Temptations, Trials & Tribulations

By | 21 Feb 2011
temptation meme

I’ve recently been making the case that God doesn’t go around killing Christ-followers, inflicting sickness and disease on them, and causing disasters. In this article, I want to address the issue of trials, temptations, and tribulations and their role in the lives of believers.

God Uses Negative Circumstances to Develop Us

Verses appear throughout the Bible stating how God uses negative circumstances to produce Christ-likeness in us and to develop our faith. One example is:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4

“But you just spent 8 long-winded posts saying God didn’t cause these things!” you might object. Yes, indeed, and James deals with that very issue a few verses later:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
James 1:13

Sounds like a contradiction, right? But these two concepts are not at all antithetical. Here’s why:

Just because God didn’t cause them doesn’t mean He can’t use them.

You see, God is perfectly redemptive. By His infinite knowledge, power, and love, He can and does take the most corrupt, perverted, heinous, repulsive, and evil situations and bring good out of them. Case in point: the Holocaust. God in no way shape or form had anything to do with causing the Holocaust. That was Satan using his servants Adolf Hitler and his henchmen in an attempt to destroy God’s chosen people. But as ghastly and horrific as that monstrously evil event was, God redeemed it and used it to launch the modern nation of Israel.

So no matter how badly we bozo human beings screw things up, no matter how far we stray from His perfect will for our lives, He can and will take those sows’ ears and make silk purses out of them. Yes, there will be consequences we will experience in this life because of the law of sowing and reaping, but His mercy and lovingkindness will transform them for our good. Many observe His redemptive perfection and draw the mistaken conclusion that He caused them in the first place to bring about the results experienced.

What’s a Thlipsis?

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
Matthew 16:33

In my opinion, this is one of the most significant verses in the NT. First, Jesus states the things He has been saying are intended to produce peace in us. Then He confirms the fact we will experience tribulation in this world. Tribulation is translated from the Greek word thlipsis:

affliction, tribulation, persecution, trouble, pressure, distress

He immediately follows that statement with a command to cheer up because He has overcome the world.

How We Grow

So why does God allow us to experience thlipsis? Because we as believers grow in faith and develop the fruit of the Spirit by resisting and overcoming these situations with the Word and grace of God.

When we are born physically, we possess every bone, muscle, and organ that we will ever have. But we have no strength in them and no ability to control them. Just for one obvious example, as infants we have to have our heads supported because our spine and neck muscles are not strong enough to handle the weight of our heads.

As we start taking in nourishment, we begin growing. As we grow, we instinctively start moving our bodies, opposing gravity, building strength in our muscles and bones. Eventually, we can turn ourselves over. Later, we can get up onto our hands and knees, then begin crawling. After some time, we begin standing up on our legs. After we develop our leg bones and muscles for a bit doing that, we begin walking with the assistance of our parents and nearby coffee tables. As we develop our sense of balance, we then can walk unassisted, eventually start running — and then our moms go nuts trying to keep track of us. 😀

When we experience the New Birth, we are baby believers with no strength, no knowledge, and no sense of balance.

As we start off, we have the incredible feelings of cleanness and freedom the forgiveness of our sins has produced by our conversion. If we are being discipled (spiritually parented) correctly, we start delving into the Word, fellowshipping with other believers, praying, worshipping, and testifying our experience of the goodness of God.

As we do so, eventually the feelings die out and Satan attacks us, trying to get us to doubt our salvation. We resist that attack using the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God), confessing Scripture promises about salvation, such as Ephesians 2:8-10 and Romans 10:9-10, etc. while appropriating the grace of God. Eventually, we are victorious against that attack and we no longer doubt our salvation, indeed probably never will again for the duration of our time on earth.

And then we are presented with the next attack of our psychopathic enemy who really is trying to destroy us. We again resist that attack by the Word and grace of God.

Rinse and repeat.

So we grow and grow and grow. Often at first, we fall down and have to ask for the forgiveness of God and others, then stand back on our feet and resume the battle.

Over time, we fall less and less and become more and more balanced and experienced. All the while, just as a baby grows into a child, then a teenager, and finally an adult by resisting gravity with its muscles and exercising its mind, we oppose trials and tribulations, thereby developing our faith muscles and renewing our minds in Christ by the Word.

So even though God doesn’t cause thlipsis in our lives, He is more than willing and able to use it to grow us into mature adult believers. And what is the fruit of all this?

…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
Galatians 5:22-23

as well as faith in Him and His Word.

And, as I’ve quoted in an earlier post, God somehow ensures that we are never over-matched in all this. He:

…will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
1 Corinthians 10:13b

Every trial we face is small enough for us to face, yet large enough we cannot face it alone in our own strength without His grace, love, Word, and support from our fellow believers.

Sufficient Grace

Awhile back, God led me to explore the Greek words where Paul quotes Jesus in 2 Corinthians 11 as saying to him,

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:9a

When you dig into the Greek, it reads more like this:

My merciful lovingkindness and holy influence provide you with unfailing strength and defenses, and complete contentment because I freely give you My might, My power to perform miracles, My ability to produce moral excellence, My resources for financial prosperity, as well as the military might of the angels of heaven fighting on your side. These gifts are all brought to fullness and completion in the midst of your moral, mental, and physical weakness, your inability to understand yourself and others, and your failure to accomplish goals, endure trials, and resist temptation.
2 Corinthians 11:9a (Willis Expanded Version)

No matter how you cut it, it’s about Him and His ability, not us and our ability. And no matter what the trial, temptation, tribulation, disaster, addiction, attack, or loss,

…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!
Romans 8:37

He’s given us the grace, the authority, the Word, and the blood of Christ to be victors, not victims.

Click the following link to read what turned out to be the actual final installment in this series:
When Disaster Strikes.

Thanks for reading!