The Joy of Trials


It’s good to know where to go for solace when you desperately need it. More than once, challenging circumstances have driven me to the first few verses of the epistle of James, where God has met me with fresh perspective and encouragement. Lately, I’ve been ruminating on these verses once again.

The original recipients of James’s letter were Christians scattered by persecution. They knew what it was like to leave their home, their job, and their social network—all at once. While I know nothing of the kind of persecution those early believers experienced, I do know something of the stress of leaving home, job, and social network to step into an unknown future. We’re about to do this again, and that’s what has drawn me back to James’s advice. Sooner or later, all of us who follow Christ are going to need to hear this. James says,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
— James 1:2-4

James could have advised us to be joyful despite our circumstances—to rise above the negative messages that get in the way of reaching our goals. Had James done this, his voice would easily have gotten lost in the sea of advice so prevalent in our culture, as evidenced in so many commencement speeches this time of year. But James is offering something altogether different.

What God holds out to us is not joy despite our trials but joy because of them.

It sounds like a typo, but it’s not. I checked.

James is saying that the reason we should consider our difficult circumstances to be sheer joy is that they provide an opportunity to stretch our faith in God which, in turn, expands our capacity to trust him even more. Hard times create the conditions where faith and perseverance can flourish. And when that happens we start to become spiritually mature. It’s a process that takes time. But stick with it and eventually you’ll start to resemble Jesus more and more. You’ll be a complete, fully formed disciple of Jesus who exhibits all of the virtues he exhibited. Imagine how wise and loving and courageous you would be!  

This perspective on difficult circumstances jars us out of our self-pity and points us to something deeper, more worthwhile, more enduring. It provides a glimpse of who we were meant to be when we’re all grown up. The thought of it emboldens us to embrace with joy the difficult circumstances required to get us there.

Do your work, perseverance. Do your work.

What Your Obedience Reveals about Your Heart, Part 1


In the New Testament, obedience to Christ is the standard evidence that someone is a true believer. There faith and obedience are inseparable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw faith and obedience as so intertwined that he said,

“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”[1]

If this is true, then obedience is not optional for a disciple of Jesus. Nor is helping others obey Christ optional for the disciple maker. And since a Christian is both a disciple and a disciple maker, the topic of obedience to Christ must be of utmost importance to us as believers.  

But do you ever find yourself downplaying the importance of obedience in order to steer clear of legalism? Jesus gave us good reason to repudiate legalism when he repeatedly chastised the Pharisees for it. But we need to take care that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A legalist obeys in order to earn God’s approval. A disciple obeys because he has received God’s grace. The fact that obedience to Christ has been counterfeited in the pursuit of self-righteousness doesn’t make Holy Spirit-driven obedience any less valuable or necessary.  

The apostle Paul alludes to the necessity of obedience when he opens his Epistle to the Romans by describing his apostleship as a mandate to “call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 1:5; italics added).  He closes the letter with that same phrase: “the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 16:26). In between these two bookends, Paul unpacks what that phrase means, though no one is more concise than the apostle John: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands” (1 John 2:3). Obedience, according to John, is a litmus test for authentic faith in Christ.

James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, devoted an entire chapter of his Epistle to this subject, concluding that, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (Jas. 2:26). Doug Moo explains that James is here saying that, “Faith that is not accompanied by works ceases to be. It becomes mere profession and has no claim to be biblical faith. . . . James is not arguing that works be ‘added’ to faith, but that one possess the right kind of faith, a ‘faith that works.’”[2]

Numerous other passages could be cited, but these will suffice in demonstrating that, in the words of Jonathan Lunde, “Biblical faith inevitably expresses itself in obedience. Where the latter is lacking, the former is most likely illusory.”[3]

So ask yourself, “Do I find in my heart a holy desire to do what Jesus says?” If so, never deny this urge. Trust it. Act on it. It reveals that something supernatural has happened in your heart: you have come to faith in Jesus Christ.   

The urge to obey Christ reveals something else about your heart as well. We’ll address that in my next blog post.


[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963), 69.

[2]Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 144.

[3]Jonathan Lunde, Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenant Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 279.