By Pastor Josh Kirk
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
In the last two posts I hoped to show how God sanctifies us directly by giving us faith to believe what he has said and how the Bible plays a role in giving us truth to believe. In addition to God and God’s word, James gives us an additional means of sanctification: trials.
James indicates another process which results in being made “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. This does not mean absolute perfection, but mature. Like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, whose leaf does not wither, which yields regular fruit in its proper time, which always prospers, trials yield mature Christians. Like the tree in Psalm 1, they are fully mature. Still growing, but there is nothing about their character or fruit that is sick or can be said to be lacking.
If you’ve grown up in the church, you can skim past this verse believing that when you suffer trials God is making you perfect and complete, as if the mere act of suffering does something in our hearts. But notice, it’s not only the trials themselves which bring full maturity, but our response to them.
James says to count trials as all joy. “Count it” is a command. It’s something we are required to actively do. When we meet with various trials, we are to view them through biblical lenses and then place them in the “joy” category in our own mind. This counting of difficult, painful experiences as ultimate joy is what starts the chain of suffering leading to endurance leading to full maturity. The implication is that if we do not count it all joy, we will fail the testing of our faith (verses 1 and 12) and the result will not be endurance leading to full maturity, but something else.
Have you ever journeyed through trial gritting your teeth and bearing it, trying to remain calm on the outside but inwardly seething against God’s providence or fainting under his reproof? It should not be the case, but nevertheless is, that we’ve all met bitter Christians. We’ve all met or at least know of people who’ve suffered tragedy or loss, and the experience caused them to turn away from God rather than toward him. Maybe you look back at the end of a season of your own difficulty and wonder, “What good was that? I don’t seem to be any holier, or happier, or find more peace with God! Isn’t that what these tests are for?” Too often, the reason for this is we fail in the very first command, “count it all joy”.
In the opening pages of The Crook in the Lot, by Thomas Boston, Boston writes,
“it is better to be humble and patient, than proud and impatient, under afflicting dispensations; since, in the former case, we wisely submit to what is really best; in the latter, we fight against it…[Solomon] warns us against being angry with our lot, because of the adversity found therein; cautions against making odious comparisons of former and present times, in that point insinuating undue reflections on the providence of God, and prescribes, first, a general remedy against that querulous and fretful disposition, namely, holy wisdom, as that which makes the best of everything, and even gives life in killing circumstances; and then a particular remedy, consisting in a due application of that wisdom, towards forming a just view of the case, Consider the word of God: for who can make straight, which he hath made crooked?”
Boston is saying that we ought to humbly and patiently submit to the will of God when going through trials, noting that whatever God ordains for us is right. Comparing former and present days and complaining in our hearts is what Israel did in the desert when they questioned God and longed for the fleeting pleasures of Egypt. Instead of fretting and being angry or bitter, Boston calls us to exercise a proper view of God and of our circumstances. This exercise of our faith will indeed “give life in killing circumstances”.
Next time you taste one of life’s various trials, exercise your faith by looking at them in light of eternity, as God looks at them. Grasp hold of the promises given in scripture and believe the things God tells us about himself. Then what is said of God’s people in Psalm 84:5-7 will be true of you. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” Look to Jesus; believe what he says; that is the way to “find life in killing circumstances”, to walk through the desert and make it a place of life. In the end, you will certainly find that what James wrote is true, and the trial ordained for you by the Lord does indeed sanctify you.
If you are interested in learning more about the process of Sanctification, I highly recommend How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. You can also check out our previous blog posts or the audio from our last conference.