Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.
This time last year, no one could have imagined what we would go through in 2020. The global pandemic and its extensive fallout have touched all of us. Everyone has suffered in some way, whether it be the loss of loved ones, health, income, relationships, social interaction, and more. People’s sense of security has been wiped out, replaced by anxiety, depression, and discouragement.
And being a Christian hasn’t exempted us from these difficult experiences. They may have caused us to wonder why God allows suffering in the lives of believers.
In this post, we’ll look at verses and notes from Romans 5 and 8 in the New Testament Recovery Version to see a little of how God’s particular purpose for us is worked out through difficulties and hardships.
Hope and tribulations in Romans 5
Romans 5:2 says that we have peace toward God and stand in grace, and that we also “boast because of the hope of the glory of God.”
Today we boast in the hope that we’ll be brought into the glory of God, meaning we’ll eventually express God in every way. This is God’s purpose for us, and it’s why He created us.
To boast because of the hope of the glory of God in verse 2 makes sense to us. But then in verse 3 Paul said, “We also boast in our tribulations.”
How is this even possible? No one likes tribulations; if it were up to us, we’d avoid suffering of any kind. But Paul clearly said that we boast both in the hope of the glory of God and in tribulations. The hope and tribulations must be connected, but how?
Note 1 on tribulations in the Recovery Version provides invaluable insight:
“Tribulations are part of the ‘all things’ in [Romans] 8:28 that God causes to work together for good that we might be sanctified, transformed, and conformed to the image of His Son, who has entered into glory. Because of this, we can receive tribulations as the sweet visitation and incarnation of grace and thereby boast in them. Through tribulations the killing effect of the cross of Christ on our natural being is applied in us by the Holy Spirit, making the way for the God of resurrection to add Himself to us (see 2 Cor. 4:16-18).”
All things work together for good
The note above points us to Romans 8:28, which says:
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
All things refers to all the matters and people in our lives, which have been arranged by God and which He causes to work together for good. But what does good here mean? Does it refer to material good, such as a good house, car, job, spouse, etc.? The context of this verse shows us good doesn’t refer to those kinds of things. Verses 29 and 30 say:
“Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestinated, these He also called; and those whom He called, these He also justified; and those whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
God is causing all things to work together so that we would be brought into glory by being fully conformed to the image of Christ; then we’ll express God fully. This is God’s goal for us. What good this is!
But at present, we have to admit we haven’t been conformed to the image of Christ in every area of our lives. The way we think, the things we say, what we want, how we treat others, and so on, are very different from Christ’s person. We don’t have that much Christ in our soul, and so we don’t express God that much. Then how can our hope of being glorified be fulfilled?
The way to reach God’s goal
To arrive at God’s goal for us, we need to undergo a life-long process of God’s transforming work in us, which began when we were born again in our spirit. This is how Christ spreads into and fills our soul.
If it were left up to us, God’s work in us might come to a standstill. We might even be indifferent about it. But God wants us to reach the goal, so in His loving concern for us, He arranges “all things” in our environment, including the tribulations mentioned in Romans 5:3. God causes these things to work together for good so we can be transformed and conformed to the image of His Son. Tribulations help us. This is how our hope of glory and difficulties are connected. If we see this, we’ll understand why God allows suffering in our Christian life.
How exactly do tribulations help us?
If we consider our own experience, we’ll notice when things are calm and life is relatively smooth, we tend to forget about God’s desire to make us His expression by conforming us to His Son. Our love for the Lord may grow cold, and we can very easily be occupied with things other than Him.
But when we’re suffering, we tend to turn to Him more earnestly. We realize how much we need Him, so we depend on Him more, pray more, read His Word more, and seek Him more. Our hearts are open to Him, and we allow Him to work in us.
Now let’s look again at the second sentence in the note to see how we could possibly boast in tribulations:
“Because of this, we can receive tribulations as the sweet visitation and incarnation of grace and thereby boast in them.”
If we understand God is causing all things, including tribulations, to work together for our good, we won’t be at a loss as to what’s happening. Instead, we’ll recognize tribulations as the visits of grace. And grace is just the Lord Himself as the Spirit who now lives in our spirit to be everything we need in all situations.
If by His grace, in the midst of our sufferings we turn to the Lord and come to Him in prayer, God has a way to do something in us. The tribulations He allows in our life shake us out of our sense of complacency. It’s when we’re suffering that we’re the most genuine with the Lord.
We can tell Him honestly what we’re going through and pray, “Lord, add Yourself to me!” or “Lord, transform me to Your image.” When we do this, something will transpire in us: we’ll be fully opened up to the Lord, and He’ll have a way to add Himself into us. Little by little, Christ will be built up in our heart, our mind, our emotion, and our will. This is how we’ll gradually be transformed into the image of the Son of God.
A good picture of this transforming work is metabolism, a process our body undergoes every day. Metabolism in living organisms actually consists of two actions: the breaking down of elements, and the building up of new ones.
Note 1 on Romans 5:3 concludes:
“Through tribulations the killing effect of the cross of Christ on our natural being is applied in us by the Holy Spirit, making the way for the God of resurrection to add Himself to us (see 2 Cor. 4:16-18).”
So it’s through sufferings that our natural, fallen being is broken down, allowing Christ the way to add Himself to us and be built up in us.
God’s love for us
While we’re going through this process, we can be assured and comforted by Paul’s words in Romans 5:5:
“And hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Note 1 on this verse speaks of the power of that love:
“The love of God is God Himself (1 John 4:8, 16). God has poured out this love in our hearts with the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, as the motivating power within us, that we may more than conquer in all our tribulations (see note 371 in ch. 8). Therefore, when we endure any kind of tribulation, we are not put to shame.”
So even as we’re suffering, we can be assured that God loves us immensely. We should never doubt His heart of love for us. We can immerse ourselves in the poured-out love of God and thus be empowered to pass through all our tribulations with God’s goal in view. We can pray, “Lord, even in the middle of my suffering, I know You love Me so much. Thank You for pouring Your love into my heart.”
By turning our hearts to Him, praying to fellowship with Him, coming to Him in the Word, and calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, we can continually experience God’s comfort and encouragement on our journey of transformation.
No matter what difficulties lie before us in the upcoming new year, we pray that we all will enjoy God’s grace and love as He operates in us to conform us to the image of Christ.
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