James tells us to count it all joy when trials, ordeals and reverses beset us. Troubles a joy? That’s pretty hard to accept, isn’t it? And, for the average person, a lot harder to put into practice.
Few find any pleasure, let alone joy, in the obstacles and troubles they encounter. Yet this biblical teaching says we ought so to count them. There is a reason, although few understand it.
In one of the Psalms you’ll read that the righteous are going to have to bear many afflictions. But, it promises, the Eternal will deliver us out of them all—if we believe and trust Him!
Again, it is through much tribulation that we must enter the Kingdom of God. Why? There’s a reason!
Now consider another biblical teaching hard for some to understand.
Several years ago I wrote an article, now available in booklet form, “What Do You Mean—Born Again?” In the fifth chapter of Ephesians you find a husband-wife relationship pictured as corresponding to Christ and the Church. Scriptural teaching assures us that, at His coming, Christ is going to marry the Church. Also the Scriptures teach that the Church will, at His coming, be born of God, by a resurrection of all who have died, and the instantaneous conversion from mortal to immortal of those then living (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
So one man reasons: Could a full-grown man marry an infant girl baby, just born? If those in the Church are to be just then born of God, how can they marry Christ before they grow up?
This, too, seems difficult for some to comprehend. Yet the answer to James’s teaching—the understanding of what James really means, is also the answer to this seeming inconsistency.
There is a third seeming inconsistency, hard for some to understand. Contrary to the thinking of many, a Christian may—and too often does—actually commit sin after he is converted. He should not, of course. But too often he does, and still remains a Christian. The true explanation of James’s teaching, first mentioned above, is also the explanation of this experience.
So let’s understand!
The Purpose of Our Existence
Why were we born, in the first place? What is the real purpose of human life? God Almighty the Creator is reproducing Himself! As truly as we mortal humans have been given power to reproduce ourselves—to bring forth progeny in our own image, born with our very nature—even so the great God is bringing forth sons in His image, born with His very divine nature!
The very purpose of our existence is that we be begotten as God’s children, and become born of Him.
And human reproduction is the very type of spiritual reproduction. What God created at the time described in the first chapter of Genesis was a physical creation. You’ll find nothing spiritual there. In physical man, made of the dust of the ground, God created the material with which He may mold, shape, form and create the spiritual being. He pictures us as the clay, Himself as the Potter—forming us into the spiritual image of His designing.
Now human reproduction, I say, pictures spiritual reproduction. Each human, since Adam and Eve, started from a tiny egg, called an ovum, the size of a pinpoint. It was produced in the body of the mother. The egg is incomplete, of itself. It has a life of only about 48 hours, according to some authorities. Unless fertilized by the life-giving sperm cell from the human father within that limited lifetime, it dies.
Each human, spiritually speaking, is like an egg. The average human lifetime is said to be 70 years. Adam was created incomplete, and each of us was born incomplete—that is, we were made to need the Holy Spirit of God. And unless, within our limited life-span of some 70 years, we are begotten of God—by His Spirit which is His immortal divine life—entering to impart eternal life to us, we shall die—and that shall be the end—except that God has appointed a resurrection of all who have lived, and, for those who reject His gift of eternal life, the final second death in the lake of fire.
But, in the case of the human ovum, once fertilized as a begotten human, the egg—now called an embryo—is kept within the body of the mother and is nourished and fed material food through her and protected by her. And there it must grow—being fed physically through the mother—large enough to be born. After a number of weeks, the embryo is called a fetus, and at birth it is a human baby.
In like manner, the Bible calls the Church the “mother of us all.” That is, the mother of Christians—those begotten of God. It is the function of the Church to protect and feed, spiritually, on the spiritual food of God’s Word, those begotten children of God, so that we may grow spiritually, in the divine character, ready to be born.
Surely this is a wonderful comparison. Yet types and anti-types are not always alike in every detail.
When a physical baby is born, it is not ready for marriage. When the spiritual child of God is born he will be fully mature for the spiritual marriage. How can this be? This is what one thinking man could not see.
The unborn human fetus is only growing physically. At birth, the human baby knows nothing. He is helpless. He must be taught. He must learn. He is born merely with a mind capable of learning, knowing, thinking. He is not yet of mature size physically or mentally. Many do marry who are still entirely immature spiritually and/or emotionally. But we do assume that one has reasonable maturity physically and mentally before marriage. In the human, this development takes place in the human state after the human birth.
Therefore, the human baby is not ready for marriage at birth.
But the spirit-born are different!
Spiritual Maturity Must Be Achieved Before Birth
Just as the fertilized ovum—the embryo which becomes the fetus—must grow physically from material food, so the spirit-begotten child of God must grow spiritually before he can be born. But there is a difference!
The fetus does not attain to complete physical maturity before birth, and has no mental maturity. But, in the spiritual rebirth, one must attain reasonable spiritual maturity before he is spirit-born.
Now what is spiritual growth? Just as the physical embryo-fetus must grow physically large enough to be born, so the Spirit-begotten Christian must grow spiritually or he will never be born of God. But spiritual growth is character development.
The Spirit-begotten starts out with a mind from the beginning. God is perfect character—divine, spiritual character. God is also love. And perfect spiritual character is the way of love! Such a character is the attainment of the ability, in a separate independent entity of free moral agency, to be able to discern right from wrong—the true values from the false—truth from error—the right way from the wrong; and then to make the right choice or decision, even against self-desire, impulse or temptation; plus the will and self-discipline to resist the wrong and to do the right.
Converted Christians Do Sin
No human, with human nature, has the power—of himself—to do this. But God has made available the spiritual power and help man lacks. Man must desire to know—must hunger and thirst for truth; man must make his own decision, exercise his own will, even against the pulls of his nature. But without the help of God—without spiritual power from God—man is utterly unable.
That is why truly converted Christians sometimes actually do sin. They are like the Apostle Paul, as he describes himself in Romans 7. With his mind he wanted to go the way of God’s law, yet he found himself unable. Another law—human nature—warred within him against the good resolutions of his mind. But the sequel to Romans 7 is Romans 8—the Holy Spirit chapter. Who, Paul cried out, could save him from this body of death he struggled against in vain? The answer is, God, through His Holy Spirit.
A true Christian doesn’t want to sin—should not. But sometimes he finds himself caught in the vise of habit, or overwhelmed by temptation or by circumstances from which he is unable to free himself. Surely, had such a one been continually praying, keeping himself close to God, and detached from the world or its lures or the temptations of the flesh, he probably would have had sufficient divine help to have prevented the sinning. But only Jesus Christ ever did keep close to God!
God looks on the heart. In such a case, the Christian does not sin maliciously, with malice aforethought. He is merely caught in the vortex of a temptation which sucks him helplessly down into the sin. Then he is terribly sorry. He is disgusted with himself. He repents. He goes to work to overcome. He may not succeed, due to human weakness, at once. But he remains determined and, finally, does, with God’s help, overcome completely. Many a true Christian has had such a struggle over a particular human weakness and temptation, and after even several setbacks, finally, through God’s power, won the victory and fought his way free.
Character Must Be Developed
God looks on the heart. God forgives in such cases. The living Christ, our High Priest, has compassion, is filled with mercy—as long as the attitude is right, the desire of the inner man is to conquer the flesh and overcome the temptation and be free from it entirely. In the end, it is God who gives the victory. But, in such a struggle, the Christian develops character.
Now character, I have said many times, is something God does not create automatically. It is developed, against the opposing pulls of human nature, with the decisions and wills and struggles of the individual, and through experience.
The development of that character is the very purpose of our being alive. Also the development of that character, unlike the purely physical growth of the unborn baby, actually is growth toward spiritual maturity, right now in the begettal stage prior to spirit birth—in this present mortal human life.
Notice how the “mother of us all,” the Church, is to protect and feed those in it, until they reach spiritual maturity. In 1 Corinthians 12, you’ll read how God gives spiritual gifts for various administrations, or functions of service. In Ephesians 4:11-14, Christ has given special spiritual abilities or talents to certain ones in a chain of authority under Him in the Church—and notice for what purpose:
“And His [Christ’s] gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ [the Church], until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Revised Standard Version).
In other words, to full spiritual maturity!
Faith Brings Joy
Now why should we count the troubles and problems and temptations that beset us as all joy?
Simply because we cannot hurdle these obstacles successfully in our own power. They drive us to seek help from God. To go to God for the wisdom to know what to do, and the power to be able to do it, requires faith. This is a living faith. It is alive. It is active.
When we meet such trials, we often do not know what to do. We lack the wisdom to make the right decision. So open your Bible to the first chapter of James. Notice verse 5.
If you lack wisdom, in such trials, go to God for it! But ask in faith—no wavering—no doubting. Be sure God will not fail, but will give you this wisdom. Depend upon Him for it. If you waver, you are like a wave in the ocean—tossed back and forth—going nowhere! So, instead of wavering, be steadfast. And if you don’t get the answer immediately from God, have patience. Don’t give up. Trust Him.
Now notice verses 2-3: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (rsv). These trials force you to your knees. You must have faith to meet them. They test your faith. They develop spiritual character!
In the King James Version, it says the trying of your faith produces patience. It produces that kind of patience that is steadfastness. That is character!
Sure, it may be unpleasant for a while. But, Paul assures us that if we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with Him—and the glory to be revealed in us is so incomparably greater than anything we now are, that this promised future for eternity is something to rejoice over!
Yes, count it all joy! Even if unpleasant. It is maturing you, now, for the marriage to Christ. The Church of God shall be born the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of God will not be composed of spiritual know-nothings and infants.
Born of God
When we are born again—born of God—resurrected in spirit bodies, those bodies will not be small, like a human physical infant which must grow to full physical size. We shall look as we do now, so far as form and shape and features are concerned. But the resurrected body will be a different body—composed of spirit instead of flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
The original 12 apostles were Christ’s witnesses. That is, they were actual eyewitnesses that Jesus rose from the dead—that the living resurrected Christ was the same Jesus who had been crucified. They were with Him 40 days after His resurrection. But nobody will be foolish enough to suggest that when Christ was born very Son of God by the resurrection (Romans 1:4) that He was resurrected in a tiny infant’s body composed of spirit. He was resurrected full grown, as He had been when crucified. How did the apostles know He was the same Jesus? Because they knew what Jesus had looked like—and in His born-again resurrected body He looked the same, except He now was composed of spirit instead of matter!
Perfected Through Spiritual Growth
The resurrected Christ was perfect—He was very God! But He did not grow up into perfection after He was resurrected. It was during His human lifetime, setting us the example, that He was made perfect as you read in Hebrews 2:10 and 5:8-9.
Thus it is plain that we must develop spiritual character, growing to spiritual adulthood, during this life—not after our resurrection in glory! This is the spiritual growth, of which the physical growth of the unborn child, from tiny embryo to a size and weight of some six to eight pounds at birth, is a type. The physical growth of the unborn human is a growth of physical size and weight. The spiritual growth of the begotten, but yet unborn spiritual child of God is a growth in spiritual character, not of physical volume, size or weight. The human baby merely grows large enough to be born prior to birth—not to physical or mental maturity. But he does grow. And this physical growth is the type of the spiritual growth by feeding on the Word of God, and prayer, and Christian fellowship, and participation in the work of God in the life of the begotten child of God.
The difference is merely the difference between matter and spirit. One is a material growth. Material growth is measured by volume, size, weight. The other is spiritual growth, measured by character development.
Jesus was born a very Son of God by His resurrection (Rom. 1:4). He was born fully mature. He was born in a spirit body, which was manifested to His apostles in the same apparent size and shape as when He died. When He appears on Earth the second time, in His spirit glorified body, we shall be resurrected, or instantaneously changed, into a body that will be like Him (1 John 3:1-2)—full grown—adult!
At that instant, our present mortal physical vile bodies will be changed like unto His glorified body. But our vile carnal characters will not be suddenly and instantly changed. Our character must be changed, and developed to spiritual adulthood now, during this life. Otherwise we simply shall not be then born of God!
Reign With Christ
But all who are then born of God will be born full adult spiritual beings! Yes, ready for the marriage to Christ!
If we now overcome, we shall reign with Christ (Revelation 3:21; 2:26-27). We shall be married to Him! We shall be born spiritually mature. This development to spiritual maturity is precisely what is spiritual growth sufficient to be born.
But, once born of God—born spiritually mature—do we then stop growing spiritually? I ask, once a human grows up to human maturity, does he then stop growing? Physically, yes—but mentally, morally, spiritually, emotionally he should continue to grow and develop as long as he lives. Perhaps many humans don’t. But we all should. I reached this physical maturity many years ago. But I still learn new things continually.
If you are meeting problems and trials, don’t be discouraged. Take them to Christ for wisdom and power and help. Have faith. And count it all joy! And never quit or give up! Have perseverance!