At the beginning of Romans 5, the Apostle Paul is speaking of the glories of justification by faith.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.-Romans 5:1-2
But beginning in verse 3, Paul seems to randomly change topics:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.-Romans 5:3-4
For a Christian who has been justified, God gives them his Spirit. And through God’s Spirit, a person is sanctified (made Holy).
There are other places in the Bible that talk about sanctification and its result. In Galatians, Paul. talks about the fruit of the Spirit. And the point of that passage is that for a person who has the Spirit, which is synonymous with a person who has faith, the Spirit of God working in a person produces fruit, virtues like love, joy, peace, patience. (Galatians 5:22-23)
In Romans 5, Paul is saying that another way how people grow with God is through struggles.
That might seem absolutely counterintuitive.
Many people get frustrated with God when they’re struggling, suffering.
It can so naturally be this sense of “where are you God?” Or “Why is this happening to me?” “It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Suffering is part of life.
It rains on both the saint and the sinner.
And the Christian life is one that is lived in a fallen world. Where we still sin, and have to deal with the ramifications from that. Where other people still sin, and where we have to deal with the ramifications from that. And where there is still sickness, illness, disease, hurt.
And there’s something we all have to understand. The Bible doesn’t promise a Christian’s life will be free from suffering.
In fact, the Bible literally promises the opposite of that.
James tells us to look at trials as a reason for joy:
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
So in James, the result of trials is that it refines a person. It’s meant for a person to actually be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God uses suffering to refine a person.
We so often think life is all about happiness.
It’s not. That is not what the Bible says the Christian life is all about.
It’s all about knowing God and serving God.
If life were all about happiness, if this life were all there was, then yes, suffering would interfere with that.
But suffering does not interfere with knowing God. And in fact, it can often times enhance our relationship with God.
Some people struggle and suffer, and they turn their back on God.
But for others, they grow in a deeper relationship with God than they ever thought possible when going through the greatest challenges and struggles. You name it, people have been able to love and follow God through it.
And again, it’s not that suffering is good for its own sake.
It’s that the result, the strength that comes from the tension, the greater relationship we can have with God is what can often times be the biggest blessing.
A radical idea that is puzzling to our world.
When you lift weights, you don’t get from the workout itself. It’s that when you lift weights, it creates all of these little micro-tears in your muscles. And after you workout, the muscles repair themselves and as a result of that, you’re stronger.
Faith gets strengthened through the heavy lifting.
If we never face difficult situations, then we never grow.
And different types of workouts work different muscles. Different ways how we’re tested strengthen us in different way.
Sometimes it’s not until the dust has settled that we can look back and truly appreciate what God was doing in us.
Sometimes you don’t see the beauty of the journey until you’re on the top of the mountain and are able to see where the difficult path was leading you and to appreciate the beauty that it brought.
I’m sure some of us have experienced things that were extremely difficult at the time, things that were horrible. But things we can look to and as hard as it was at the time,we can see how it helped shape us, how it helped make us into who we are today.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.