By Chuck Deveau
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas 1:12).
DO TRUE CHRISTIANS EVER SUFFER?
It never ceases to amaze and perplex me when I hear a professing Christian suggest that if I am suffering as a Christian, it means I must possess a deficient or defective faith. “If you just had enough faith, Chuck, you wouldn’t be struggling like you are!”
Often attached to this absurd, non-biblical view of the Christian life and experience is the notion that the evidence of a “great, victorious faith” is a healthy physical body, supreme mental acuity, harmonious relationships, and plenty of money in the bank! “Just name it and claim it,” they say. Or “just gab it and grab it.” Unwittingly, I presume, they have reduced God to a cosmic Santa Claus.
This fanciful and Biblically false premise is founded on the ideology that God intends that physical, material prosperity come to all His children. Thus, if I am not prospering in my Christian life, I am just not “believing God enough for the blessing.” My earnest encouragement to those who subscribe to such nonsense is to read or reread their Bibles. This time with honest hearts and with their eyes wide open.
I am the first to gladly admit, substantiated by our text, that the Bible comprehensively teaches us that God does bless an “enduring,” faithful obedience to Him and His Word. But He never unequivocally promises a problem-free, failsafe, prosperity-filled, earthly life predicated upon some “great, personal faith.”
The penetrating prologue to the book of James is one of the most powerful and poignant Biblical presentations of the “divine purpose or benefits to trials, testings and temptations” that all Christians will face throughout their Christian journey (cf. Jas 1:2-18).
Notice how James begins his exposition in 1:2—“Count it or reckon it all joy, my Christian brethren, whenever [=not if] you encounter various testings or trials.” How so, we ask? Why should I “count it a joy or blessing” when I find myself in hard times? At first blush, it sounds a bit masochistic to me!
Notice his answer in 1:3—“Because you should know that the testing of your faith produces mature endurance…” In my view and study of God’s Word, the phrase “mature endurance” should be understood as the development and attainment of “Christ-like character.” Jesus Christ Himself “was made, from the standpoint of His humanity, fully mature through the sufferings, testings and trials He endured culminating in the cross” (see Heb 2:10). In one sense, His personal, spiritual, moral character was forged and approved of by His Father, not in prosperity, but adversity! And so is ours!
I know this does not sound very inviting. But it is honest, and it is realistic. Just as our Lord’s love for His Father and His endurance in doing His Father’s will brought Him God’s “approbation” and great eternal reward, so also does our love for Christ and our faithful endurance through all that life throws at us invite our Lord’s “approval,” and, both now and forever, the “crown of life.” The reward our Lord promises us who, from a heart of love for Him, endure the trials, testings, and temptations associated with our earthly Christian life, is in the form of an eternal experience likened to the thrill of winning the gold medal at the recent Olympic Games.
In reality, “great faith” is an enduring fidelity that encounters the variegated, unavoidable “trials” of Christian life and experience and doesn’t give up because it is empowered by a love for Jesus Christ and the shared eternal life experience He desires to have with us once our own personal “race of faith” is ended and we humbly kneel in His presence. We may experience a foretaste of the “crown of life” now, but the full-orbed experience awaits the coming of the King!
In 1980 I ran my first and only marathon. I trained for it arduously. It was a personal test of my “endurance” and resolve to complete the full 26.2 miles. There were moments when I was very tempted to quit. The last six miles were brutal. But when I crossed the finish line, I was met by many family members and friends waiting to share their “approval” and congratulations. I will never forget the excitement of this “coronating experience of life.”
Indeed “pain can lead to great gain.”
Chuck Deveau is the host of “The Things That Matter” radio broadcast on KRAQ 100.1 FM, Remnant Radio, Sundays at 8:00 a.m. PST. He also serves with Men of Messiah ministries located in La Quinta, Ca.