Every person I know, even the ones who say they are happy with the way they are, desires to change at least one thing about themselves. Just look at a bookshelf of self-help books. They must be one of the largest genres for nonfiction I’ve ever seen.
I talked in my last post on Holiness Matters about New Year’s resolutions and people wanting to change. We rely on ourselves, on our own wills, to accomplish these things. But we often fall flat on our faces. Then I said that Jesus’ process of sanctification truly changes us.
Throughout the New Testament, several writers described this process of change in us. It is linked to our character in Christ. He changes us from the inside out because if you don’t transform the inside, the outside will keep doing the same things.
He changes the way we think, our heart’s intentions and motivations. The problem of sin starts in the very core of our desires. But when he changes all of these, our actions change. They are based on a different thinking process, a different heart, and new desires.
Paul and James describe what I call “character chains” that show how God moves us from one thing to another as he works in our hearts. He produces transformation through these processes.
The first one I want to look at begins in Romans 5:3-5. But the context is impossible to ignore if we want to truly grasp Jesus’ work in us. It all starts with justification through faith. This means we stand before God righteous in Christ.
And because we have put our trust, our faith, in Jesus’ sacrifice, we can trust that God has justified us. We don’t justify ourselves. We don’t make ourselves righteous. The works we do for God are not to show off or to prove our righteousness. We do these things because we love God and want to please him.
Because we have been justified before God through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, we don’t need to fear God’s wrath. Instead, we delight in peace with him. This is more than just not being afraid of his judgment and wrath. This is resting in his arms and in his presence. Our relationship with him is part of the justification we’ve received.
That piece leads us into access to God’s grace. We can rest not only in his presence but also in the fact that we get what we don’t deserve. I would argue that this grace of God is his very presence. We stand in awe of God. And we worship him. He has done so much for us.
We rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. We rejoice because we see a whole different side of him since he has justified us. No longer cowering in fear of his judgment, we enjoy a relationship that will last forever.
Paul’s Character Chain
And then comes the character chain that begins in a strange way. Paul puts words together that would make sense to anyone but a Christian. He says that we “rejoice in our sufferings.” Are Christians masochists? Do we enjoy the pain we endure?
Not in the way a masochist does. We rejoice in the midst of suffering because we know that God is using it to bring us closer to him and make us holy. Just like the weights we lift with our arms make our muscles stronger, adversity strengthens our character and faith in Christ.
When we suffer trials for Christ’s sake, we are given endurance. Endurance is one of the coolest words in the New Testament. It means that we bear up under the pressure of the trial. We become stronger just by bearing under that pressure.
Nobody enjoys the pressures of life. But they are all part of God’s plan. He takes the adversity we face and uses it for his glory and for our benefit in the end. This endurance next produces character.
It’s hard to define character. But the Bible defines character as facing a test or trial resulting in God’s approval. Character is the success gained from suffering trials. I submit that the only way to deal with the trial successfully is to lean on Christ through the storm.
If that is true, then character is the ability to trust in Christ the moment that we face adversity. Character is directly connected to trust in Jesus. And when we are approved through adversity and we see Jesus as our answer to that adversity, it produces hope.
When Jesus brings us through trials we know we can hope in him. He has just proved himself to us and approved apps because we trusted in him first and alone. Hope is kind of like a marshmallow. It’s hard to define and pin down.
But hope is the fuel for the engine of faith. We can place our faith in Jesus. But it’s the hope in his promises that makes that faith concrete and real in our lives. Our trust in him is based off of our ability to expect that his promises will be fulfilled in our lives.
The proof of hope in Christ comes because of his deposits of Jesus’ love in our lives and the Spirit working in our hearts. God hasn’t just promised us things. He’s given us a foretaste or a down payment of heaven through his love and Spirit.
God’s love for us is demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. He took our place, showing his love for us. It doesn’t get any better than a person dying for you when you don’t even know him. He paid a debt that we owed and we didn’t even know it. It’s like people who pay your check in the restaurant without you knowing until the waitress comes and tells you they did.
That is the gospel, the good news, of Jesus. But I’m getting carried away with only one of the character chains. Let’s take a look at the one in James 1:2-4. James is just as crazy as Paul. He puts the two words “joy” and “trials” together.
The reason we would rejoice in our sufferings is the same reason we consider trials joy. We know that God is working “all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28). He is working on our character through adversity once again.
James starts his character chain with testing our faith through trials. These various trials can be anything that tests our faith. But when our faith is tested, the next step is that we become steadfast. The word “steadfast” may have changed from Romans to James in English, but it’s the same original word.
The test we go through strengthens us through bearing up under its pressure. The working of that pressure in our lives when we are approved by Jesus, the result of that weight bearing down on us is maturity in Christ.
What is Christian maturity? It is becoming what God has made us to be. It’s completeness and wholeness in Christ. We are who God says we are. And Jesus deserves all the credit through the working of his Holy Spirit in us. As James says, we lack nothing.
Every trial and adversity we face brings us closer to Jesus’ character and conforms us to him. Adversity transforms our character into the character of Christ over time. He weaves a beautiful tapestry within our character.
Like carbon that is pressed and heated for a long time in the Earth’s mantle to form diamonds, God uses the pressure of our trials to make beautiful saints for his glory and purposes. You may not feel like a beautiful diamond of God, but that’s exactly what he’s making you to be.
How do you deal with trials and adversity? Leave a comment and tell me how this might change your thinking when you face your next trial.