by Mike Ratliff
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)
There is no guarantee that the Genuine Christian will be immune from suffering. In fact, suffering is the method God uses to prune the branches that abide in the Vine, our Lord Jesus Christ. (John 15) I have found that the form this suffering takes is nearly always a surprise. When atheists or pagans ridicule, the resulting sorrow from that is relatively minor and easily borne compared to that delivered by professing Christians. In any case, we must not be discouraged, even though that is what our enemy seeks to do to us through it. God is allowing him to do this to us, therefore, what should our reaction be?
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28 ESV)
Because of this promise, we should look upon our suffering with eyes of faith. To do this we must be Spirit-filled. The believer enslaved to his or her flesh cannot do that. However, for the believer who is working out his or her salvation with fear and trembling, by His grace are able to respond to suffering the same way Jesus did.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)
The Greek word James used in v2 for “trials” means “trouble” or “something that breaks the pattern for peace, comfort, joy, and happiness in one’s life.” In it’s verb form it means “to put someone or something to the test.” The purpose of doing that would be to discover a person’s nature or character or a thing’s quality. As we have seen, God does allow these trials in our lives to try us. Why? God, to prove and increase the strength and quality of our faith and to demonstrate that to us as well as to others, designs and carries out these tests. All of our trials become tests of faith designed to strengthen. However, we sometimes make wrong choices during tests and trials that results in them becoming a temptation to evil. (James 1:13-15)
The Greek word James used for “count” in v2 means “to consider” or “to evaluate.” We are commanded here to look upon our trials as opportunities to rejoice. As we have seen, this is not natural. It takes a conscious effort to face trials with joy and the ability to carry it out comes from being Spirit-filled. Back in the late 1990’s I had a small group meet in my house on Sunday evenings. It was made up of couples. Three of us in this group were deacons. One Saturday, the wife of one of these deacons came home from shopping to find her husband dead in the garage. He had a heart condition and he died of a massive heart attack.
When I went to her house to minister to her and her family, I was in deep sorrow. However, when I went in, she greeted me at the door with a warm smile and hug. She ministered to me that day as I ministered to her. She grieved deeply for her loss, but her hope is not in this life, but in the resurrection. She made a conscious decision to face this trial with joy and was enabled to do that by the working of the Holy Spirit in her by God’s grace.
When we respond to our trials correctly, in joy, God will build up or increase our “endurance” or “patience” or ”perseverance.” This will teach us to withstand tenaciously the pressure of a trial until God removes it. When our brethren comment that we are capable spiritual warriors they are responding to our ability to fight the good fight while taking heavy blows that would make the immature believer flee or stumble. Those patient, mature believers have learned to cherish this spiritual growth as a result of going through the trial. This is not natural, nor is it typical for the immature believer.
This patience, working in us, is what spiritually matures us. (cf. 1 John 2:14) Why? The testing, the fire, the pressure, tests our faith. This drives us to deeper communion with our Lord Jesus Christ. This always builds our trust in Him. As a result the Lord produces a stable, godly, and righteous character within us. What does this remind you of? Isn’t this what happens when we become Spirit-filled? Therefore, we must understand that the process by which we become Spirit-filled, which is to confess sin, become permeated by the Word of God, and obey God in all things, includes going through trials and tests. Through this, we become complete or mature or whole.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)
This wisdom is the understanding and practical skill that we must have in order to live life for God’s glory alone. This is not intellectual knowledge, which is Human Reason. Instead, it is contained in the pure and peaceable absolutes of God’s will which is revealed in the Word God. Again, we see another element in becoming Spirit-filled. This is why the Spirit-filled believer is so strange to those who aren’t. They do not seek their own. They seek God’s glory alone. The Greek word that is translated as “hypocrite” throughout the New Testament means one who does all things for self even when they appear to be serving God. The Spirit-filled believer can fight the good fight, be demeaned, falsely accused, and abused without cause and not retaliate because he or she is not fighting the fight for self. Instead, he or she is obedient and seeks God’s glory alone.
Prayer is essential in this. We must ask God for this wisdom. We must ask Him to assist us in becoming Spirit-filled. We are commanded to be so, but we must have help so we must pray and ask in faith, without doubting. This is referring to a purity of heart. The divided heart doubts God while the whole heart (complete, mature) can ask without doubt. Think of when you are being convicted to step out on faith in obedience to do something that will expose you to the ridicule and rejection of the apostate, the atheist, or the pagan. If you have some inner struggle with sin in your heart then you have a hole in your armor that the enemy will use to discourage you. If this is true then it will be highly unlikely that you will make a decision to obey when you must trust God. It works the same way when we pray asking God for the things we need in order to obey Him. This is why we must live pure and holy lives that are in the process of being cleansed rather ones that are no longer shocked by sin.
The Spirit-filled believer is so because he or she has not stumbled and fallen while going through tests and trials. They have confessed their sins and repented of them. They are not conformed to this world. They have permeated their lives with the Word of God. They are drawing near unto God in prayer and fellowship as much as possible. They are asking God for wisdom with no doubt. Their hearts are becoming whole and mature. They are not like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. They are stable and walk joyfully as God answers their prayers and grows them in grace.
On the other hand, the flesh bound believer is so because he or she has stumbled and fallen while going through tests and trials. They have much unconfessed and hidden sins of which they never seem to be able to repent. Their lives are permeated by the world because they are conformed to it. The Word of God seems hard to understand, boring and convicting to them so they avoid it. They seldom pray and they have no joy.
What we must do is to move our walk from the latter as we walk according to the former. If we don’t do this, then we will be living within the curse of mediocrity instead of the blessing of being a Spirit-filled believer who walks in repentance with joy.