Reasons for Hard Times - Sin or Sanctification?
"Who did sin Lord? This man or is Father?"
The Lord Jesus' disciples were anxious for a reason the man was blind. The problems he faced had to be caused by disobedience along his lineage. What other reason could there be? The Lord's response must have been a shocking one:
"Neither, but that the glory of God may be manifested."
Several questions come to my mind when I think about the Lord's response.
Is the Lord suggesting that this man was purposefully made blind by God? Was he preordained to be an example of God's miraculous ability to be worked through the Christ? Is it that this man was sinless? Did he have sin but was still chosen to receive healing to manifest God's goodness?
None of these things are explicit from scripture. However it is clear from the Lord's response to the disciples' question that problems in our lives aren't always the result of some sin we committed. In fact, from the book of Job we learn that we can fall on hard times despite being upright and blameless before God.
If we are blameless before God when going through our trials it seems to me from scripture that such situations are intended to create a greater reliance and dependency on God so that we are more holy, separated for God's purposes - sanctified. It's a training method used by God help us attain the standard that He desires to see in us - a desire that we should share.
However we cannot ignore the fact that sin can wreak havoc in our lives. Just read through the book of Judges and you'll see what I mean. The nation of Israel suffered many hardships because of their disobedience (a.k.a. sin) - the initial of these being their failure to inhabit the land and drive out the current occupiers.
So here's the thing, how do we know when something that appears bad in our lives like a tragedy, hardship or similar circumstance is the result of God's refinement or because of sin in our lives? I thought about this and it seems necessary to start with the obvious - identifying sin.
If we can identify when we have sinned or when there is perpetual sin in our lives then we are in a much better position to ascertain the cause of our circumstance.
The Sin Issue
Sin has been the scourge on man since Adam's disobedience. The New Testament moreso than the Old, reveals that sin has a benefactor in satan: he's constantly trying to trip-up the saints by various methods. If we look at original sin in Genesis 3 we reveal three main tactics of the enemy in getting us to sin. I'll call them the three "Ds" - Deception, Doubt and Desire.
Doubt - "Did God really say 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" Sowing the seeds of doubt through subtle twisting of the interpretation and meaning of God's Word to muddy the mind and encourage faulty decisions and thinking. Here the serpent twists God's words to make it seem to include all the trees in the garden when God's only restriction was to one particular tree. This twisting sets the stage for his next attack.
Deception - "You will not certainly die," the serpent tells eve which is in direct contradiction to God's words. And Eve knows God's words because in the previous paragraph she repeats it. But along with his bold faced lie the serpent also plants the seed of his next and most powerful attack.
Desire - "You will become like God to know the knowledge of good and evil". Did Adam and Eve even consider the sentence of death? God's words now clearly behind her, Eve takes a good long look at the fruit and sees all the possibilities that it holds - by eating we can become like God and the fruit itself is good. The trap has been set and the fate of man is sealed.
Satan is a master of these things and when we sin its because we have allowed him to put ticks next to these attacks - we doubt God's Word, believe satan's lies and finally act on sinful desires to bring fruition to what was conceived in our hearts. The worst of these is desire because we become a willing participant by yielding to carnal desires. It seems also to be the root cause of sin as James put it - we sin when we are drawn away by our own lusts.
Mind you Jesus suffered similar testings as man in the Garden of Eden. In Matt. 4:3-10, Satan first asks Jesus to prove He is God by performing a miracle on demand. What's wrong with that? Well most significantly is that it would not have been for the honor and glory of God. What's the benefit in proving that He's God to the tempter? God receives no glory. I'll argue that the devil was trying to get the Lord to prove he is the Messiah. In other words, the devil was trying to sow seeds of doubt in the Lord's mind about his authenticity as the Messiah! The second temptation now attacks the Word of God requiring the Lord to test God's prophecy concerning Him. Again Jesus deflects this attack by wisely pointing out that the scripture is referenced entirely out of context revealing the devil's deception. And finally the devil offers worldly wealth playing on the Lord's fleshly desires, however Jesus' being fully yielded to the Holy Spirit, commands a cease to the devil's taunts having successfully navigated the same tactics that ruined his earthly ancestors.
It's clear that having hard times because of sin(s) we've committed can be eradicated by... well avoiding sin. This means preventing deception or confusion and not yielding to temptation. Notice I didn't say avoiding temptation. While this is possible in some instances it's not always practical since temptations, as we can see from Matt.18:7-9, are a necessary part of life.
Doubt is faithlessness. There's no sugar coating here. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). The enemy's strategy in placing doubt in our minds is to bring confusion to us about who God says He is, what God says He can do, and what God says will happen.
It looks somewhat ridiculous when you pen it but its a very subtle attack. It's called 'seeds of doubt' for a reason. By attacking our faith the enemy seeks to discredit God in our eyes making it easier for us to accept direct contradictions to God's Word. This is why we need to be careful what we look upon and give ear. These senses influence our thought. Now I'm not saying we should cover our ears and put on blindfolds to things that happen around us but there must always be a confidence in the God that we serve despite the situations that face us. God's attributes must be allowed to pervade our thoughts and be the primary influence in our perception. It may sound fanatical, but it's really a emphasis on the passion that faith should bring about. When properly exercised with God's Word our faith is justified by God. So keep the faith burning and squelch the attempts by the enemy to derail you into sin before he even lays a track.
Study to show yourself approved. Paul's encouragement of Timothy is tantamount to avoiding deception. To be deceived you need to be ignorant since deception works when we lack knowledge. However ignorance is no excuse because we are encouraged to the point of a command to make God's Word a part of our everyday lives. Moses sets the expectation of the role the Word of God should play in our lives and the intimacy we should have with it in Deut. 30:11-14. King David understood this which is why he penned the words in Ps. 119:11 - I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
The knowledge here is a deep and clear understanding - I believe that today's Christian (yours truly included) tends to grab a superficial understanding of God's word at times without exploring the full context and breadth of God's intention. When I thought about that I honestly became fearful because I wondered how much I really missed when I bristled past the verses in scripture.
This is where the enemy gets us you know. Our laziness to get into the finer points of God's Word. A great tragedy today is oversimplifying the content of Bible and passing off timeless tenets in the scripture as having only temporal relevance. We can also read into the word what isn't there effectively appending and therefore misconstruing the original intent of the scripture - like the devil's temptation of the Christ.
We can't be flippant when it comes to God's word - and write this mainly to myself. The consequences can be dire.
I was discussing desire with a brother in the Lord and an interesting thought came up. When does temptation become sin? Is it when we actually commit the sinful act or when there's some resolution in our heart towards the sinful act?
I believe it is the latter. The Lord Jesus also give the illustration in Matt 5:27,28. It's a heart thing really and this is what made this saying very hard for the people to hear. No longer are we talking about just physical acts that can leave a tangible result but now the act of sin really occurs sometime prior to any physical manifestation. There's a line that's crossed that allows temptation to become sin in our hearts without ever involving someone else! Thank God for His Holy Spirit who searches the depths of our hearts and pits our unholy desires against the sanctifying power of God's Word. Without this internal work of the Spirit of God, can you imagine our frustration in recognizing sin?
Once sinful desire is revealed to us we must confess it before God. There's no other way to get rid of it. Sometimes we may also need the help of genuine (and confidential) brothers and sisters in the church - we confess our faults one to another.
Also, don't believe the devil's lies that you can't be forgiven. There is no sin (none!) that the Lord won't forgive if you come to him with a contrite and truly repentant heart (1 Kings 21: 27,28). Ahab was the most evil king Israel had. Together with his wife Jezebel they did despicable things. However God responded with mercy when Ahab humbled himself. The words were actually very similar to the ones used when God spoke about Job.
It seems simple enough however many things prevent us from recognizing our true desires. Things like emotions, egos, misconceptions and misinterpretations heck sometimes we lie (very convincingly) to ourselves. Even in this case God has provided His Spirit to clarify our heart's condition. Make no mistake, if you set your heart to please God He will reveal to you where your faults are. We need to put aside our own pride and humble before God and, in abeyance, yield ourselves to the revelation he brings in our lives to correct our lives before Him or to allow Him to correct it for us - this one is more painful so beware!
Consequential vs Sanctified Life
Living a life skirting the perils of sin is filled with consequences. This is not the position any true child of God wants to be in but when we sin we will suffer the consequences. There's no evidence in the scripture to suggest otherwise. There needs to be a distinction between consequence and punishment - the ultimate punishment for sin is death but there are repercussions that can result from sinful acts.
Tough times in your life can be very frustrating and full of isolation but more so when resulting from sinful acts. When we recognize the trick's of the devil to get us to commit sin against God we fair better in warding off the attacks. The earlier on we catch him in the game the better because it becomes easier to prevent a spiral into sin.
And this is important because if we live lives submitted to God's leading and direction then we can be assured that our suffering is not in vain but that it accomplishes the will of God. We will be living sanctified lives, verily saints of God.