The Surest Sign of Salvation-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

Alcohol, Psychology, Environmentalism and Other Awkward Relationships I Have With the World-

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight- 1st Corinthians 3:18-19a NIV

 Christians are commanded to live in this world without wallowing around in the worldliness of the world (John 17:16-18, 1st John 2:15-17, 1st John 4:4-5). For mature believers this means having an awkward and uncomfortable relationship with a lot of the things in this world.

 For me, the list of worldly things I am at least somewhat uncomfortable with is long. Some highlights include most government funded poverty programs, modern environmentalism, public education and most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood.  The enemy has gotten a firm foothold in every one of those arenas and found clever ways to use them to mislead people.

 Alcohol is yet another example of an awkward and uncomfortable relationship I have with the world. There is a little too much sanctioned alcohol use in the Bible for me to completely buy into the idea it’s a sin to drink alcohol (Song of Songs 8:2, Proverbs 3:10, John 2:1-8, 1st Timothy 5:23).   That being said. As the adult child of two raging alcoholics I have experienced firsthand the devastation and misery that comes with excessive alcohol use. Therefore, I am uncomfortable with anything other than infrequent alcohol use.

 Anyway.  

 Perhaps my most uncomfortable ongoing relationship with the things of this world is with psychology.

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

 My husband occasionally jokes I was raised by wolves. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but not completely out of line with reality. I credit discovering psychology in my early twenties with helping me make sense of my parents, myself and why they were the way they where and why I am the way I am. I credit Jesus with saving me and changing me but without the aid of some Christian counselors and Christian psychology books it probably would have taken a lot longer for me to work out the kinks that a sketchy upbringing created in my personality (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 5:17).

 If psychology is kept in perspective, it can be helpful to the church. Psychology is the science of understanding the human mind. It helps explain how past experiences influence human behavior.  When leaders understand the “why” behind human actions it enables them to help people get free of the bondage that comes with bad choices. Psychology helps people to better understand themselves.  Knowing the “why’s” behind why we do what we do is key to making changes that help us become better more effective followers of Jesus.

 However.

 Like all human wisdom, psychology has very real limits and should never take priority over the Bible (1stCorinthians 1:25). It’s important to remember that with the exception of Christian practitioners, psychology does not acknowledge God or the sin nature of humanity (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23). As a result, the science of psychology can never fully explain exactly how and why the human soul can become completely twisted and evil, nor does it empower people to fully transform into a better version of themselves (2nd Corinthians 5:17). Only Jesus can do that.

 Secular psychology relies heavily on behavior modification which some people (including some Christians) confuse with the Christian act of repentance. Repentance is usually a process.  It begins with the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life to convict them that their choices are wrong. The person recognizes their behavior is wrong, not because it bugs other people or because it creates chaos in their lives but rather because it is offensive to God. Then the person makes changes to please God rather than people. These kinds of changes tend to last.

  Conversely, behavior modification is usually motivated by social pressure. A spouse or friend says something judgy and it becomes apparent that relationships will be threatened if something doesn’t change. The individual then changes their behavior just enough to please people and get them off their back. Sometimes this happens without the person concluding that there was anything wrong with what they were doing in the first place.  

 Without true heartfelt repentance it is impossible to be saved because repentance is the fruit of faith (Acts 20:21, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Mark 1:4). Unfortunately, psychology sometimes enables people to change just enough to keep them from feeling like they need to turn to God and repent. Psychology can make a person aware of their shortcomings and flaws but it can never bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

 By far my biggest issue with psychology is that it places limits on compassion and forgiveness that God does not. Psychology tells us that no one is obligated to forgive a wrong and that no one should do anything they don’t really want to do.  God wants His people to be like Him. This means Christians are called to a radical level of living that sometimes demands we go further with grace and forgiveness than psychology tells us is healthy or wise. It means there are times in life when we look beyond worldly wisdom and love in ways that make no sense at all from a human perspective.