When I’m biking I occasionally see deer grazing on the surrounding hills. I love watching them bound uphill, gracefully jumping over brush. If only I could painlessly leap over problems like that, I think to myself. But that rarely—if never—happens, unless God removes the obstacle(s). It’s not that God doesn’t grant strength, He does when asked. But rough terrain is par for the course during our earthly journey.
In fact, the Bible doesn’t promise believers that problems and trials will dissolve once we place our trust in Christ. Rather, God challenges us to embrace suffering as a source of joy (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Why? The results from Christian suffering bring spiritual maturity. This is another benefit of justification (God’s act of declaring us “not guilty” for our sins), along with a new relationship with God, access to God, and peace with God.
A New Understanding in Suffering
In this passage Paul—who was no stranger to suffering—outlines a linked-chain process of Christian suffering:
- “Suffering produces perseverance” (vs. 3): Suffering translated is pressure, distress from outward circumstances.
- “Perseverance produces character” (vs. 4): Character translated describes the quality of being approved. “Endurance brings proof that we have stood the test” (vs. 4, NEB).
- “Character produces hope” (vs. 4): Paul tells us that this hope “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (vs. 5).
My NIV Study Bible says it well: “In the future we will become, but until then we must overcome. This means we will experience difficulties that will help us grow. We rejoice in suffering not because we like pain or deny its tragedy, but because we know God is using life’s difficulties and Satan’s attacks to grow our character.”