Three Ways God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

perseverance

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The sufferings we endure are not meaningless within the hands of God. This is true regardless of whether we have brought the suffering upon ourselves or whether it has come upon us through the hands of others or our environment. When we put ourselves in the hands of God by faith, our sufferings are invested with another purpose. As the Apostle Paul outlines here in Romans 5, God takes us in the midst of our sufferings and shapes something valuable into our lives.

First, Paul writes, God shapes perseverance into our lives. This is the capacity to keep going, even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Perseverance does not just magically appear in our lives. It is something that we must develop, like a runner suffering through training until she can run a full marathon. While none of us desire suffering, when we submit our suffering to God we free Him to develop perseverance into our lives. Without perseverance, nothing else will come because we will continually push against our circumstances and against God. But as we grow in perseverance, God can have His way in developing us for His glorious purposes.

Along with perseverance, Paul tells us, God uses our sufferings to shape character into our lives. Character is not an abstract gift from God—just an idea about virtue—but is something tangibly confirmed in our lives through the furnace of our trials. If you want character without suffering, you are looking for something else; perhaps a good reputation. If you want character without perseverance, you really want something else; perhaps informational knowledge of what character is. But if we really want character, there is no other way than through the furnace of suffering. Character is developed through trying and testing, like a precious metal refined in the fire as the dross is burned away to reveal its highest quality. Our character is developed and revealed through the fires of suffering combined with our willingness to persevere.

Third, Paul tells us that hope follows character and perseverance when our suffering is given into the hands of God. Hope arises as we persevere amidst the fires of suffering in which character is shaped. Without hope we give up in life, as we know from those who lose a will to live in dire health circumstances or imprisonment. But with hope, we can find meaning in life and keep going. It is by clinging to God by faith amidst suffering that we begin to see that God is indeed doing something else as we bear up in the challenges of life. Contrary to what we perceive with our eyes, God is at work, and this revelation that God is at work brings hope into our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight, as Paul writes elsewhere (2 Corinthians 5:7), but it is hope that keeps us walking. When we yield our sufferings to God, letting Him shape Christlike character in us, hope simultaneously springs up as we realize God has not left us alone and is working in our lives.

All of this meaningful work of God amidst suffering is sustained not by sheer human willpower (although the will is significant), but by the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love tying us into the presence of God through Christ. God is at work, completing what He begins in us (Philippians 1:6). God is working within us with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). And so, even as Christ’s suffering was powerful significant, so, too, when we yield our sufferings to God they bring forth a harvest of righteousness for His glory.

Living with Christian Hope

sunrise

What is hope?

We all have hopes of different sorts. In the past we may have talked about the hope of a new job, a life partner, or an amazing gift for our birthday. In times like this, hope becomes more focused, when consider the basics of our health, our livelihood, and, in some cases, survival.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Hope is an expectation. It is a desire. It is a longing and yearning that something would become a reality. By definition, hope has two basic parts:

  • The longing that exists within us
  • The object, or goal, toward which our longing is directed

Some of us, when we talk about hope, put the emphasis mostly on the first part of that: we emphasize the longing that exists within us. We have hope – a sort of vague, fuzzy longing – that things would be better, but the object – or goal – of our hope is sometimes undefined or unclear.

When we come to Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus, the essence of hope is something more focused and clear. In Jesus’ walk along the Emmaus road with the disciples who did not recognize them, this topic of hope surfaces multiple times. Look at the words spoken by those men walking the road with Jesus:

The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. (Luke 24:20-21)

Christian hope is a desire – a longing – that is firmly fixed on Jesus as the object of our hope. Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life with God and His kingdom is ultimately true. Christian hope has a fixed object – Jesus’ life and teaching – and builds upon that.

Consider with me how the Apostle Paul writes about hope in Romans 5:

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 boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Let me highlight just a few basic things that Paul is saying here in Romans about hope:

  • Hope begins from our ‘justification of faith’ (vs 1): this is the justification before God – being put right in standing before God – that comes to us by Jesus going to the Cross and returning to life in victory over sin, death, and evil in the Resurrection. Hope is based on that historical event.
  • Hope stands in the state of grace (vs 2): God sees us through Jesus Christ and not through our sins and wrongs. Grace means that we receive something from God we do not deserve: mercy in place of judgment; kindness instead of wrath; hope instead of despair.
  • Hope lives with perseverance (vss 3-4): Hope believes that God is at work in the midst of our sufferings and trials, doing something in us. Hope believes that God is making us people of character through our difficulties until we see Him face to face.
  • Hope looks toward ultimate glory of God (vss 1 & 5): Hope anticipates both God’s glory fully revealed at the end of human history and God’s glory revealed to us individually at the end of our physical lives because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Christian hope says there will come a day when God will make all things right and new at the end of human history in the new heaven and new earth. Hope is the longing for this reality ever before us

Some might say that Christianity is just wishful thinking. Frederick Buechner offers this unique reframing of that accusation:

Christianity is mainly wishful thinking…

Dreams are wishful thinking. Children playing at being grown-ups is wishful thinking. Interplanetary travel is wishful thinking.

Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.

Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it. [1]

We may respond to those who accuse Christian hope of being “wishful thinking” that perhaps the wishful thinking could be called faith. And perhaps faith is a way to access a reality that is there. And perhaps the reason we dream about such a thing being true is that the truth has birthed such a dream within us in the first place.

Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life and eternity is ultimately true. Christian hope flows out of Jesus’ resurrection from death after the Cross. It reshapes the way we view our failings, our sufferings, and the end of our lives. It also reshapes the way we view our world.

Jesus’ resurrection allow us to live with hope that there is meaning in our lives and meaning beyond our lives. When we live with hope, we have meaning both for now and for our future.  With the Apostle Paul, we can say,

and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

 


[1] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers , 1973), 96.

 

 

The Flesh of Our Savior: the importance of the body in Jesus’ redemption

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald.jpg

The entire life of faith begins with God reaching out to us first. In response to humanity’s fall from grace and sin’s impact upon this world, God sent Jesus, fully God and fully man, to live, die and be resurrected to bring us and all creation back to God through relational restoration. This is how Paul describes it:

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 person, through for a good person 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. (Romans 5:6-8)

In the face of humanity’s sin-soaked efforts to stand at the center and push God to the periphery, in the face of humanity’s guilt and shame, God steps in to demonstrate His love by sending Jesus into our midst.

And through that demonstration of love in Jesus, sin’s disordering power in our lives and choices is broken by God’s grace.  Here is Paul again, just a few verses later:

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:17-21)

Let me summarize Paul’s flow of thought like this:

Adam’s sinful action Christ’s righteous action
Death comes to humanity Grace and life to humanity
Condemnation to humanity Justification and life to humanity
Humanity becomes sinful Humanity becomes righteous
The Law highlights sin’s victory in wrong and death Grace highlights Jesus’ victory in eternal life

Death reigned through Adam’s sin, but those receiving the grace of Christ will reign in life. Condemnation came down through Adam’s one sinful act to all humanity, but Jesus’ one righteous act eradicates judgment and opens the way to life. Adam’s disobedience made all humans sinners, but Jesus’ obedience makes many righteous. The law of God highlights the victory of sin in which human beings are trapped to the point of death.  But the grace of God in Christ has victory over sin, bringing us into eternal life.

The background of Genesis 1-3 is important here because Jesus is, in a sense, the second Adam, bringing redemption to humanity from the power of the Fall.  This is a re-introduction to the way things were supposed to be in the original creation, and the doorway into that renewal is Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus gives grace, life, and freedom from guilt and shame. We don’t have to be afraid of God or ashamed of God because of Jesus and what He has done. The access point for us to this is new life and grace is faith. We reach back to the God who first reached out to us.

The Importance of Jesus’ Redemption in the Body
Now, we all know this is really important in terms of salvation, but we may wonder what any of this has to do with our love, sexuality, and body life. 

It is important to remember that Jesus came in a body to do this work of salvation. That incarnation – that physicality – is not tangential but vital to the redeeming work of Christ. The Apostle John writes:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus came in a body because we live in bodies. His saving work – His redeeming work – had to be physical to bring God’s power to bear upon the created world. It may seem outlandish that God would draw near in a human body, but this is the way salvation works and, in a sense, must work. This is the fleshed-out reality of the title “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

Without Jesus’ body, there would be no redemption or salvation. John the Apostle knew this and so a major theme of his letters is counteracting the proto-Gnosticism so prevalent and popular in his day. 

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3)

The fleshy-ness of Jesus is vital to the truth of what God is doing. Why? John goes on a bit later in that same chapter:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

Paul told us earlier that Jesus’ death demonstrated God’s love for us (Roman 5:8), and now John echoes that, saying God’s love is shown in Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Sin ruptures relationship with God. That rupture happened through human bodies and human activity in the garden. The physicality of sin had far-reaching spiritual impact:  humanity trying to be at the center of the universe, including self-will, the condemnation of guilt, and the hiding of shame.

In like manner, Jesus dealt with sin’s impact through a human body and through human activity. The physicality of Jesus’ sacrifice had far-reaching spiritual impact: restoration of relationship with God, new life, acceptance, and freedom from condemnation.

[This post is excerpted from the message, “Redemption and Embodied Sexuality,” delivered at Eastbrook Church on November 16/17, 2019.]

Redemption and Embodied Sexuality

Love Sex Body Series GFX-05I continued our series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality,” this past weekend at at Eastbrook Church by turning to the third chapter of God’s Good Story: Redemption in Jesus Christ.

This message builds off of previous messages on Creation and the Fall, looking at Christ’s redeeming work as outlined in Romans 5. I take some time to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ incarnation for redemption from John 1 and 1 John 4. I then examine the reality of Christ’s bodily redemption in relation to our bodies, sexuality, and love with reference to various passages of Scripture, including John 8 & 9, Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 6 & 13.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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Prince of Peace [Name Above All Names]

NAAN-Series-GFX_App-Wide.pngThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church we continued our series exploring the titles of Christ, “Name Above All Names,” with a look at Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

What does it mean that Jesus, as the Promised Messiah, is the Prince of Peace? This weekend we explored what that peace is and what that peace is not, as well as three specific ways in which Jesus brings the peace of God into our world and our lives.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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