. S. Lewis reminds us that the One who called us to follow Him was Himself well acquainted with suffering and sorrow. The author of Hebrews says that “Jesus learned obedience from the things which He suffered, and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5:8-9). Remember, “Jesus was made in the likeness of sinful flesh” (cf. Rom 8:3; Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15); as such, He is able fully identify with all we as believers go through in life.
Regarding trials and what God had to say to the apostle Paul about the thorn in the flesh that God refused to remove from him, He said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). The reality was — God would not remove the thorn in his flesh, in spite of the fact that Paul had repeatedly pleaded with God to do so; instead, He would continually supply him with the grace he needed to endure it (cf. 1 Cor 15:10; Phil 4:13; Col 1:29). Remember what God said to Paul, “My strength is made perfect in [your] weakness” (2 Cor 4:7-11). That may sound like a difficult construct to some of you, but the best way to have God’s grace and strength made manifest in and through our lives, is for us to be kept in a place of weakness; when we feel strong in our inner core, we will depend less on God and more on ourselves… enabling grace is manifested in us when we are completely dependent upon the Lord; when we are strong in ourselves and feel confident in ourselves we will actually minimize God’s grace and strength in our lives. Thus the most effective servants we can be for God in this world is to be kept in a place of weakness, because it is only then that we’re completely dependent upon the Lord; as such, it is then that we enable God to do great things in and through our lives — should we depend upon our own strength and skill-set, we will find ourselves far less productive and far less fruitful. Self-confidence is not a “positive” in the Christian life; instead it’s a “negative.” Though Paul took no pleasure in the pain itself, he rejoiced in the power of Christ that it revealed through him (cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10). The bottom line here is this, how willing we are to accept pain in our lives will dictate whether we walk away or sustain faith through times of suffering. Said Wytsma, “Building a robust theology of suffering both prepares us for and acquaints us with the journey we have been called to walk… How we pattern our thinking with regard to difficulty affects our response to God when difficulty comes.” In the life of faith, it is easy to tend toward either extreme optimism (i.e., a health and wealth doctrine), or a fatalism that sees God as distant and unfeeling. Remember, we’re called to One who understands and empathizes with our weaknesses & suffering (Heb 4:15). Keep in mind what Jesus had to say to His disciples: “A servant is not greater than his master; if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you” (Jn 15:20); conversely, “if I suffered, you are going to suffer” (cf. 1 Pet 2:21; 4:1). As Christians we can expect to face challenges and hard times; the good news is, we have a good God on our side who will give us the grace to endure it and walk through it.
Regarding a theology of suffering. . . all Christians suffer; either you have, you are, or you will — “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This is a stark reminder that we have not reached the new heavens and new earth. Said Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but no destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8-9). There are several types of suffering: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual — each of these are different ways that we can suffer, and when suffering comes, several of these types of suffering are often involved. God meant His church to be a refuge for the suffering; “we are to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (cf. Gal 6:2). Paul tells us that first hand experience in suffering is essential in equipping us for ministry… that “God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:4). The reality is, what we experience from God we can give away to others. One of the counterintuitive truths about suffering is that it prepares us for glory — the apostle Paul states it this way: “Momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17-18). Though we naturally try to avoid suffering at all costs, God brings it into our lives for the sake of our eternal joy — He is preparing us for glory. Our transformation and sanctification are only achieved through divinely appointed suf-fering — contemplate that last statement: our transformation isn’t something that auto-matically happens because we are believers… there is a process that we must go through in order to experience the transformed life, and that process involves pain and suffering. Again, said Paul, “It is through much affliction that we enter into the kingdom of God.” Paul expresses it this way in Romans chapter eight: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:16-17). Sadly, our postmodern culture mistrusts the narrative of Scripture, as well as the claim that God is good in the face of suffering; the problem of pain and suffering is a paramount challenge in the minds of men. Such has been the thinking of the western world for generations; W. R. Sorley expresses it this way in his book, “The Elements of Pain and Suffering in Human Life” — “The dilemma of the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, is still with us; if God wishes to prevent evil but cannot, then he is impotent; if he could, but will not, he is malevolent; if he has both the power and the will, whence then is evil?” Such philosophical answers to the problem essentially center in hedonism (that the chief good in life is pleasure & happiness) with resultant disappointment and pessimism, and that the philosophical solutions of suffering, however attractive they may be, are no more than human speculations. The truth is, the problem of pain cannot be divorced from the wider and deeper problem of moral evil; thus, the final solution is recon-ciliation with God — and such reconciliation brings about the realization that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom 8:28). Though suffering can be very perplexing and disturbing to our peace, we must learn to handle it as God tells us in His word; the reality is, suffering is transformational and ultimately results in immortality. Regarding some of what Scripture has to say about suffering, pain and trials, reflect upon the following verses —
*Job 5:17-18 – Behold, how happy is the man who God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hand also heals.
*Psalm 119:71 – It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
*Jer 15:18 – Said Jeremiah, “Why has my pain been perpetual, and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Wilt Thou indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?”
*Matt 5:10-12 – Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.
*Luke 14:27 – Whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.
*John 16:33 – Said Jesus to His disciples: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
*Acts 9:16 – Paul was a chosen instrument of God who was “to suffer for His name’s sake.”
*Acts 14:22 – Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
*Rom 5:3 – We glory in our sufferings because tribulation brings about perseverance, and perseverance brings proven character, and proven character hope.
*Rom 8:17 – We are chosen instruments of God “if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we might be glorified with Him.”
*Rom 8:18 – The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
*2 Cor 1:4-5 – God comforts us in our affliction so that we may be able to comfort others in their affliction with the same comfort with which God has comforted us.
*2 Cor 4:8-10 – We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
*2 Cor 4:17 – For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
*Phil 1:29 – It has been granted us to not only believe in Him, but to suffer for His sake.
*2 Tim 2:3 – Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
*2 Tim 3:12 – Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
*Heb 10:36 – You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
*Jam 1:2-3– Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
*Jam 1:12 – Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because… that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
*1 Pet 1:6-7 – In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise & glory & honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
*1 Pet 3:14 – But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
*1 Pet 4:1 – Just as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”
*1 Pet 4:12-13 – Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you… instead rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.
*1 Pet 5:9 – Resist Satan, firm in your faith, knowing that all believers experience suffering in this world.
*1 Pet 5:10 – After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
WHY DID GOD ALLOW JOB TO SUFFER?
Why did God let Satan destroy Job’s health and wealth? Remember, Job was an upright man who followed God’s commands and was “blameless” in God’s eyes (cf. Job 1:1, 8); the word “blameless” doesn’t mean sinless or perfect, but that Job had a good standing in the eyes of God and was repentant; i.e., Job walked with God. Satan, how-ever believed that Job was only faithful simply because God had prospered him and put a hedge around him (cf. Job 1:9-10). So Satan told God that if He “put forth His hand and touched all that Job had, he would surely curse Him to His face” (Job 1:11). It was that dialogue that precipitated the actions of Satan against Job — in so doing, Job lost all of his material possessions, family members, and health… nevertheless, Job remained faithful. Yet this raises the question: Why did God allow Satan to test such a seemingly righteous man? Why would God care what Satan thought? Obviously, in God’s sovereign wisdom, He knows things that we do not know… and everything that He does, He does after the council of His own will (Eph 1:11) — what others think is completely irrelevant and meaningless to Him. It is the “eternal nature” of God that transcends human thinking; without at least a modest understanding of that which is eternal, as opposed to that which is temporal, one will struggle greatly with the idea of God’s sovereignty. I cover this subject in numerous studies including “The Eternal Nature of Our Faith” — you can access it on my web-site: www.thetransformedsoul.com Since God has communicated to us in His Word all that transpired in Job’s life, it was His will that we “learn” from it… that all of His people throughout the course of time needed to be inspired to persevere in their trials as well. The apostle Paul makes it very clear when he writes: “I do not want you to be unaware brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea…. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased. Now these things happened as examples for us… and were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-11). Paul also said, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (cf. Rom 15:4). Everything that God rendered significant down through the ages and was attested to in Scripture, happened for our benefit and to instruct us in this thing called life — none of it was mere happenstance. If something else needed to be taught, God in His sovereignty would have done so; thus you can rest assured that “Scripture is the fullness of God’s revelation to man… to think that He somehow missed something is sheer non-sense.”
As one reflects upon Job’s life, it becomes very obvious that his faith wasn’t based on his wealth, his health, his family, or any other earthly value — Job genuinely loved God. It should be noted, down through the years God will test our lives, and such will reveal the genuine-ness of our faith and refine it; that is a given, there is no escaping that. The testing of our faith removes the dross from our faith. States Peter: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing… to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pet 4:12). James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that the testing of our faith builds our faith (Jam 1:2-4); that word testing (doximos) is used of coins and metals that are boiled in the furnace to remove the dross or scum from them; in like manner, God subjects us to trials and suffering to remove the dross or impurity from our faith. By the way, we will each be tested over and over and over again in life; it’s not a matter of being tested just one time. Though Satan will tempt us to sin and try to make us fall, God’s reason for testing us is to give us greater strength that we might stand firm in the faith, and not wobble in it; without our faith being tested, it will remain immature, shallow and weak (cf. Rom 14:1; Gal 4:9; Heb 12:12). Think about it, we are subjected to trials and tribulation in life that we might persevere in our faith, rather than abandon our faith (cf. Rom 5:3; Jam 1:2-3); to abandon our faith, rather than persevere in our faith, shows how “weak” our faith really is… it is only when we persevere in our faith when we are being subjected to suffering and trials, that we actually “grow” in our faith. If you think about it, how else are you going to grow in your faith? Though we grow in knowledge by studying Scripture, we do not grow in our faith simply by studying Scripture — it is only when our faith is challenged by suffering and trials that our faith grows. Everyone of us as believers know how difficult suffering and trials can be, and how frustrating they can be, and how “our faith” is being challenged. That is simply how God builds our faith — that is the economy of God for us as believers; incidentally, no true believer completely abandons his faith; such would simply show that he was never a true believer at all. Every believer “fights the fight of faith” to some degree; that is simply the way God works in our lives… though fighting the fight of faith can be extremely difficult at times, that is the life to which God has called us. It is also important to remember that God will not subject us to something beyond what we are able to endure, but with the temptation He will provide a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13). Though our trials may be very perplexing and painful, they will not destroy us. God used Job’s testing to teach him patience, and to teach him to trust in the midst of suffering (i.e., persevere in the midst of suffering), even when he couldn’t understand it. Job was completely in the dark with regard to what was going on in his life… he didn’t understand what was wrong, but he knew his heart was clean before the Lord. The author of Hebrews says, “Since Jesus Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18); again, there is a strong correlation between being tempted and suffering — incidentally, the words temptation and trials are the same in Greek (peirasmos); the issue is, where there are trials there is temptation; the context is what determines the translation (cf. Mt 6:13; Lk 22:40; 1 Cor 10:13; 2 Pet 2:9; also cf. Lk 22:28; Acts 20:19; Jam 1:2, 12). It should also be noted: just because you are exercising faith, doesn’t mean you don’t groan when being subjected to the pain. The night before Jesus went to the cross, He poured His heart out to His Father saying, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). Conversely, when darkness fell upon the earth on the day of His crucifixion, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Likewise, when we are afflicted with pain and suffering, we will cry out to the Lord and plead with Him as well. The truth is, as believers we are not a people of “great faith” (we don’t walk on water), so come down off your high horse… though we are not a people of great faith, we are a people of faith in a “great God!” We don’t glory in “ourselves”… we glory in “Christ!” The problem with the Pharisees was that they gloried in themselves; remember, the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:19). This isn’t some kind of debased teaching… this is the essence of divine truth. None of us walk on water… not one of us! The LORD is our strength, our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer; He is the One in whom we worship and take refuge (cf. Ps 18:1-2). By the way, God does not expect from us that which we cannot deliver; He knows us a whole lot better than we know ourselves, so stop beating yourself up.
A seemingly abnormal truth in life, is that much of our blessings come from our suf-ferings. John Bunyan, authored the renowned book, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” while in prison, not while he was out in a beautiful peaceful community, fellowshipping with numerous other Christians. The Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while in prison. God has used these books to inspire and teach Chris-tians all around the world. Think about it, who would you learn the most from in life, someone who had never suffered hardship, or someone who had been to hell and back? Hardship and suffering are incredible teachers. Joseph was a slave in Egypt, but he was thrown into prison after his master’s wife falsely accused him of sexual advances. Even though he must have been extremely frustrated with the suffering he had to endure, it was in prison where he met two men and correctly interpreted their dreams — his interpretation was eventually used by God to lead Joseph to Pharaoh himself, who made him second in command over all of Egypt; he was blessed with incredible power and wealth. As one man put it, “God sometimes allows lemons to fall into our lives — don’t fret, God has the where-withal to ultimately make them the sweetest lemonade.” Though Job suffered greatly in life, God blessed him exceedingly — He gave him double the wealth he had before… gave him new children… gave him long life (Job lived another 140 years after undergoing such hardship – cf. Job 42:16)… and gave him extreme honor by placing his name and story in the most read book in the entire world, the Bible (think about it, there are 42 chapters in the book of Job)… furthermore, we can only imagine what honor and glory and blessing Job will have for eternity in heaven. Like Bunyan, Paul, Joseph and Job, God will allow trouble and tribulations to come into our lives, but as painful as they may be, we need to trust that God will eventually use them for our good and His glory. It should be noted, those who desire to reach the highest level of spirituality in the Christian life, will experience far greater suffering in life than those who simply try to get by with minimal commitment. For those of you who want to escape significant suffering in life, keep your mouth shut in public with regard to the person of Jesus Christ and the fact that He is the only source of salvation, and that without placing one’s trust in Him one will be separated from God for all eternity. Another thing a person can do to escape significant suffering, is to make life all about himself and simply try to make it as comfortable as possible (i.e., just live for one’s self). By the way, those who live for themselves are not generous in their giving… they do not serve in any ministry… they do not reach out and help others… and they do not spend significant time in studying Scripture. According to Scripture, such individuals have “no confidence whatsoever” that they are truly born-again — the question is, “Are they born-again?” Most probably are not. Remember, just because one goes to church doesn’t make him a believer. Furthermore the Holy Spirit lives within a believer and “moves him” in a godly direction; if that is not occurring in one’s life, then it is very unlikely that they are a person of faith. By the way, all those in Scripture who were truly committed to God and sought to live a life of faith experienced great adversity and suffering in life. Again, keep in mind, undergoing suffering, adversity and tribulation are the supreme indicators that God is doing a transforming work in one’s life. If a person’s flesh is not constantly being challenged by God, he is not waging war against his flesh and living a life of faith. The foregoing is not a heretical understanding of what Scripture teaches; it is the essence of divine truth. Again, the Christian life is not just a bunch of “positives” as some branches of Christianity teach, it is also a life filled with “significant negatives.” As Paul stated, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (cf. Acts 14:22; Jn 16:33; 1 Th 3:3; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 2:21). Remember, as believers we are all undergoing a “significant transformation;” contrary to what some may think, none of us living in this world have already “arrived” – carefully read Paul’s words in Phil 3:8-16, and that means fighting with our flesh and dying to our old self (cf. Mt 16:24-25; Eph 4:22-24; Heb 12:1; Rom 6:6; 2 Cor 11:3); to somehow think that one’s old self isn’t that corrupt or that difficult an element in his or her life is to be completely delusional in one’s think-ing; in a word, “discipleship is very costly.” Remember the words of Jesus in the “Lord’s Prayer” — “Thy will be done” (Mt 6:10)… as well as His words to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thy will be done” (Mt 26:39); life is not about our will, it is about God’s will. I am well aware that I have given voice to this subject very firmly, but it is that important for a believer to understand — “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (cf. Gal 5:17). The reality is, every one’s flesh has a strong presence in their life; to deny it is unbiblical. Furthermore, its presence involves WAR, and that’s no walk in the park for any of us! Denying self (i.e., saying “NO” to our desires) is no easy matter; it means rejecting what we want, and going in a direction that is completely counter to our fleshly desires.
Beloved, there is no shortcut regarding this matter of “sanctification;” i.e., becoming conformed to the image of Christ and living a life of holiness — sanctification literally means to be “set apart” unto God and set apart from common secular living and thinking. Two things stand out in particular with regard to living a sanctified life — people must denounce their sin every day and be morally cleansed of if (cf. 1 Jn 1:9), and be committee to walking with Christ through all of the ups and downs of life; i.e., they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Christ (cf. Mt 16:24). Only Christians who are set apart for God’s use are sanctified saints (1 Cor 1:2); for a believer to make light of sanctification is to let his flesh govern his thinking and give definition as to how he lives his life. Though we all sin and frequently cave into fleshly thinking (cf. Phil 3:12; Jam 3:2; I Jn 1:10), the sanctified saint quickly deals with his sin and confesses it to the Lord… whereas the unsanctified saint often justifies his sin and continues to walk in it (the self-life is simply the most important thing to him). When we are living a sanctified life, we will “walk in the Spirit” (i.e., we will live life according to His leading); when the Holy Spirit is not in control of our life, regrettably our flesh will be, and it is that aspect of us that is in oppo-sition to the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:17). Again, keep in mind, we are to live a life “set apart” from the world and “set apart” unto God. It is also important to note that “our transfor-mation in life” is not simply something we do; the truth is, the premiere cause of our transformation is GOD HIMSELF. With that in mind, “we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but work with the realization that GOD is also at work in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure”(cf. Phil 2:12-13) — in that sense, sanctification is a “cooperative;” it requires efforts from both of us; though our efforts are not nearly as significant as God’s, nevertheless, they are still necessary — God wants your heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7; Ps 4:4; 15:1-2; 28:7; 40:8; 51:10, 17; 119:11; 139:23-24; Prv 3:5; Mt 5:8; 15:19; 22:37; Rom 6:17; Eph 6:6; 2 Tim 2:22; 1 Pet 1:22); though I have listed several passages, take the time to read them and reflect upon them. Keep in mind, the Lord gave us a “new heart” when we placed our trust in Him (Ezek 36:26); the “heart” is often associated with man’s “soul” in the OT (2 Chron 15:12) — the “heart” stands for the inner being of man, and man himself, and can be regarded as both the seat of knowledge and wisdom (1 Kg 3:6, 9); as such, it is the fountain of all he does (cf. Prv 4:4) — all his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him… when a man walks in his own way, his “heart” becomes harder and harder, but God will cut away the uncleanness of man’s heart when he humbles himself before Him, so that he will love and obey Him with his whole being. By the way, the seat of desire or the will can be used to describe the heart (cf. Ex 7:14; 35:5). Man’s problem is, he actually thinks he is the game-changer in life, but that is not the case — God is! Think about it, if God installed an incredibly beautiful front door on your house that He per-sonally designed, and He asked you to clean it and put an extra little lock on it, would you then seek to take all of the credit for this beautiful new door? Well, though one may think his efforts in sanctification are enormous, comparatively speaking they are not only small, they are extremely small compared to what God does. I state that because there are some believers who want others to think that they possess a spirituality that exceeds nearly everyone else’s; that kind of arrogant thinking is absolutely disgusting. Again, that’s the typical problem with man, he needs to humble himself and come down off his high-horse and see things as they really are. Again, are you gullible to being deceived, or are you a person of integrity who insists on seeing things as they really are?
Remember, there is no mere happenstance in life… God is at work on the throne doing everything after the council of His will — as previously stated, “God is causing all things to work together for good to them that love Him, and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28); that’s a “causative verb” in Greek, so don’t interpret it else wise (regrettably, some translators failed to include that when translating that verse). As Paul says, “To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29) — it should be noted, the words “believe” and “suffer” are emphatic in Greek… in addition to that, the Greek word that is translated “granted” is the word “charis,” which is translated “grace” 122 times in Scripture, so it is by grace that we are privileged to suf-fer for Christ; thus negatives are ministered to us by grace, just as positives are. Take the time to read the following passages that are translated “granted” (cf. Acts 27:24; Gal 3:18). By the way, it is also translated “forgive” and “forgiven” (cf. 2 Cor 2:7; 2:10; Eph 4:32; Col 2:13). It is by the “grace of God” whereby God does everything in our lives as His children; everything He does is by His love & grace (cf. 1 Jn 1:5; 3:1-3; 4:16).
Let’s return to this man named “Job” — Job’s friends didn’t trust him… the problem was, they didn’t understand how God could allow a righteous man to suffer; they thought troubles only happened to wicked people, and that if you suffered, you must have sinned; that is why they told Job to repent. By the way, such thinking has dominated the religious community for thousands of years; incredibly, there are still major elements within Chris-tendom that still believe this stuff. Back during the time of Christ when He and his disciples saw a man who had been blind from birth, His disciples asked Him: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” (Jn 9:1). You would have thought that the Jewish world would have learned something because of Job… but obviously they did not. Keep in mind, many present-day Christians also believe stuff like this — why can’t people learn? Why do many in the Christian world insist on God only being a God of positives? Why are negatives such a deplorable thing to them? It should be remembered, Job’s wife didn’t believe him either; she said to him: “Job, dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Why is it so difficult to associate GOD with negatives? Why are negatives evil? Obviously Job’s wife and friends didn’t understand the way God works… though sin will bring consequences and suffering, not all people who are suffering right now are suffering due to sin in their lives. As stated earlier, a peculiar truth in life is the fact that much of our blessings come from our suffering. When trouble and tribulations come into your life, you need to trust that God is using them for your good and His glory (cf. Rom 8:28), not because He is angry with you; that’s not a maybe, that’s an absolute… though the good He is doing in your life may not be immediate, it may transcend this life (cf. Rom 8:18-25; Heb 11:10, 13, 16, 39)… but there will come a day when the fullness of what one experiences in this life will be rewarded. Though suffering is often the result of wickedness in our world, that is not always the case… for the believer, suffering is often experienced because one has been faithful and obedient, that God might give him an even greater faith and reward him accordingly. Though we cannot always know the mind of God, we can know His character; the same God who allowed Job to suffer, is at work in your life and my life “making us the people He wants us to be” (cf. Phil 2:13; Eph 1:11; Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18). Incidentally, the same God who allows a child to die of cancer in a hospital, is also the God who sent His Son to die on a cross for your sins and my sins… the same God who sent Moses into the wilderness for 40 years to herd sheep, is also the God who gave Him the strength to free the Israelites from Egypt and split the Red Sea. Job trusted God, thus he uttered, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
Again, if Job was so perfect and upright, why did God hand him over to Satan and subject him to incredible torment? Remember, God deliberately emphasized that Job was perfect and upright, and that he feared God and shunned evil. God was obviously teaching all of us that “our faith must transcend suffering.” In addition to that, Job was blessed immensely by God because he endured such suffering — to worship the Creator without letting suffering deter you will bring great blessing to your life. The question is, is your faith in God only operative when everything goes the way you want it to go? or is it stronger than that? How much stronger? It should be noted, God isn’t into trying to make the demons of hell repent; they are eternal, dark, defunct creatures forever destined to the lake of fire. God was simply into showing the holy angelic realm (that heavenly realm that did not capitulate and embrace Lucifer’s thinking and that of the other fallen angels), just how wonderful the faithful are, and how incredible redeemed creatures are; likewise, He was showing redeemed creatures how great their God is and how faithful He is to those who walk uprightly in this world. When man is not purified and perfected by God, he will always live under Satan’s influence; i.e., money, fame, profit, position, possessions, and personal benefit will govern his life. Through His servant Job, God has allowed us to see how Satan corrupts and binds man amid its temptations and attacks. When man seeks the will of God in the midst of pain and suffering, he will free himself from Satan’s attacks and temptations, and become free in the end just like Job; as the Chinese physicist and 1957 Nobel prize winner Yang Chen Ning states in a study he did titled, “Why did God Allow Job to Suffer?” — “This is precisely God’s good intention of handing man over to Satan.” To be straight-forward regarding the thinking of this 96 yr old scientist, Ning admitted to struggling greatly for years over this issue… he said he could not help but become somewhat worried and fearful, because his stature was so small he felt it was beyond him to withstand the trials that Job experienced… such were simply too overwhelming to him; therefore, he became an agnostic, believing that God, if He really exists, simply cannot be known; so apparently he was a proud man who did not see himself as being that sinful and in need of a Savior. The issue here is this: Does proud humanistic thought govern your thinking? or do you have the integrity of heart to defer to God and divine truth (i.e., His word)? If you will not humble yourself before God, He will not manifest His presence in your life or give you the confidence to believe in Him and His word (cf. Acts 16:14); only God can open a person’s heart to believe; though unbelievers think God’s Word is foolishness & ridiculous, believers are convinced it is the power of God unto salvation (cf. 1Cor 1:18, 20, 21, 25, 27; 2:14; 3:19; also cf. Rom 1:21, 22, 25, 28; Jam 3:17; Ps 14:1; Is 32:6); it is not a matter of having greater brains than unbelievers, it is a matter of humbling oneself and acknowledging one’s sinfulness; the proud unbeliever simply refuses to humble himself.
Why did God allow Satan to harm Job and his family? Was God unfair in allowing Satan to torture Job? Keep in mind, Job not only lost his wealth and his health, he bore the grief of seven dead sons and three dead daughters, and he became repulsive to his wife, and loathsome to his brothers. To make matters worse, Job never even found out why he was subjected to Satan’s afflictions. Such issues can be very troubling to those people who hope to see God as a God of positives whose desire it is to make our lives pleasant and enjoyable; thus we need to look at the experience of Job in greater depth. As Job and his friends debate God’s fairness, it becomes apparent that they all basically believed in “the doctrine of retribution theology;” i.e., every act receives just punishment or reward in this life; thus we should be able to tell who is righteous and who is wicked in this world by the blessings or cursings they receive; but such is not a genuine doctrine. Since Job was not able to demonstrate how God runs the universe, he was unable to present any evidence of injustice being done to him (Job 38-39). God also established before Job, His right as the Creator to act as He sees fit; He pointed to two creatures (behemoth and leviathan) that mankind has no control over whatsoever, and that answer only to God. Throughout Job’s dialogue with his friends (Chapters 4-27) and his complaint to God (Chapters 29-31), Job thought he was being punished entirely out of proportion to any conceivable offense he may have committed; thus Job questioned God incessantly throughout his dialogue and accused Him of injustice (Chapters 29-31). It was only when God had spoken to Job that he finally saw that God’s governance of the universe is much more wonderful than he ever imagined, and he openly conceded this (Job 42:2-5). Now, it is only when Job obeys God and intercedes on behalf of his three friends (who had become his enemies), that God actually blesses Job with a twofold inheritance (Job 42:8-17). The “reward” God gave to Job is the inheritance God promises to all who serve faithfully as redemptive agents of the Creator (cf. Dan 12:3). Job obeyed God and was rewarded for his obedience. In the end God harnessed evil and turned it into something good (Gen 50:20), and He trans-formed Job into the most effective servant in all the world, one who took on God’s own redemptive character and loved his enemies. The reality is, most of us grumble & groan over all of the negatives we experience in life, simply wishing, above everything, that they would just go away. Rather than accepting them as instruments of God in our lives, we simply cry out to God and ask Him to take them away — for the most part, we are not interested in “why” we are experiencing them, we are only interested in their being removed from our lives. Regarding Satan’s harming Job and His family, reflect upon the four points Chris Brauns made in a sermon he recently preached — Brauns has a doctor of ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and pastors a church in Illinois.
- The objective of the book of Job was not written to teach us about Satan; he appears in the first two chapters and is not heard from again. God’s dealings with Satan are not the main issue; his role is simply incidental. Satan is only a pawn in God’s sovereign purposes.
- We do not have the capacity to comprehend why God allowed Satan to harm Job. God’s ways are not our ways; neither are His thoughts our thoughts (cf. Is 55:8-9). We cannot process all the ways of God. The gulf between us and God is far greater than any of us could ever imagine.
- The Cross shows us that we can trust God even though we don’t understand Him. The ultimate example of unjust suffering is that God sent His one and only Son to this world to be crucified for us. The Cross shows us that it is reasonable to trust in God even though we can’t understand terrible pain. As Kelly Clark wrote: “A God who shares in our pain, who redeems our sorrows and our shortcomings, who wipes away every tear, is surely a good God.”
- We cannot imagine how the pain of this life will be undone by Christ. There are wounds that we face in life that hurt so badly we cannot imagine ever healing. Yet the resurrection shows us that Satan will not have the last word and that pain can be undone for those who know Christ. While God’s people cannot understand the beauty of all that Christ is accomplishing, we can be sure that He is doing immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (cf. Eph 3:20-21).
Our problem as fallen creatures is that we all have a proud heart. As John Piper, the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minnesota, and the author of more than 50 books, states in his work “The Revelation of God in Suffering” — “The removal of the disease of pride is the most loving thing God could do, no matter what the cost.” Remember the words of the Lord: “Better to suffer the excruciating pain of a gouged out eye than to let any sin remain in your heart” (cf. Mt 5:29; 18:9). Piper goes on to say, “If your sanctifi-cation is not worth any pain on this earth, it is probably because you don’t abhor sin (self-centered living) and prize holiness (God-centered living) the way you should.” The only way to remove our inherent sinfulness is to expose it; it is only then that humility of heart will surface, and God’s grace will be experienced. Job had repeatedly called God to court in order to verify his own innocence; when God finally came to him and interrogated him regarding some of the comments he had made, in brining Job to a right understanding of himself, God said to him: “Who is this that dark-ens counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:1-2). He then told Job, “Gird up yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer Me. Where were you when I made the foundations of the earth? Who determined its measurements? To what were its foundations fastened? Who enclosed the sea with doors? Who caused the dawn to know its place? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Where is the way to the dwelling of light? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth? Who has put wisdom in the innermost being, or has given understanding to the mind? Will the fault-finder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer” (cf. Job 38:1 – 40:2). Job then wisely and humbly responded, “I have declared what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). It is our ignorance in life that is so troubling & disconcerting to us; we all have a paradigm of thought by which we think everything should operate, or better yet, how we want things to operate; whatever the case, such thinking is simply fallen humanistic thinking, completely defic-ient and outside the realm of reality. The issue is this: men shouldn’t judge God by their own thoughts and ways, because God thinks and acts in ways that transcend human understanding. Job obviously got the point: a finite creature who has no wisdom to run this world, and is utterly ignorant of 99.999% of its processes, has no business instructing his Maker & Ruler as to how to run the world. It is here where I have great respect Albert Einstein; even though he wasn’t a believer in the strict sense of the word, at least he had the integrity to state things right when he said, “Natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” If just judgments are troubling to you, read the Lord’s response to Job and Isaiah, as well as the thoughts that God placed in King Solomon’s mind (cf. Job 38-39; Ecc 1:13-18; 3:14; 12:13; Is 55:8-9); clearly, that is poignant stuff. The foregoing actually causes some people to say, “Is something right and good just because God does it?” Again, the issue is this: God wants us to see that His might and His ways are purposeful, meaningful, praise worthy, holy and glorious. The goodness of God according to Job 40:10-14 is this: He upholds His glory by abasing the proud and giving the humble delight in His excellence. The question we need to ask is this: How else would God teach us eternal truths were it not for pain and suffering? It is just such things that help us see ourselves for who we truly are, and see God for who He truly is. According to John Piper, the four lessons we learn from the book of Job are these — we must…
- Believe with all our heart in the absolute sovereignty of God.
- Believe with all our heart that everything He does is right and good.
- Repent of all the times we have questioned God or found fault with Him.
- Be satisfied with the holy will of God and not murmur.
THE REASON FOR PAIN AND SUFFERING
Though none of us fully understand the ways of God in every situation, He is still the God who rules over everything in the universe; as He told the prophet Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my way and my thoughts higher than yours” (Is 55:8-9). Life is not simple — there is pleasure and pain; there is sweetness and suffering; there is joy and misery; there is life and health, and there is disease and death. As strange as it may sound to some of you, we are to “rejoice” with those who rejoice, and “weep” with those who weep (Rom 12:15); there is always someone we know who is weeping, and someone we know who is rejoicing. We live in a world of ongoing calamities, of which God is the author (cf. Is 45:7) — if that bothers you, and it does all of us at times, take the time to contemplate who God is. Natural disasters are relentless in our world — last year flooding in China made millions homeless… a typhoon in North Korea killed hundreds… earthquakes in Italy killed 200, in Ecuador 300… a hurricane in Haiti killed over 500. Then there are the wars around the world and the threats of terrorism — 18,000 civilians have died in ISIS related conflicts in Iraq in the last two years… 400,000 have died in the six-year long Syrian war; 50,000 were children. Then there are the miseries of 20 million adults and children bought and sold each year as slaves for sex and for forced labor. It is also important to remember that over 50,000,000 people die every year in this world; over 6,000 every hour; over 100 every minute… and most of them do not die in ripe old age by sleeping peacefully away into happy eternity; by the way, most die young after suffering extensive pain, and millions die because of the evil of man against man. The question is, “Why, Lord? Why is the world you made like this? If you are God, why is this world so full of terror and trouble?” As John Piper says, the reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is not because God is not in total control — the Bible is over-whelmingly clear that God governs everything in the universe from the smallest bird to the largest storm (cf. Mt 10:29; 8:27; Prv 16:33; 21:1; Lam 3:37; Amos 3:6; Mk 1:27; Is 46:9-10). Satan is God’s most powerful enemy and does much evil in the world, but he must first get God’s permission, and none of his actions transcend God’s governance; he never breaks free from God’s leash (cf. Lk 22:31; Job 2:6-7; 42:11), and what God permits He permits pur-posefully, wisely and rightly. Piper also makes it clear, the reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is not because God is evil or unjust — “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5; also cf. Ps 25:8; Is 6:3; Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). The question is this: Do you insist on believing in a jolly old saint nick God? or do you believe in the God of the Bible (the only God in existence)? By the way, the entire created order (including the angelic realm) is as a drop in the bucket compared to God; there is no significant power outside of God’s power — NONE! He is the only sovereign in existence… so don’t try and make God into something He is not; He is who He is! (cf. 1 Tim 6:15-16).
In addition to the previous statements, the reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God planned the history of redemption in eternity past, and then permitted sin to enter the world through our first parents (Adam and Eve). As the apostle Paul states, “God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim 1:9). Since some of you have a difficult time accepting the eternality of God and His sovereignty, let me encourage you to read either of the following two studies I have on my website: “The Eternal Nature of Our Faith” and “Enslaved to Christ.” You can access them at: www.thetransformedsoul.com Again, Adam’s sin was no surprise to God; permitting that sin was part of His plan so that He could reveal His mercy and grace and justice and wrath and patience and wisdom in ways that could have never been revealed, if there was no sin, no Savior, and no history of salvation. If this issue is troubling to you, read the following study I did on it titled, “Sin & Man’s Eternal Purpose.” Another reason that this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God subjected the natural world to futility — physical pain is God’s trumpet blast to tell us that some-thing is dreadfully wrong in the world; God put the physical world under a curse so that the physical horrors we see around us in diseases and calamities would become a vivid picture of how horrible sin is (read Rom 8:18-21). In our present condition, however, we are blinded by sin; hence we cannot see how repugnant sin really is — basically, the entire human family feels fairly good about themselves; they simply don’t understand the horrific ugliness of this thing called sin. Oh, that we could see how abominable it is to treat our Maker with contempt and ignore Him, and distrust Him, and demean Him, and give Him less attention then our finances, television or the car we drive. Another reason this terrorized and troubled world exits is so that followers of Christ can experience and display this truth: Jesus Christ is more precious and more satisfying than all the pleasures and comforts and treasures of this world (cf. Phil 3:8; Hab 3:17-18). Said David, “At Thy right hand are pleasures for ever more” (cf. Ps 16:11). The sorrows of the world make it possible for us to rejoice when suffering, because Jesus is far more valuable than the entire world. Another reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is to make a place for Jesus Christ (the Son of God) to suffer and die for sinners. This is the place where God made the greatest display of His love in the suffering of His Son. Said Paul, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (cf. Rom 5:8). All of the suffering He endured was the plan of God to reveal His redeeming love. All the scheming and flogging and spitting, and all the beating with rods and mockery, and all the abandonment by His friends, and all the thorns in His head, and all the nails in His hands and feet, and the weight of the sins of the world… all of this was according to the plan of God. It was all to show the depth of His love for His people. Beloved, God’s love and grace is infinitely greater than all of our sin. Pain and evil do not exist because God is powerless or evil; He is sovereign and righteous. The reason pain and evil exists in our world is that we might not only know the horribleness of sin, but the greatness of God’s love — without such a world Christ could not have revealed to us the greatness of His love for sinners. Think about it, here is the eternal God of all creation loving sinners (i.e., dying for them), that He might save them from hell and make them His own children; such transcends human reason. It would be one thing to love sweet lovely people… but how can God love people who defy Him and insist on running their own lives and being their own god, and being a people who are completely at enmity with Him (i.e., who hates what He likes, and likes what He hates), and are alienated from Him? How can anyone “love” someone who is that despicable? The truth is, we do not merit a single ounce of His love, yet here He is “suffering death on the cross for us!” How can that be? As the hymn writer Charles Wesley states it, “How can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me?” The problem with the vast majority of people in our world, including many Christians, is that they actually see themselves as pretty good people; as such, God’s love for them isn’t nearly as wonderful and significant in their minds and hearts as it should be; after all, if you’re somewhat deserving, then His love for you would be less significant. Having a “self-focus” is very problematic for us as believers, because it keeps God at bay and makes Him a distant reality in our lives; it’s the self-focus that keeps one’s relationship with God from being the dynamic reality God intended it to be. If this defines your faith, read the following passages (cf. Mt 16:24; Rom 7:18; 12:1-2; Gal 5:16-17; 6:14; Eph 4:22-24; Phil 2:3-4; Col 1:13; Heb 12:1-2).
Clayton King, the president of “Clayton King Ministries,” and professor of evangel-ism at “Anderson University,” and pastor of “New Spring Church” in South Carolina (one of the largest churches in America), in his book “Overcome” (published by Baker Books) states the following: “There is a side to suffering we miss when we focus solely on our pain rather than on God’s greater purpose; if you can see the purpose behind the pain, you will understand God’s ability to leverage the suffering in your life for greater things.” Hard times have the capacity to deepen our faith and the faith of those around us. When we submit our situation to God, He can purify our motives and teach us won-derful things that we can only learn when suffering humbles us and forces us to pay attention to the deep work the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives. One of the ways that God uses us as His servants in this world is through our suffering (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-6); remember, “You have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (cf. 1 Pet 2:21) — Christ modeled the life that we are to live; in so doing we will have an impact upon others. Just as the sufferings of Christ have had a significant impact on us, so also will our sufferings have an impact on others — exactly how God will use our sufferings is up to Him; but one thing we can be sure of is this: “He will use our sufferings to minister to others.” God does not orchestrate purposeless suffering in our lives; on the contrary, He gives us the grace to endure it for the purpose of serving as a witness to the power of the gospel; be it to members of our family, our friends, our boss, our extended family, even skeptical non-believers — all such people will observe the way we handle suffering, and will learn from us. So there is always a bigger story encompassing the painful place in which we find ourselves. Incidentally, when it comes to suffering, sometimes the way we overcome it is to simply, humbly, and faithfully endure it. As Clayton King states, “Nothing testifies to the deep, authentic reality of God’s presence in the life of a believer like watching that believer keep his eyes on Jesus while enduring hell on earth; that is perhaps the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith the world will ever see;” in a word, our suffering has the power to influence and change those who are watching us suffer (remember, it is God who is working in other people’s lives through you; it is not as if you are the one who is controlling everything; as Christians, God is always at work using us to influence others for good at some level — that is simply the economy of God in our world; that’s the way He operates. Said Paul, “You are our letter… known and read by all men… you are a letter of Christ… written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (cf. 2 Cor 3:2-3; also Mt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12; 3:15-16; Col 4:6). Again, God uses our lives to impact other people’s lives.
Suffering covers a broad range of experience from injuries and chronic pain, to illness, birth defects, problems in life, difficult circum-stances, poverty, injustice, broken relationships, natural disasters, and things not going the way we want them to go. John Walton and Tremper Longmann III, in an article they wrote on “A Theology of Suffer-ing,” say that “it explores how we think about God in connection to suffering”… and answers the questions as to why God created a world in which suffering exists, and why He permits His children to suffer” — “Is He trying to teach us something, or is it because we did something wrong?” Walton and Longmann highlight several points:
- Suffering is the lot of all humanity; no one escapes it.
- Suffering is a contingency of the created order in process; while we cannot imagine what a [perfectly] ordered world would be like, we can recognize that the disorder of our world is responsible for suffering at one level or another.
- Suffering is not intrinsically connected with sin; though it can be the result of sin, oftentimes there is no direct connection. God can use suffering as punishment, or permit it to inspire growth in Christ.
- Suffering should drive us into the arms of God’s love; trusting in God’s sovereign wisdom is the strongest counsel the Bible has to offer. As John Polkinghorne says, “Suffering and evil are the inescapable costs of a creation allowed to be other than God.” Our overly simplistic reactions need to be replaced with trusting our Creator.
- Suffering provides us with an opportunity to deepen our faith; the reality is, it is in the darkest times of life we can learn to trust.
Though the book of Job is not a theodicy, it does offer a number of voices that explore the nature of God and His relationship to the world. Since both Job and his friends all understood the retribution principle as the driving force of God’s policies in the world, God ultimately made it very clear that indeed was not the principle that defined why He let Job suffer like he did… He did so by asking this question, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2); such a question showed Job how powerless, ignorant, insignificant, inadequate, incompetent and finite he was. So God made it very clear to him that man is not to foolishly question the justice of God’s dealings… thus Job stopped trusting in the retribution principle and trusted in God’s wisdom alone.
Why does God allow tragedy and suffering? The author and apologist Lee Strobel, reminds us that this question goes back thousands of years, that it was asked by Job and the writers of the Psalms… and was also very relevant during the 20th century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda, and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo… and the 21st century did not start any better — there was 911 in New York City, Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Though we might attribute it to our corrupt, sinful world, we don’t see things exactly as God sees them. Paul says, “We see things imperfectly now… but later we will see every-thing with perfect clarity” (1 Cor 13:12); the reality is, we can’t understand everything from our finite perspective. Strobel makes five points: First, he reminds us that God is not the author of evil and suffering; Satan is its author. Second, he says, though suffering in and of itself isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good (cf. Rom 8:28). Third, the day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil; obviously, the story of this world isn’t over yet, but the day will come when sickness and suffering and pain will all be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. As Paul reminds us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, He is being patient, not wishing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Fourth, our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for us as His followers. Says Paul, “Our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18); remember, this was written by a man who suffered beatings, stoneings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, rejection, hunger, thirst, and homelessness — far more pain than most of us will ever have to endure. God promises a time when there will be no more crying, tears, death, mourning, pain or suffering (Rev 21:4); at that point we will be united with God in perfect harmony forever — “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). Fifth, we decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage; we make a choice to either run away from God or to run to Him. Suffering is eminent in this world; the question is, how are you going to respond? Remember, God entered into our world and personally experienced our pain; He conquered the world through His own suffering and death; as such, He has deprived this world of its ultimate power over us; death no longer has the last word, God does. If you have put your trust in Christ, then He is “in you” (cf. Col 1:27); therefore, your sufferings are His sufferings, and your sorrows His sorrows. If you are experiencing pain, make the choice to run into His arms — you’ll find peace to deal with your pain. It should also be noted, we must be willing to reach out and compassionately help other people who are in pain, just like God helps us (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-5).
THE ULTIMATE CAUSE OF PAIN & SUFFERING
In order to give definition to this subject matter, it is necessary to address a number of different issues… the first of which is defining who God is. Though God is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, unchanging and absolutely sovereign, we can only understand such things when we compare Him with that which is not eternal; i.e., that which is temporal. Though this may sound a little odd to some of you, all creation can be regarded as NOTHING when it is compared with God — that should not be difficult to understand when one compares God who is infinite with everything else that is finite. To help give definition to that which is infinite and that which is finite, it is best to graphically depict these two constructs in order to differentiate between them — with that in mind, take a moment and draw about a 3-inch circle on a piece of paper, and inside that circle write the words “space, mass & time,” and outside that circle write the word “God.” You need to “visualize” this, so get a piece of paper and write this down; this will make far more sense to you momentarily. You’ll notice God is not limited (space, mass & time do not exist in the eternal realm; those are simply temporal realities that were created by God in eternity past; they have not always existed), God transcends the circle and the piece of paper on which you drew the circle. God tran-scends space, mass & time; He is eternal, infinite, endless, everlasting, ever-being and permanent; He cannot be placed in a box no matter how big it is, because any box would be limited in scope. Just as there is “no end to numbers” (they go on adinfinitum; they never cease — there are always trillions and trillions and trillions more numbers that can be added to any number the entire finite world can come up with), likewise the parameters of God are endless — again, the finite minds of men cannot conceive of anything that is infinite; it simply cannot perceive of things that go on adinfinitum, let alone God Himself… it is also important to remember that God is an invisible Spirit (cf. Col 1:15-16; 1 Tim 1:17) who spoke all things into existence; no man can fathom that because we exist in the realm of space, mass & time. It is amazing how many Christians see God as being incredibly big, but not infinitely big… in addition to that they see Him as One who is somewhat removed from His creation to a degree, but not one who is its infinite sovereign ruler. The reality is, God is not finite or limited in any way; that’s why I had you graphically depict Him (once you are outside the circle, infinity never stops; it goes on and on adinfinitum); incidentally, if you didn’t draw the circle on a piece of paper, you may struggle somewhat with this particular principle. Though the created order is temporal and limited (i.e., it is inside the circle), our Creator is eternal (i.e., He completely transcends the circle; there is nothing limited about Him). Now, should the circle and everything in the circle cease to exist, God would remain un-changed, because He is not at all affected by the temporal world — He is GOD! Further-more, nothing happens in the temporal realm that God is not in complete control of; i.e., nothing happens without His consent – NOTHING! To add one more dimension to what you have drawn, place the word “temporal” inside the circle, and the word “eternal” outside the circle; it is important that you contemplate the differences between that which is temporal and that which is eternal. I find it interesting that certain aspects of creation actually reflect the eternality of God in some way — be it things like numbers or distant space; when one looks into space one might be inclined to think that it ultimately comes to an end (that seems to be what some scientists believe), that there must be some point where it stops; but if that is the case, then what is on the other side of it? More space! So here we have the temporal realm reflecting the eternal realm to some degree — again, it is here where finite minds have to shut down, because they cannot fathom something that is not temporal; by the way, though space may continue to go on and on adinfinitum, space is still temporal — how’s that for an oxymoron?
Logic tells us, that which is temporal cannot be compared to that which is eternal; Scripture states that time and time again. The Lord said to Isaiah (the prince of prophets), “It is GOD who reduces rulers to nothing, and makes the judges of the earth meaning-less… To whom then will you liken Me?… The Everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrut-able” (Is 40:23-28). “I am the LORD; there is no savior besides Me…. I am God, from eternity; I am He…. there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (Is 43:11-13). “I am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25). “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer… the one who formed you from the womb, I, the LORD, am the maker of all things… causing the omens of lying prophets and boastful magicians to fail, making fools out of diviners, and turning the knowledge of wise men into foolishness” (Is 44:24-25). “I am the LORD; there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these things… Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker… will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’… It is I who made the earth and created man upon it. It is I who stretched out the heavens with My hands, and ordained all their host” (Is 45:6-12). “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other… the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear allegiance” (Is 45:22-23). By the way, all I did in the foregoing was quote a few verses from Isaiah chapters 40-45 to shed a little light on the eternality of God as it is expressed in Scripture; obviously, there are numerous passages throughout Scripture that make similar statements; the important thing for us as believers is that we see God for who He truly is, and not in any way minimize Him and make Him less than He is. Furthermore, since God has no limitations whatsoever (i.e., since He is the essence of eternality, there is nothing eternal outside of Him), to try and make Him fit into our tiny little human brain is a little silly. As believers we must be fair to ourselves when contemplating “ultimate reality” (i.e., GOD), and let Him be GOD VERY GOD — it might be helpful to reflect upon the word “believer;” as God’s children we are to “believe” Him; to not believe Him is to value human thinking above divine thinking.
With the foregoing in mind… since God is sovereign in all things, and predates all things, He is the eternal ruler and magistrate of all things. To think that He deferred to His finite creatures and let them rule the created order is beyond reason — remember, nothing outside of God is eternal; thus everything that has been created is essentially temporal & meaningless when compared with God. To quote God, here is what He had to say: “Before Me there was no God other than Me, and there will be none after Me… From eternity I am He… there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (Is 43:10, 13). “All the nations of the world are as nothing before Him; they are regarded by Him as less than nothing… meaningless. To whom then will you liken God?” (Is 40:17-18). “I am God, there is no other; there is no one like Me… declaring the end the beginning… My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure. Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surly I will do it” (Is 46: 9-11). “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” said the Lord; “and neither are my ways your ways; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts… My word when it goes forth from My mouth, shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire” (Is 55:8, 9, 11). Wrote Paul, “God does all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).
RATIONALIZING OUR CREATOR
[This is a small one-paragraph side-study on Our Creator]
Let’s say you created something so significant that you would “die” for it (which in itself isn’t even fathomable)… that you created some kind of a temporal creature that was at least a million times smaller than you (remember, you are far more than a trillion times smaller than God); so comparatively speaking, your creation would have been significantly smaller than an “ant,” yet you would have actually died for it if it was necessary? With that in mind, are you saying that you would have made it a completely autonomous creature? (i.e., that you would have made it an independent creature, and given it the right to do whatever it pleased? Yet, claim that its desires would have had nothing to do with you as it’s creator? Did you not give this creature its brain and body and all of its innate characteristics? So where did its thinking and desires come from? Just out of the blue? If you made the creature, would not its decisions, actions and behaviors be attributed to you at some level, because you are its Creator? Obviously, that’s a fairly difficult argument. I simply state it to demonstrate the “nonsensical reasoning of man” regarding our Creator not having sovereign control over all He created. To think that God made creatures with a “free will,” is simply irreconcilable to the human mind; especially if one takes the position that God’s creative work did not influence in any way the creature’s thinking or his actions. So this thing called creation is an extremely difficult construct for man to understand; our temporal minds simply cannot fathom anything that has an eternal orientation to it. Because the foregoing is so vastly perplexing, it is difficult to come to a consensus on any of these issues. The issue of creation is extremely difficult, because we are not just talking about something that is simply physical… we are also talking about something that is living, spiritual, moral, psychological, relational, and created in God’s image; it is just such thinking that is simply too much for us to assimilate. Not even the world of science understands this thing called “life;” though they know it when they see it, they do not understand its intrinsic nature or its derivation; the invisible world is something they simply can’t grasp, because it is outside the realm of temporal human thought. I mention the foregoing to simply give you something to contemplate and reflect upon.
Now with all the foregoing in mind, it’s important to remember that God is ETERNAL… God is HOLY… God is GOOD… and God is LOVE — these four characteristics define who He is… His eternality and holiness and goodness and love are the chief governing characteristics of everything He does; to minimize these characteristics, is to misinterpret who God really is. By the way, because God is “eternal,” He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent; i.e., He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere-present (constructs that are completely unfathomable to the human mind – cf. Ps 139:7-12). Remember God is Spirit (i.e., invisible); thus He is incomprehensible — since we only have a 150 IQ at best, that should not be too difficult a construct to accept; we simply don’t have the capacity to compare ourselves to God; the truth is, we are completely incomparable. Now because God is perfectly holy, He is totally separate from anything that is not perfectly holy; that is simply what it means to be holy; anything with the slightest degree of impurity cannot behold God who is absolutely pure — said the Lord to Moses: “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” (Ex 33:20). Since God is holy He is completely intolerant of sin and judges it severely (keep in mind, anything that is not holy is completely lacking in purity; there is no goodness whatsoever in things that are not holy). The most emphatic statement in Scripture is this: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts” (cf. Is 6:3; Rev 4:8); you’ll notice there is triple-redundancy in that statement. So first and foremost above everything else (probably including His eternal nature), God is HOLY! (cf. Lev 19:2; 20:26; Deut 14::2; Ps 47:8; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:16; Ps 9:7-9; 50:6; 75:7; Ecc 3:17)… Secondly, God is GOOD! (cf. Lk 18: 19; Ps 100:5; 106:1; 119:68; 1 Jn 1:5)… and Thirdly, God is LOVE! (cf. Jn 3:16; 1Jn 3:16; 4:7-12, 16, 19). God in no way is character-ized with evil, wrongdoing or unlovelyness.
In love, God has chosen a number of fallen creatures to be His servants in this world; just as God chose Jonah to do a particular work (the evangelization of Nineveh), so God has chosen you and me as well (i.e., if we are truly believers). Remember the words of Jesus to His disciples — “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain;” i.e., have an effect unto all eternity (Jn 15:16). Likewise, Abraham was called (he did not choose God)… Moses was called even before he was a baby floating in the Nile in a basket — God said, “I am going to deliver my people from Egypt, and I am going to do it by means of this baby.” It was the same with everyone else in Scripture… be it Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Danial, the Prophets, Mary, John the Baptist, Paul and all of the disciples of Jesus. Though the idea of divine election transcends human thought (that expression is another way of stating it – cf. Mt 24:24, 31; Mk 13:20, 22, 27), that is the predetermined will of God as it is expressed in His God-breathed Word (cf. 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). Though many in the Christian world insist on arguing against such thinking with human thought, that does not negate the truth of it — at some point, we as believers must let the eternal One be GOD, accepting the fact that “His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts” (cf. Is 55:8-9); again, there comes a point in life where we must acknowledge our finiteness and defer to God’s infiniteness — insisting that divine truth coincide with human thinking isn’t the answer; some things we are simply not going to fully understand. As Solomon expressed it, “I have observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge, and I set my mind to know it… yet I have come to realize that this is simply striving after wind” (cf. Ecc 1:14-18; 7:13; 8:17). Keep in mind, this was the wisest man who ever lived, or who ever will live (read 1 Kg 3:12). Now, since God is absolutely sovereign, He is the supreme ruler of all things (cf. Ps 50:1; 66:7; 93:1; Is 40:15-17; 1 Tim 6:15; Rev 11:17); His love is not influenced by some act of the creature (remember, God made the creature; cf. Ps 139:13; 119:73; Is 44:24) — the reality is, in eternity past God determined to “love certain creatures” He would make to fulfill His higher purposes; as Paul stated in his second letter to Timothy, “God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose & grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (cf. 2 Tim 1:9); by the way, you’ll notice this happened from all eternity; furthermore, the two words “holy” & “own” are emphatic in Greek. It is also important to note, not a single creature merited his love… He simply chose a relatively small number of creatures to be His servants long before they ever came into existence; remember, God made every creature and planned the end from the beginning (cf. Is 14:24, 27; 43:13; 46:9-10), and a part of that plan was having some creatures align themselves with Him and be His servants. The question that begs asking is this: Why did all of this happen? Juvenile thinking often concludes that “God must have been bored or lonely, and that’s why He created the human family;” but such is simply elementary thinking and does not at all coincide with what Scripture teaches.
So, why did God create man? The reality is, something occurred in eternity past that precipitated God’s creation of “man” — in eternity past Lucifer and one-third of all the angels “rebelled against God” and were thrown out of heaven (keep in mind, the entire angelic realm beheld all that transpired)… but rather than immediately destroying Satan and all the angels who sided with him, God chose to “put sin on trial” before the entire angelic world — in so doing, He brought about a brand new creation called “man;” He created a creature (i.e., man) in His own image (Gen 1:26)… now, though man is a spiritual creature like God, he is also a physical creature. Remember, Scripture never states that anything else was ever created in the image of God. Again, keep in mind, it was the issue of “sin” in eternity past that brought about the creation of man — were it not for sin in the angelic realm man would not have been created. By the way, though this new creation is a little lower than the angels at this point in time (Heb 2:5-18), one day it will be glorified and raised above the entire angelic realm and actually be its judge (1 Cor 6:2-3), and then become fellow-heirs with Christ, and reign in heaven with Him forever (cf. Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 22:3-7) — those realities are so incredible they can’t even be comprehended at this point in our existence. I find it interesting that redeemed fallen man is going to “judge” the fallen angelic world that is doing all it can to “destroy us” as followers of Christ — since it was the fallen angelic world that caused us to suffer hell on earth (grievous pain); God in His wisdom is going to let us “judge Satan and all of his followers at the end of the age;” God knows full well all of the pain we will have experienced in our earthly existence. Now since God is GOD, He does everything after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11); obviously God knew full well that His new creation would succumb to the tempta-tion of Satan — though this may surprise some of you, it was not at all an accident that “Satan” happened to be in the Garden of Eden with Adam & Eve when they were created (think about that); that was all a part of the eternal plan of God; though man would “fall,” that was all a part of God’s plan — that is why Scripture tells us that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev 13:8; 17:8; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; Lk 11:50); in other words, the crucifixion of Christ was God’s plan from the very beginning. If you’d like to study this issue in greater depth, and read all of the passages on it, let me encourage you to read a study I did titled, “Sin & Man’s Eternal Purpose” — see my website.
Remember, since God is eternal all that exists or ever will exist in the temporal realm is known to God; there is nothing He doesn’t see or know; all “time” is known to God from beginning to end (look at the little circle you drew on a piece of paper; time is temporal, not eternal). One cannot say that the future is not known to God because it has not yet happened — that can only be deduced with temporal thinking… because God is eternal He sees the end from the beginning (i.e., He sees the entire circle; He is not temporal, He is eternal); furthermore, “God has planned the end from the beginning” (Is 46:9-11); that essentially is what “prophesy” is all about (the plan of God); it is the foretelling of the future; there is no such thing as mere happenstance in our universe; the eternal God of all creation is on the throne… to say that the eternal, transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent God “is not the cosmic authority over all things, is not only illogical but absolute fool-ishness” — though human thinking insists that it is autonomous, yet God calls all such thinking absolute nonsense / foolishness (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-20; 2:14; 3:19). Man is not the ultimate determinant of reality, God is. By the way, the older I have gotten, the more clear God’s divine sovereignty has become to me; though each of us can control things to a certain degree (as God so permits), only God can effectuate genuine change in our world or in our lives. Metaphorically speaking, I have walked a million miles down this street, so I am pretty confident in the truth of that statement; like many of you, there is not much I have not done to try and effectuate significant change in my life and in my world, but only God has done so. Though those of you who are younger have not yet been con-vinced of that truth, eventually you will be; there is something to be said about growing old — we obtain a level of wisdom that escaped us when we were younger (cf. Prov 16:31; 20:29).
Nothing that happened in all of Scripture was outside of God’s will… nothing was mere happenstance — NOTHING! In eternity past God planned the end from the beginning (cf. Is 46:9-11), yet due to the fact that few people believe in the “eternality of God,” they really struggle with such thinking; their humanness insists on man being the sole determinant of all that transpires on this planet… that reality is simply the product of chance, and in part is of man’s doing — such is the essence of temporal thinking; after all, temporal minds cannot think anything else. Temporal minds believe that if God is involved at all, it is only momentarily in certain situations; but even that they often question (this God thing is simply too ethereal to them). However, as stated earlier, numerous passages in Scripture attest to the absolute sovereignty of God, but fallen human thinking has a very difficult time accepting that as being the case. Regardless of what it was that transpired down through the course of time, it all occurred according to the fore-plan of God — be it the fall in the garden of Eden, the death of Able, the building of the Ark by Noah, the building of the tower of Babel, God’s choice of Abra-ham, the births of Ishmael & Isaac, the births of the twelve sons of Jacob, the selling of Joseph into slavery in Egypt (cf. Gen 50:20; also Gen 25:21-24; Rom 9:14-33), the miraculous birth and life of Moses, the refusal of Pharaoh to listen to God (cf. Ex 3:19; 4:21; 5:2; 7:3, 13, 22), the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, the idolatrous obstinacy of Israel in the wilderness, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Law, Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, the ongoing fall of the Israelites during the period of the Judges, God’s giving the Israelites a “king” to govern them, the subsequent fall of the nation of Israel and the fact it was divided into two nations (Israel and Judah), as well as the raising up of prophets (i.e., God’s spokesmen) to share God’s will with His people, the enslavement of Judah into captivity in Babylon, and the destruction of every nation that tried to bring Israel down (cf. Is 10:5-16; 45:1-7, 9, 13; 47:1-11)… I mention each of these things because they each played a prominent role in Scripture. The reality is, NOTHING happened in the Old Testament that was not a part of God’s plan from all eternity… conversely, nothing hap-pened during New Testament era that was not a part of God’s plan… and nothing has happened since, or will happen in the future that is independent of God’s plan; even the antichrist is a part of God’s plan. Again, without understanding “the eternality of God” that will be a very difficult construct for people to grasp and accept; the problem is, they are simply sold out to temporal human thinking; to them God is nothing but a redeemer and a savior who is inviting people to become one of His children, that if they will simply place their trust in Him, He will make them one (though that is true, that is nowhere near the fullness of what is true; the contextual understanding is almost completely lacking). In the foregoing paragraphs I did not identify all of the passages that support what was stated; if you want to study it fully and cross-reference all of the passages, you can go online and check it out. Again, the title of the study is “Sin & Man’s Eternal Purpose.” Incidentally, at the end of that study I stated the following —
Beloved, God has placed YOU on the grand stage of the universe
to be a participant in the cosmic battle between good and evil!
Rejoice in that honor! and fight the good fight of faith
until God brings you into the eternal state
to reign with Him forever and ever!
Now with all of the foregoing in mind, let’s reflect upon the cause of pain & suffering. Since God is the only eternal reality that exists, all other creatures are temporal, including angels — that means God immensely dwarfs the entire realm of creation; one cannot compare that which is finite with that which is infinite (they are incomparable). Now, since none of God’s creatures are robots, they all have a “free will” and can do as they choose (within the divine will of God). To the regret of the entire created order, Satan chose to violate the holy will of God… as such his violation of holiness launched pain, suffering and death into both the angelic and the earthly realm. Since the “option to choose evil” was there, doesn’t mean God is the author of evil. To say that God is the cause of evil, would be akin to accusing Him of having a sinful inner core… just because God allowed the expression of evil, doesn’t mean He is the cause of it — what caused it was a violation of His holiness and goodness, and it all began in heaven in the angelic realm. One of the foundational principles of the created order is that “one will reap what he sows” — it is this operational principle that governs all of our lives… we eat and sleep and work with the understanding that we will “reap” accordingly; to not eat or sleep or work would have a devastating effect upon our lives. Now, to blame God because we suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and failed to own up to our responsibility, simply reveals the extent of our fallenness — absolute foolishness (cf. Rom 1:22). Because of man’s unwillingness to do good and to do what is right, he pays a very steep price for that… were he not to pay a steep price for doing wrong, in all likelihood he would continue to immerse himself in it; if there were no consequences for doing wrong (evil), why would he discontinue doing it? Though most men at least have the sense to eat and sleep and work, there are some in our world who even violate those values. Scripture tells us that those who do not honor God for who He is and what He says, become futile in their speculations, thus “their heart is darkened” & “God gives them over to the lusts of their hearts and impurity;” in so doing, “they exchange the truth of God for a lie” (cf. Rom 1:21, 24, 25)… “and just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind… being filled with unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slandering, haters of God, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, inventors of evil, disobedience to their parents, untrustworthiness, being unloving and unmerciful… and giving hearty approval to those who practice such things” (cf. Rom 1:28-32). That’s pretty poignant stuff, so with that in mind, how can one possibly blame God for such behaviors? If people know in their heart what is truly right and wrong, how can one hold God responsible for the wrong that people do? (cf. Rom 1:18-20; Ecc 3:11). To ignore righteousness and holiness and not reward it when it is expressed, would be akin to ignoring unrighteous-ness and evil and not punishing it when it is expressed — both of those positions would be wrong. Just as God has purposed, “man is to reap what he sows” (cf. Prv 22:8-9; Hos 10:12; 2 Cor 9:6; Gal 6:7-9; 1 Cor 15:58; Jam 5:7); but due to the fact that it doesn’t necessarily happen instantly, men oftentimes take advantage of that and think they escaped reaping what they sowed, or they become angry because they didn’t get what they think they deserved. The reality is, all behavior “produces a fruit of some kind” (i.e., results in causing some kind of after-affect or by-product); that is simply normative in the created realm… were that not so, man would be less inclined to do what is right; if there are no consequences for doing wrong, how could one justify that as being right?
To blame God for pain and suffering, when in fact it is the by-product of both Satan and man’s rebellion, would be like destroying the automobile industry because someone chose to drive over 100 miles an hour in a car that ended up killing someone. To blame the industry who made the vehicle, would be as nonsensical as one could be. But here again, man is once again trying to justify himself and wiggle out from his own responsibility… that man is responsible for his actions and the resultant effect of them is very disconcerting to him, but due to the fact that he is a fallen creature in whom there is no goodness, he simply cannot stop blaming God for all of the negatives that exist in our world; thus he reasons like this: “Because God is omniscient and omnipotent, and we as human beings are such inferior creatures, He has an obligation to do good to us, and not hurt us or cause us to suffer.” Throughout the entire world man is constantly arguing: “I just can’t believe in a God who permits disease and crime and war and difficulties and pain and suffering and death” — you’ll notice I emboldened the word “permits.” Now, because God does permit His creatures to walk away from Him and do evil, they will experience grievous consequences for doing so (cf. Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23). This wasn’t some kind of “threat” that God was making, it was simply a matter of God letting His creatures know that pursuing evil is extremely costly, not only because it violates the holiness of God, but the well-being of the individual himself and those who are affected by his sinful behavior. Essentially man’s problem is this: he doesn’t see the horribleness of his own sin and rebellion against God, nor the goodness and greatness of the One who created him; all his innate sinfulness does is cause him to reject God rather than embrace Him as his Lord. To his discredit, if God is not the person he thinks He should be, then he simply won’t believe in Him… if God is not a God of positives, he won’t believe in Him… if God does not respect his autonomy, he won’t believe in Him. It makes no difference how horrible sin is and how problematic it is, all that matters to fallen man is that he gets his way in life. When one minimizes his own sinfulness, as well as God’s holiness, goodness and love, he is completely rejecting reality and embracing that which is evil and unrighteous; as stated earlier: “If one doesn’t see himself as being that sinful, neither will he see God as being that loving.” It is only when we see things as they really are, and accept them as such, that divine truth will rule in our soul… if we insist on making everything coincide with human thought, even as believers we will never make much progress in the Christian life. By the way, the Bible is “God’s revelation to man,” and therein alone lies divine truth; if it is not that significant to you, neither will your walk with God be that significant — you will simply make it what you want it to be. Remember, as Christians we are not just “theists” (that is, we do not simply believe that there is a God), instead we believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Creation, and the Sovereign Ruler of the entire universe. The reality is, either we learn to “defer to God,” or we are going to live a very perplexing human-based life. The problem with mere “humanistic thinking” is that it pursues a way of life without direct reference to God; i.e., it embraces the natural over the supernatural and essentially values a non-religious approach to both one’s individual and one’s social life… thus making the world of man and nature absolute and the supreme values of life. With the foregoing in mind, humanism rules in our world today, and rejects any divine standard that is too rigid or restrictive; as such it believes “religious people need to stop making mountains out of molehills!” So the principle problem of man is that he caves into “fallen human thinking,” and refuses to deter to God in life and see things as they really are.
Now, if God was really this religious maniac who places unreasonable demands on people, why in the world would He have ever gone to the cross and “suffered death for us”? That’s the difference maker every human being needs to consider — either people are going to over-emphasize God’s rigidity, or under-emphasize God’s love. When one over-emphasizes God’s rigidity, he fails to see how deplorable evil is… when one under-emphasizes God’s love, he fails to see how caring and merciful God is. Herein is the work of Satan — he hates God for limiting his wants, and not letting him be the ruler of his own life; he insisted on being a totally autonomous creature, wherein no one had authority over him… he wanted to run his own life and be his own master. For God to capitulate and cave in to all of the desires of Satan, would be to bless that which is evil and let evil rule supreme; remember, evil is denying a perfectly holy God the right to rule and do that which is good — though one may think his own choices are all good, the reality is walking in darkness ultimately results in being at war with every other creature, and produces extremely painful aftereffects; just look at how deplorably ugly our world is today, and do so with the understanding that God isn’t letting evil “completely reign” at this point in time — the Great Restrainer (i.e., the Holy Spirit) is keeping evil from fully manifesting itself… though there will come a day when He will permit darkness to run amuck, that day is still yet future (cf. 2 Th 2:1-12; Eph 5:1-13; Dan 7:25; 8:25; 11:36; Rev 13; 19:19-21; 20:1-10). With the foregoing in mind, why would the holy sovereign God of all creation ever allow evil to rule? He would have to be a very weak-minded person to abandon righteousness and embrace unrighteousness; i.e., He would have to see things in a vastly different light… He would have to see evil as not that bad, and He would have to see holiness as not that important. If you think evil isn’t that bad or ugly, again, look at our world and all of the corruption & lying & hating & wickedness & vileness & perverseness & wretchedness that exists in it — for those of you who have lived in some of the more peaceful locations of our world, in all likelihood you may be very uniformed as to the decadence that characterizes so much of our world. By the way, it is getting uglier by the minute; how God tolerates it even at this level is beyond me… yet He is going to continue to tolerate it until that day comes (in the not too distant future) when life here on earth will become darkened to the umpteenth degree, after which Satan and his dominions will be cast into the lake of fire (cf. Rev 20:10, 14, 15). Now contrary to what fallen man may think, there is no defense for evil whatsoever; it is all grounded in self-centeredness, deception, and corrupt thinking. To his regret, fallen man simply cannot understand why God is so strong against many of the evil behaviors that have taken root in his heart. Why is that? Because man does not understand how horrific evil is. That shouldn’t be a difficult construct for any of us as believers to understand; nevertheless, because we are all sinful creatures our reasoning is frequently grounded in our innate sinfulness (i.e., our flesh); holiness doesn’t reign supreme in anyone’s soul, let alone that of an unbeliever — since fallen man is in rebellion against God, holiness is not the foundation of his life or his heart or his thinking. Once man abandons the knowledge of good and evil that God has placed in his heart, sin reigns supreme in his life (i.e., his self-life rules), and nothing but his own personal interests matter to him (cf. Mt 6:24; 12:30; 16:24; Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22-24; Heb 12:1; Jam 1:21).
Now, if the residual effect of sin did not involve “pain” & “displeasure,” one would simply continue to live in sin — why would one ever opt out of sin if the self-life was a very pleasant life? The Christian life is not about living for oneself, it is about having fellowship with God and living for Him and all of His creatures, and caring for them and helping them. Remember, the Christian life is not about living a self-centered life, and making life work the way we want it to work, and making happiness the ultimate goal in life. As stated earlier, our English word “happy” is a derivative of the old Norse word “happ” — when what happens to us is pleasant, we are happy… conversely, when what happens to us is not pleasant, we are not happy; so happiness depends upon our circumstances… when everything is going the way we want it to go, and we don’t feel pain in our soul, we are happy creatures! Since that’s the case, God doesn’t let pleasant circum-stances and a peaceful heart dominate our life; instead He subjects us to discipline and suffering and pain, so that we might stop living the “self-life” and live the “God-life,” which results in growing in our faith and love for God. The question often arises, “How does one live the God-life?” Well, to begin with, the God-life involves a complete transformation of thought… no longer do we simply follow the thoughts of our flesh; we now embrace the teachings of Christ (cf. Ps 1:2; 119:11, 33-40, 105, 133; Jn 8:31-32; Heb 4:12; Col 3:16; 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Jn 2:28; 3:2-3). Writes Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer ‘I’ who lives, but ‘Christ’ lives in me; and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). Let me first state the following: each of the four words that are emboldened are emphatic in Greek, so when you read that verse give great emphasis to the four emboldened words. Everything Paul had to say began with his own identity with the cross of Christ — every genuine believer was “crucified with Christ on the cross” (we were all “in Him” spiritually when He died, not physically); and such means, we are no longer alive to sin and under the condemnation of the Law and our old unregenerate self (it no longer has absolute control of our lives) — the old “I” was crucified with Christ, and has no more claims on our daily life. Though our flesh is still present in our lives, and oftentimes causes us to stumble, it does not have absolute autonomy over our lives; hence we are to “war against it” and not succumb to its influence (cf. Rom 6:1-14, 22; 8:13; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 6:10-17). By the way, the foregoing not only defined Paul, it defines me and every other child of God. Christ did not die for us that we that we might go on living life as we choose (i.e, according to our flesh)… Christ died for us so that He might be able to live His life in us, and this He does as we walk with Him by faith (faith means reliance or dependence; the believer lives by continual dependence on Christ, by yielding to Him, and by allowing Him to live His life in us). We don’t live holy lives out of fear of punishment, but out of love for our Savior, who gave Himself for us — since the penalty for sin was paid, punishment is no longer a possibility for us as believers — “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (cf. Rom 8:1).
As the author of Hebrews says, “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord… for those whom He loves He disciplines; conversely, He scourges every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you endure… If you are without discipline, you are not one of God’s children. Though all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, ultimately it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:5-11). What’s important here is that the believer not see God’s discipline as a sign that He is “angry” with him (regrettably, some believers see it that way); in addition to the foregoing, discipline is the educative process for His children. Whether the testing comes directly from God or the devil, one must understand that God permits it to accomplish His higher purposes in our lives. Everything God permits us to go through in life is designed to cultivate virtue and drive out evil — such unpleasantries have nothing to do with punishing, but with training (remember, Jesus bore all of our punishment on the cross). Incidentally, the Greek word for discipline (dialegomai) primarily denotes “resolving something in one’s mind” – remember, “We are transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom 12:2). It is through the chastening of God whereby we are molded into His image. So when testing comes to us, we should realize that God is treating us as sons, not as His enemies. Though the discipline we experienced from our parents wasn’t necessarily perfect, the discipline we receive from the Lord is perfect and is guaranteed to be effective! (cf. Phil 1:6; 1 Th 5:24; Ps 138:8). As Charles Spurgeon states in his work, “The Treasury of the New Testament” — “I am afraid that all the grace I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I received from my sorrows & pains & griefs is altogether incalculable.” This is a very common teaching by the greatest saints in church history. Now if the pain & suffering & discipline that we undergo as God’s children didn’t effectuate a change in us, that would be a different matter altogether. But due to the fact that God is GOD, and our eternal magistrate, He does effectuate a change in us through His discipline (that’s not a maybe, that’s a given)… “God is at work in us both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Though some of the things I experience in life can bother me and seemingly drive me crazy, thankfully, God not only knows what He is doing, but has the where-withal to accomplish His eternal purposes. It should be obvious to everyone of us, “if our eternal future in heaven depended upon us, none of us would ever get there!” Some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture were penned by Peter — “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10); by the way, that word “Himself” is emphatic in Greek. No matter what our trials are in life, we must remember above everything else, that God is “the God of all grace.” No matter how fierce our testing may be, we can always be thankful that our destiny is not hell, we are destined to His eternal glory! Said Paul: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Such truth enables us to look beyond the sufferings of this life to the time when we will be with our Savior and be like Him forever. Just think of it! We’ve been picked up out of the scrap heap and called to His eternal glory! As Charles Wesley said, “How can it be that Thou my God shouldn’t die for me?” Beloved, none of us have one ounce of worthiness.
A CONTEXTUAL UNDERSTANDING OF PAIN & SUFFERING
In God’s economy both Pain and Pleasure have their place… as King Solomon stated, “There is a time for every event under heaven” (cf. Ecc 3:1) — “there’s a time to give birth and a time to die… a time to plant and a time to uproot… a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up… a time to love and a time to hate… a time for war and a time for peace” (cf. Ecc 3:2-8). You’ll notice, everything has a purpose in God’s economy — though we may hate certain things, that is only natural; after all, we are fleshly creatures… oftentimes in my life I get angry because of my hatred for something… sometimes it can be a silly little thing, and at other times something far more significant; that is simply what our flesh does. Remember, “our flesh has a strong presence in our lives; no believer has dead flesh!” Even the apostle Paul and numerous others in biblical history acknowledged that (cf. Rom 7:18-19; also Jam 3:2; Ps 38:1-22; 40:12; 73:26; Ecc 7:20). Though God is good and omnipotent… nevertheless, evil and pain and death still exist, because Adam rebelled against God and chose to follow his own fleshly thinking. Obviously the presence of pain and suffering in our world reveals the essence of God’s character — He is absolutely holy; not the slightest degree of evil or sin has a place in God’s economy; it is precisely this reason that purity and holiness and joy and peace and goodness do not exist in our fallen world… though “relative peace and joy and goodness exist at some level in our world, absolute peace and joy and goodness do not” — since we are men and women of flesh, we naturally think we are far better creatures than we really are; that is simply the deception of our flesh… fallen, humanistic thinking is completely blind to absolute truth. Since all of us are men and women of flesh, if we are to grow in grace and wisdom, “we must humble ourselves before the Lord that He might open our hearts and minds that we might understand divine truth” (cf. Acts 16:14; Rom 12:2; 1 Th 1:4; Heb 4:12; Jam 1:21; 4:6). We are to take up our cross and follow Christ, and not live life according to the flesh. Again, though we don’t have the full answer to the problem of pain, we know that pain, suffering and death are associated with sin and evil; after the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, it filled the entire created order (cf. Gen 3:6-24; Rom 3:23; 8:20-25). Though the pain and suffering that results from sin is not being judged by God in its fullness at this point, in the eternal state wickedness and unrighteousness will be; the eternal state of hell will possess absolutely no joy, no peace, and no happiness — NONE! There will only be pain, suffering and misery — such a dark destiny is extremely difficult to imagine; on the other hand, in the eternal state of heaven there will be no suffering, no pain, no tears, no mourning, no death, and no crying; only joy and peace and pleasure for evermore in heaven above (cf. Rev 21:4)… “Things which the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, and which have not entered the hearts of men, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (cf. 1 Cor 2:9); remember, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forever” (cf. Ps 16:11)… “so fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Pet 1:13; Rom 8:24-25; 12:10-13; 15:13; Eph 1:18-23; Col 1:27; 1 Tim 6:17; Titus 3:7; 1 Jn 3:2-3). Again, neither of these two eternal states can be fully comprehended in our temporal world.
Regarding God, from all eternity He has never changed — “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8); in a word, “God is unchanging,” He is self-existent (cf. Jn 5: 26), He is eternal (cf. Ex 3:14), and is enthroned as King forever (cf. Ps 29:10; 48:14). Further-more, since God is omniscient, there is nothing at all that is new under the sun to Him (cf. 1 Jn 3:20; Jn 21:17; Heb 4:13). Now, since God is holy and righteous, He despises evil (cf. Nah 1:3, 6); thus He executes His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (cf. Rom 1:18). With that in mind, death & hell are the two most disturbing realities that exist in our universe — should a person not understand how terrible evil is or how much God hates it, he will also have a very shallow understanding of God’s love for him, and the extent of His suffering on the cross for us. Because evil is not that big a negative in the minds of men, neither is God’s love that big a positive in their minds; if someone loved me in spite of my ugliness, that would be far more significant than someone loving me because I was such a wonderful person; after all, I would be somewhat worthy of their love. Now just as God brought about our justification through the suffering of Christ on the cross… as believers, it is our suffering that helps bring about our sanctification (i.e., being transformed into the image of Christ) — you’ll notice suffering accomplishes both our salvation & our sanctification; without suffering one would not be saved, nor would his life be transformed. As believers, we become transformed into the image of Christ by embracing the God-life and dying to the self life (i.e., dying to our flesh), and that is a war that involves pain and suffering. Since the “change in our lives that takes place” is so significant, one must war against his inner self (i.e., his flesh)… though our efforts are no way near perfect, they are efficacious because God is also doing a transforming work in us (cf. Phil 2:12-13; 2 Cor 3:18), and His work is far and away the most significant.
Like most Christians here in America back in the middle of the twentieth century, I was raised in a Christian culture that pretty much taught that Christ did all of the suffering for us; that all we needed to do was be grateful for His suffering, and embrace it, and in so doing our lives would be transformed. There was very little teaching on the importance of the believer’s suffering; the message most heard back then was this — “Don’t make your suffering a big issue, because you will minimize Christ’s suffering.” The reality was, there was a lot of extremely shallow teaching on “sin” in the life of the believer, and his dying to it; it was just a very complex doctrine that they simply didn’t know how to fully address. It was not at all uncommon to hear leaders respond with statements like this on matters that people had different opinions on: “Since there is no universal understanding and agreement on that subject, we just leave it alone.” For some reason, that kind of logic was common in the Christian world back then; due to the fact there wasn’t widespread agreement on certain doctrinal issues, many churches didn’t feel it was important to address such matters. Besides that, different denominations taught different things on various issues; be it, the Lord’s Table andcommunion, miracles, hell, the washing of feet, sanctification, baptism, speaking in tongues, or the inerrancy of Scripture. As such, many denominations either gave primary focus to their differences with other churches to keep their parishioners in house… or they simply ignored these differences, because they didn’t want to argue with other Christians; though that may sound like the loving thing to do, many of these churches often ended up avoiding some of the most significant teachings in the Bible.
The reality is, if one fails to study the totality of Scripture, his theology is going to be very shallow and deficient; remember, God didn’t forward “His divine revelation” to us in a little 25 page book; it is actually a small library of sixty-six individual books that in total are anywhere from 1500-1800 pages long (depending on the publishing company that prints it). According to Scripture, those who are pastors, leaders and teachers “need to be diligent to present themselves approved to God as workmen who do not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Likewise, James (the blood-brother of Jesus), who was the leader of the Jerusalem Council in the first century church (cf. Acts 15:1-2ff & 15:13ff) said, “Let not many of you become teachers, because you are going to incur a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1). Keep in mind, throughout the Old Testament the Jewish people were judged severely by God for distorting the teachings of Scripture; so to assume that mere humanistic thinking is sufficient when dealing with “divine truth,” is a very danger-ous road to travel down. One can only imagine what will transpire on the day of judgment — due to the fact many leaders fail to give careful attention to what God’s Word teaches, they are going to pay a very steep price for being so reckless with Scripture; incidentally, that is precisely how Jesus dealt with the religious leaders of His day (cf. Mt 23:13; 23:27-28; Mk 6:34; Lk 11:36). Beloved, if you are a believer, take your salvation seriously, and ask God for the grace to fully understand His Word (Jam 1:21). In addition to that, don’t attend a church where divine truth is simply treated simplistically, and is nothing but just a little social club. Instead, be like the people in ancient Berea; when Paul spoke to them in their synagogue, “they not only received the word with great eagerness, they examined the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were indeed true” (cf. Acts 17:11). If you will humble yourself before God, and diligently pursue the truth, He will convey it to your heart (cf. Acts 16:14; Jam 1:21; Jn 14:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 2:27). It is when you treat His Word lightly that you are going to err and stumble. By the way, don’t let Satan tell you that you are not smart enough to understand God’s Word; if you have any normal level of intelligence, which a good 99% of the world does, God will give you the grace to both hear what He is saying and understand it — simply humble yourself before Him and give careful consideration to what His Word says — “long for the pure milk of the Word” (cf. 1 Pet 2:2; Jer 15:16); when you do, God will open your heart to know and understand truth; this is not a matter of acquiring some level of divine wisdom through human genius or intellectual thinking.
None of us live perfect lives in this world… not even close! Our flesh simply has too strong a presence in our lives; that is precisely what the Apostle Paul said: “I often do the very things I hate… because of the sin which dwells in me… the reality is, nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not… so the principle of evil is present in me” (cf. Rom 7:15, 18, 21; also Lk 18:19; Jam 3:2; Ecc 7:20). Remember, we are “fallen creatures” — though we are saved fallen creatures, we are still fallen creatures nonetheless. It is true, we are now “new creatures in Christ and new creations,” but the “old self” is still present within us, and it is the old self (i.e., our innate sinful flesh) that is such a distressing reality in our lives, and that which God asks us to fight against and reject (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 4:22-24; Rom 6:12). Though we are forgiven unto all eternity, we still inhabit sinful flesh in this life, and just as Christ died for our sins to make us one of His children, so we must die to our sins so that we might become like Christ in character. Again, though Christ died for our sins to justify us… He calls us to die to our sin that He might sanctify us. Keep in mind, Jesus suffered for our innate sinfulness (i.e., our self-centeredness); in so doing, He asks us to also suffer and die to our sins (i.e., our self-centeredness) – cf. 1 Pet 2:21, 24; 4:1-3; 5:10 – when we say “no” to our flesh, we die to our sins and live to righteousness. Our problem as fallen creatures is that we want life to be “pleasant,” and not at all unpleasant; we are always searching for that which is pleasant — when unpleasant thoughts and circumstances beset us, we look for that which is pleasant; in a word, we hate that which is unpleasant; that is simply the way our flesh operates — feeling good is the bottom line of our flesh. The problem is, our flesh will not tolerate pain and suffering… so the battle is against our flesh, which is a very emotional relic in our lives. And dealing with our flesh (i.e., our sinful inner core) is no little matter; it is not like we can press a little button in our inner core, and cause our flesh to bend the knee and auto-matically defer to divine truth; not at all, our flesh vehemently argues its case… if we listen to its argument, our focus will be fleshly, and we will fail to yield to divine truth. As James wrote, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust (desires)… which gives birth to sin” (Jam 1:14-15). So our “thinking” plays a vital role when combating our flesh; as Paul writes, “we are transformed by the renewing of our mind” (cf. Rom 12:2); if we entertain fleshly thoughts we are going to succumb to the flesh; it’s argument is simply too strong for us to ignore. If you play games with the flesh, you are going to lose; you must immediately turn away from fleshly think-ing. Over and over again, we all ask God to deliver us from that which is unpleasant… when He doesn’t, we become disappointed and discouraged and occasionally angry. The reality is, our feelings often run the show in our lives, and cause great consternation in our soul. Again, it is our feelings that frequently cause us to run amuck and lead us astray; and our feelings are the product of our thinking. The reality is, sometimes we feel incredible pain and anxiety in our soul, and it just overwhelms us — when that which we are experiencing in life is depressing and painful, our inner core can just go bonkers, and to our dismay, it is often uncontrollable, and we just cry out to God for His deliverance. Thankfully, God in His mercy quiets our soul and relieves us of the pain that lies within us — though relief isn’t necessarily instantaneous, as Jeremiah said, “God’s mercies are new every morning” (Lam 3:22-23; Ps 46:1, 5). The pain of extreme anguish can be very troubling and distressing, yet God lets it penetrate our inner core that He might accomplish His higher purposes in us. Pain and suffering are not little insignificant realities in our lives; they are the most significant means by which God does His trans-forming work in us (cf. Phil 2:13; Heb 13: 20-21). Now, when we know suffering is temporary we can focus better on God’s reason for suffering, which is to strengthen our faith, as well as our character and eternal hope.
All Christians suffer. As Paul reminds us, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This reality is a stark reminder that we have not reached the new heavens and the new earth. The New Jerusalem of no pain and no suffering and no death has not arrived yet (cf. Rev 21:1, 4). As Joseph Scheumann & Dave Zuleger of Bethlehem Seminar in Minneapolis state, “Just because we experience suffering as we await the redemption of our bodies, doesn’t mean that our suffering is random or with-out purpose.” Following are twelve important biblical truths about suffering that every believer should know:
1. Suffering is multifaceted; it can be mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual.
2. Suffering is transformational; it is the primary agent God uses to sanctify us.
3. Suffering highlights our dependence; it keeps us mindful of our need of God.
4. Suffering reveals our weaknesses; it helps us see ourselves for who we really are.
5. Suffering discloses our strength; it shows us how strong our faith really is.
6. Suffering builds our endurance; the testing of our faith produces endurance.
7. Suffering reveals God’s mercy; the Lord comforts us in all our afflictions.
8. Suffering is a communal issue; the church is to be a refuge for the suffering.
9. Suffering is a battleground; wherever there is suffering, there is a battle
10. Suffering prepares us for glory; momentary affliction prepares us for eternity.
11. Suffering matures us; it changes us so that we see the world and life differently.
12. Suffering equips for ministry; when we have passed through our own fiery trials, and found God to be true, we now have real help to offer others. Though we naturally try to avoid suffering at all costs, God brings suffering into our lives to make us the people He wants us to be and prepare us for eternal joy & glory.
A CORRELATIVE OF SUFFERING IS GOD’S LAW
Since the foundation of suffering ultimately is sin, a correlative of suffering is the Law of God. The primary means by which God reveals sin to be sin and sinners to be sinners is the Law of God in Scripture, and that revelation is the primary purpose of the Law (cf. Rom 3:20). Now, essentially the Law of God is an expression of the character of God. Though a typical view of the Law is that its purpose is to teach us how to be good, that is not the Bible’s emphasis — its main purpose is to convince us that we are sinners and that we need a Savior; and it points us to Christ (cf. Gal 3:24). Remember, the central teaching of Jesus was that “men turn from their sin” (cf. Mt 4:17; Mk 1:4-5, 15; Jn 1:29) — He came to this world to not only let men know that they are “sinners,” but to pay the penalty of their sins on the cross, that they might die to sin and live to righteousness (cf. 2 Pet 2:24). It should be noted, life itself teaches us that we are self-centered, sinful creatures; the reality is, it increasingly teaches us these things with age — the older a person gets the more evident his sinful inner core becomes (cf. Eph 4:22); so for an older person to deny his innate sinfulness, is the absolute epitome of foolishness. Remember, the Law of God has been placed in every man’s heart, so he is without excuse (cf. Rom 1:18-25; 2:14-15). Now, in spite of the fact that not all men are men of faith, all men are to live under a civil law, that evil might be restrained from running rampant; this has been the case since the days of Noah (cf. Gen 9). As John Calvin said, “This constrained and forced righteousness is necessary for the public community of men.” With the foregoing in mind, the Law is not the basis for the relationship that God desires with His creatures; essentially, the purpose of the Law is to reveal sin as sin and sinners as sinners. The Law was given to strip away the hypocrisy of the human heart, and show man his depravity. Said the apostle Paul, “If it had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom 7:7). “Thus the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (not by our obedience to the Law – Gal 3:24). The great summation of the Law in the Old Testament is contained in both Exodus and Deuteronomy (Ex 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21). Half of the Decalogue deals with our relationship to God — it tells us that we are to worship Him only, have no idols, keep His name holy, and keep His Sabbath. The second half of the Decalogue speaks of the relationship we are to have with other people; we are to honor our parents, refrain from killing, adultery, stealing, and lying, and not even wish for anything that belongs to another. Remember, the primary function of the Law is to expose sin; it wasn’t given to man that he might become perfect. Said Paul, “What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did sending His own Son as an offering for sin… He condemed sin in the flesh” (cf. Rom 8:3; Heb 4:15). So here we were as fallen human beings — we had this absolutely perfect Law, but we could not keep it (Rom 8:3); and that also was taught in the Law… hence, James Montgomery Boyce, one of the greatest preachers in the twentieth century, says in his renowned work “Foundations of the Christian Faith” — God also gave instructions concerning the “sacrifice.” Though God said in His Law, “You shall not….” He also quietly went on to say, “But I know you will, and this is the way to get out of it” (p. 224). So the “sacrifice” played an extremely important role in ancient Israel — man needed to humbly deal with his sins before the Lord; it was not a matter “if you sin,” it was a matter of “when you sin.” And nothing has changed in the human family (cf. Jam 3:2; Ecc 7:20; Ps 73:26; Prv 24:16; Rom 7:18; 1 Jn 1:10). Much to our amazement, God sent His Son to this world to be “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” “He died for our sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (cf. 1 Pet 3:18; Rom 6:10). As Boyce states, “Before God can give us the gospel, He must slay us with the Law. But as He does so, He shows us that the Law contains the gospel and points us to it” (p. 225).
The gospel provides us with “freedom from condemnation;” because Jesus died for our sins, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1); Jesus paid for every sin that we have committed or ever will commit. Though all of us are born sinners, who lack the ability to do good before God, and are inclined to do evil, when we place our faith in Christ, He frees us from all our sins by dying for them. He paid the full penalty of our sins that the Law of God requires (cf. Rom 6:23)… in so doing, we now have right standing before God — because we have believed in Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us; i.e., it has been accredited to our account (cf. Rom 4:2-6; 10:4; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24); thus the Law is no longer a threat to us. In spite of the fact that we frequently sin and disobey God, we are still God’s children; He dealt with all of our sin on the cross and made us brand new creatures in Christ — as is the case with any new born creature, one has a lot of learning and growing to do, and that is precisely what is now going on in our lives as believers. A part of the Economy of God for us as believers is that He subjects us to trials and suffering in order to grow our faith and transform us into the image of Christ; so His dying for our sins, means we are now to die to our sins — it is not as though we can walk through this life in the flesh and doing whatever pleases us, without experiencing God’s discipline and chastening (cf. Heb 12:5-11); we are to lay aside the old self, and put on the new self, by being renewed in the spirit of our mind (Eph 4:22-24; 2 Cor 5:17); remember, the mind is the center of thought, understanding, faith, motive, and actions (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:1, 2, 10; 1 Pet 2:2; Prv 23:7). Even though we may be immature children of God, we now stand before God with a clean record because of the cross. It was this principle (i.e., “this freedom”) that made such a significant impact upon Paul, the apostle; he had given himself to obedience to the Law; but the Law was a stern taskmaster that was extremely burdensome to him… though he obeyed the Law to a degree that probably no one else ever had, he was still not nearly as righteous as God insists that man be, and he sensed that (Acts 26:14). Through the gospel he discovered a righteousness that set him free from the Law of sin and death (Rom 8:2); it is only the righteousness of Christ that meets the requirements of God perfectly, and liberates us from the demands of the Law. It should be obvious to everyone, if fallen man doesn’t have the ability to achieve the righteousness of God, then either God resolves man’s problem, or he will never have right standing before God. To think that God took all of our sin upon Himself to make us righteous creatures, is a mind-boggling concept; but that indeed is what happened at the cross. Now in contradis-tinction to “walking according to the Law,” as believers we are now free to “walk according to the Spirit” (that is, we can now simply follow the voice of God to our hearts, and not be consumed with every aspect of the Law) — as we turn the control of our lives over to the Holy Spirit (by our own volition), He empowers us to love God and love others; which, incidentally, is precisely what the Law requires! (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18; Mt 22:36-40)… but only by “walking in the Spirit will we not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). To walk in the Spirit means to allow Him to have His way… to remain in communion with Him… to make decisions in the light of His holiness… and to be occupied with Christ. When we walk in the Spirit, we say no to “the flesh” (i.e., reject “the self-life”) and treat it as that which is dead. Remember, “the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit sets its desires against the flesh; they are in opposition to each other so that we may not do the things that we please” (Gal 5:17). If we do not possess an ongoing conscious relationship with Christ, we will experience very little peace or joy in our life — over and over again, the apostle John spoke of “abiding & dwelling in Christ and His Word;” he said, “If you abide in My Word… you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32); when we don’t abide in God’s Word (i.e., walk in the light) we will find our self in bondage to sin. The night before Jesus went to the cross He told His disciples, “Abide in Me… because you cannot bear fruit apart from Me… just as I have loved you, abide in My love” (Jn 15:4, 5, 9). By the way, “If you will abide in Christ, when He appears at the Second Coming, you will not shrink away from Him in shame” (1 Jn 2:28); that’s a very poignant statement — the reality is, some believers will “not be able to look Christ in the eye” when He appears, because they did not live a life of obedience and faith (i.e., they didn’t strive to walk with Christ). Though that is very difficult to imagine, according to Scripture that is a reality some believers are going to experience. If there is one thing we as believers must do, “it is to fight the fight of faith” and do our best to “walk with Christ”in this world (cf. 1 Tim 6:12; Col 1:10; 2:6). Will we do it perfectly? of course not… but as believers we must stubbornly insist on living the God-life rather than living the self-life. As Paul said, “I beat my body and make it my slave” (cf. 1 Cor 9:27; Rom 8:13).
Due to the fact we inhabit sinful flesh, “perfection” is not possible in this life; as such, we all experience the residual effects of sin, which are not at all pleasant. When we stumble in life and sin, the residual effect will be somewhat painful. As previously stated, suffering is a correlative of sin; though it may result from the sinfulness of our world, it can also be the result of our own personal sinful behavior. Remember, “we all reap what we sow in life” (Gal 6:7); though sometimes that is an eternal requisite when it involves some “good” that we have done, when it involves a “sin” that we as believers have committed, it is a temporal requisite (i.e., we reap in this life what we sow). Though the believer reaps the painful consequences of sin in this life; that is not necessarily so for the unbeliever; eternal punishment awaits him. Said Peter, “Beloved, the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God, and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sin-ner?” (1 Pet 4:17-18). The reality is, judgment is happening in the community of believers as we speak — God is purging & chastening the Church that it might more reflect Christ and do the Kingdom’s work… our transformation (i.e., our sanctification) is a work in progress, and involves being disciplined, scourged and purged (cf. Heb 12:4-11); if sin no longer existed within us as believer, that would not be the case, but since sin does exist in us (i.e., in our flesh), it’s expression must be purged from us. Now for a believer to somehow think that sin isn’t that big a deal in his life, is to be completely ignorant of what Scrip-ture teaches; beloved, we all inhabit sinful flesh, and that is no small matter. Though Christ resides in us in the person of the Holy Spirit, so also does sin; and just as our sinful inner core (i.e., our flesh) hates God, so also God hates our sinful flesh (Gal 5:17). That word “hates” is a difficult one for many believers, because it doesn’t quite equate with the English word “hate” — we’re not just talking about the emotion of hate, we’re talking about “the lack of relationship” that our flesh and God do not have; the truth is, our flesh and God have nothing in common. In antiquity, God said, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (cf. Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:13); what God was saying was this: “I have relationship with Jacob, but I don’t have one with Esau.” In like manner, God has relationship with with us as believers, but no relationship with unbelievers; why is that? “because they are of their father the devil” (Jn 8:44), and the devil absolutely “hates God;” i.e., he will not submit to Him! Likewise, God will not submit to the devil! Thank God He won’t! or life would be nothing but “HELL!” Many of you were raised with a very deficient understanding of God, sin and hell… some of you actually thought sin wasn’t that big a deal, that it was highly unlikely that hell even existed — thus you may identify with people who say things like this: “I just can’t believe in a God who permits death and suffering and hell.” Little did you know, all such thinking is of the devil and the product of one’s flesh. By the way, that line of thinking is not at all uncommon in the liberal Christian world; it’s actually a doctrinal absolute in some churches. And now we even have a “Pope” who doesn’t believe in hell, much to the chagrin of many in the Catholic world; how one could ever have been chosen to be the Pope, and be that corrupt in his thinking is very difficult to understand… but that is simply the essence of humanistic thinking in our world — Satan and the flesh is its author.
Due to the pain and suffering that results from sin, God lets us experience it so that we might properly deal with our sin — i.e., that we might go to the Lord and make proper confession of it. In certain situations, the sin may be grievous; as such, the result might be extra painful. When David sinned with Bathsheba (cf. 2 Sam 11), and actually arranged the death of her husband, God placed His hand heavily upon him, to the point where he ultimately bent his knee before God and acknowledged his wrong-doing. Wrote David, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For night and day Thy hand was heavy upon me, and my vitality was drained away as with the fever-heat of summer; hence I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (cf. Ps 32:3-5). That is precisely how God deals with our sins — never are the results of our sins pleasant, therefore we often go to the Lord immediately and confess our sins… but when we delay in confessing our wrong-doing, God puts pressure on us until we take appropriate action. In this sense, pain serves a very worthwhile purpose — it gets us out of the flesh. Since sin causes consternation in the soul, oftentimes it means painful nights in bed and turmoil in the heart… sometimes the residual effects of sin can be very discon-certing and overwhelming… pain in the soul is the antithesis of peace. Now with all of the foregoing in mind, remember, as believers “we have been called to be participants in the cosmic battle between good and evil,” and that war will never cease until God completely shuts it down at the end of the age. That you and I sin as believers is “very troubling to us,” because it does not at all define the life we had hoped to live; obviously our flesh has a very pronounced presence in our lives, and try though as we may to completely destroy it, we can’t… God isn’t going to remove it from us until the end of the age… meanwhile, we must commit ourselves to warring against our inner core, as well as this world and Satan. If “sin” wasn’t the premiere issue of life in our world, that would be one thing, but sin is the pre-miere negative of life (the death of Christ Himself ought to speak very loudly regarding that). To somehow think that sin shouldn’t be a problem in a believer’s life, is beyond reason — God left our horrific flesh in us that we might wrestle with it and fight against it to the praise of His glory until He takes us home! Again, we are fighting the eternal cosmic battle between good and evil (this is a battle both the heavenly and earthly realms are watching and participating in), and as God’s children we are to be servants of the Most High in fighting that battle. Beloved, please don’t make your church just a little social club; it is there where you need to be taught the unequivocal truths of Scripture, and bind yourself with other believers, and do the work of service.
DOES GOD FEEL OUR PAIN WHEN WE SUFFER?
The author of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities and weaknesses, but one who was tempted in all ways such as we are” (Heb 14:5). Obviously, there are moments when we find it very difficult to reign in our emotions when we are hurting… the question is, “Does God really understand and empathize with the fullness of what we are going through?” Since Jesus was God in the flesh when He walked on this earth (Phil 2:7), “He faced every temptation that you and I face in life; as such, He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities” (Heb 14:5). That word “touched” comes from the Greek word “sumpatheo,” which means “to share an experience with someone” or “to sympathize with and have compassion for someone.” With that in mind, Jesus empathizes with every temptation and struggle that we face in life… in spite of the fact that God knows all things (i.e., He is omniscient), Jesus experienced everything that we as fallen creatures experience, so He identifies and sympathizes with us, and has compassion for us regarding what we may be feeling and facing in life. Because of His experiences, He understands the emotions, frustrations, and temptations we face in life; so there is no need to feel embarrassed to go to our Savior. God understands our dilemma, our problems, our disappointments, our temptations, and our emotions. Now, if Jesus was not tempted in every way in which we are tempted, He would not be able to fully empathize with us or serve as our great High Priest. If God was not tempted in every way such as we are, we would have a very difficult time relating to Him, because He would be such a distant reality to us; obviously God knew our limitations and our need to fully relate to Him on a level that was extremely relational, not just on an ethereal level. The Old Testament priests were not only mortal, but were also sinful like everyone else, and in need of redemption & reconciliation; consequently, before offering sacrifices for the people they were obliged to offer sacrifices for their own sins — an action that plainly attested to their own imperfection (cf. Heb 5:3; 7:27). As the author of Hebrews states: “Jesus had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He had suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb 2:17-18). It was the Father’s will that Christ suffer all things for us (cf. Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8-10).
Regarding our High Priest, the late R. C. Sproul says, “Far from being a Savior who knows nothing about the human condition, the Lord Jesus can sympathize with us in all of our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). The great Reformer John Calvin says, “These weaknesses include both external evils and internal feelings of the soul” (i.e., the flesh) — Jesus can sympathize with all our weaknesses because He lived as a human being and experienced the things that we experience. Conversely, the renowned 17th century British theologian John Owen said, Christ’s sympathy with us means three things: First, it means that He is concerned for us; He is concerned for us when we are hungry, when we are in trouble, and when we are tempted. Second, it means that He can relieve our suffering; that He can provide for our daily needs, save us when we are in trouble, and help us avoid engaging in sin. And Third, it means that He can experience what we feel emotionally; insofar as our emotions are not sinful. Jesus rejoices with us when we rejoice over things that are good, and He mourns with us when we mourn over the loss of things that are good. Remember, Jesus not only bore our sins, He bore the full poignancy of them as well; our sins weighed extremely heavily upon Him; He felt the absolute fullness of our sin. With that in mind, He also feels the painful drag of our flesh. Before the incarnation, God was extremely concerned for His people; He felt sorrow for them (cf. Is 63:9), and He helped His people in time of trouble. Remember, in the incarnation, Jesus humbled Himself and came in the likeness of men (cf. Phil 2:5-11); in so doing, He was tempted in all ways such as we, thus He sympathizes greatly with our weaknesses (cf. Heb 4:15) — God knows that this little life is no pleasant little life; that was never His intension… He is very much aware of the waywardness of our flesh, and the absolute corrupt nature of everything in our world, and the presence of the evil one whose goal it is to destroy us. So our Savior indeed is a great High Priest. Because many churches only teach a small portion of what Scripture teaches, the faith of their parishioners is not nearly as inclusive as it should be. The issues of pain, suffering, sin, and the flesh are seldom addressed in their fullness.
Christ not only bore our sins, He bore the poignancy of them as well. It is not as if our sins didn’t weigh heavily upon Him; the weight of them was extremely heavy. Jesus felt the fullness (pain) of our sin, and the drag of our flesh. Remember, Jesus encountered the tempta-tions of Satan in the wilderness, so He knows full-well what it means to walk in our shoes. He was tempted in all points such as we (cf. Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 2:16) — Satan tempted Him with “the lust of the flesh” (Mt 4:2-3); “the lust of the eyes” (Mt 4:8-9); and “the pride of life” (Mt 4:5-6). Though it is not possible for us to know the pressure that He must have felt, He experienced temptation at a level that transcends fallen man; to minimize the extent of what Jesus experienced would not at all correspond with what Scripture teaches. If the weight of temptation that Jesus experienced was “zero,” He doesn’t know what it is like to be tempted. In some way, Jesus knows exactly what it is like to experience the absolute fullest possible weight of temptation; exactly how He experienced it is unknown, but to say that He didn’t feel the weight of it would be a contradiction of reality; thus He would lack the ability to genuinely empathize with what He does not know. As the author of Hebrews says, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one who was tempted in all points like we are” (Heb 4:15). Now just as our High Priest died for us on the cross, He is now living for us in heaven — we have a Friend above who sympathizes with us, and as our Intercessor He continually pleads our case before the Throne; so we are encouraged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Without a merciful High Priest, our prayers would possess no efficacy at all, and our efforts at obedience would never avail. If Jesus did not suffer for us and wash us in His own precious blood, and clothe us with the robe of His imputed righteousness… we would not have a righteous standing before God, the hope of forgiveness, or communion with Him; we would simply be lost in darkness. Beloved, whatever your need is, whatever your weakness, whatever your trial or infirmity, do not simply brood over it… instead, bring it to the throne of grace, and cast it on the tenderness and sympathy of your compassionate High Priest. When you do, you will be able to say as the psalmist David did, “I cried out to the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (cf. Ps 18:6; 22:5, 24; 30:2; 31:22; 34:6; 107:6, 13, 19, 28). Plead earnestly as David did and experience God’s intervention in your life. The Lord loves to chase grief from the troubled spirit… and bind the broken heart… and dry the weeping eye… and comfort those who mourn. Remember, Jesus can be touched with the feeling of your infirmity and sorrow. It is ever His delight to prove Himself the strength of your fainting heart, and the support of your sinking soul, and visit you in the hour of sorrow and calamity.
Now, if God does not sympathize with our humanness (weaknesses), we are really in for a mess… that would mean God is very intolerant of our faults & shortcomings; thus giving us reason to be afraid and scared. If that was the case, God would be far more demanding than loving… far more intolerant than tolerant… far more judgmenttal than understanding… and far more denigrating than forgiving. Remember, even as God’s people, we are to be a people of love, a people who forgive, and a people who bear other peoples burdens — i.e., we are to be like God. Obviously, if God asks such things of us, how can we think of Him as being someone who doesn’t Himself embrace these standards? Our problem as fallen creatures is that twisted humanistic thinking, and Satan’s input into our minds, frequently rules in our hearts and we succumb to it… yet such does not define who God is. For nearly two-thousand years the Christian world did not believe in a “passionate God;” instead it believed in an “impassible God” (i.e., a God without passions) — this was clearly taught in both Article I of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, and chapter two of the Westminster Confession. The fact that God does not experience suffering, and that He is not affected by anything outside of Himself was widely taught in the Christian world for almost two-thousand years; people simply believed that God’s qualities of mercy and comfort were just a part of who He is (what God always has been and always will be). Since emotion was looked down upon in the ancient Greco-Roman world, such thinking also had an influence on Christian thinking as well — emotions were looked upon as a weakness, and since God has no weakness He is not an emotional person. Suffering seemed incompatible with divine blessedness; however, since that view seemed to convey the idea that God was devoid of an affectionate nature that was essential to personality and agape love, the Bishop Conference in 1786 omitted such words from the Thirty Nine Articles. The Old Testament portrays God as holding Israel in His arms like a shepherd (Is 40:11), redeeming and restoring His scattered children (Is 43:5-7), loving with a love greater than a mother’s tenderness (Is 49:15), and comforting as a mother comforts her child (Is 66:13). The rela-tionship of love to suffering stands out in God’s suffering servant (Is 53); God pours out His righteous indignation upon the ungodly who persecuted His people (Is 63:1-6). The heavenly Father was so moved by human sin that He sent His Son into the world to suffer as humans suffer, to sacrifice Himself, and to lay the foundation for His Church. Now if God is affected by us then He also suffers, because He enters into our sinful suffering experiences. Remember the words of Paul, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit [by walking in sin]” (Eph 4:30). Like us God weeps, feels pain, and longs for the coming redemption that will also free Him from this current bondage. When God finally puts death away and wipes every tear from His people’s eyes, He will also be wiping every tear from His own eye, and delivering Himself from a literally unimaginable amount of suffering and grief. The reality is… we don’t worship an apathetic God.
God understands all things… He is omniscient, and He is well aware of the fact that we all differ in different ways… that our experiences in life are not all the same… that some of us have undergone great difficulties in life, whereas others have not — God knows all this! Though we may recklessly judge others, we should keep in mind the old Indian maxim that says, “Don’t judge others unless you have not walked in their shoes.” The wonderful reality of our God is that He has walked in our shoes… He understands everything about everyone of us! Though our fallenness is an incredibly difficult reality for us to understand, God understands it completely… He has born everyone of our sins. Just as we are relational creatures, so is our God — after all, we were created in His image. If He can’t relate to us as creatures made in His image, He can’t empathize with our weaknesses. The truth is, our God is a compassionate God (cf. Ps 103:8; Ex 34:6-7; Deut 4:30-31; Ps 78:38; Joel 2:12-13; 2 Cor 1:3-4). As John R. W. Stott stated in his work, “The Cross of Christ” — “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” The reality is, our God entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death, and suffered for us. Jesus faced the same frustrations that we do in life, yet He never fell into one of Satan’s traps. Imagine the frustration that Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He went to the cross — He had invested more than three years of His life in His disciples, and for the first time “He needed them.” Jesus asked the three disciples who were with Him to pray for Him during His hour of temptation — He asked them for only one hour of prayer, but instead of praying they fell asleep. He came and pleaded with them a second time to pray with Him, but once more they fell asleep. And for a third time, He came and besought His disciples to pray, but again they fell asleep (Mt 26:37-45). What if you had given three years of your life to your friends, but when you asked them to help you, they failed you again and again? Would it not be easy to become resentful, upset, and even offended? Yet Jesus never fell into the trap of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. In fact, even as He hung on the Cross, He prayed for those who had perpetrated this evil against Him: “Father, forgive them…” (Lk 23:34). The reality is, Jesus is on our side! Hebrews 4:16 goes on to promise us that when we go to Him for help, “we will obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Remember, Jesus understands precisely what we are going through because He experienced that same temptation when He walked on this earth. Remember, He suffered from hatred, rejection, mockery, physical pain, and being forsaken by God the Father — the reality is, He was subjected to all the kinds of trials that we are subjected to. Because Jesus had a human nature, He felt the full force of temptation; if He had not been clothed in the likeness of men, He would not have understood the terrific struggle of a poor sin-ner who is mightily tempted to yield. Though Jesus didn’t cave into temptation, He understands full-well the pull that it has on us, because He understands how incredibly weak we are; as the author of Hebrews said, “He sympathizes with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15); He knows we are not men and women of great strength. He is not blind to any reality; He knows full-well all we are experiencing as fallen creatures. The Bible describes Jesus as “a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief… Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions… He was bruised for our iniquities; the chasatisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Is 53:3-5). No one has suffered more in all the universe than God the Father and His Son; in so doing, He has revealed to us just how much He loves us and cares for us. Beloved, He died for us, that we will never have to pay the penalty of death for our sins! It is Satan who tries to deceive us with reckless thinking, and convince us that God is nothing but an extremely rigid task-master who actually hates us.
Have you ever suffered unjustly in this world? Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trust? Have you been abandoned by your family? Are you a victim of false accusations? Have you been punished for something that you did not commit? Do you suffer from pains in the past that you just can’t forget? One of the premiere Asian pastors in Los Angeles, Bermie Dizon, reminds us that nearly all of us experience humiliation and injustices to some degree, and wonder how we can rise above the sting of despair and humiliation. In light of that, one person some of us can relate to in the Bible is Joseph — his life was a series of humiliating stories… he was betrayed by the people he trusted… his family abandoned him… he was a victim of false accusations and suffered injustice… he was punished for a crime he did not commit. Joseph’s life as God’s servant was not about the absence of problems. It was about God’s grace towards him and how he responded to all the challenges that he faced. At the end, he positively declared God’s goodness above every humiliating event in his life. As we reflect upon all of the injustice that goes on in our world — we see bombs, bullets, beheadings, hunger, and diseases afflicting innocent lives — it is difficult to fully identify with all of the suffering that some people are going through. How can we possibly feel their pain? The truth is, the only way we can genuinely feel another’s person’s pain is by being that person. So the question is, “How can God possibly know our suffering and genuinely feel our pain?” History reminds us of a King who wanted to truly know his people and feel what they feel… so he laid aside his royal robes, put on some old dirty work clothes, left his palace, and went out and lived among the people; in so doing, he became extremely sensitive to what it meant to be a common man in his kingdom. Interestingly enough, this is how God is able to feel our pain. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ became lower than the angels, and became a man so that He might experience the suffering of humanity. It is because He became a man that He can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Heb 4:15) — “He became flesh and dwelled among us” (Jn 1:14). “He shared in our humanity that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest… and make atonement for our sins” (Heb 2:17). Because He knows the limitations of man and the weight of sin and temptation, He is able to identify with us and meet our needs. For whatever reason, God chose to make us the people we are — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death. Amazingly, Jesus had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Through His Son, God has gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money, to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and thought it all worthwhile because of His love for us. If you are experiencing pain at some level as we talk, Jesus is right there with you in the midst of it all… whatever your situation in life, God can fully identify with it… He is there with you.
Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man”… when He entered into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, “He emptied Himself” of some of His attributes in some way, so that He might experience what it means to be “fully human.” Being as we are finite creatures, we don’t really know exactly what He emptied Himself of — was He still God and Deity? Absolutely. Was He still omniscient and omnipotent? There is no way to really know that — remember, when He was asked regarding the time of His second coming and the end of the age, He responded: “Of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, only the Father knows” (cf. Mt 24: 3, 36). The very day that He ascended into heaven, His disciples asked Him when He would be restoring the Kingdom of Israel, to which He responded: “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Obviously, Jesus did not possess all of the knowledge He possessed in eternity past when He spoke all things into existence, but the knowledge that He did possess in our world was exceedingly great — vastly greater than all of the wisdom of the entire human family; nevertheless, the foregoing verses tell us that “He didn’t know all things” when He walked here on earth. Though some theologians argue vehemently against such thinking, the issue itself isn’t that important; if it were, God would have stated it very clearly in His Word. As Paul stated, “Jesus emptied Himself and took on the form of a bondservant, and was made in the likeness of men… that He didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped; that He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In his commentary on the Bible John MacArthur states it this way: “Christ became more than God in a human body… He took on all the essential attributes of humanity (cf. Lk 2:52; Gal 4:4; Col 1:22), even to the extent that He identified with basic human needs and weaknesses” (cf. Heb 2:14, 17; 4:15).
Scripture also tells us that “Christ dwells in us”… thus He feels our pain and shares in our suffering — when we weep, He weeps… and when we rejoice, He rejoices (cf. Rom 12:15; Heb 13:3). As believers we need to take comfort knowing that we are Christ’s body, and that He is with us in our suffering and feels our pain — carefully reflect upon the following verses (cf. Jn 17:23; Rom 8:9-10; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Gal 2:20; Eph 3:16-17). As Paul states, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). It is also important to note that “Jesus grew in wisdom as a man;” that it wasn’t something He possessed as a baby or as a child. “Jesus actually grew very rapidly in wisdom as a boy,” to the extent that others were shocked with His skillful use of knowledge. The gospel according to Luke states it this way: “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him” (Lk 2:40 & 2:52); incidentally, in between the two verses listed, the twelve year old Jesus is found in the Temple (Lk 2:47), where His learning completely astonished the teachers who were there dialoguing with Him. Scripture teaches that Jesus was sitting in the midst of the doctors, both listening to them and asking them questions, and all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers (cf. Lk 2:46-47). As most theologians believe, Jesus came to a growing understanding of His Messianic calling by reading the Scriptures — He had to learn the Bible just as we are supposed to learn it. Obviously, God thought it was important that Jesus learn things the way the rest of us learn things; how else would He identify with us? With that in mind, Jesus fully understands the rational capacity of man to think; He not only gave man his brain, but He experienced it Himself; it should be noted, the ability to think rationally essentially has been given to nearly every human being on this planet; contrary to what some believed years ago, the rational capacities of men are essentially common to the human family; only those who are retarded and mentally deficient lack such qualities. Numerous scientific studies were done in the 20th century to prove the mental capacities of the so-called tribal bush people — whereas it was commonly held that such people were only a cut above the animal world (which was simply evolutionary thinking), scientific studies revealed that such thinking was completely ludicrous; that almost all human beings possess the same rational abilities. I find it interesting that most of the tribal bush people in our world speak languages that have vocabularies that are two and three times larger than the English language; whereas most Americans have a vocabulary of about 15,000 words, most tribal bush people have a vocabulary between 30,000 and 40,000 words. It is also interesting to note that their memories are far better than ours — probably because they don’t depend on written material or put things in writing. Jesus grew in His knowledge of the Word (i.e., the Old Testament) and came to realize how it spoke about Him. The Old Testament enabled Jesus to understand Himself — it was by His studying Scripture where He got so much of His self-identity. When Jesus began His public ministry, it was clear that He knew His relationship to the Old Testament; He knew He was the One that it pointed to all along… so He knew who He was, and He knew what to do. By the way, this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t receive divine revelation by other means as well (e.g., Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22; Jn 5:20). Frequently He spent nights in prayer talking with His Father; no doubt it was during these times that the Holy Spirit gave Him great wisdom — you can almost imagine the dialogue that went on between them. Remember, though Jesus was fully God, He was also fully man… and that again raises the question:
Does Jesus really understand our temptations? One of the great preachers & writers here in America during the 20th century was John Piper, the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis. Many of you have probably read articles and books that he has written. In an article Piper wrote on this particular subject, he reminds us that “since Jesus did not engage in sin, He does not identify with indwelling sin or the deeds of sin.” Though most of us would agree with that, there must be some way in which “Jesus felt the pressure of temptation” — to deny that would make it impossible for Him to genuinely “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). The night before Jesus went to the cross He poured out His heart to His Father and pleaded with Him saying, “Take the cup from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). Obviously the pressure of temptation was upon Him, though He did not succumb to it. It is also important to remember that “Jesus bore our sins on the cross” (1 Pet 2:24), soHe must have experienced the guilt (pain) of our sin. Though Scripture says, “Jesus was tempted in every way such as we are” (Heb 4:15), there are some in the Christian world who do not believe that Jesus was tempted in “every way” such as we; that we should not absolutize the word “every way.” Obviously, it is difficult to fully understand how Jesus could have experienced every type of temptation; due to our lack of fully com-prehending such things, however, doesn’t mean we simply reject such thinking. Since our understanding of temptation is pretty juvenile, it is difficult to make our thinking on this subject the coequivalence of Jesus’ thinking. In some way, Jesus must have felt the “lure to sin” (i.e., the desire to cave into temptation – cf. Jam 1:14) or His temptation wasn’t at all like ours. If that is the case, He would not have possessed a desire to yield to temptation, so His temptation essentially would have almost been meaningless, because He wouldn’t fully be able to identify with our corrupt nature. Now if God can’t fully identify with our weaknesses, then we have reason to be a little discouraged, because it is our weaknesses that cause significant consternation in our soul. Preacher and author John MacArthur states it as follows in his Study Bible: “The genuineness of Christ’s humanity is demonstrated by the fact that He was subject to temptation. By experiencing temptation Jesus became fully capable of understanding and sympathizing with His human brethren. He felt the full force of temptation… Jesus resisted temptation even when the greatest enticement for yielding had become evident” (cf. Lk 4:1-13). Obviously, there are all kinds of sins and temptations, but that doesn’t mean Jesus experienced all of them — for instance, there is homosexuality, drugs, smoking, marijuana, cocaine, selfishness, corrupt behavior, stealing, cheating, sensuality, lying, enmities, jealousy, gossiping, pornography, carousing, drunkenness, outbursts of anger, deceit, etc… you and I aren’t tempted in everyone of these temptations either, but some of these may be problematic to us. Whatever the case was with Jesus, as previously stated, He was tempted in all points such as we (cf. Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 2:16): Satan tempted Him with “the lust of the flesh” (Mt 4:2-3); “the lust of the eyes” (Mt 4:8-9); and “the pride of life” (Mt 4:5-6) — to say that Jesus did not have the slightest desire to cave into temptation, would be akin to completely reinterpreting the concept of temptation. Though it is not possible for us to know the pressure that He must have felt, to say that He did not feel any pressure whatsoever, would not at all correspond with the teaching of Scripture. If the weight of temptation that Jesus experienced was “zero,” He doesn’t know what it is like to be tempted; if it was “zero,” then how could one say that He was tempted? For instance, to say one is tempted to eat some poisonous insect is a complete contradiction; by definition, one is only tempted to do something that he has an innate desire to do — if there is no attraction there is no temptation. Though there was no sinful infirmity in Jesus (i.e., no sinful flesh), in some way He knows what it is like to be fully tempted as we are… however it may have happened, Jesus experienced the full weight of temptation; but exactly how He experienced it is simply unknowable. Now to say that He didn’t feel the weight of temptation would be a contradiction of reality; thus He would lack the ability to genuinely empathize with what He never experienced. Again, though Jesus never sinned, He knows full-well the weight of sin, because He bore the fullness of our sin on the cross; therefore He knows the full pain of our sin and guilt. As the old hymn-writer Charles Gabriel expressed it in his hymn “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” —
I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
and wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned unclean.
How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be;
How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!
He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone.
How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be;
How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!
WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO BELIEVERS?
To begin with, we live in a world of pain and suffering… everyone in the world is ultimately affected by the harsh realities of life. One of the most difficult questions in all of theology is the question of “Why bad things happen to believers?” Since God is sovereign, everything that happens to us is either allowed by God or caused by God. As temporal creatures we must acknowledge that we cannot understand God’s eternal purposes or ways — this was clearly taught in both the Old & New Testaments (cf. Is 55:8-9; Rom 11:33-36). Job, as men-tioned earlier, was the most righteous man in all the earth (Job 1:1), yet he suffered in ways that are almost beyond belief — God allowed Satan to do anything he wanted to do Job except kill him… so Satan did the worst damage he could possibly do to him. Though Job did not at all understand why God allowed the things that He did, He knew God was good and therefore continued to trust in Him; he simply cursed the day he was born and wished he had never existed (Job 3:3). As hard as it is to acknowledge, we must remember “there are no genuinely good people” in the absolute sense of the word. Jesus said: “No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:19). Though that is a difficult construct to accept, that defines the human family. We all live in a fallen world and experience the effects of the fall — there’s no skirting that issue. Now in spite of the foregoing, this world is not the end for us as believers; furthermore, though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). One day we will be rewarded, and it will be glorious — “Our momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (cf. 2 Cor 4:17). As the apostle Paul states, “God is causing all things to work together for good in the lives of His children” (cf. Rom 8:28); keep in mind that is a “causative verb” in Greek, and God is the cause! Though bad things happen to God’s people, keep in mind the worst things in all of human history happened to the only truly Righteous One (Jesus Christ), and that it was through His suffering whereby God loved us to Himself and delivered us from the bondage of sin and death (cf. Rom 7:14; 8:2-3). Obviously God allows things to happen to us for a reason; whether or not we understand His reason, we must all keep in mind that God is good, just, sovereign, loving, and merciful (cf. Ps 135:3). So instead of doubting God’s goodness when bad things happen to us, we must learn to accept that which He has ordained and trust Him for the “good” that will eventually come of it. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived or who ever will live (1 Kg 3:7-12) said, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5-6). Since God has good reasons for everything He does, as believers we must learn to trust Him when our little world is turned upside down.
It is common for fallen man to believe that our universe operates on the basis of… “Do good, receive good; Do bad, receive bad.” However, if this view is accurate, why do utterly despicable people prosper? It was precisely this issue that troubled the psalmist Asaph, a leader of one of the Temple choirs in Jerusalem. Said Asaph, “Surely God is good to Israel, and to those who are pure in heart! But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling… for I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps 73:1-3). When Asaph began to think how well-off the wicked were, and how stricken he was, it began to really trouble him — “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure” (Ps 73:13-14). Obviously, Asaph was not a wealthy man, but one who had dedicated his life to serving God (see 1 Chron 25)… when he considered some of the difficulties that he experienced, he began to question the injustice of it all. Here were the ungodly living in luxury, and here he was living in poverty — his choice to serve God didn’t seem to be helping him at all… when he pondered it all, it was very troubling to him (Ps 73:16), so he began to envy the ungodly and the worldlings (people seemingly with no problems). Only when he entered into the sanctuary of God (i.e., into God’s presence by faith) and carefully considered “their end” (i.e., their ultimate destruction), only then did he experience God’s peace in his soul (Ps 73:17); “the life to come” was now more significant to him then it previously had been. The more he thought about their eternal destiny, the more everything came into focus. He now saw the ungodly as those who were walking on a slippery edge, that sooner or later is going to be completely destroyed (Ps 73:18-20). Those who are spiritually corrupt and have temporal riches on earth, have absolutely no eternal riches in the life to come. Keep in mind, prosperity is a fleeting matter that can be compared to a dream; once you’re awakened, it no longer exists. Said Asaph, “When my heart was embittered…then I was senseless and ignorant” (Ps 73:21-22) — embittered thinking can be very disturbing to our hearts, so when it grabs hold of us, we need to run into God’s presence and give careful consideration to it — as Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and His peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7) — that word “anxious” is merimnao in Greek; literally it means “to have a distracting care” or “to be drawn in a different direction,” so anxiety is a state of mind wherein our cares are dominating our thinking, rather than divine truth (cf. Mt 6:25; 10:19; Lk 10:41; 12:11; 21:34; 1 Pet 5:7). Since human thinking can be very problematic to all of us, when you experience it “don’t dwell on it, but take it to the Lord.” Remember the words of Asaph, “To envy the wicked or be jealous of the perishing is mindlessness.” One of my favorite verses down through the ages is one that was penned by the man “Agur” (likely a student of wisdom during the days of King Solomon – 1 Kg 4:30-31); here’s what he said, “Lord, may I not be too rich that I deny you, or too poor that I might steal” (Prv 30:8-9). Essentially what Agur was requesting of God was this: “Give me this day my daily bread” (i.e., only what I need – Mt 6:11; Phil 4:19). Being the fallen creatures we are, means we are easily susceptible to going off the deep end and making wrong choices, so make this your daily prayer — reflect upon the words of that prayer.
It should be noted, no other worldview can explain this issue except Scripture… and Scripture reveals the sinfulness of everyone and the benevolence of God toward everyone for His own purpose (cf. Mt 5:45) — every good gift comes from God; He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unright-eous (Mt 5:45)… so He waters the crops of the atheist, and clothes the agnostic, and fills the lungs of Muslims with air. God does good because He is good. Conversely, bad things happen to believers because we live in a world diseased by evil; God’s children get cancer… lose their jobs… and are robbed and mistreated; the reality is, bad things often happen to believers. God does not necessarily tell us why things are as they are — as author and speaker Chad Bird, a graduate of Concordia Theological Semiknary & Hebrew Union College says, this is God’s message to us: “What matters is this — I love you; don’t be afraid. If I cared enough about you to become like you… and live among you… and even die and rise for you, I am not going to walk out on you now.” Beloved, it is just such assurance that needs to reign in our soul; our thinking must be grounded in the truth… it is only then that we are set free from the bondage of sinful thinking. As Chad Bird says, “We tell our children if they work hard and play by the rules, they will succeed in life… that jerks, cheaters & thieves won’t… that if you do your best to walk the straight and narrow, God will reward you, and you will be happy.” Most of us were taught things like, or believed things like that, but that does not exactly define reality. Being as God has revealed divine truth to us in Scripture, regarding this thing called life, we would do well to listen to what He has to say. At least four different situations stand out and teach us that the foregoing does not accurately depict reality. Let’s begin with “the man born blind” in John 9 — Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” (Jn 9:2)… like the Pales-tinians of their day, most people believed that sin was the primary cause of all suffering (if not the exclusive cause). While sin may be the cause of much suffering as Scripture teaches (cf. Jn 5:14; Num 12; 1 Cor 11:30; Jam 5:15), that is not always the case (cf. Job; 2 Cor 12:7; Gal 4:13). But being as this was a common belief in the religious world, the disciples had also believed it; incidentally, this was a common belief by the Christian world all the way up through much of the twentieth century; so this wasn’t a very strange belief. Sadly, there are still many in the Christian world today who still embrace such thinking (in particular, the Charismatic realm). Why the Christian world is so disposed to ignoring much of what Scripture actually teaches is very puzzling, but that is the reality. Jesus’ response to His disciples was this: “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3).
So the reason why this man was born blind was not at all what His disciples thought. Incidentally, the reason Jesus performed miracles when He was on this planet was to substantiate who He was (i.e., that He was of God) and authenticate His message — this is clearly taught in Scripture, yet many in the Christian community believe there were other reasons that God did miracles; in particular, the Charismatic community. By the way, the Jews asked for a “sign,” whereas the Greeks asked for “wisdom” (cf. 1 Cor 1:22); without that understanding, one will misinterpret the reason why God had His Son perform SIGNS in His ministry — again, the problem with many in the Christian world is that they constantly take things out of context, and insist on their own interpretation. If you are interested in this subject, let me encourage you to read a study I did on it titled, “Signs, Wonders & Miracles” — you can access it on my website under the “Additional Studies” link: www.thetransformedsoul.com It should be noted, this subject is not nearly as difficult to understand as some make it out to be. For your interest, consider the following passages – 2 Cor 12:12; Mt 12:38; 16:1; Mk 16:20; 13:20- 22; Jn 2:11, 18; 4: 48; 6:30; 12:37; 20:30; Acts 2:22; 4:29-30; Rom 15:19; I Cor 1:22; 2:4; 9:1; 14:21-22; 1 Th 1:5; Heb 2:1-4). Keep in mind, SIGNS substantiate the messenger and thus authenticate the Word of God; that should not be a difficult construct for any of you who are believers; this is the expressed reason Signs, Wonders & Miracles were performed in the ancient world — to insist that that is not the case is to completely ignore the teachings of Scripture and give it a humanistic interpretation. Remember, Jesus didn’t heal the entire world when He was here on earth; He only healed certain individuals at certain times, and he just didn’t heal believers; He also healed unbelievers. Jesus indeed was a man who performed incredible miracles; thus we know that “He was of God!” There is NOTHING God can’t do! He can raise the dead and heal people of any disease in existence! Jesus demonstrated that He indeed was of God, but His own people did not receive Him… As many as did receive Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God! (Jn 1:11-12). When a person rejects what Scripture teaches, He is valuing human thought over divine thought… as such, his faith will be deficient and not at all as genuine as it could be. By the way, that was the premiere problem in the ancient Jewish world (human thought trumped divine thought). Back to the subject at hand…
Another biblical charactger we need to reflect upon is “JOSEPH” — here was a man who essentially was innocent of wrong-doing, yet suffered greatly in life… he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (Gen 37)… he was removed from his family as a young teenager, and subjected to slavery in Egypt… as a result of false accusation by the wife of his Egyptian master, he was imprisoned (Gen 39). After God used him to interpret some of Pharaoh’s worrisome dreams, he was given a very high position in government, and led the nation through seven years of famine. Because the famine spread throughout the entire Middle East, ultimately Joseph was reconnected with his father “Jacob” and his brothers; apparently his mother “Rachel” had died a few years earlier (Gen 35:19). It was through Joseph that God spared his entire family complete disaster. Once again, God had greatly suffered a man and used him to the praise of His glory… just as He caused a CHILD to be born blind to accomplish His higher purposes… and used the most righteous man in all the world, JOB, to humbly teach His people about the innate sinfulness of man… so He used JOSEPH (another man of high character) to do His bidding in the world — yet all three of these men were subjected to a level of suffering that few people in all the world will ever experience. In the chapters that follow, we will learn about the incredible value that suffering accomplishes in the lives of genuine be-lievers. Before we launch into that section, let’s consider all that happened to this New Testament man named PAUL — here was a man who lived according to the Law as few others ever did, yet God subjected him to extremely significant suffering. As a man of the Law, he inadvertently overstepped his boundary (i.e., he believed that the Christ followers were the enemies of God and His people Israel; thus he took steps to destroy them). When God confronted him on his way to Damascus, because he was seeking to bind and bring the Christ followers to Jerusalem and have them severely punished (Acts 9:1ff), He blinded Paul and questioned him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” When he responded saying, “Who art Thou, Lord?” He said to him, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” When God spoke to his heart, he humbled himself before God and placed his faith in Jesus Christ; and the Lord told him, “You shall suffer for My name’s sake” (cf. Acts 9:16ff). And just a few days later he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God!” (Acts 9:20). How did Paul suffer? Scripture tells us that he suffered great labor, imprisonments, numerous beatings, five times he received the thirty-nine lashes, he was beaten with rods, he was stoned, three times he suffered ship-wreck, he spent night and day in the deep, experienced dangers on rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren, hardship, sleepless nights, suffering from hunger and thirst, often without food, and frequently exposed to the cold; apart from all of that Paul said “there was the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:23-28). Because God had given him revelation that no other human being had ever experienced (God took him up into the third heaven – 2 Cor 12:2), God permitted Satan to give Paul “a thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble so that he would not exalt himself (2 Cor 12:7) — though Paul pleaded with God three times to remove it from his life, God refused to do so saying, “My grace is suffi- cient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Though we don’t know precisely what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, it must have been extremely difficult to bear, because Satan is no little monkey when it comes to things like that… if he can destroy a person, he’ll do that, so no doubt he came up with a very ugly problem for Paul. Regarding this man named Saul (whose name later was changed to Paul), the Lord told Ananias, a disciple in the city of Damascus, that “Paul was a chosen instru- ment of mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (cf. Acts 9:21). Here was a man that God willed to be educated by what is thought to be the most esteemed Pharisee in the ancient Jewish world (Gamaliel – cf. Acts 5:34; 22:3), knowing full-well that his understanding of Judaism would be extremely helpful in ministering the truth of the gospel to both the Jewish and Gentile worlds; it was the apostle Paul who ultimately became the most prolific writer of the New Testament — Paul must have been one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the world. At this point, I want you to notice how God chose righteous men to teach the world through suffering.
Once again, man has always wrongly assumed that all of the negatives of life are the result of wrong behavior at some level, and God’s disappointment in them. Though there are several passages in Scripture that give a little credence to that kind of thinking, one must be very careful to understand the context in which things are written. For instance, if you will turn to Deuteronomy chapter 28 you’ll notice verses 1-14 speak of the blessings God will pour out on Israel if they obey Him… and verse 15-37 speak of the cursings that will fall upon them if they disobey Him. Moses had previously told the people the promise of God’s blessings, and the warning that they should not turn to other God’s when the covenant was given at Sinai (Ex 23:20-33). After their rebellion against that covenant, Moses warned them of the divine judgment that would come if they disobeyed (Lev 26). Here in Deut 28 Moses gives an exhortation based upon the blessings and the curses of the covenant (cf. Lev 26:1-45). The blessings and the curses in this chapter follow the same structure. Time and time again God brought judgment upon the children of Israel because of her disobedience, yet time and time again His people walked in disobedience. In the NT, Scripture says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal 6:7) — those who sow iniquity reap the same (cf. Job 4:8). this agricultural principle, applied metaphorically to the moral and spiritual realm, is universally true (cf. Job 4:8; Prov 1:31-33; Hos 8:7; 10:12). Essentially what Scripture teaches is this: “the world is built on moral foundations,” that in the long run, it is well with the good, and it is ill with the wicked. That “maxim” or “rule of conduct” has ruled in the entire world since the very beginning. Now since our reaping doesn’t happen instantaneously, some people question it and doubt it, but if one will let time pass when studying this issue, he will see that “it is definitely true.” If one insists that reaping be very quick, then he might be inclined to walk away from such thinking… but if he will let several years pass (which is obviously the way God operates), he will see that this indeed is true. The message is this: when we reject the teachings of Scripture on some particular issue, God frequently lets us travel down a much longer road… and in so doing we finally come to the realization that “things are as God says they are.” Again, due to our refusal to believe certain constructs of faith, God subjects us to a wilderness experience (i.e., a little life in the dark), and it is just such an experience whereby we learn that “what He says is true.” Imagine reaping what you have sown “many years later”… though that can be a very sober teacher, nevertheless, it is one of the ways in which we learn. Our problem as fallen creatures is that we often have to “learn things the hard way.” Let’s say “you’re cheating on your taxes all the time,” there will come a day when you will be forced to deal with your wrong, and genuinely regret what you did; your experience of “walking in the dark” will eventually be made very clear to you. Remember, our Heavenly Father cares very much about us as His children, and like any good parent, He doesn’t ignore all the wrongs in our life; there comes a day when He exposes them to us and makes us deal with them. As King Solomon said to his sons, “Do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights” (cf. Prv 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-6); to somehow think that God isn’t that stern is a little silly. As such, many Christians in the latter years of their life reflect upon “how their life could have been, if they had walked more in the light than they did.” Now, because this maxim is indeed true, that doesn’t mean that everything we experience in life is a product of our behavior. If I win a ballgame, that doesn’t mean it is the result of my angelic behavior… on the other had, if I lose a ballgame, that doesn’t mean it is the result of my demonic behavior. If you can’t let several years pass in life before passing judgment on what Scripture teaches, your impatience is going to cause you even more grief; the reality is, “you are going to reap what you sow in life” (cf. Gal 6:7-9; 2 Cor 9:6; Job 4:8; Prv 1:31-33; 22:8; Hos 8:7; 10:12).
THE DIFFICULTY OF FAITH
The esteemed 17th century German Lutheran preacher, writer and hymn-writer, Christian Scriver (1628-1693) essentially said something like this: “Those who have faith in themselves will find it very difficult to trust God… they will actually find it an impossible task… the earthly-minded, sinful heart cannot trust God without God’s help.” That is a very provocative statement, but that is true. As Scriver said, “Faith has many enemies… therefore it is a fight, and only keeps its ground by fighting.” Since it has to comprehend the great God of heaven in a little heart, that is no easy task. Just as a mother carries here child in her arms, soothes, fondles, kisses it, gives it food to eat and milk to drink, she is also very patient with it. But how long, said Scriver, does it take the child to learn and know its mother, and show her love and respect? Stated Scriber, “For myself, I can say with thankfulness, that now, through many trials, conflicts, struggles, temptations, signs, and prayers, I have come so far, that I am beginning to believe that God is my gracious Father…. this is a lesson which I learn from day to day. Like a tender infant at the mother’s breast, I lie at the Savior’s wounds, and imbibe from them His blood and spirit, that I may grow in strength. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Beloved, strong tall trees are such because they have been subjected to significant wind; were it not for the wind, they would be very feeble trees… likewise, for you and me to have a strong faith, we must be subjected to great trials and tribulations. What makes a man strong physically is the weight of heavy objects upon his body; it is the gravitational pull on his body, whereby he is able to build his strength. It was learned not long ago that those who travel in outer-space, suffer physically due to the lack of weight (i.e., gra-vitational pull) upon their bodies. It should be noted, faith without suffering is a very weak faith; hence, the individual is spiritually deficient. Candy Arrington, the author of hundreds of articles that have been published in magazines, newspapers and online (she has written numerous articles for Focus on the Family, The Upper Room, Country Living.com, Writer’s Digest, Thriving Family, Clubhouses, Encounter, The Lookout, etc.), identifies five reasons why people find faith difficult —
- Faith requires relinquishing control — most people actually structure their lives to feel that they are in “control;” they do everything they can to organize and plan all that takes place in their life, but believing that one is in control of one’s life is merely an “illusion.” No man whoever lived “controlled” his own life… “circumstances” occur that are simply beyond our control. Interestingly enough, when you sense that you have “lost control” of your life, you are in the perfect position to tap into faith and trust God for the outcome. Said Job, “In God’s hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). Though one may argue against such thinking, to do so simply shows “a lack of understanding the eternal nature of God;” temporal human thinking is extremely deficient. I’ve done several studies on this issue, including one titled, “The Eternal Nature of Our Faith;” you can access it on my website, under the “Additional Studies” link — www.thetransformedsoul.com
- Faith requires trusting that which is unseen — said the apostle Paul, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7); yet man insists on walking by sight… what he sees is far more significant in his life than what he does not see. Because the world of sight is so con-vincing to most people, they often conclude that some things cannot be resolved; thus their hope is destroyed; incidentally, doubt is the biggest deterrent to faith. Faith says, “Hope exists; God is walking with me” — trusting God involves believing that the Eternal One you cannot see or touch is real and working on your behalf. Remember, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). When one humbles himself before God, the Holy Spirit makes divine truth a reality in his soul… it no longer remains questionable to his heart, so it is the Holy Spirit who assures our heart and convicts our soul; true faith is not based on empirical evidence (i.e., sight), but on divine assurance that is a gift from God (cf. Eph 2:8; 2 Cor 5:7).
- Faith requires spiritual eyesight — the problem with the unbelieving world is “spiritual blindness;” they simply don’t see things as they are. Those who are spiritually blind, don’t see the depth of their own shortcomings and their need of faith; they simply trust in that which is tangible, and rely on others or themselves to make things happen. Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides who guide the blind” (Mt 15:14); whereas they thought they had a firm grasp of spiritual reality, they were completely blind. Later on Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites… you are nothing but fools and blind men… you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel… You blind Pharisees, you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt 23:15-27). Only God can open the eyes of the blind; remember, we’re talking spiritual sight here, not physical sight. Paul reminds us that “Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4).
- Faith requires living in the now without knowing the ultimate outcome; as is often the case with physical illness, we all have to trust others to accurately diagnose the problem and come up with the best treatment to help heal the problem. Sometimes the person we place faith in lets us down, because they failed to meet our expectations. But what about the bigger issues of life? Things that seem impos-sible? Sometimes it feels like God has let us down, because He doesn’t answer our prayers in the time frame and with the answers we want. Many abandon their faith when circumstances of life remain difficult and God is slow in answering (i.e., a year, or two years, or more?) — I have been down that road, and it is not easy when the problems are very prominent and painful. Learning to trust takes practice, and it is only during the tribulation periods of life when we struggle through the application of faith that we experience spiritual growth. As the blood-brother of Jesus (James) said, “The testing of your faith produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity and inner peace]” (cf. Jam 1:3) — it is only when we are subjected to the furnace of affliction (so-to-speak) that our faith is purified and strengthened… we may grow in knowledge without affliction, but we cannot grow in faith without affliction; it is only when our faith is being challenged that it grows — without trials & tribulations & afflictions, our faith will not grow; the purpose of trials is to grow our faith; that’s why God subjects us to them (cf. Rom 5:3-4; Heb 12:4-11; Jam 1:2-4, 12; 1 Pet 1:6-9; 4:12-19; 5:10). Think of it this way: if you were to raise children and not discipline them, they will become very undisciplined children, and be a problem to everyone else in your fam-ily, and others in the world. Because we are all “fallen creatures,” we need to be subjected to discipline if we are going to live peacefully with others in this world; conversely, as God’s children we need the discipline of the Lord if we are going to serve and love others effectively.
- Faith requires patience and perseverance — neither patience or perseverance are easy or fun. Patience denies the desire to have answers right now, and the desire to make things happen fast, as well as the desire to have things to our liking. On the other hand, Perseverance marches on despite the discouragement & difficulty. The word patience in Greek (hupomeno) means to “abide under” — patience only grows when we are facing “trials” (cf. Jam 1:3); we are not to go bonkers and simply look for ways of getting out from under them; we are to remain under them and let them do their work in our lives. By the way, the word hupomeno is also translated endurance (cf. Lk 21:19). According to Jesus, true born-again Christians “endure to the end” (cf. Mt 24:13), and His brother James said, patience perfects Christian character (Jam 1:4). A second Greek word that is also translated “patience” is the word makrothumia; literally the word means “to be long tempered, and long suffering” (cf. Mt 18:26; Gal 5:22)… said Paul, “As those who have been chosen by God… put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness & patience, bearing one another’s burdens, forgiving each other” (cf. Col 3:12). Again, faith requires both patience and perseverance to overcome doubt as you wait for healing, resolution, or answers — “For when the way is rough, our patience has a chance to grow” (cf. Jam 1:3).
The premier goal for us as believers is “heaven,” our eternal destiny, not this temporal world and its temporal desires. When we place too much stock in our earthly well-being, we find ourselves in dire need of eternal peace and joy — peace and joy are not the deriv-atives of the here and now (i.e., this life), they are the result of the work of God in our heart. Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room the night before He went to the cross, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27) — such peace “surpasses all comprehension, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). Again, it is the work of God in our hearts when we humbly place everything in God’s lap (Phil 4:6); it is not the product of our own doing. When we focus on divine truth, the God of peace will fill our hearts with peace (cf. Phil 4:8-9; Col 3:15; Rom 8:6; 15:13; 2 Cor 10:5; Gal 5:22; 1 Th 5:23). Because this life is “a war in the soul,” often-times we find our inner life filled with anxiety and disconcertion; it is just at such times that we must pour our heart out to the Lord and experience His peace — it is amazing how “pain in the soul” causes us to run into God’s arms, and feel His full embrace. Once again, we can see the efficacy of pain and suffering… without it, we would simply continue to wander in the dark. Imagine having all of the tur-moil, disconcertion and darkness removed from your soul; that is what is going to happen when you enter into God’s eternal presence; not a single negative or an ounce of darkness will remain in you… it is at that point that God is going to remove your sinful inner core (i.e., your flesh) from you; never again will its presence be felt. In the meantime, we must fight this cosmic battle between good and evil.
As believers, we often struggle with frustrating negatives. When we are disturbed in our inner self, for whatever reason, the emotions of anger, discontent and frustration will more often than not rule in our soul (that is simply the norm for the human family)… so what do we do? Remain angry? Plead with God to change our circumstances? Let God know we’re not happy with what is going on in our life? Ask God why He is subjecting us to such things? Or do we just try to ignore the circumstance as best we can and find something else to do that is more pleasing to us, knowing that nothing is going to change reality? Whatever one’s response might be, consider the following: According to God’s divine will, the Christian life is full of problems and unpleasant circumstances (cf. Jn 16:33; Acts 14:22)… they don’t happen for no reason, and they are not the result of mere happen-stance — God is subjecting us to them so that we might rightly deal with our sinful inner core (i.e., our flesh), and work on developing a stronger faith. Incidentally, the word “anger” is defined as “a strong feeling of displeasure;” it is found 133 times in the OT and 20 times in the NT — in the ancient Greek world anger was known as the strongest of all passions. In spite of the fact that the negatives of life seem to make us less like Christ, God is using every negative in our lives to make us more like Christ — it is the breaking down of the wall of the flesh in our soul (i.e., reducing its influence in our lives) that builds our faith. So what’s the answer? Well, we can get angry, we can rebel, we can question God’s love for us, or we can deal with reality as God expresses it in His Word. Three extremely significant steps stand out — first, we must acknowledge before God exactly how our inner core (i.e., our flesh) is responding to this displeasure; think about it, you are angry and you go to God and let Him know exactly how you feel (obviously this may take more than a few seconds). Because you need to share the fullness of what you are feeling, it might be best to call this a counseling session with God (your Lord & Master) — such involves your being extremely forthright and honest with Him by calling an ace an ace, and a spade a spade; in so doing, you need to admit the wrongness of your emotional response, which in a word is “confession” (the Greek word “homologeo” literally means “to say the same thing about it that God says about it;” thus you are agreeing with God about your emotional fleshly response). Remember, it is the Holy Spirit who guides and leads us into all truth (cf. Jn 16:7-11, 13; Rom 8:9, 14, 23; Eph 2:18; 5:11; 1 Jn 1:9). By the way, every believer has a few counseling sessions with God every day; that is simply what it means to inhabit sinful flesh… it doesn’t disappear off the map for any of us.
The second step occurs after we have calmed down a bit; it is this — we must then come full circle and accept the negative situation that is disturbing us, and that includes all of the pain that is associated with it; i.e., in the midst of the storm God wants us to look at the problem with a different mindset, and not simply see the problem as nothing but a negative that we will not tolerate; thus we must consciously think about the problem and not simply let our emotions control the discourse in our minds. Life is full of negatives that are not at all pleasant (cf. Heb 12:11), but if we are to live a disciplined life (i.e., a life of faith), we must learn to deal with negatives and not just let them overwhelm us — such is God’s training ground for believers. None of us were born-again with great faith (cf. Mt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8), and none of us walk on water now; the reality is, we all need significant trials to build our faith, and quell our flesh; anyone can love the lovely and feel good when everything is going the way they want it to go; even unbelievers can do that (cf. Mt 5:43-48; Lk 6:32). It is only when things don’t go the way we want them to go that our faith is being seriously challenged; by the way, it is at this point where the depth of our faith is made very evident to us; obviously we are not as grand and glorious as we had hoped or thought — none of us have a great faith; we simply have faith in a great God. Though a negative is “not pleasant,” we must feel the fullness of the pain and see it for what it really is, and not simply stay mad and angry. Due to the nature of our flesh, the process itself involves suffering, frustration & perplexity; that is simply the economy of God for us as His children (cf. Jn 16:33; Acts 14:22). Christian character is not developed by a bunch of pleasant experiences; it involves trials and tribulations of all kinds. The problem for us as fallen creatures is that we simply want to “feel good” in life and not be subjected to a bunch of negatives; from our flesh’s perspective, negative feelings are completely unaccept-able and intolerable. However, if we are committed to living a life of faith (i.e., believing what God says), we will fight the good fight of faith (notice “faith” is a fight); but if our feelings are the most important thing in our life, we won’t fight the good fight (1 Tim 6:12); we will simply moan & groan. Now to accept a negative, we must feel the fullness of its pain, all the while knowing that God is subjecting it to us to refine and purify our faith — if that is not how you see the problem (i.e., if it is not a God-related issue in your mind), you will simply keep arguing against it and refuse to accept it. To help give definition to this — let’s say you fall and hurt your body… or notice that your car has been damaged… or that someone has stolen some cash you had hidden away… or that water has come into your house through your roof during a significant rainstorm… or that your air-conditioner has stopped working… or that your car won’t start… or that you have lost your wallet; obviously, there are a thousand unpleasant things that we can experience, none of which make us feel good. On a far more serious level, you might lose your job… a loved-one may pass away… you might become terminally ill… you might be subjected to significant cruelty & persecution. The question is, can you take it to the Lord and actually thank Him for what it is you are being subjected to, in spite of the fact that it is not at all something that is pleasant? Regardless of what the issue is, the less you see the posi-tive in it, the more you will struggle with it. It should be noted, none of us have committed “the unforgiveable;” though we may hate ourselves for something that we have done in life, that is NOT an unforgiveable action… but it is something that Satan is going to use against us until we deal with it properly… Beloved, either GOD is far bigger than our sin, or we are making some sin far bigger than GOD! And that is completely unbiblical; please don’t beat yourself up with such thinking; GOD is greater by far than all your sin! With the foregoing in mind, let’s take a look at the third step.
The third and final step is this: we must account for the problem (i.e., we must see it for what it really is) — it is actually a positive in our life that God is using to refine and purify our faith… every trial we go through in life is a test of faith that is designed by God to strengthen it. The word “test” (doximos) is used of boiling metals to remove the dross and impurities from it; that in part is what trials do to us — they purify our faith. It ought to be pretty clear, going bonkers over trials shows us how immature and deficient our faith is; keep in mind the divine didactic by which we as God’s people are to live: “the righteous are to live by faith” (Rom 1:17). It is here where the believer’s “reckoning” is critical. James states it this way: “Count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). The first thing that jumps out at us regarding that statement is the need to “count trials joy,” which seems completely beyond reason; we’ll deal with that issue in the next paragraph. Let’s first note the emboldened word “knowing;” if we don’t know the reason for the trials we may be going through in life, or could care less about the reason for them, we will really struggle with them because the only thing that will be pleasing to us will be their removal. The reality is this, we as believers must learn to deal with the negatives of life the way God instructs us. So when negative circumstances agitate us, we must refuse to go off the deep end and go bonkers… instead we must acknowledge the flesh’s strong disapproval, yet consciously accept the problem and not just run from it, and then focus on the reason for the problem (again, it is to make our faith stronger); since trials often cause consternation in our soul, such demonstrates that our faith is not nearly as grand and glorious as we may have thought; it is actually a pretty weak faith; thus the purpose of the trial is to grow our faith. Now if one’s faith is not that big a deal to him, his emotions will run the show in the moment. It is in the midst of the pain where “our thinking” is crucial — we must refuse to go bonkers and go off the deep end, and reflect upon what God is doing in our lives. To fight the fight of faith, one must focus on the purpose of the trial in his life (i.e., we must articulate it to ourselves). Since it is only by trials that our faith is refined and purified, we must be committed to consciously bearing the pain, knowing that God is doing a “faith work” in our life. Keep the following in mind — it is because of God’s unconditional love for us that He disciplines us to be men and women of faith (cf. Heb 12:4-11). He knows trusting Him in the midst of the storm is not an easy matter for us — He knows we are extremely weak creatures, and He empathizes with us (cf. Heb 4:15; Ps 103:14). Again, God knows we don’t possess a great faith… at salvation it was extremely small, so He is working in our lives to build our faith and make it a stronger faith (i.e., increase our confidence in God and trust Him more with regard to His will for us), and this He does by subjecting us to trials.
Though all of us struggle with negatives in life (because of our fallenness), the goal is to consider them joy when we encounter them because of the positive impact they have on our faith (i.e., our relationship with God). Incidentally, as we grow in our faith we will grow in our love for God; as such, we will complain & moan & groan less when we experience trials. Joy is a longing and a desire built upon hope, and hope comes when we align our thoughts with God’s thoughts. As Paul states, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13). Dealing rightly with our problems doesn’t mean we “like” them — in and of themselves negative circumstances are anything but likeable. Like surgery for some phy-sical problem that we may have, it is not as if the surgery is a fun experience, but it is something that one is grateful for, because of what it ultimately accomplishes in our life. In that sense we can actually rejoice over what we are experiencing and see it as a positive; this is precisely how we must respond to the negatives God subjects us to in life — we must see them for what they really are, not simply as agitations that we can’t tolerate. Now, when we spend significant time reflecting upon God and our relationship with Him in the midst of some storm we are going through, He makes His love for us a dynamic reality in our heart and soul (cf. Ps 1:2; 63:6-8; 119:11, 16). With the foregoing in mind, remem-ber faith is not just a religious feeling independent of God’s Revelation to us (Scripture is the voice of God to our hearts). At its root faith means “to trust” the object of our faith (Jesus Christ); furthermore, it is not simply a matter of agreeing with God intellectually, it is a matter of placing all of your weight upon Him (Prov 3:5); that’s what genuine faith implies. Though faith involves “firm persuasion and a deep abiding conviction” (Heb 11:1), the main element of faith is its relation to the invisible God, and personally surrendering to Him (Jn 1:12). Everyone of us would probably do pretty well in a spiritual true/false or right/wrong exam, but checking the right box and fully embracing the significance of the various issues are two vastly different constructs. Beloved, our lives are to be grounded in God’s unconditional love for us — that must be the foundation stone upon which we build our lives and our faith, and judge everything that we go through in life. Since God’s unconditional love is the most significant reality with regard to our faith, we must not just look at it as a spiritual construct of thought that we intellectually agree with, but as an life-changing relational reality that is unmeritorious and that transcends human thinking; though it is common for us as fallen creatures to question God’s love for us when we experience negatives in life, we must contemplate His love for us in the midst of trials. Perhaps the question that everyone needs to answer is this: “Do you know what it means to be loved unconditionally by God?” In short, it means that there is nothing He won’t do for you to absolve you of your sinfulness and transform you into the image of Christ. Keep in mind, the Greek word for divine love is “agape” — literally, it means to seek the other person’s highest good, and not work any ill on that person (cf. Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; 15:2; Eph 2:4; 1 Jn 4:7-8). The most distinguishing feature of “agape love” is that it proceeds out of a caring heart and concern for others, and is completely lacking in self-interest. Because fallen man cannot fathom divine love, he often passes judgment on God without knowledge (cf. Job 38:1-2; 42:3). As James Montgomery Boice says in his work “Foundations of the Christian Faith” — since God is sovereign in His love, His love is not influenced or regulated by anything in the creature: “His love lies only in Himself — God is love” (cf. 1 Jn 3:16; 4:7-10, 16). One of the great hymns of the Christian faith is, “The Love of God;” its author was F. M. Lehman. Take a moment and reflect upon its words:
The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win;
His erring child he reconciled, and rescued from his sin.
Chorus: O, love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forever more endure — the saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the oceans dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.
By contemplating the foregoing it should be obvious to you that you need to view the negatives in your life through the eyes of faith, rather than impulsive fleshly thinking. Remember, as God’s children, we are not to have a “self-focus” in life (that is, our own fleshly desires are not to dominate our thinking), instead a “God-focus” is to supplant the self-focus. The apostle John addressed a corollary of this subject saying, “Everyone who has their hope fixed on the eternal love of God and the fact that He will one day make us like Christ, purifies himself just as He is pure” (1 Jn 3:1-3) — the reality is, this realization is critical in helping us pursue purity. As John MacArthur expresses it in his study Bible, “Living in the light of Christ’s return will make a difference as to how one lives his life.” Obviously being grateful to God for a negative isn’t easy, especially if one is not consciously aware of God’s unconditional love and how He works in our lives. As the apostle Paul put it, “There is nothing in all the world that can separate us from God’s love!” (Rom 8:31-39). The old hymn-writer Dallas Holm expressed it this way:
Jesus got a hold of my life and He won’t let me go!
Jesus got into my heart and got into my soul!
I used to be oh so sad, but now I’m just so free and glad,
Cause Jesus got a hold of my life and He won’t let me go!
Remember, the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that everything in the universe is on a downward plight; i.e., everything in the universe is dying and in a state of decline. The scientific world discovered this reality not that many years ago… so sure are they of this truth, they have made it “the premiere physical law of the universe”… every study of physics supports this law; thus it is defined as an absolute. Amazingly enough, when Adam sinned against God, the entire created order was cursed by God; thus causing everything to enter into a state of death (cf. Gen 2:17; 3:17-19; Ecc 1:2; Jer 12:4, 11; Rom 6:23). As Paul states, “The entire created order is eagerly awaiting the revealing of the sons of God, for God has subjected all creation to futility… that the created order will be set free from its slavery to corruption, when God’s children enter into glory in heaven… so the whole created order groans and suffers until now… thus we are all awaiting the fullness of our adoption as God’s children, and the redemption of our bodies” (cf. Rom 8:19-23; Col 3:4; 1 Pet 1:7, 13). Beloved, at least have a “contextual understanding” as to why things are as they are in the created order… just as all human beings are completely “fallen creatures,” and destined to die, so the entire created realm is enslaved to corruption and will also die. It is at the end of the age when God will completely destroy the entire created order that now exists, and build a brand new one, never again making it subject to death (cf. Rev 21:1; 20:11-15; Is 65:17; 66:22-24; 2 Pet 3:13) — this is the eternal state. Knowing this reality should cause us to “focus on eternity” rather than that which is temporal and passing away… yet our daily focus more often than not seems to be on all that is going on in our lives; our temporal existence frequently dominates our thinking… eternity just seems too ethereal… for most believers, it is only when the end of life draws near that they begin to give serious thought as to how they lived their life, and how meaningless and valueless this temporal world really is. Personally, I find it interesting at how we value things in this world when we are younger, and how we see things as they really are when we are older… frequently, it is almost always the trials of life that cause us to see things as they really are.
The question is, “What are you striving for in life?” Success? Happiness? Good health? Possessions? Financial Security? Good relationships? Strong Family Ties? What about your “spirituality?” Does it take second, third, fourth, fifth place in your life? If so, why is that the case? Can you contemplate that reality? Why isn’t it first? What is it about spirituality that keeps it out of first-place in your life? How much time do you spend in the word & strive to be the person God wants you to be? Can you identify those things that are holding you back? Is there a reason why you can’t change? As believers, we all value our relationship with Christ, but most believers don’t invest a significant portion of their life to “growing spiritually.” The vast majority of believers simply strive to “make life work;” that’s the premiere goal of most people, they simply want to make life work. Though things might go the way we want them to go at times, frequently things don’t go the way we want them to go… and it is that which causes consternation in the soul. The reality is, “life is often a contradiction,” when we expect one thing to happen, oftentimes something else happens. Remember, we don’t dictate reality, God does… and when we insist on having things go the way we want them to go, God sometimes intervenes and causes things to go the way we don’t want them to go. Just because we ask God for things, doesn’t mean we’re going to get them; remember, we are to pray that “God’s will, not our will, be done” (Mt 6:10; 26:39; Eph 1:11). Said John, “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (cf. 1 Jn 5:14); in the upper room, the night before Jesus went to the cross, He repeatedly told His disciples that if they ask the Father for anything in His name (i.e., according to His will), He will hear them and grant them their request (cf. Jn 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). Due to the fact that many believers have a very small God, they don’t really pray in Jesus’ name, or pray that God’s will be done; instead, they simply ask God for things they want. With that in mind, they don’t attribute much of what goes on in their life to God; they simply think most things are mere happenstance. The truth is, when God is not an integral part of your thinking, He is not going to be a significant reality in your life.
It should be noted, the vast majority of difficult circumstances that we go through in life are “temporary,” not permanent. Job was subject to some very difficult circum-stances, yet nearly all of them were temporary… on the other hand, Paul was given a thorn in the flesh that was permanent (cf. 2 Cor 12:7-10); still the vast majority of his problems were temporary as well (cf. 2 Cor 4:8-10; 2 Cor 11:23-29; Jn 16:33; Acts 14:22). Remember, trials are the way in which God grows our faith (cf. Rom 5:3; 12:12; Jam 1:2-4)… now that doesn’t mean the pain associated with trials doesn’t hurt when you are being subjected to them, but such are merely “momentary light afflictions” (cf. 2 Cor 4:17). The reality is, our faith will not grow without it being subjected to difficult circumstances, pain, and suffering — these are the agents God uses to transform our lives and grow our faith; just as our physical strength grows when it is subjected to heavy physical pressure, so one’s spiritual strength grows when it is subjected to great spiritual pressure; you should know, there is no shortcut — one’s flesh must be dealt with (i.e., rejected) if one is to grow in the faith, and it is only when the flesh is exacerbated by difficult circumstances (i.e., pain and suffering) that it is overcome and defeated. To somehow think that one can grow in the faith simply by studying Scripture (i.e., by ascertaining its meaning) is ludicrous; that would be akin to thinking one can become a great baseball player simply by studying the game and watching tapes; without subjection to the dynamics of the game, one will never become a great player… conversely, without confronting the stubborn nature of the flesh, one will never grow in his faith, because the flesh is that reality within us that constantly argues against the will of God. Though salvation and justification comes by “hearing the Word” (Rom 10:17), growing in Christ & sancti-fication comes about by “obeying the Word” (i.e., walking in the Word – cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18; 10:3-5; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 6:10-17; Heb 12:1-11; Jam 1:12; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 1 Jn 1:7). Incidentally…
That’s why spiritual growth involves “warfare;” it is a fight with the Flesh, the World, and the Devil. Paul words it this way: “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit sets its desire against the flesh — they are in opposition to each other; thus one cannot do the things that he pleases” (Gal 5:17). The reality is this: the Spirit and the Flesh are in constant conflict… because of this conflict, the believer is continually reminded of his own weakness (i.e., how corrupt, stubborn, and powerful his inner core is). Since the Holy Spirit and the Flesh are perpetually at war, we must learn to yield to the Spirit, and say no to the Flesh when conflict is experienced… to simply do what we feel like doing is to cave in to the flesh, and therein is the rub — “we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ” (Mt 16:24); i.e., we must yield to Christ so completely that self does not rule in our lives — we must die to sin and a self-centered life (i.e., take up our cross), and follow Christ (cf. Jam 1:14; 1:22-24). Paul expressed it this way: “In reference to your former manner of life (i.e., the life of the flesh), you must lay aside the old self, which is in a constant state of being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit… and put on the new self, which God created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22, 24); this occurs when we are “being renewed in the Spirit of our mind” (Eph 4:23). This points to a complete about face in our thinking; i.e., a change from mental impurity to holi-ness. Incidentally, it is only when we humble ourselves before the Lord that the Holy Spirit influences our thought processes to reason from God’s standpoint; as James put it, “In humility receive the word implanted which is able to save your souls; prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jam 1:21- 22); all three of the words that are “emboldened” are emphatic in Greek, so read those verses with that in mind.
Obviously, we learn divine truth when we study and contemplate what Scripture teaches (cf. Jer 15:16; Ps 1:2; 25:5; 43:3; 63:6; 119:9-16, 105; Prov 6:23; Jn 8u:31-32; 1 Cor 14:20; 1 Pet 2:2), but it only becomes efficacious in our lives when we strive live it out. Remember, the demonic world & Satan also believe that God is one, yet they do not live in accordance with that truth (Jam 2:19); thus states James, “Faith without works is useless” (Jam 2:20). Now with all of the foregoing in mind, without combating our inner core, and rejecting its control, we will succumb to it. To say that the desires of the flesh are minimal and insignificant is absolute nonsense — they are extremely strong and have a very strong presence in our lives, just as the apostle Paul stated (read Rom 7:18); hence the need to be “completely at war against it.” Said Paul, “I buffet my body and make it my slave” (cf. 1 Cor 9:27); i.e., Paul took every action possible to quell his flesh, and keep it from dom-inating all that went on in his life… he was only too aware that “self-control” was a must if he was going to be effective in ministry; you’ll notice one of the fruits of the Spirit is “self-control” (cf. Gal 5:22-23; 1 Cor 7:5; 9:25; 2 Pet 1:5-7). Beloved, it is the pain and suffering that we are subjected to that ultimately moves in a godly direction; we listen far more carefully when our world is turned upside down… suffering is a very sober teacher; it forces one to rethink his theology of thought, and reconcile the differences that his flesh thinks and what God’s word says — our shallow faith is challenged very easily; it doesn’t take much to reveal its shallowness… strong faith is only achieved through great tribulation. Though none of us are seemingly humble enough to admit our weaknesses, all of us indeed have some very significant weaknesses (cf. Mt 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Lk 18:19; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 12:9-10; 13:4); remember, this is our innate fallen condition.
Our problem as human beings (even though we are saved) is that we have strong desires and passions in life (i.e., things we want to see happen), but when things don’t go the way we want them to go, it can be upsetting and cause us to become frustrated and grumble… because we are emotional creatures, our emotions frequently dictate reality in our lives. Regarding this matter of “passions” — all of us have developed a few very strong passions over the years, but just because we became Christians didn’t mean that they removed from our lives… not at all, they are still present in our lives, and we must now confront them. A corollary of desire is temptation; when we desire that which is of the flesh, the temptation to embrace that desire can become very pronounced and dominate our thinking; thus we capitulate and cave in to the temptation (cf. Jam 1:14-15; Gal 3:16-17). It should be obvious to every believer, that which is desired is not easily rejected, because that which is desired frequently controls the discourse in our minds, and rules in our emotions; since we strongly feel like embracing that which we desire, we often stumble in life. Remember, the dynamic of the flesh is Feeling (i.e., our inner passions)… whereas the dynamic of the Spirit is Faith (i.e., believing divine truth). Contrary to what some may believe, our innate desires play a very significant role in our lives; they frequently are in the driver’s seat (not in the trunk). Following is a list of desires that strongly influence all that goes on in our lives —
- We want to feel good about life.
- We want things to go well for us.
- We want to succeed in what we do.
- We want to enjoy life.
- We want to be happy creatures.
- We want to be people that others like.
- We want everything to work that we set our minds to.
- We want to experience God’s blessings in life.
- We want to experience positives in life.
- We don’t like negatives, pain, failure, losing and betrayal.
- We don’t like problems, fever, sickness, rejection and stumbling.
- We don’t like disputes, disagreements, arguing and dissent.
- We don’t like discomfort, neglect, anger, bad feelings and stress.
- We don’t like depression, deficiencies, inferiority and inadequacy.
- We don’t like emotional instability, forgetfulness and unpleasantries.
- We don’t like frustration, a lack of faith, and a guilty heart.
- We don’t like the inability to sleep and the inability to measure up.
As believers, we are supposed to occupy ourselves with loving God and others, especially those of the household of faith. That is “the great command of God” to all of His people; no other command comes close to this one — in actuality, writes Paul, The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself… he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (cf. Gal 5:14; 6:2; Rom 13:8; Jn 13:34; Jam 2:8; Mt 7:12). The reason this is so, is that being “others-oriented” means one won’t be “self-orientede;” it’s our self-orientation that is the root cause of all our problems. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “On these two commandments (loving God and loving others) depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:36-40). Man’s problem (even that of believers) is that they are occupied with conditions, possessions, and pleasure. Sadly, many believers only give lip service to their faith; rather than being occupied with their home in heaven, they are occupied with their home on earth. Our premiere calling in life is that we be “bondservants of the Most High,” not simply individuals doing our own thing in life (i.e., serving ourselves); which is precisely the way the world lives. Remember, we are “rela-tional creatures” made in God’s image (God is a highly relational God), so loving God and loving others has been His mandate for us from the very beginning (cf. Deut6:5; Lev 19:18; Mt 22:37-39). The question is, “Do you have a dynamic relationship with God? or is He just a distant reality in your life?” Beloved, “we are to worship God (i.e., value Him above everything else in life), and serve Him only” (cf. Mt 4:10; Deut 6:13; 10:12; Josh 22:5; 1 Sam 12:20; Heb 9:14). This is what the Lord requires of us (cf. Micah 6:8). It is not an option — we can’t serve two masters (cf. Mt 6:24). Incidentally, servants are not free to do as they please, they are subject to the will and command of their master. As servants we are to willingly and lovingly submit to our master (cf. Ex 21:5; Eph 5:21; Jam 4:7). The apostle Paul said, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also look out for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4); that word “look out” comes from the Greek word “skopos,” from which we get our English word “skope;” thus we are to carefully consider what others are going through in life, and “skope it out” and respond accordingly.
Why the Christian community here in America in the 20th century, minimized the “war within” is beyond me; in so doing, it completely misled believers, thus causing them to seriously pass judgment on themselves for not being the person of virtue they thought they should be. As stated earlier, the Christian world back in the 20th century “lived a life of pretense;” i.e., it pretended to be what it was not, “a people of great righteousness.” Though all Christians have a righteous standing before God, the righteousness they possess is not their own but Christ’s (cf. Rom 4:3-5, 11, 13; 5:19; 9:30; Jam 2:23); when we place our faith in Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us (i.e., it is placed on our account); though we are still “fallen creatures,” we are now “saved fallen creatures;” it won’t be until we enter the hereafter that “our sinful inner core” (i.e., our flesh) will be removed from us. Meanwhile, we are to “war against it.” Jesus reminds us, “No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:19; cf. Rom 3:10-12). In like manner, Paul said, “Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18). No Christian comes anywhere near having a pure practical righteousness of his own; sin (i.e., self-centeredness) reigns in his flesh because he is a fallen creature. From the very beginning, this has always been a problem with God’s people in our world — they have always minimized their inherent sinfulness and saw themselves as being much better people than they were (cf. Mt 23:27-37; Lk 11:44, 47; Jn 9:40); keep in mind, “sin means to miss the mark;” our behavior simply doesn’t meet God’s holy standards; remember, His standard is “absolute perfection,” and we don’t come close to meeting that kind of a standard — even our best behaviors are tainted with evil. If this is perplexing to you, imagine what kind of a creature you’re going to be once you enter into heaven… do you think you are going to resemble the fallen creature you are now? The reality is, you are going to be so holy and righteous there will be no comparison to what you are now? You are actually going to be like CHRIST HIMSELF! Your glorification and transformation is going to be absolutely mind-boggling to you! Never again, will there be one ounce of darkness in your life! The wonderful reality in all of this, is the fact that God fully understands our weaknesses and loves us with an everlasting unconditional love! (cf. Ps 136:1-26; Is 54:8; Jer 31:3; 33:11; Rom 8:35-39; Heb 2:17-18; 4:15; 2 Cor 5:21).
IN CONCLUSION. . .
Life isn’t easy, but struggling with reality and fighting against it leads to misery. There is something to be said about accepting reality… and doing your best to move through the life God has ordained for you. Essentially, it means keeping your negative fleshly thoughts and emotions in-check, while doing your best to embrace divine thinking. When a disturbing negative reality lands on your plate, simply struggling against it will only lead to unhappiness. When you’re confronted with painful realities, they will naturally aggravate your inner core and destroy your peace. Remember, you don’t have the capacity to make reality what you want it to be (i.e., make yourself rich, famous, handsome, beautiful, successful, and happy); you don’t dictate reality, God does… so if you want to find peace in the midst of the storm, you have to go to God — He is the only one who can give you peace when things are contrary. Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the Philippians saying, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God… and the peace of God which surpasses all human comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (cf. Phil 4:6-7). The word “anxious” in Greek (merimnao) means to have a “distracting care” that rules in our minds in the moment — the options are twofold: either we can continue to let sinful fretting dominate our thought-life, or we can take the distressing problem to the Lord and experience His peace. If we don’t trust in the wisdom and sovereignty of God, we are going to stress out — the foundation in thought here is being confident of God’s presence and His will for our life… to argue against an unpleasantry, is to reject what God is doing in your life. Delighting in the Lord and meditating on His Word are great antidotes to anxiety… since anxiety is the result of one’s thinking on a matter, it is important to redirect one’s thinking. The reality is, we have to learn to turn from fleshly thinking to godly thinking in life; we can’t simply defer to the flesh and let it destroy our peace… when we contemplate divine truth by meditating on the Word and taking the issue to God, He will give us His peace to guard our heart and mind; when we fail to do that, we will simply let sinful fretting rule within us. The concept of “peace” occurs a number of times in Scripture — the Old Testament Hebrew word for peace is “shalom,” and refers to “a harmonious state of the soul” (cf. Ps 29:11; 55:18; 119:165; Is 57:21); conversely, the New Testa-ment Greek word for peace is “eirene,” and refers to “joining together that which has been separated” or “a harmonious relationship” (cf. Lk 7:50; Jn 14:27; 16:33; Rom 5:1; 8:6; Gal 5:22; Phil 4:7). Remember, “God is causing all things to work together for good in our lives” (Rom8:28); that needs to be a foundational principle upon which to live your life… God’s sovereign power and wisdom is controlling all that goes on in your life; though one’s flesh constantly misinterprets that, such is the reality. I find it interesting that nearly every believer’s faith is so shallow that he has a very difficult time hand-ling trials and negatives, in spite of the fact that few of their trials are that significant (so that is not unusual for believers); yet in spite of the insignificance of most trials, they still rob us of our peace. Why is that? because “fleshly thinking” often controls the discourse in our minds. Stated Paul, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (cf. 1 Th 5:18; Eph 5:20); yet one can almost hear believers saying, “Isn’t that a bit much? How can one be thankful in the midst of a storm?” Without having confidence in God’s love and wisdom, we will naturally wonder how a “loving God” can permit such ugly realities in our lives. Keep in mind, every believer down through the ages has struggled with this issue — every believer! So don’t knock yourself out because normalcy defines you. The truth is, things bother me all the time, just like they do you… and I have to take the same action that everyone else has to take — “though I sometimes lose it and fret far more than I should,” ultimately I have to come full-circle, and take it to the Lord.
Giving thanks to God for all things, obviously is no easy matter; it’s our flesh that makes it difficult. It’s not like we can “push a little spiritual button on our head,” and everything is okay — not at all — we have to deny the flesh its desire (remember, it is our flesh that we are fighting) and refuse to let it rule in our lives — this is by far the most dominant “negative” that takes place in our soul… it is a war we must fight over & over & over & over & over again every day of our life. Sadly, for some strange reason this is a very “strange teaching” in most churches… Why is that? Because most churches don’t teach the significance of the flesh and have a far more humanistic understanding of what Scripture teaches. As I commonly state, “The Bible is God’s revelation to man,” and is not to be thought of as “some smorgasbord of thought,” whereby one picks and chooses what he wants to believe. We do not have that option; to embrace such thinking is to give greater credence to human thinking than to divine thinking, which is precisely what the liberal Christian world does… even Pope Francis doesn’t believe in “hell;” he simply cannot reconcile in his mind how a God of love could possibly administrate such a thing. When man refuses to “humble himself” before God, he will struggle greatly with a num-ber of divine truths that Scripture teaches — without humility, one’s eyes will never be opened to the truth. Remember, God only gives grace to the humble; He is opposed to the proud (cf. Jam 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5; Mt 23:12; and Ps 138:6). Beloved, we do not have the option to let human thinking determine what is really true and what is not true — it was just that kind of reasoning that dominated the western world some 300 years ago; the world refers to this construct as “The Enlightenment;” that is, “the superiority of human reason… that absolute truth can only be achieved through pure reason.” This world has rejected “supernatural revelation” and the fact that “man is innately sinful.” And therein lies the downfall of the vast majority of the Christian world — though about 34-35% of the world claims to be Christian, only about 12-13% of the world are truly born again. Incidentally, nearly the entire Jewish world back during the time of Christ claimed to be God’s people, but only about 5% of it were truly people of God. Human reason was not only the cause of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, it is the premiere cause of the denigra-tion of Judaism and Christendom in our world. It should be pretty obvious, at the end of time it will be “godless human reasoning” that ultimately brings about the complete destruction of our world… though Satan will appear to have won the day for a short period of time, at the very end the thinking of the unbelieving world will be disclosed for its complete lack of integrity, and “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD OF ALL!” (Phil 2:10-11).
Fallen man’s chief problem is “his thinking”… it is his thinking that causes turmoil in the world and in his soul… thus man must be extremely conscious of his thoughts, because it is by his thoughts that he lives his life. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived or who ever will live (cf. 1 Kg 3:12), said: “As a man thinks, so is he” (Prv 23:7); it is what a person thinks that defines him, not what he does. As Eliphaz the Temanite said, “The ungodly conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity, and their mind prepares deception” (Job 15:35). Conversely Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and slanders… it is these things that defile a man” (Mt 15:19-20). When Peter rebuked Jesus and told Him that He must not go to Jerusalem and suffer, Jesus said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s!” (Mt 16:23). Said the apostle Paul, “Those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:6). As Paul said, “We are transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2)… “whatever is true, hon-orable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, worthy of praise, and of good repute, let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil 4:8). Let me encourage you to also read the following passages (cf. Eph 4:17; 4:23; Phil 2:3; Col 3:2; Rom 12:3; 1 Cor 14:20; and Gal 6:3). Said King David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps 139:23-24). And then there is the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). Beloved, “your thinking” is what governs your life; since that is the case, you must be intentional about your thinking, and “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). As King Solomon ex-pressed it, “Trust in the Lord with all you heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Prov 3:5-6). It is fallen human thinking that is our problem; this is the war that goes on in our inner core. As stated earlier, “The flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; they are in opposition to one another, so that we may not do the things that we please” (Gal 5:17); we must align our thinking with God’s thinking and be a participant in the cosmic battle between good and evil. As the English hymn writer Helen Howarth Lemmel expressed it in her popular hymn…
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Let’s bring this study to a close by reflecting on this thing called “feelings” — our feelings play an extremely important role in our life… when our feelings are unpleasant, we become frustrated, unhappy, angry and discouraged… conversely, when our feelings are pleasant, we become far more pleased, happy, delighted, and encouraged. Though “feelings” play a critical role in our lives (remember, we are emotional creatures), we are not to let negative feelings govern our lives and cause us to walk in the dark. Obviously, we all want to “feel good,” and not feel defeated, frustrated, unhappy and discouraged… yet there are times when we do experience “strong negative feelings” — the Lord Jesus experienced some very troubling times in His life: His brothers didn’t believe in Him… His people rejected Him… His disciples abandoned Him… His people crucified Him. When Jesus went to the cross, it was not at all a pleasant feeling; according to Scripture, the night before He was crucified “He experienced great agony, and His sweat became like drops of blood” (Lk 22:44). It should be remembered, all of Jesus’ disciples (with the exception of John) were also executed because they became His followers, and like their Master, it was not at all a pleasant experience. Obviously those are extreme conditions that don’t feel good, and there is nothing one can do to make themselves feel good. The truth is, there are numerous situations that we go through in life that “don’t feel good,” and to our discouragement we can’t make ourselves feel better, because the situation we are experiencing is simply too significant to us… though most of the time we can remove ourselves from a situation and redirect our thinking, that is not always the case. Keep in mind, feelings are the residual effect of things we experience. The one thing we can do when our feelings are causing turmoil in the soul, is go to God with our emotional pain, and pour our heart out to Him, just like we do when anxious thoughts overwhelm us. In so doing we acknow-ledge the pain we’re experiencing, and we accept the situation that is disturbing to us, and then we account for the problem for what it really is… as we prayerfully work through it with the Lord, He then generally displaces it with His peace. Because His peace oftentimes isn’t instantly granted, we must spend some time working through it with God… God wants you to deal with your pain on a deep level, not simply on a very shallow level, and that takes time — you wouldn’t learn a thing from trials if God instantly removed them when you cried out to Him.
Now, though God does ultimately give us His peace, that doesn’t mean that we will necessarily “feel good;” though God can calm the turmoil in our soul, seldom if ever do we experience happiness, cheerfulness, and extreme delight in the midst of the storm. When someone in your family dies, there will be a level of pain that you must live with for awhile… and during that time you will probably need to share your heart with the Lord several times. Keep in mind, God uses pain to get our full attention, and get us to see things for what they really are; remember, though you may be hurting, God is hurting with you. Imagine hiking on a mountain trail by yourself and falling down a steep slope and breaking your back… after groaning for an hour or so, as incredible as it may seem, the love of your life finds you and runs to you and holds you in her arms… though the physical pain doesn’t disappear, you are now experiencing a level of peace and comfort and love that is actually greater than your pain. It is during painful circumstances that we often experience God’s love and affection, and the calming of the disconcertion that reigned in our soul. Though God could remove our pain instantly, that is seldom the norm… why is that? because our painful circumstances serve a much greater purpose; God is using our trials to “build our faith.” Think about it: “Is your faith stronger than the pain you are suffering from?” Though it may seem a little surprising to some of you, in many cases our faith is not stronger than our trials… so it is just such experiences that we go through in life that helps “mature and build our faith.” Remember, we’re not men and women of great faith; we simply have faith (as weak as it may be) in an incredibly great God! What is important for us as believers is that “we each be committed to growing in our faith!” (i.e., growing in our relationship with God – cf. 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Cor 3:2; Eph 4:15; Heb 5:12; 2 Pet 3:18; also read Mt 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Lk 12:28; 17:5; ). Though “perfection” is not possible (because we all inhabit sinful flesh), God has given each one of us the ability to have a “mature faith” whereby we walk with Him in this world. As a young child I often focused on a passage in First John that was very troubling to me, because it implied that “Christians don’t sin,” and knowing that I was not without sin, I ultimately concluded that I must not be a believer; that God must not have chosen me to be one of His children. Though I asked God to come into my life over & over again, nothing ever seemed to change who I was. Obviously, the Old King James version of the Bible was the premiere version back in the 1950s; here’s how it read: “Whosoever abideth in Him (i.e., in Christ) sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, He that committeth sin is of the devil… whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 Jn 3:6-9). Though that is what the verse teaches, without an understanding of the “present tense” nature of the “sin” verbs, one can easily misinterpret what it teaches. The reality is, believers do not “practice sin” (that is a far more accurate translation); i.e., sin is not the ongoing ruler of the believer’s life… sin is not the habitual constant expression of his life… believers don’t constantly walk in the dark like unbelievers do; though they may often stumble, it is not their stumbling that characterizes who they are. You may want to read the fol-lowing verses on this subject (cf. Jam 3:2; Ecc 7:20; Ps 38:1-22; 40:12; 73:26; Prv 24:16). The apostle John said, “If we say we have not sinned (i.e., that we have not committed an act of sin), we make God a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 Jn 1:10); what that verse is saying is this: “See yourself for who you really are, and don’t pretend that you are a perfect person; because no human being is! At least be humble and honest regarding who you really are.” Obviously “sin” is a problem the entire world struggles with, but “sin” is not the chief characteristic that defines the believer’s life. Now, though mature believers stumble and fall like everyone else because of their sinful inner core, yet they constantly strive to walk in the light and walk with Christ; and in so doing, they constantly own up to their sins and confess them to the Lord (cf. Rom 7:18; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 3:12-14; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:7, 10; 6:12; 1 Pet 2:2).
Our Eternal Destiny — As God’s children we have all been gifted, equipped and enabled to fulfill God’s purpose for us in this life… in addition to that, however, God still has a purpose for us in the life to come. In the upper room, the night before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you… I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (cf. Jn 14:2-3). The book of Revelation describes heaven as a glorious city, a country, God’s kingdom, paradise. In “the parable of the talents” (cf. Mt 25:14ff), Jesus said those who are “faithful” in this life with what God has given to them, “will be given greater responsibility” in the life to come. Our foremost reward will be hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21, 23). The long and short of it is, we will also receive our new assignment in God’s heavenly kingdom, and will be “put in charge of many things” (Mt 25:21, 23). So our eternal future is not simply going to be lying around on heavenly clouds and strumming harps as some believe. Living “lazy lives” has never been God’s goal for us as His creatures; that is not His goal for us in this life here on earth, nor is it His goal for us in the life to come in heaven. We will have a new heaven and a new earth to live in and serve our Lord (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). We will “inherit the kingdom that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world” (cf. Mt 25:34). The reality is, our actions in this life will determine the assignment God gives to us in the life to come; i.e., “love” will be the soul determinant of our eternal position in God’s Messianic Kingdom (cf. Mt 25: 35-40; Heb 6:10). Now, with all of the foregoing in mind, let me wrap up this study with this exhortation:
Beloved, God has placed YOU on the grand stage of the universe
to be a participant in the cosmic battle between good and evil!
Rejoice in that honor! and fight the good fight of faith
until God brings you into the eternal state
to reign with Him forever and ever!