September 18, 2014

Purpose of trials . . . rewards for repentance

It seems to me that the biggest difference between the Old Testament covenant and the New Testament covenant is that in the Old Testament, the blessings of obedience were measured in physical and social prosperity, while in the New Testament, the blessings for obedience are measured by internal peace and eternal rewards.

In the days of Solomon after he finished building the temple, God spoke to him. “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land . . . But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’ ” (2 Chronicles 7:11–22)

Many Christians today will take the words of verse 14 as a promise for us, for North America. That is, if Christians will repent and pray, God will forgive (which is always true), but He will also heal our land and make our nation prosperous.

The devotional writer says this promise is a principle based on the character of God. That may be true, but interpreting Scripture by ripping a verse out of context is never wise. I agree that God blesses obedience, but His blessing can take many forms. To suppose that what He promised Solomon is a promise for believers today can give false hope.

Of course, God can give a peaceful life to anyone, but obedience is not about earning it. I can say that because the New Testament teaches that Christians can suffer for doing the right things. Obedience does not always lead to ‘the good life.’ It did not for Jesus, so why should we be exempt?

Peter said it this way: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13–17)

Living in obedience to God is no guarantee that life will be without problems. Paul even said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

However, in the problems there is a gift for those who seek the face of God. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7)

If I disobey God, I will suffer a lack of peace until I repent. If I obey God, that does not mean I will never suffer trials or problems, but I can have peace and joy in those trials. In fact, James tells me to joyfully receive them for they are ‘patience-developers’ that will produce maturity in me.

This is not the same as repenting and expecting prosperity. For that reason, I see that the promise made to Solomon says God is gracious, but Christians cannot expect Him to fix the problems in our land if we repent. From what the rest of the Bible says, it is far more likely that He is using the problems to help us grow up.

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