This question did not come from my dear friend Duncan (who celebrated his 20th birthday yesterday), but was a quote from one of my friends who posted it and asked for insights:
“God allows all kind of trials and tribulations in our life for a reason. It is to perfect us. Yes we live by grace. Everything we has received from God is truly be grace. However God is still interested in building our character. This has nothing to do with grace. He wants us to have resilence (that is the ability to bounce back and not give up), honesty and integrity, reliability and responsiblity. Read the book of James. That is another thought. Grace and faith alone are not enough. If it is enough we don’t have to suffer and go through so much hardship. We cannot say that the devil gave us hardship. God has to allow the hardship since we are his children. The devil had to ask God to make Job suffered because he cannot do anything until God gave permission. Likewise with us, every suffering that we go through is with the permission of God. He allows it because he knows that we will overcome and good things will come out of it.”… Now what do you say to this?
My first reply:
What does your friend mean by “our perfection”? Because the original that James wrote is “completion”. Finishing. Whichmeans there is a process going on. God does not want us to simply have resilience, He is completing His work of transforming us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. There is a different focus on each statement: one focuses on how God is improving you, the other on how God is transforming you. Two different thoughts. One focuses you on yourself, the other on Jesus. God is not working to make us perfect. He is perfecting the image of Christ in us.
What exactly does your friend mean by “grace” that he/she can say that God’s work in our lives does not involve grace? But the sad thing is, this person seems to be focused on how God is improving him, making him a better person, when God is doing more than that. All those character traits he is talking about are developed as we let the Spirit bear fruit in our lives. Again, grace and faith, no effort on our part.
Your friend talks mostly about what God is doing in him to improve him, using suffering and hardship. Where is Jesus? What is Jesus’ role in all this? What is Jesus’ role in his life? He sees himself as needing to learn resilience, and so is given trials, suffering and hardship to learn. Jesus went through so much worse…did He really need to learn something? Those things are not in the bible. The testing of our faith PRODUCES, not teaches, perseverance/endurance so that we become complete and whole, not lacking. Testing happens. Suffering happens. Hardship happens. Why does God allow it? Because ADAM CHOSE IT. He does not allow a specific suffering for you just to teach you, but He can use any hardship you go through in His work of completing your transformation into the image of Christ.
Your friend seems focused on becoming a better person. God is focused on transforming him into Christ-likeness. I guess that’s why he thinks that grace and faith aren’t enough, because if you don’t have Jesus in your sight, you won’t see how the Holy Spirit is working in you, and you will think that it is up to you to learn lessons from hardship and suffering. That is working, not faith in the finished work of Christ, not faith in the on-going work of the Spirit, so that we can be reunited forever with the Father. And if you think you have to work on your own improvement, you won’t want to depend on God’s grace to finish His work in you.
God works all things together for good. In this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart, because JESUS has overcome the world!
And finally, when another friend asked: “So how do you explain trials and hardships? If you are not being tempted and tried by the enemy, you are no threat to him… Grace did not do away with the need for strength training as a warrior in Christ’s army. If you are not training for the end time army, you should be!”, I thought of this video
And I wrote:
I guess where I differ from this view is this: when we go through trials and tribulations as Jesus said we would, what is God really teaching us? Is He simply teaching us to be strong? Or is He teaching us that He is our strength? I don’t think God just wants me to become a better person and a stronger christian, but more than that, He wants to transform me into the image of Jesus. He wants me to draw closer to Him, not just learn to bounce back from pain.
Job “bounced back”? Or God restored? Two different things. We will overcome and good things will come out of it? What I’ve read is that Jesus HAS OVERCOME, and that it is God who works things for good. One view focuses you on you, what happens to you, how you become better. The other focuses you on God and His grace. If you think you are responsible for learning from hardships and suffering, then you won’t need faith and grace. But if you know that even in all that, God is still in charge, then that’s already faith and grace in action.
A man who died of cancer last year gave this statement: “If God heals me, God is God, and God is good. But if God does not heal me, God is still God, and God is still good. To God be the glory.” And I think that because of that, God chose to give him the ultimate healing: freedom from a dying body into a glorious, incorruptible body in the presence of God. It’s not about learning to be stronger, but about seeing God for who He really is. That’s what happened to Job. That’s what happened to this man, to Daniel’s friends, to Daniel, and I hope also, it is happening in me, specially because I have more than what Job, Daniel and his friends have: I have Jesus, who has overcome the world, and in whom all of God’s promises are “yes!” and “amen!”
Truly: TO GOD BE THE GLORY!