Thursday, July 05, 2007

We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God

Scripture: Acts 14:19-22
“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’…”

Hey, what about God taking away all of my problems? Didn’t I become a Christian so that I could escape all of my problems and the hardships of this cruel world? Unfortunately, this is the mentality of many Christians these days because this is the message of many pastors and preachers. In America we often try to “attract” people to Christ with messages about prosperity and happiness. The avoidance of hardships was definitely not a reason to become a Christian in the first century. In fact, becoming a Christian almost certainly meant more hardship and persecution. In many places throughout the world this is true today. Take Turkey for instance. I personally have a heart for the nation of Turkey and the small number of Christians in that country (only 3,000 in a country of 70 million). It is a significant decision for a Turk to convert to Christianity because he is almost definitely going to experience much hardship and persecution because he has become a follower of Christ: loss of family, job, and recently even life.

Paul moved beyond the statement that we would experience many hardships. He actually said that we “must endure many hardships to enter the Kingdom of heaven”. Look, God loves us and doesn’t desire that we experience hardship. He sent his son, Jesus, so that we wouldn’t have to endure eternal hardship in hell. But, he doesn’t remove hardship completely from our lives so that we can walk on easy street. Experiencing hardship and trials, and ultimately enduring it, is an integral part of the sanctification process. That is why James said “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Don't hear what I am not saying and what Paul is not saying. Don't look for hardship for hardships sake. There is nothing biblical about that. However, when it does come, consider it to be a time of refining and a chance to give God glory.

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