We tend to avoid pain. But we understand pain has its place. We say things like “no pain no gain” and “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Any sort of achievement takes hard work and sacrifice. Whether it’s our education, career, health, or relationships, anything worthwhile requires a certain level of pain.
The same is true with the Christian life. First-world Christians tend to think their pursuit of Christ should be easy and painless. But the Bible never gives us that impression. Jesus says to “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him” (Matthew 16:24). Paul promises, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Our conception of Christianity has to include pain. God doesn’t spare us from the hardships of life in this world. Rather, He uses them to make us spiritually mature. This is the final answer to our question, “Why does God let bad things happen to His people?” He lets us suffer for our own good.
Paul takes suffering as confirmation that we are God’s children. He reassures us, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”
He continues, “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it…They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:7, 9-10).
Good parents discipline their children. This doesn’t just mean we punish them for doing wrong; it also means we train them to be independent. They need both forms of discipline to become fully functional adults.
God disciplines us in the same ways. He lets us suffer hardship to bring us to repentance. But that doesn’t mean suffering is always our fault. Sometimes He lets us suffer to strengthen our faith and godly character. That is how He makes us into fully functional Christians.
My parents disciplined me because they love me. My mom used to say, “If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t care what you did!” The same is true with God. He loves us too much not to discipline us. And that is for our good.
Anvil of Adversity
Do you know how a blacksmith forges steel? First, he heats it in the fire. Then he places it on an anvil and beats it into shape with a hammer. This both hardens the steel and makes it into something useful. God puts us through a similar process. He uses hardship to forge us into more useful servants.
That is why James advises, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
The best way to strengthen steel is to heat it and beat it. Unfortunately, this is also the best way to strengthen our faith. God brings hardship into our lives to test our convictions and our commitment to Jesus. And that is for our good.
Earning Your Stripes
Our salvation will be complete when Jesus glorifies us. He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). It is in these new bodies that we will live with Him forever.
This hope renewed Paul “day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
He wanted “to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Paul is not saying he achieved or earned his glorification. Our new bodies are a gift of God’s grace just like the rest of salvation. Rather, the hope of glory motivated him to endure. The promise of resurrection makes our suffering in this life worth it.
God puts us through the wringer to make our resurrection that much sweeter. Hardship heightens our anticipation and appreciation of coming glory. It keeps our hope in heaven where it belongs. And that is for our good.
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