Refiner’s Fire, Trials and Triumphs of Grace
Trials We Bring on Ourselves
Persecution For Jesus Name’s Sake
Pruning the Branch to Bear More Fruit
I have heard many people ask the question, and many sermons titled, “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” The simple and truthful answer is, “They don’t. Bad things don’t happen to good people. Nobody’s perfect, nobody is “good”. Life happens to all people and life isn’t fair, get over it!”
“Bad “ things happen to everyone and these hardships are among the most misunderstood tools available for our spiritual development. They are also the most under-used. To understand and make the most of the unfortunate events that happen during the course of our earthly lives, we must start with the scriptures.
Luke 18:18-19 A certain ruler asked him, (Jesus), “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone…” NIV
This ruler approached Jesus with the attitude that since Jesus went around doing good, Jesus must be good. Jesus, on the other hand, had been with the Father since before time began, and knew the real definition of good. Only God alone is good and perfect, just and righteous in all His ways. Only perfection can endure in the awesome presence of the Living God, and imperfect humanity can’t. Jesus understood the fallen nature of the human temperament and how far humanity is from the glory of God. Jesus was aware of mankind’s desperate desire to rationalize their faults and justify themselves. Jesus, in his love for us, couldn’t allow anyone to think that anyone is “good enough” to attain heaven by their own merits. It was important to Jesus that this ruler understand how far everyone is from the kingdom of God. So Jesus tells him the truth, “No one is good – except God alone…”
Why would Jesus tell this ruler who was seeking salvation that no one is good, and by implication, the ruler himself wasn’t good either? Because Jesus loved this man and always told the truth. Jesus wanted this man to find salvation and salvation can’t be found without repentance. To repent, we first have to realize we have reason to repent. As we read on in Luke 18, we discover this rich ruler considered himself to be good, because he tells Jesus, in verse 21, that he had kept all the commandments since he was a child. He is a very religious man. He attended church all his life. The man justified himself in his own sight and accounted himself to be worthy of eternal life because he believed he had kept all the commandments. He wanted Jesus to know how “good” he was. The ruler wanted confirmation from Jesus of his worthiness to share eternal life. But Jesus knew the truth about the ruler’s life, and the Lord knows the truth about our lives as well. Jesus also knows you can’t arguing with someone who is self-righteous. Rather than debating the ruler, Jesus shows the man his hypocrisy by challenging the true priorities of his life. Jesus tells the ruler to sell all his goods and give them to the poor - then come and follow him. The Bible says the rich ruler goes away sad because he has many possessions. He goes away sad because he loves his possessions more than his desire for eternal life. He goes away broken hearted, because Jesus has shined the light of truth into the rulers soul, and the poor man cannot deny the truth. He finally sees himself for what he truly is, unworthy. Could we meet the same requirements Jesus presented to the ruler, or are we too attached to this life and it’s pleasures? Are we self-righteous? What aspect of our lives are we unwilling to yield to our Lord?
I like to say, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die!” Nobody wants to let go of this earthly life to embrace eternal life. Nobody wants to lay down the pleasures of self-determination to take up the life of Holy servitude to the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Even as church-going self-proclaimed Christians, most of us don’t want to actually serve God. We want to go to church to feel better about ourselves, but live our lives for our own pleasures, dreams and ambitions. We go to church because it helps us feel like we are “good”, or at least trying. We want to think of ourselves as “good” so we can convince ourselves we are worthy of eternal life. But, the truth of the matter is, our only hope of attaining heaven is by God’s grace.
Now, because we have drifted so far from the truth, believing ourselves to be “good”, we are surprised and indignant when, in the course of living, troubles come our way. Often, because of our perception of ourselves as “good”, we are angry with God that he lets “bad” things happen to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing the natural tendency of fallen mankind is to blame God and everybody else for our troubles, the Holy Spirit, through the Bible, gives us words of wisdom to help us sort out the truth.
James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; NIV
Trials We Bring on Ourselves
To understand the trials of life, we have to realize sometimes we bring the “bad” things on ourselves. Strong’s Concordance of the Bible’s definition of the original Greek word, translated in James as “tempted”, is: (to test (objectively), that is endeavor, scrutinize, entice, discipline:). So, we see here in the Holy Scriptures, that God will not objectively test us by putting evil in our path; nor will He endeavor (that is, attempt to gain an outcome through testing us), with evil; scrutinize, entice, or discipline us using evil. Therefore, when we are confronted by trials in our lives, the only thing we can say with absolute certainty is, “God didn’t make this happed to me!” If we go back to James the first chapter and start reading again at verse 13, but continue on through verse 15, the Holy Spirit elaborates on the truth of God.
James 1:13-15 When tempted , no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. NIV
What is an evil desire? Well, there are the obvious ones that lead to: murder, lust, adultery, theft, gossiping; but the list is endless. To put it simply, an evil desire is anything that exalts itself against the nature of God. When we first truly believe and begin to walk with the Lord, we avoid these obvious evil desires. Sometimes we fail, but our failure is accompanied by guilt and repentance. We don’t go out looking for sin. As we grow in the Lord and start to act more and more like Jesus, we fail at these obvious sins less often. But that isn’t the end of our evil desires.
I will give you an example from my own life, but not a very embarrassing one. God specifically desires that I get up early in the morning to spend time with Him before the day begins. Most of my praying, scripture reading and writing takes place during these early hours. I know God wants me to do it. When I’m tired and want to blow-off the Creator of Heaven and Earth and lay in bed and indulge my flesh with a few more hours of sleep; that’s an evil desire.
James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. NIV
It is probably a foreign concept to most Believers that laying in bed doing nothing can be sin. But if God tells you to get up, it certainly is. And actually, thinking about it just now, it is probably a foreign concept to most Believers to think God would speak to our hearts and tell us when to get up in the morning. But God created humanity for companionship. His greatest desire is to spend time with us. As we pray and study the scriptures and wait on Him, we all can begin to hear His voice in our spirits. He is with us always, His Holy Spirit dwells in us, we just need to condition our hearts to listen to His constant companionship. He won’t just tell us what to do. He’ll tell us how much He loves us. He’ll share with us the things He has planned for us. He’ll comfort us, encourage us, correct us and guide us.
The Devil Desires to Destroy Us
Another source of trials is the Devil himself. When we give Satan authority in our lives through fear and disobedience to God, The Evil One exploits our weakness. In 1 Peter 5:8, we are admonished, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. NIV When we fear, we are putting our faith in the power of darkness to do us harm, not in the Lord Our God. When we don’t control our desires, we serve ourselves and not the Righteous Judge and yield ourselves servants of sin. Satan himself, the Wiley Serpent, was cast out of heaven for rebelling against God’s authority. When we assume to set the standard for what is right and what is wrong for our own lives, we cast off the authority of our Loving God and wander off into the desolate wasteland of rebellion, where our enemy prowls around as a roaring lion, ready to devour the disobedient. God didn’t send us out into the wilderness to be attacked by The Evil One, we went out there to get away from God. Like Adam and Eve, when we recognize sin in our lives, we run from God and try to hide.
The good news is, all of us can repent when we find we have wandered away from God. We can all turn around and go back to our Loving Father, knowing He will welcome us with loving arms. Our Father waits for us even as the father of the prodigal son continually scanned the horizon for any sight of his lost child. Repentance brought the prodigal home to his father and repentance is the key for us too. When we find ourselves in the midst of a trial that is of our own making, repentance, turning around, will bring us home to our Heavenly Father.
Persecution For Living the Truth
There is another form of trials we will hopefully endure in this life, persecution for His names sake.
2 Timothy 3:12-13 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. NIV
The persecution spoken about by Paul isn’t for any mistakes we have made, or for poor judgment on our part. These trials come specifically because we are living godly lives - and this world hates God and all who serve truth. The world will ridicule and make trouble for Believers who live the truth. If we compromise our beliefs and values and don’t make a stand for God’s truth, the world will be our friend. If Believers denounce sin and call for repentance, the world will hurl stones at us. But, evil men and imposters are at work among the Believers. These imposters pose as “Christians” but dilute the truth of God so it doesn’t offend the world. These agents of evil, infiltrating the Body of Christ, object to the truth and deceive Believers into compromise, even as the imposters themselves are deceived into compromise.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. NIV
The time will come, when men will not put up with sound doctrine. If we stand up for the truth, and with genuine concern for the eternal fate of the lost, say, “Sin is sin and it is unacceptable to God!” we will be called “judgmental” and “intolerant”. If we dare say, “Jesus Christ is the Way. There is no other path to find The Father!”, we will be condemned for disrespecting the beliefs of others. Don’t wonder when bad things happen because of our stand for Truth. We are promised hard times will come because of our faith.
1 Peter 4:12-17 Dear friends, do not be surprise at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? NIV
Notice that Peter says, “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” Christians are quick to claim their sufferings are persecution for Jesus’ names sake, but in reality, it is often the result of their own poor behavior. Peter says, “Don’t call it persecution for Jesus’ names sake when you suffer for the things you have done wrong. However, if you suffer because you bear the image of Christ, do not be ashamed.” So, if we are doing our jobs, as imitators of Christ, we will be hated and persecute. These trials are easy to distinguish from trials we bring upon ourselves through our sin and rebellion, or the natural calamities that are a part of this life. Troubles focused on us because of our godliness will come from other people, even from imposters within the Body of Christ!
All Things Work Together for Good
Whether our trials are of our own making, an attack of the Devil, the result of “life happening” to us, or persecution for the sake of our Lord, it can all work to our benefit, if we will submit ourselves to our loving Father.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. NIV
Notice, in this passage from Romans, that not all things work for the good of all people. There are some requirements on our part for all things to work for our good. If we want all things, even “bad” things to work for our good, we have to love God and be called according to His purpose. What does that mean? Well, many people know who God is so they think they know God. This isn’t the case. If we only know about God, then when “bad” things happen, we will most likely blame God for letting them happen. If we truly know our loving God; and not just know about Him, then, when “bad” things happen, we will collapse in the arms of your comforting Father. The second part of Romans 8:28 re-enforces the first part. We have to be called according to His purpose. What is God’s purpose for us? Well, God’s desire is that each of us would be saved from ourselves by the sacrifice of His Son. Gods’ purpose for each of us is that we would enter into salvation through Christ. The Father desires that we would be found in Christ and that we would be daily conforming to the image of Christ. He wants the love of God shed abroad in our hearts so we produce fruit consistent with repentance. The Father’s plan for us is that good works would abound in us to the glory of God. God’s purpose for us is that we would be the Body of Christ, the representation of our Savior in this earth. When the world looks at each of us, do they see another human being, or do they see Christ in us? What is God’s purpose for us? He desires us to be his representatives in this earth, illustrating His love for all humanity.
When “bad” things happen to us, the question becomes; do we love God? Are we called according to His purpose? If the answer is “Yes!” we will run to our Father for shelter. We will find our peace beneath the shadow of His powerful wings. He will be our strong fortress against the onslaught of the enemy. He will be our tower of refuge in our time of need. He will be our strength and our comforter. We will trust in The Lord, Our God. We will learn to look at the situations that confront us and say, “What can I learn from this!” Then we will seek God for the answer.
Our Biblical Reaction to Trials
What then, should be the Believers reaction to difficult times and hardships? Jesus tells us we should find peace in Him.
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV
We were not told our troubles would disappear. But we were told we would find our peace in Him. We would find our peace in the midst of trials, through our relationship with Christ. If we are found in Christ, having our conduct conformed to Christ, we will find peace. That doesn’t mean that troubles won’t come, because Jesus promises us they will come. But we can have rest and contentment in the midst of our trials because we have been redeemed from the law of sin and death by the blood of The Lamb. We can go boldly to the Throne of Grace in our time of need and seek help. We can take heart, because Jesus assures us He has overcome the world; and what we are enduring is not eternal, like the life we share in Christ, but it is only temporary, and cannot blot out the peace we have in Christ.
Life comes equipped with its own set of troubles, many of which are of our own making. We face trials that are common to everyone, the natural troubles that come along with living. We should use these trials in our lives to draw us closer to God. Then, there is persecution for His Names sake: speak up for Christ, live as God’s representative in this earth, love your fellow man, and the world will persecute you even as it persecuted our Lord. This type of trial is good. It is an honor to be counted worthy to suffer persecution for our Lord’s sake. Persecution means we are doing what we are supposed to do. These persecutions should draw us closer in our relationship with God as well.
Trials We Bring On Ourselves
Trials and hardships should get our attention. Adversity in all forms should be like road signs pointing us towards our Savior and Lord. In Hebrews 12, we are told to endure hardship as discipline from God. This would seem to be in direct contradiction to the first chapter of James where we are told that God doesn’t test us with evil. If God doesn’t test us with evil, how can we accept hardship as God’s discipline? The key to understanding is the phrase from James, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” We are not tempted by God. We give into temptation ourselves. When we rebel against God by following our own evil desires, we end up in trouble.
James 1:13-15 When tempted , no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. NIV
We see here that temptation begins with our own evil desires. When we give in to temptation, it becomes sin. The guilt we have over our sin causes us to draw away from our Father. When we wander in the wasteland of disobedience, far away from our protective Father, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the effects of sin and the hardships it creates in our lives. In Hebrews 12 we are told we should endure hardship as the Lord’s discipline. We saw earlier in James 1:13, where it said, When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; NIV Remember, part of the definition of the word translated “tempted” is “discipline”. While reading Hebrews 12, we must understand that God does not discipline us with evil. If God doesn’t discipline us with evil, how can we accept hardships as God’s discipline? It’s quite simple. We bring the hardship upon ourselves through sin, but God uses those hardships in our lives to re-direct us back to Him. It’s here that we look back to Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. NIV Even in the hardships we bring upon ourselves through our own disobedience, God uses it for our good, if we love Him and are His. With that in mind, lets look at the scriptures from Hebrews 12.
Hebrews 12:4-13 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. NIV
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible, the primary meaning for the word translated in this passage as “discipline” and “disciplined” is: education, training. By extension, the education or training is intended for correction. With that in mind, it would be a more in line with the original language to read this passage of scripture, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s education for your correction, Endure hardship as correction; God is treating you as sons. You will notice, the text takes on a subtly different meaning.
The Word is full of admonitions to do what is right in the sight of the Lord. These guidelines for conduct, taught through the Holy Scriptures, are for our own wellbeing. As natural human beings, we like to pick and choose what scriptures we want to apply to ourselves and dismiss the other scriptures as for someone else. When our actions become sin, (as outlined in James 1:13-15), it creates hardships in our lives. When we endure hardships, we should view it as correction, designed to change our sinful behavior. The important thing to keep in mind is, when we give-in to sin, it makes our lives vulnerable to the effects of sin. God doesn’t do anything to us, we do it to ourselves.
Disobedience always results in hardship. But, if we allow the hardships to redirect us back to God, then these trials have worked out for our benefit. If we consider the trials we bring upon ourselves and remember God’s admonitions to live righteously and holy before Him, we can avoid many future hardship by learning from our mistakes. And, all the while, Jesus is seated at the right hand of The Father, pleading our case, because He cares for us.
Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NIV
Jesus sympathizes with our weakness, so we shouldn’t hesitate to call on Him for help when we are weak. Jesus will not judge us harshly, but extend God’s grace towards us, to enable us to overcome temptation. God’s grace is sufficient for us in our trials. Sometimes we will succeed in resisting temptation, sometimes we will fail. But if we grow from the experience, we will be better prepared for the next time we entertain the notion to sin. And God’s grace is always there, waiting for us to call on Him for help.
Because God is ever present to help us, when we do sin, we sin because we choose to. God’s grace always provides a way out for us. If we choose not to take it, we alone bear the responsibility for our actions. Listen to this next passage of scripture.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. NIV
God will always provide a way out of every temptation for us. He says so in His Holy Scriptures. That is why it can be said in James, …no one should say, “God is tempting me.” God is rooting for us! God has provided a way to escape temptation. We have the grace of God to back us up in every situation. So when we do sin, we do it because we choose to. It’s our choice. We bear the responsibility. We reap the consequences of our own actions. And God is there to help us clean up the mess we make. We can relate to the words of the Apostle Paul:
Romans 7:21-25 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! NIV
We want to do good and God provides a way to escape temptation, but we end up sinning anyway. We have failed once again! Who can deliver us from our evil selves? Thank God! We can be delivered from our own evil desires through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. But when we fail time after time, how can we continue to believe we can do better? How can we shake off the shame and frustration of failure and try once again to do right in the sight of God? Again, Paul comes to our rescue. Paul talks about how he walks away from everything that has earthly value, so he can gain Christ. And, he tells us how he turns his back on the failures of his past and keeps his eyes on the goal ahead, submission to Christ.
Philippians 3:7-16 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. NIV
Paul didn’t try to claim he was good enough for heaven. In fact, Paul new his own imperfections condemned him. He knew he didn’t have “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” because he knew he wasn’t able to live up to that standard. No one could except the Christ! But Paul did grab hold of the righteousness of God through Christ, “that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” and claim that for his own. Paul desired to continue to become “like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” by dying to his old life and his earthly desires. Paul knew he hadn’t successfully put his old self behind him, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,” but Paul didn’t let his failures stop him from achieving his goals. In fact, Paul’s key for spiritual growth was one thing, “one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul dropped all his failures at the foot of the cross and forgetting them there, set his attention on achieving godliness through Christ Jesus.
Through Christ, we can overcome our sinful nature. We are tempted by desires that are contrary to godliness. When we give in to those sinful desires we bring the consequences of sin on ourselves. But we are told to endure these self-inflicted trials as discipline and education from God. We are told that Jesus Christ can sympathize with us because He too was tempted and knows what it was like, even though He never gave in to temptation. We are told to boldly come to the throne of grace in our time of need. We are told that Jesus can deliver us from ourselves. And finally, we are told to forget those things that are behind us and press on towards the goal for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
James 4:7-10 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. NIV
God doesn’t send trials to us to punish us. “Bad” things happen as the natural course of life. If we stop and think about it, living itself is going to wear out our mortal bodies and kill us. Most people consider dieing to be a “bad” thing. But, we cannot possibly make it though this life without dieing. So, if the ultimate promise of this physical life is that we are going to die, why should we find it unreasonable that other, smaller, “bad” things will happen to us on our journey towards death? When trials arise in our lives, and we search our hearts and know we are still in communion with our Father, we need to seek peace, knowing our Heavenly Father is watching over us in all things.
Romans 5:1-11 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. NIV
When life happens - and we find ourselves in trials not of our own making, we should hold on to our Heavenly Father and we will have peace in the storms of life. Not only that, but we should rejoice in our trials, knowing that patient endurance of hardship will develop our ability to persevere in every circumstance life throws at us. It is that ability to persevere in all things that builds the spiritual characteristics that help us hold fast to the hope of our salvation until the end. That spiritually strong character gives us hope and hope never lets us down, because God has poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
When we draw close to our Heavenly Father in our times of trials and need, we are embraced by His loving peace. God’s Holy Spirit will comfort us and enable us to accept whatever comes. Often, it is our brothers and sisters in Christ who represent the comfort of God to us. After all, as believers, we are God’s representatives in this earth. Through our trials, we will be built up and strengthened in our faith. And when we have been strengthened, we will be able to be God’s representative of peace and comfort to someone else in need.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. NIV
So, when we understand we have reason to rejoice in our trials - because they will strengthen us, we can say with the Apostle James, “Count it all joy!”
James 1:2-5 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” NIV
Then we will understand that in every “bad” situation that happens to us, God can make it work out to our ultimate benefit, even though it isn’t pleasant to endure at the time. Knowing this principle will help us to understand that everything we endure in this life can help us become better followers of Christ, if we allow God to help us grow through the experience. The Apostle Paul said that, “all things work together for the good of those who love God!”
Romans 8:28-39 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. NIV
In all the trials of life, we are more than conquerors through Jesus the Christ, who was sent to the cross because of His Father’s love for us. So, are we all victorious in the trials that hammer us? If we have the right heart attitude we are. Here is a simple test we can give ourselves when the trials of life come against us. Do we blame or question God for our difficulties, or do we run into the loving embrace of our Father for comfort and help? If we fall into the first category of those who blame or question God, we need to develop a personal relationship with the Father through Christ. Just going to church and knowing there is a God in heaven, doesn’t mean we know God or have a relationship with Him. When we blame God for our troubles, we certainly don’t know God. If we really knew Him and had a saving relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son, we would know God isn’t making bad things happen to us. When we truly know God and understand His loving nature, we never blame Him, we run to Him for comfort.
1 John 5:1-5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his Child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. NIV
So, are we overcoming the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God will be overcoming the world. We’ve been made more than conquerors, over-comers in this life. We’ve been made victorious through the blood of Jesus Christ. When the trials of life hammer us, run into the loving shelter of our Father’s arms and he will give us peace and help in our time of need.
Persecution for Jesus Name’s Sake
Another source of trials is persecution for our commitment to Christ. This is quite rare in America today, for two reasons: First, the general population living in darkness is relatively tolerant of people who express a faith in Christ. I doubt this will be true much longer. The darkened world is becoming more militant in their resistance to true Believers. They don’t have much problem with religions that compromise the truth of Christ, but they will not tolerate hearing the truth much longer. The forces of darkness are gathering to war against the bearers of light. Secondly, the majority of true Believers are so conformed to this world, it’s difficult to distinguish between Followers of Christ and those who follow their own desires. This also will soon change. The Spirit of God is fanning the embers of faith in the hearts of those who call on His Name. Spontaneously, all over the world, Believers are getting out of the pews and beginning to do the work of the ministry – the work of reconciling the world to God through Christ. It is this revival in the hearts of the faithful that will bring about the great harvest of souls for eternity and the great persecution of the Body of Christ. For this reason, we must prepare ourselves and become familiar with enduring trials for Jesus’ Names sake.
Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. NIV
Here we are told we must share in Christ’s sufferings in order to share in His glory. What were Christ’s sufferings? He was persecuted by the religious leaders. He was despised by the gentiles. He was mocked, falsely accused, tortured, murdered and rejected. He was separated from His Father on the cross so our sin would never have to separate us from our Heavenly Father again. Wow! This sounds like fun! But Jesus willingly did all this for us. The scriptures say that because of the Joy set before Him, Jesus endured the shame of the cross. What was the joy that motivated Jesus? It was seeing us, reunited with our Heavenly Father. That was what kept Jesus going. That was what motivated Him. What motivates us? Is it the joy of seeing our fellow men reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice? Or is our motivation escaping the fires of hell? If we are just in this “Jesus Thing” to escape the penalty for our sins, suffering for Christ doesn’t hold much appeal. But if we are Servants of the Most High God, bought with a price, washed by the blood of the Lamb, redeemed from the pit, sanctified by the Word of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit and clothed in the full armor of God, then we rush headlong for the battle, undaunted by what may lay ahead! The sufferings of Christ are badges of honor we will humbly bear for all eternity. Make no mistake about it, we will all wish we had done more in this life to redeem fallen humanity when we enter into eternity. A mortal life without suffering for Christ will receive little reward in the coming kingdom. This mortal life, consumed on ourselves, will have far too few redeemed souls to show for the time we were given here.
1 Peter 1:3-9 Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. NIV
We are told we have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, that our faith may be proved genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Many profess faith, but when the trials of life come against them, they wither and die. They quit fellowshipping with fellow Believers. They fall back into their old way of life. But those who endure the trials have their faith refined by fire so it is purer, more precious, more valuable than riches. Every time gold is melted down, more impurities are cooked out of it, rise to the surface, skimmed off the top and discarded. The finest, purest, most valuable gold, is gold that has been repeatedly refined by fire until there is nothing left in it but gold. That’s the way it is with our faith. Every time we are tried by the fires of difficulty, more impurities are burned out of us, unless of course we fall away from our faith. But for those who endure, a purer faith awaits – and what is the result of our refined faith? Our lives result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed in us. Why? What about us glorifies God? Well, what about Jesus glorified His Father? It was Jesus’ obedience. Jesus obeyed His Father and brought glory to His God. Jesus obeyed His Father and accomplished the work the Father had set out for him to do. As we are refined by fire, we come into more complete submission to our Heavenly Father. We become more useful to our God. We accomplish more of what we are instructed to do for the kingdom. As the refiners fire burns away more of the impurities of our lives, Jesus Christ is what is left. He begins to show through us. Christ is revealed in us. We live as Christ, reconciling the world to God through the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross. We bring praise and glory and honor to our God from the lips of those who have come to know our Father through our sacrificial lives, lived for the Christ.
Acts 14:21-22 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antiock, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. NIV
Paul and Barnabas sacrificed their personal lives to travel spreading the good news of the gospel of Christ. They won a large number of new Believers in Derbe, then, started back though some of the other towns they had preached in. When they get there, they tell the young Believers how hard their new life is going to be. It doesn’t seem like a very persuasive approach to encourage new Believers they will have to endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. It certainly wouldn’t be a popular message in today’s Church. Yet, that’s what Paul and Barnabas told the new Believers at Lystra, Iconium and Antiock. Why? What was different about those early Believers that today’s Church doesn’t understand? Some suggest the persecution of the early Church was so great they faced a threat unknown to the modern world. That would seem true, if the United States was the model for the Church. But it isn’t. If you study Christian persecution, you will find more Believers have sacrificed their lives for the gospel in the last one hundred years than in any other time in Church history. The powers of darkness still desire to snuff out God’s people. Believers are dying for their faith in greater numbers than ever before, but here in America, we remain relatively safe. Why? Some would say we are blessed and favored by God. It might be true. Others would say our faith is so compromised and our service to the Most High God is so weak, the Devil has nothing to worry about from us. The American Church is so fragmented, argumentative, self-serving, compromised, greedy and powerless, we don’t make time to reach the lost. The lost look at average church-goers and say, “Why should I get up on Sunday morning, give away ten percent of my paycheck and be just another hypocrite in a pew? I could stay in bed, sleep one off, save my money for myself and be my own boss?”
If there is no discernable difference between the lost and the saved, why would Satan persecute the saved? Carnal “Christians” support the argument that humans don’t really need God. Why would the Devil persecute Believers who are doing his work for him? But, the Word of God says, we share in Christ’s sufferings to share in Christ’s glory. For God to hold back Christ’s sufferings from us would be the same as withholding Christ’s glory from us. Because of this, we know God allows persecution for Christ’s name’s sake. We are told repeatedly we will be persecuted. We are told we will share in His glory if we share in His sufferings. We aren’t persecuted here in the States because we haven’t taken a stand for truth and righteousness.
But there has endured a remnant who are sold out for Christ who speak and live the truth. The Spirit of God is stirring up these watchmen to proclaim the truth once again. Believers all over the world are awakening to a new commitment to “live as Christ”. As this revival among Believers leads to the restoration of the Body of Christ, the Devil will have a reason to persecute the true Church in America. Even as Paul and Barnabas prepared the early Believers for what they would experience in their Christian walk, the modern Believer must prepare for the same. As our lives begin to express the life of Christ, we should not think it unusual that we would be persecuted even as our Lord was persecuted. We must prepare our hearts to endure what lay ahead.
Pruning the Branch to Bear More Fruit
Trials and hardships take many forms, and as we have seen, have many causes. Ultimately, everything that happens in our lives has the potential for strengthening our faith and developing maturity, as we submit ourselves to our Heavenly Father. As young and immature Believers, God’s grace covers us and shelters us. We get away with a lot of things because our Father understands we are vulnerable. But as we grow and develop, God withdraws His grace from our lives by degrees, allowing us to reap what we sow in our lives. The trials we undergo help us to mature. The more we mature, the more obedient we are to our Father.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. NIV
With obedience, we experience fewer trails. But there comes a point in a Believer’s life when, from the overflowing of spiritual life within us, we desire to do more for the Father. We step out of the safety of inactivity and actively work to build up God’s kingdom. Often, this desire to serve God is accompanied by spiritual pride. After all, we still battle against our human nature. God resists the proud, so at this point, the going gets tough, (if it doesn’t, we are doing something wrong!). At the same time, Satan sits up and takes notice a new warrior has entered the arena, and this simply will not do. The powers of darkness array themselves against anyone who wants to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. So, when we step out to serve God in a greater capacity, our world caves-in around our ears. Often, we don’t know what hit us, but if our hearts are turned towards God, we cry out in our time of need. Our Father is there for us.
1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's might hand, that he may lift you up in due time. NIV
If we humble ourselves before our Heavenly Father and repent, he will lift us up when we stumble and fall, time after time. I am particularly hard headed. The phase of my Christian walk, were I was being pruned back, seemed to last about twenty years. While I regret wasting so much time, it was necessary to burn enough of the impurities out of my life to make me usable to God. Not that I have been refined to a state of purity, I have a long way yet to go. But, forgetting the failures of my past, I press on towards the goal, the higher calling of God; to reveal Christ in this life I now live. The principle remains however, the more you want to accomplish for the Kingdom of God, the more of your own self-determination you must relinquish to the Father. Jesus didn’t accomplish anything on his own. He only did those things He saw the Father doing. Anything we accomplish in this life that we didn’t see the Father do first, is wood hay and stubble that will be consumed on Judgment Day. We ourselves will be spared, but OUR good works will be devoured by flames. For this reason, God has a training program for anyone who would press on in His service.
James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. NIV
Here, the Apostle James gives some good advice to anyone who wants to be a teacher among the Body of Christ. Basically he tells the Body of Christ, “Not many of you should think you have so much going on that you could be a teacher in the Church. Don’t you know that anyone who takes on the responsibility of building up the Body of Christ will be judged more harshly than the average Believer?” This principle holds servants of the Body of Christ to a higher requirement of spiritual maturity and conduct than the Body at large. It is necessary since these servants will be imitated by those they teach. If the servant of God doesn’t model holiness, piety, self control, meekness, humility, perseverance, love towards God and the Body of Christ, then that person has no business instructing the Body about anything. If they can’t live it consistently before all witnesses, they come off as hypocrites and do more damage than good.
So, if any of us presumes to become a teacher of the Body of Christ, God’s grace will be withdrawn to a greater degree, allowing us to reap more of what is sewn in our lives. When the trials come upon us, we will either be destroyed or we will be refined and perfected. This helps weed out those who serve themselves and not God. Yet, we are warned there are many imposters among the Body of Christ seeking to lead many astray. This differentiates between those with a sincere desire to serve God and those who are servants of darkness. But, for those who truly seek to serve the Most High God, the spiritual refining continues.
John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful… NIV
Keep in mind, God does not actively discipline people with “bad” things in their lives, (James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; NIV). “Bad” things happen, period. If we submit ourselves to our Heavenly Father, He uses these events for our education and maturation. In John 15:1-2, we are told if we don’t bear fruit for the Kingdom of God, the trials of life are going to come along and we will fall away from God and loose our faith – and subsequently, our hope of salvation. However, if our lives are fruitful, the trials of life are going to come along and we will hold onto God and patiently endure the trails, mature and become more fruitful. The same storms of life will either destroy our faith or strengthen our faith, depending on our hearts. If a real and abiding relationship with God, through Christ, is the solid rock we stand on by faith, then, by the grace of God, we sill stand. Not only stand, but we will rejoice when we encounter various trials and our lives will bear more spiritual fruit.
Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. NIV
It is through the refiner’s fire we find the opportunities for spiritual maturity. When trials come our way, we should rejoice for the chance to press on with God. And our eternal faith, more precious than gold, is continually refined, ultimately, for the glory of God.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. NIV