The presence of pain and trial in our lives is a matter of when not if. James tells us: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). Pain and trial are not mere possibilities on the landscape of the Christian life. They are certainties.
Given the certainty with which we should expect pain in our lives, what truths should we set our minds and hearts upon before and as we endure trial? I can think of at least five things we should remember as we consider how the Lord uses pain in our lives.
In a mysterious and beautiful way, if you are a Christian, you and Christ are one as a result of God’s saving work in your life. You are spiritually identified with him, and he with you. Of all the blessings that Christ brings into the lives of his people, this is surely the greatest. For it means that what is true for Christ is true for you, as well.
I think it is helpful to consider the past, present, and future implications of this.
The teaching of Jesus in Mark 7 is simple, though challenging: What makes one unclean or corrupt is the uncleanness and corruption that is natural to the human heart because of sin. Putting “unclean” things into your body won’t make your heart more unclean than it naturally is. Furthermore, washing the outside of your body (ceremonially) won’t make your heart more clean than it naturally is. The locus of our corruption is on the inside, not the outside. Sin doesn’t come from what we consume, or what we fail to consume, but from our hearts.
In Colossians 1, Paul tells the church in Colossae that his aim in ministry is to present them mature and complete in Christ. He punctuates that statement with one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, claiming that he toils and labors to that end in his strength and through Christ’s strength in him: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:29).
I toil, with all his energy, Paul says.
One of the beautiful realities of the Christian life is that we are never alone. Though we are called to strive and contend for faithfulness and endurance, we never do so apart from Christ’s power working in us. Ephesians 1 reminds us that Christ’s power working in us is the same power by which he was raised from the dead! If you are in Christ, his resurrection power is then in you, working as you endure in the faith.
Recently a friend introduced me to City Alight, and their modern hymn Yet Not I, but Through Christ in Me. I think it beautifully and simply captures these ideas so well.
For the last few weeks, and continuing this weekend at our Good Friday and Easter services, we’ve been singing this modern hymn in our worship gatherings at Capitol City. The song was inspired by this excerpt from a sermon by John Newton:
Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you? But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear? Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.John Newton
I pray that these words will stir your affection for Jesus this Holy Week.
Martin Luther called justification by faith the “chief article” of the Christian faith, the doctrine upon which “the church stands or falls.” That the holy, righteous God of all justifies freely according to his grace those who trust him in faith is sublimely good news.
Yet, because of sin, we are always leaning away from justification by faith and toward some form of self-justification. Our hearts are so corrupt that we drift away from the justification offered in the gospel and toward many expressions of justification by works. How?
I’ve been encouraged this week by this new(-ish) song from The Norton Hall Band. I pray that it will encourage you, as well.