October 30, 2014

Good reasons for joy!

The trial of the past couple years turned out for good, which is just what God promises in Romans 8:28-29.

Here is another promise, stated as an imperative: “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)

This could be translated “Consider it pure joy . . .” and give a good reason. God has used it to produce in me a greater ability to not “swerve from my deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” The imperative is in that Greek aorist tense that means do this once and forever.

James adds more explanation in verses 12-15: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Then he goes on to explain another aspect of joy in trials, a warning not to fall into the blame game: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

By faith and by experience, I know that God is sovereign over the events that happen to me. He can shield or expose me to people, events, and pressures that bring out in me a sense of being needy. Being needy is not sinful, but if I try to meet that need apart from trusting God, my life is in spiritual danger. God doesn’t test me so I will sin, but His tests reveal both my areas of need and the object of my faith. Again, if I trust myself, I will be in trouble.

Paul wrote about this in many of his epistles. He tells me to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” because they are “opposed to each other” and that flesh (old nature) will keep me from doing the things I want to do. He lists them, some I’d avoid as ‘awful’ yet some that can easily disguise themselves and not be as obvious. (Galatians 5:16–21)

He also wrote about his own struggles: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18–20)

I know that struggle too. The old nature is dead to God, but tries to pull me back into a sinful way of life. The Christian life involves learning to recognize and avoid that pull, relying on Jesus Christ to keep me from getting drawn in to sin. As Paul said, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22–25)

Right after that, he gives good news along with another reminder to set my mind on the Holy Spirit. He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:1–8)

The best news of all is that the battle may rage, but it has already been won. The world, the flesh and the devil may set themselves against me, but Jesus has overcome the world, defeated the devil at the cross, and gives me this wonderful truth concerning my flesh: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Now that is a great reason to “count it all joy” — Jesus lives in me and He is my Savior; He will enable me to pass any and all tests.

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