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Tribulation Propels
Sanctification
 
     Let’s backtrack to Romans 5:3-5, where Paul plainly tells us what sanctification does not entail - the absence of tribulation ...

     And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 
     And perseverance, character; and character, hope: 
     And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.
                                                                                      Romans 5:3-5

     Indeed, here in Romans 5:3-5 we’re clearly told to expect tribulation ...
  • that tribulation is an inevitable part of sanctification; 
  • that it actually propels forward our sanctification;
  • that without it, sanctification won’t occur.

     And that’s another truth we need to wrap our minds and hearts around very, very tightly - because all too often we’re led to believe that becoming a Christian guarantees us a life devoid of tribulation and suffering; a life free of stress and anxiety; that becoming a Christian guarantees us a happy marriage, well behaved children, an exciting and well paying job, good physical health, a spacious home in a well-kept neighborhood, and, of course, lots of goodies and trinkets. And that’s totally false.

Tribulation and Its
Relationship to Sanctification

Sanctification

Hope

Produces
Character

Produces
Endurance

Let’s look closely at Romans 5:3-5. What we have here are four stages ...

  • perseverance
  • character
  • hope
  • confidence

... each of which evolves from the one it follows; thus, perseverance produces character; and character gives rise to hope; and, of course, what eventually emerges is confidence - which the phrase “makes not ashamed” obviously means. Clearly, what we have here is a process - a process of growth and spiritual maturity. And what kicks the whole process off is tribulation. 


Let’s probe a bit further ...
     The word “perseverance” translates the Greek word “hypomonē” - “ὑπομονή” - which in this context is better translated “endurance” - the wherewithal to bear up under pressure.


     The word “character” translates the Greek word “dokimē” - “δοκιμή,” which in 1 Corinthians 9:27 is translated “approved” or “qualified.” Someone who’s designated “qualified” is spiritually mature - meaning he has cultivated the fruit of the spirit in his life - all the virtues Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


     The Greek word that’s translated “tribulation” is “thlipsis” - “θλῖψις” - and it’s a translation that leaves a little to be desired as well. That’s because the word “tribulation” focuses on the object or incident causing the trouble; whereas, the word “anguish,” which is what it’s elsewhere translated, focuses on the “feeling” that’s aroused; and here in Romans 5:3-5 that is what’s at issue - the anguish and distress that sanctification inevitably entails.
     Think hard about it - and consider just how far some segments of American Christianity, though by no means all, have veered away from the truth so clearly delineated here. God is not promising us a life that’s free of trouble; quite the contrary: he’s telling us that trouble is, in one sense, the necessary catalyst that propels sanctification - and because of that, we should “glory in it” ...

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations ...
                                                            Romans 5:3


     And why? Because we know what tribulation produces if we’ll but submit patiently to it ...


knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 
And perseverance, character; and character ...

     “Knowing” translates the word “eidō” - “εἴδω” - meaning “know with certainty.” It’s not a mere intellectual assent that Paul is getting at here; whenever Paul uses the word “eidō” he means “know with no second thoughts to the contrary” - to the point of being able to walk out what we know regardless of whatever fears, anxieties, and suffering may result therefrom - even occasionally to the point of struggling against depression and despair. Otherwise, Paul is more apt to use the word “ginōskō” - “γινώσκω.”


     In short, Paul is calling on us to change the way we think about trouble - and the anxiety it often produces ...
  • that trouble is not necessarily a judgment that God imposes on recalcitrant believers;
  • that even when trouble is the result of poor judgment and even sinful behavior, it can be used to prompt spiritual growth if we’ll submit to its discipline; and, most especially, 
  • that trouble is to be expected - that believers are not immune to trouble.

Tribulation God’s Workout Program
     Anyone who wants to develop himself physically knows that his muscles will grow bigger and

stronger if he enrolls himself in a carefully planned weight program. He knows too that while
enrolled in the weight program, he will be submitting his body to a great deal of painful
stress, but that the stress he will undergo can’t be avoided if he’s at all serious about developing
himself physically. And so it is spiritually. God has enrolled each of us in a “weight program”
consisting of tests and challenges he carefully measures out to each of us every day.
 
God is faithful, and will not allow you to be (tested) beyond what you are able.
                                                                                                                 1 Cor. 10:13


     Those tests aren’t meant to make life miserable for us; they’re the “weights” - meaning the

resistance - our spiritual muscles need to work against in order to grow bigger and stronger. Yes,
those tests will often subject us to stress, but that can’t be avoided if we want to develop ourselves
spiritually - to the point that we’re able to overcome the power of sin in our lives.

Resistance

Muscle

A muscle working against resistance grows stronger

Sanctifcation
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