Why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?

A question came up at church Sunday that offers helpful distinction from the often asked, “Why does God allow evil to continue in this world?” This other question is much more specific and focuses on those who are followers of Christ. A preacher once said to a group of Christians, “You are either facing a trial in your life, just coming out of one or about to go into one.” While such a statement may be overly pessimistic, it does seem to many that following Jesus is the beginning of difficulties, not the end. So why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?

The Bible offers several reasons why Christians must endure intense trials. Contrary to much popular preaching, the Bible never promises the Christian that faith will lead to an easier life. Instead, “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) and “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) The apostle Paul told newly formed churches, “That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Suffering should not surprise anyone, least of all the Christian.

The Christians suffering is never pointless. James says that the trying of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3) Romans says that tribulation produces patience. (Romans 5:3) Second Corinthians says, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Suffering for the Christian always has a good purpose. The New Testament teaches that tribulation is permitted by God to produce Christlikeness in His children and to bring them eternal benefit.

Sometimes God brings suffering on a Christian to chasten them for sin. This chastening is Divine correction that brings punishment on His children for persistent sin. God disciplines His children in the same way loving parents discipline their children. “For who the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:6) God does not punish in anger. God does not punish His children because they are irritating Him. God’s brings painful correction for the good of His children. “He (chastened us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. . . afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) The chastening of God is painful, but it is profitable because it produces righteousness in His people.

God also allows suffering in the life of Christians to make them more fruitful. This suffering is not punishment for sin, but preparation for more fruitful service. In John 15 Jesus likens His followers to branches. The fruitless branches will be cut off and the fruitful branches will be pruned so that they will be more fruitful. The fruitful branch does not escape the cutting, but it will not be entirely cut off. Instead, in God’s grace He cuts away much that is unnecessary and hindering the productiveness of the Christian.

The Christian’s suffering is never pointless. Trials in the believer’s life are never an indication that God has forgotten His child or that His love has decreased. The Christian’s suffering is always a part of the gracious working of God to purge from sin and produce greater Christlikeness. Suffering is never fun, but it is always a cause to rejoice.

What does repentance look like?

Repentance is a change of mind and heart that produces a change in behavior. In real life it is not always easy to know when a person is genuinely repentant. In Second Corinthians the apostle Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow may produce a change in actions, but that change will not continue. True repentance will not be repented of. (2 Corinthians 7:10) The chief evidence of genuine repentance is a persistence in forsaking the sinful behavior.

However, everyone falls into sin. Those struggling with addictions or other life controlling sins may find the process of repentance to be full of successes and failures. When someone says they are repentant but then fall back into sin, have they truly repented or not? Are there other characteristics of true repentance that enable a person to distinguish between godly and fleshly repentance?

2 Corinthians 7:11 lists seven characteristics of Godly repentance. Godly repentance produces a carefulness to not return to the sin again. The repentant is not lazy about his transformation. He is diligent and anxious to change. True repentance will not toy with sin. The repentant will set up safeguards and take precautions against falling back into it.

Godly repentance produces a desire to show that sin is being avoided. The repentant will be transparent about his transformation, allowing others to look into his life to see that he has truly turned away from sin.

Godly repentance produces a deep grief over sin. The repentant soul is troubled by the sin they committed. Their sin will not be a source of pride. The repentant will not regale others with stories of his sin. True repentance sees sin as a shameful thing. The repentant is upset by his sin.

Godly repentance produces fear. This fear is a carefulness which is deeply concerned about sin. The repentant one will no longer view their former sin as pet to be pampered, but as a poisonous serpent to be avoided.

Godly repentance produces a strong desire for holiness and righteousness. Godly repentance produces zeal- an intense passion for good. Godly repentance produces a readiness to see justice done. The repentant accepts the consequences of his actions and is anxious to be vindicated from any further association with the sin.

These characteristics of repentance will not always be evident, especially when someone is just beginning to work through the process of repentance. However, if these characteristics do not become evident there is reason to question the validity of a profession of repentance.

Understanding repentance is important so that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking we are repentant of sin when we are not. The addict may convince himself he has turned over new leaf, but his habit and his attitude towards his habit show he is still in bondage to his sin. Understanding repentance protects us from bondage to sin and the consequences sin brings. For the unsaved, the consequences of sin will be eternal punishment. For the Christian, the consequences of sin may be the chastening of the Lord or the loss of rewards in heaven. Repentance is not easy, but it is far better to endure the sorrow of repentance than to suffer the sorrow of Divine judgment.

What is love?

With Valentine’s day less than a week away, love is on many minds. Love is a topic of great concern in our culture. Hundreds of songs have been written about love. Love is the subject of hundreds of books, the discussion of philosophers, the study of scientists, the concern of philanthropists and the desire of everyone. The universal fascination with love has produced a myriad of definitions and descriptions of love. From the unclear, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” to the comedic, “Love: a temporary insanity curable by marriage” to the serious, “There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” love has been defined thousands of ways.

The Bible commands Christians to love God and love offers, but it does not give a definition of love. What the Bible gives is numerous examples of love. The most important example being God’s love for fallen humanity. The most important passage describing human love for others is 1 Corinthians 13.

First Corinthians 13 does not define love, but describes fifteen key characteristics of love. A person who is practicing Biblical love endures the wrongs of others against them, is benevolent towards others, does not covet the good others have received, does not boast, is not puffed up with pride, acts appropriately towards others, is not self-seeking, does not have a quick temper, does not keep a record of wrongs done against them, does not delight in sin but delights in truth. The person who practices Biblical love is patient and trusting, he does not lose hope and he does not quit when things are difficult.

Love, like faith, can only be known through actions. A declaration of love that is not joined by loving deeds is not Biblical love. The book of First John insists that love works. Love does not just wish someone well it does well for them. First John also insists that love is sacrificial. Love gives- even at great personal cost. Biblical love imitates the God who loved mankind and gave His life for their salvation. Biblical love is willing to give of itself, even to the point of death. Biblical love gives with no thought of what it will get in return. Biblical love gives even if those being loved do not respond with love or appreciation. “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Corinthians 12:15)

The Biblical description of love and the example of God’s love for humanity leads us to a definition for love. Love is a commitment to do what is best for another person no matter the cost or how they respond. A key component in the Biblical depiction of love is commitment. Biblical love is not an on again/off again feeling. It is a willful mindset that perseveres through negative feelings and difficult times. Biblical love is not devoid of feeling, but it is not defined by feeling. Further, Biblical love is sacrificial in nature. It gives of itself freely for the benefit of others. Love is an unwavering commitment to the good of another.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

Are Christians Forbidden to Judge Others?

Possibly the most widely known Bible verse in America is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” The verse is often quoted when one person declares the actions of another to be wrong. Was Jesus saying that no person should ever tell another person they are doing something wrong?

A recent conversation is a good example of how this verse is commonly used. A man claimed to be “a Christ” and then claimed that everyone who believes also become Christs. He was informed that he was not Christ, Jesus is the only Christ and Christhood is not conferred upon any believers. The immediate response was “Judge not.” Many use the verse in the same way in situations where they feel like their decisions or actions are being attacked. The two words are wielded as if they are a magic shield able to deflect every attack, criticism, question, confrontation or uncomfortable conversation.

To bowdlerize the famous words of a Hollywood sage, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The Bible says, “Judge not.” The Bible also says. “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “Prove all things.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Each one of those verses requires a judgment that discerns between right and wrong.

If the popular view of Matthew 7:1 were correct, then Jesus Himself would be guilty of violating it’s command. Jesus judged people. He told an adulterous woman to stop sinning. He called religious leaders white washed mausoleums, poisonous serpents and hypocrites. The Apostle Paul judged the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11). Paul also judged Alexander, Hymaneus, Philetus, Demas and various other unnamed teachers. Jesus and the Apostles often committed the cardinal sin of the 21st century. They judged people. They did not violate the command of Matthew 7

“Judge not” is a warning to not judge superficial, self-righteous judgment. Jesus condemned the condemnation of others based upon personal preferences and shallow relationships. The self-righteous, malicious condemnation of another person because they do not meet your own opinions of what they should and should not do is forbidden. The irony of the misuse of Matthew 7:1 is the majority of the people who attack others with “Judge not” or its derivatives are disobeying the command of Jesus. They are guilty of condemning the actions of another based upon nothing more than their own personal preferences. The Bible condemns self-righteousness which replaces the Biblical standard for a cultural or personal one. The Bible commands Christians to evaluate the actions, beliefs and motives of ourselves and others according to the standard of the Word of God. Christians are not forbidden to warn others about sin, call a person to repentance or confront a false gospel. They are commanded to do those things.

Why did John the Baptist baptize?

Baptism is a practice familiar to many people today, but it was unknown to the Old Testament Israelites. When John the Baptist began to baptize, he did something different from anything practiced by Jews in Old Testament times. Under the law of Moses the Israelites had regular ritual cleansings, like hand washings and foot washings, but the law gave no instruction for ceremonial bathing or for rituals involving immersion of the entire body.

The Old Testament is silent about baptism, but history gives some insight into when baptism began to first be practiced in Israel. Apparently, the Jews in the time period between the completion of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus began to engage in immersion as a form of ceremonial cleansing. This ritual bathing is still practiced by some Jews today as a rite of purification. John the Baptist was not the first to baptize. He appears to have taken the practice and administered it as a sign of repentance among the Israelites.

In Matthew 3 John preached a message of coming judgment. The nation of Israel had been through times of judgment before. The last Divine judgment cut them off as a self-governing nation. From the beginning of the Babylonian captivity all Jews were subjects of other nations. First they were subject to Babylon, then Persia, Greece and finally Rome. Israel suffered six hundred years of subjugation because of their disobedience to God. John’s warning of impending judgment affected many hearts. Those who believed the warning repented of their sin and were baptized. “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (Acts 19:4)

John’s baptism was not Christian baptism. John did not baptize those who confessed Jesus as their Savior. John baptized those who were looking forward to the coming Messiah. Jesus is the promised Messiah, but when John’s ministry began very few people in Israel knew this fact. John preached that the Messiah was coming, but did not point Jesus out as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” until Jesus began his public ministry. John’s baptism was given in preparation to receive the Messiah.

John’s baptism was also directly related to his ministry as the forerunner of Christ. John’s baptism was a picture that pointed the Jews to the greater work Christ would do for those who believe. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

John’s baptism did not bring salvation to anyone. It was a sign of repentance and of readiness to receive the coming Savior. John’s baptism also provided an important transition to the practice of baptism in the church. The baptism administered by John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christian baptism that today testifies of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for our sin. The baptism of John the Baptist was a testimony of readiness to receive the Messiah. Christian baptism is a testimony of having received Jesus

Did Jesus promise to answer every prayer?

“If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:14 seems like a very straightforward promise. Anything you ask for, Jesus will do. Did Jesus give a blanket promise to do everything that people pray for? Any one who has done much praying knows we do not always get what we ask God to give. Does God not keep His promises or is there something else in John 14:14 that shapes the nature of the promise?

The overlooked phrase is one of the most important of the verse. Jesus said if you pray “In my name.” That is much more than ending prayer with, “In Jesus name we pray. Amen.” Doing anything in the name of someone means acting as an official representative of that person. John MacArthur says that praying in Jesus name is asking for things that are consistent with who He is and asking for what Jesus would want. In other words, praying in Jesus’ name is praying selflessly for the will of God. Jesus will not answer the adulterer’s prayer for another partner. The person praying selfishly for a brand new sports car is not promised to have his prayers answered.

The book of 1 John spends a lot of time discussing certain key aspects from the Upper Room discourse, including John 14. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” The book of 1 John says the condition of answered prayer is asking according to the will of Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name is asking in earnest desire for His will to be accomplished. It is not saying, “God I really want this, but if it’s not your will I really wish you would make it your will.” Asking in Jesus name genuinely desires the accomplishment of His will. It is saying, “God I would like this, but what I really want is your will to be done, your kingdom to be increased and your glory to be revealed.” When we pray this way, we know He will give us what we ask for. The remarkable testimony of those who have learned to pray this way is that when we learn to ask for what God wants then we find God is incredibly generous to His people.

This does not mean we cannot pray for things that we do not know if they are His will. We can ask or healing, a job, a spouse and many other things that we cannot know for certain if we are praying according to the will of God. In those situations where we do not know the will of God, we pray making our desires known and also knowingly submitting our desires to the will of God. We bow before God to ask His favor. We specify what we would like to receive of Him while confessing that we trust Him to do what is right and best. We confess we trust God if it is something different than what we requested. The promise of God is we will have what is good for us and what is in accord with the character and plan of God.

This principle of praying in Jesus’ name finds its Old Testament parallel in Psalm 37:4, Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

Does Hebrews teach that flagrant sin can never be forgiven?

Can a Christian lose his salvation? This question has long troubled and divided believers. Thousands of pages have been written to give an answer to this burning question. One of the major battlegrounds in this debate is the meaning of various key verses in the book of Hebrews. For example, Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Does this mean that if someone knowingly sins they lose their salvation and can never enter heaven?

Hebrews quotes the Old Testament over 30 times and makes many more references to people, events and rituals found in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who had a broad knowledge of the Old Testament. The modern Christian needs a similar broad understanding of the Old Testament to better understand the book Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:26 points back to the absence in the Mosaic law of any sacrifice for intentional and willful sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says, “But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.” The Old Testament did not permit a person to plan to sin on Saturday and ask forgiveness on Sunday.

The book of Hebrews was written as a warning to those in the church on the verge of abandoning their profession of faith. The Jewish Christians faced intense persecution because they turned to Christianity. Some buckled under the pressure and turned away from their profession of faith. Hebrews encouraged the wavering believers to remain faithful to Jesus because He is far better than the Judaism they were returning to. There is no salvation in Judaism. Jesus is the only way of salvation. Those who rejected Jesus for their cultural traditions and familial religion were not saved.

Despite the absence of sacrifice for willful sin in the Old Testament, the grace of God was and is greater than sin. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he sinned willfully and presumptuously. Does this mean he was never forgiven? In Psalm 51 David was confident God would forgive Him He acknowledged his guilt before God. He understood no sacrifice was available for his sin. However, David did not despair he would never be forgiven. He cried out to God confident He would forgive. He prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psam 51:7) David’s words in Psalm 51 stand today as a Divine promise for all sinners, even those who willfully and rebelliously continue in sin. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Those who repent of their sin and cry out to God for salvation will be saved.

Hebrews never teaches that salvation can be lost. The entire book emphasizes that Jesus alone is the fully sufficient Savior. He saves to the uttermost. (Hebrews 7:25) Those saved by Jesus can never exceed the limits of His grace. Hebrews not only teaches that Jesus secures the believer’s salvation, He also secures the believer in salvation. Hebrews 10:39 confidently asserts,“We are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Those who believe to salvation will not draw back, fall away or turn aside. Those who rejected Jesus for Judaism did not lose their salvation, they turned aside from a profession that was not genuine. Those who are genuinely saved will not cast Jesus aside nor be cast aside by Him.

Why do Christians pray before eating?

A regular part of family gatherings used to include the family sitting around the table to enjoy a meal together. Once everyone was seated, the family would pause to pray before the meal began. Many Christian families still make this a habit at every meal. Why do people pray before eating?

Whether you call it “blessing the food” or “giving of thanks,” the prayer before a meal is a reminder that every good thing comes from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.” Christians pray before meals to remind themselves every good thing we have comes from God.

“Saying the blessing” is an act of giving thanks to God for giving us our daily bread. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If you have been praying for God to meet your daily needs, then the meal you are about to enjoy is a specific answer of God to that specific prayer request. The wise Christian seated before a plate of Divine provision will stop to give God thanks for answering his prayer.

Some may not realize the Bible specifically teaches about giving thanks to God for food. In 1 Timothy 4:5 Paul warned about false teachers. Their wrong teachings included forbidding marriage and forbidding the eating of meat. Paul rebuked these errors and said, “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” The restrictions of the Old Testament law have been done away with by Jesus. Now, the Christian may eat any animal he desires. This means the Christian can eat snails, raw fish, lutefisk, livermush or any other unpalatable dish he desires. Give thanks for the freedom to eat that we have in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul had to correct problems the church in Corinth was having with food. Christians were divided over whether they could eat things that had been offered to idols. Paul taught the church to not eat with selfishness, but to eat with concern for how their dining affected the spiritual well-being of others. Paul’s instructions are summed up with these words. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Prayer before meals reminds the Christian that even when eating we are to bring glory to God.

The sanctifying act of prayer sets the food and the person apart as offerings to the Lord. Praying before a meal confesses that the food is not to be consumed merely as fuel for the achievement of the individuals personal desires. Prayer recognizes the meal is a gift given by God enabling the believer to live for the Him.