Why Does God Allow Suffering?

You have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.

–1 Peter 2:21

If you are going through a difficult time right now, do not be perplexed by that. Suffering is a part of God’s plan for your life.

What are some of the reasons God allows suffering in our lives? Some suffering is for our strengthening. Some suffering is the result of living for Christ in this sin-filled world. Some suffering is simply the result of living in a fallen world like we do right now. But the big point is that God is aware of your suffering, and it is part of His plan for your life.

I once read a statistic that said 70 percent of Christians believe that God plays no role in the suffering they are experiencing, that He has absolutely nothing to do with it. I don’t know about you, but that would be a depressing thought to me if it were true. I would be depressed if God had absolutely no hand in what I was going through, if God looked down from Heaven at what was going on in my life, slapped His forehead, and said, “Oh, I wish that were not happening to Robert. That is too bad. I hate to see that. I wish there was something I could do to help him, but I just can’t.” Who wants to serve a God like that?

The Bible says suffering for whatever reason is a part of God’s plan. In 1 Peter 2:21, Peter said, “You have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” In 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”

Some of you reading these words are Christians who are suffering right now. You may be suffering from health concerns, financial pressure, a broken relationship, or a prodigal child or grandchild. You are thinking, “If I am a child of God, then why is this happening? I thought when I signed up for this Christian stuff, things were supposed to get better, not worse.” Do not be perplexed at what is happening in your life; it is all part of God’s plan. Remember, suffering was part of God’s plan for His beloved Son. If God’s plan for His own Son, Jesus, included unfair and unbearable suffering, then why are we surprised when suffering comes into our lives?

There will be times when God’s face seems hidden to you. The road to Heaven is going to have some jolts and bumps along the way as well, but every shadow, every jolt, is simply a reminder that you are headed in the right direction. Suffering is a part of every Christian’s journey, but it is only a prelude to the incomprehensible and eternal future that God has planned for us.

Inherited Wealth

If children, [we are] heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

[Romans 8:17]

A birthmark of a true believer in Christ is an inherited wealth. Paul said in Romans 8:17, “If children, [we are] heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

One of the richest men who ever lived was Cecil Rhodes. He was an Englishman, but he went to live in Africa because of his deteriorating health. While he was in Africa, he made a fortune in the diamond business. Cecil Rhodes died prematurely at the age of 49. When he died, instead of leaving his massive wealth to his family, he left his wealth to establish what we know today as the Rhodes Scholarships.

The Bible says God is a wealthy God. He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10), so there is no way to calculate His wealth. Unlike Cecil Rhodes, though, God intends to leave His wealth to everyone who is in His forever family. That is what Paul was talking about in Romans 8:17. We are heirs of God. That means everything that belongs to God the Father is one day going to be yours. What is included in the wealth that God has planned for you? Think about your inheritance. God has a mansion for you that He is building right now in Heaven. He has promised you a new body forever free from suffering, sickness, sin, and death. He has promised that one day you are going to reign with Him in Heaven forever in a position of honor. He has promised that one day you are going to enjoy with Him a perfect relationship completely untainted by sin. I think that is what Jeremiah had in mind when he said, “The Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). The Lord Himself is a share of the wealth we have. If we are truly children of God, then we are heirs of God.

Our inheritance is absolutely certain, but it is also future. Many Christians miss this. The inheritance that is planned for us is mainly future. All too often, we are like greedy children who want their inheritance now. It is true that there is a part of your inheritance you can enjoy right now as a child of God. You do not have to wait until you die to experience all the benefits of being a Christian. Right now, you can have contentment with your financial situation. You can have peace no matter what is happening around you. You can have victory over sin. All those things are part of your inheritance right now as a child of God.

But most of your inheritance is still yet to come. Peter said God’s inheritance is “reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). He went on to say, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials” (1:6). Yes, you are an heir to the wealth of God, but do not forget that before the inheritance comes suffering. Trials precede the treasure. Weeping precedes the wealth. The cross always comes before the crown.

Two Kinds Of People

Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

[Romans 8:5]

In Romans 8, Paul said there are only two kinds of people: those who are of the flesh and those who are of the Spirit. “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (8:5-6). You are either headed toward God, or you are headed away from God.

In verse 14, Paul said, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” What does Paul mean by “being led”? He was not talking about personal decisions, such as being led to know which car to buy, which house to purchase, or which job to take. He was talking about being led on the path of righteousness. Those who are becoming more like Christ every day are the ones who are on the road to Heaven. They are the true children of God.

There are only two roads in life. One road is making us more like Christ; the other road is making us more unlike Christ. Which road are you on? Paul first described the road of the unbeliever: “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh” (8:5). The first characteristic of an unbeliever concerns his affections: his mind is centered on the things of this world. One piece of evidence that you are an unbeliever is that all you can think about is this world. When you get up in the morning, you think, “How can I earn more, achieve more, or experience more pleasure?” Your mind-set reveals which road you are on. “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (8:7). A person who is of the flesh is hostile toward God. That does not mean he says, “I hate God.” A person of the flesh may have fooled himself into thinking he actually loves God. But the proof is that he cannot desire to please God instead of pleasing others.

Paul then described characteristics of the believer: “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness” (8:10). The greatest evidence of being on the road to Heaven is being spiritually alive. Someone who is of the flesh is spiritually dead; he is unresponsive to the things of God. But a person who is in Christ is alive to the things of God. First, he is alive to God Himself. God is not just an idea; God is a Person with whom he has fellowship. Second, he is alive to the Bible. To an unbeliever, reading the Bible is boring. But when a Christian reads God’s Word, something reaches into his innermost being and causes him to say, “Yes, Lord, that is what I need to change in my life.” Third, he is alive to other Christians. If you are spiritually alive, you are drawn to other believers. But if you are spiritually dead, you are drawn to non-Christians. The Bible says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

Inward Power

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

[Romans 8:14]

How do you know if you are truly a child of God? In Romans 8:14-17, Paul shared with us three characteristics–three birthmarks, if you will–of every true child of God.

If you are truly a child of God, then you possess an inward power. Let me illustrate that for you. Imagine a giant 777 jetliner parked at an airport gate getting ready to take off. That airliner weighs 650,000 pounds fully loaded. What are the chances that jetliner is going to float up into the air like a helium balloon? That is not going to happen because there is a law at work called the law of gravity that keeps the jetliner on the ground. But that jetliner has a power attached to it in the form of two engines capable of generating 90,000 pounds of thrust. When those engines are turned on, they begin pulling that airliner down the runway, and another law begins to work. It is called the law of aerodynamics. As the wind begins to go over those specially curved wings, it creates a lift on that airliner, and there begins a battle between the law of gravity that wants to pull the airliner down and the law of aerodynamics that wants to lift it up. Which law is going to win? Hopefully, it will be the law of aerodynamics that takes the airplane up to the heights. That is the picture of what our life is like. Before you become a Christian, there is one law operating in your life–the law of sin. Think of it as spiritual gravity. It is what drags you down before you come to Christ. But when you become a Christian, you possess a new power–the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is an inward power that begins leading you down the path of righteousness. You will experience that struggle going on between the law of sin and the law of righteousness. If you are a believer, the law of righteousness wins out.

That is what Paul was talking about when he said in Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Paul was saying that everybody who is truly a Christian is being led down the pathway of righteousness and becoming more and more like Christ. Now that does not mean we are not going to stumble along the way. It does not mean we are never going to struggle with sin. On the contrary, if you are struggling with sin, then that is evidence that you are a child of God. You now have two laws at work in your life: the law of spiritual gravity that drags you down, and the law of spiritual aerodynamics that lifts you up.

That struggle is proof that you are a Christian. But there is a difference between struggling with sin and surrendering to sin. The person who is constantly surrendering to sin simply proves there is only one law at work in his life–the law of spiritual gravity, the law of sin, which means he is not a believer. That is what Paul was saying in Romans 8. One birthmark that proves that you are truly a Christian is that there is a struggle between righteousness and sin in your life, and success is the rule most of the time rather than the exception. A true Christian is being led down the path of righteousness and is becoming more and more like Christ, not less and less like Christ.

Birthmarks of the Believer

He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

[Romans 8:11]

Most sociologists agree that the emotional or physical absence of fathers today is responsible for many of society’s ills, including poverty, drug addiction, and a general disintegration of the family. In “Fatherless America,” David Blankenhorn wrote, “Before they reach the age of eighteen, more than half of our nation’s children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers. Never before in this country have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers.”

Regardless of your relationship with your biological father, you can have a Heavenly Father who will never abandon you. The security that you have as a child of the one true God is the theme of Romans 8, the passage we will continue to look at this week in our study of the book of Romans. Romans 8 is a chapter about our assurance of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

This idea of our eternal security as a Christian is a wonderful truth for those who are saved, but it is a deadly presumption for those who are not saved. Romans 8 begins by reminding us that if we are children of God, we have been delivered from the penalty of sin. Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you are truly a child of God, then you never have to fear that one day God will pour out His wrath on you. You have also been saved from the power of sin. Look at Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

When the Holy Spirit comes into your life, He is going to make changes. He is going to conform you into the image of Jesus in your actions, your attitudes, and your affections. That is why Paul said, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (8:12-13). When you become a Christian, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is present in your life, giving you the power to say no to sin. Sin has no more power over your life as a child of God than you allow it to have. Before you are a Christian, you are under the management of Satan. He threatens you and makes your life miserable. But when you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes and resides in your life. You are a new person, and you are under new management. Your old master, Satan, has no more authority over your life than you allow him to have. Paul said in Romans 8:12, “We are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” If you are a child of God, then you are under no obligation to the old nature, the part of you that is opposed to the purpose of God.

Our Victory Over The Power Of Sin

You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

[Romans 8:9]

How do you know if you are truly a believer? Paul answered that question in Romans 8. In verses 9 to 11, he talked about our victory over the power of sin: “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

This passage can be summarized in three statements:

1 Those who do not possess the Holy Spirit are not Christians. Romans 8:9 says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”

2 Those who do possess the Holy Spirit are Christians. The Bible says every true Christian has received the Holy Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:13).

3 Those who possess the Holy Spirit will be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:10 says, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

The Holy Spirit does not come into your life just to lead you to Heaven. The Holy Spirit comes into your life to change you and make you like Jesus Christ. That is what Paul said in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Let me illustrate that for you. One of America’s greatest CEOs was Jack Welch, of General Electric. In 20 years, he almost tripled the size of GE. How did he do that? When Welch came to GE in 1981, he made radical changes. He laid off people. He sold unprofitable portions of the company and engaged in new businesses that were profitable. I want you to imagine that when the board hired Jack Welch, they said, “We want you to be the CEO of our company, but we do not want you to change anything.” Do you think Jack Welch would have said, “Okay. I will be happy to just sit here and do nothing”? Of course not. If you hire a high-powered CEO, then you better expect some changes to be made. It is the same thing with the Holy Spirit. Don’t think you can say, “Holy Spirit, I want You to come into my life so I can go to Heaven, but I do not want You to make any changes.” Do you think the Holy Spirit would say, “Okay. I will just sit here and do nothing”? No. If you invite the Holy Spirit into your life, then get ready for some changes. If radical changes are not occurring in your life, then the Holy Spirit is not in your life, because you are not yet saved. That is what the Bible teaches us in this passage.

Our Victory Over the Penalty of Sin

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

[Romans 8:1]

Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you ever struggle with the issue of losing your salvation, then this is a great verse to memorize.

May I point out to you three significant words that might help you understand this verse? The first word is “condemnation.” Let’s be honest: there are times we find the gospel boring. We have heard it many times: Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins so we can go to Heaven. The only reason for boredom is that we really do not understand that our state before Christ died for us was condemnation. Romans 1-3 says we are born into this world condemned before God. We are like prisoners on death row. The sentence has already been pronounced: guilty. We are just awaiting our execution. But Jesus delivered us from that condemnation. How did He do it? God “[sent] His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (8:3). Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us, so there is no condemnation.

The second word I want you to notice in this verse is “now.” That word “now” signifies that something has changed. Notice the verse does not say, “There has never been any condemnation for anyone.” It says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation.” This verse implies that something has changed in your life. There has to be a point in time when you receive by faith that gift of forgiveness that Christ offers you. Can you point to such a time in your life? There has to be a time when you are born again.

The third word I want you to notice is “no.” That little word “no” answers a lot of questions. What if I commit this sin? No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What if I doubt my faith? What if I stumble? No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Isn’t that a great truth? We never have to fear the wrath of God because of what Christ has done for us. God’s condemnation has already been poured out on Jesus Christ, so when we are in Christ, we have already experienced God’s wrath. The fire of God’s wrath has already burned against His Son, and we never need to fear it again.

There is also a key phrase I want you to notice, and it is this: “in Christ Jesus.” Only those who are in Christ Jesus have the assurance that they will not face the condemnation of God. How do you know if you are in Christ Jesus? Very simple, Paul said: those who are truly saved are becoming more like Christ every day. The eternal security of the believer is real, but it applies only to those who are truly believers. We have done a great disservice by giving the assurance of salvation to people who walked an aisle or got wet in the baptistery or believe a lot of things intellectually, and we say they are saved even though there is no change in their lives. Eternal security belongs only to those who are truly believers.

Evening Devotional

The Remedy For Our Struggle

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

[Romans 7:24]

What is the remedy for our struggle with sin? Paul gave us the answer in Romans 7.

First of all, if you are going to have victory over the struggle, realize that the struggle is inevitable. Some Christians say if you can learn a secret formula for a victorious Christian life, then you can be rid of your struggle with sin. Other Christians say that you need to have a special deliverance experience with the Holy Spirit, and He will remove all your sinful desires. But there is no secret formula, there is no second-time experience with the Holy Spirit, and there is no kind of therapy that will ever rid you of sinful desires. The Christian life is a struggle. It always has been; it always will be. Paul talked about his struggle in Romans 7:24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” If you are struggling between the desire to please yourself and your desire to please God, that is evidence you are a child of God.

Second, realize that the struggle is winnable. Some Christians rationalize their sin by coming up with excuses based on Romans 7:20: “If I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Some Christians teach that if you are involved in adultery, then it is not you who is committing adultery; it is the old man inside you. If you embezzle money from your company, then you are not guilty; the old sin nature inside of you is doing it. But Paul is not relieving us of our responsibility. He said that for a Christian to disobey is inconsistent with his new position in Christ. If you are in Christ, then sin has no more power over you than you allow it to have.

Third, realize that the struggle is only temporary. Paul said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (7:24). Paul longed to be released from the body of this death. Notice that he asked, “Who will set me free?” He was looking to the future. He did not say, “Who has already set me free?” Then he answered his own question in verse 25: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul was looking forward to the day when he would finally be separated from his sinful body.

The moment you trust in Jesus, God declares you not guilty. You are delivered from the penalty of sin. Not only that, but Jesus Christ also delivers you from the power of sin. You do not have to say yes to sin any longer. And one day when Jesus returns, He will deliver you from the presence of sin. At the Rapture of the Church, God will separate us from this old body and give us a brand-new, resurrection body–one that is forever free from the presence of sin.

The Christian life is a struggle, but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus that it is only a temporary struggle. One day we will experience our final deliverance.

Morning Devotional

Victory in the War Within

We have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

[Romans 7:6]

Several weeks ago, I received a phone call from a Hollywood production company asking if I would be open to participating in a new reality show called “The Preachers of Dallas.” They explained that they would send their cameras and follow me around 24 hours a day for one week. They would film me at church. They would film me at home. They would capture my public moments and my private moments. The point of the show would be to allow people across America to see me just as I am. I quickly said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Trust me when I tell you that it would not be a benefit to the kingdom of God for people to see me just the way that I am.

Don’t misunderstand: it is not that I walk around every day spewing profanities, getting drunk, and watching pornographic movies. That is not my lifestyle. But I struggle with the same kinds of things you struggle with. I struggle with temptation. I sometimes struggle with losing my temper. There are times I do not feel like reading my Bible. And I do not think it would be particularly helpful for everyone to see that struggle. That is why I am fascinated by Romans 7, because in this chapter the greatest evangelist and theologian the world has ever known allowed us to see him as he truly was. And though he sometimes lost the struggle with sin, he explained how we can experience victory in this very real war within every believer.

Paul began by talking about our relationship to the Law before we are saved. If you are not a Christian, then you are still under the Law. What does that mean? Without Christ, you are under not only the requirements of the Law but also the penalty of the Law. The penalty of the Law is that everyone who does not keep all of God’s Law 100 percent perfectly deserves eternal death. Deuteronomy 27:26 says, “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” By that standard, we are all guilty. But here is the good news: when you trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, you are placed in Jesus Christ. And what happens to Jesus happens to you.

What did Jesus do for us? He fulfilled the requirements of the Law. He is the only person who met God’s standard 100 percent. Not only that, but Jesus also paid the penalty for our failure to keep the Law. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for our sins. So when we trust in Christ as our Savior, God looks at us just as He looks at Jesus Christ. Because Jesus fulfilled the Law, God looks at us as if we fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, God looks at us and says, “You don’t owe me anything. The penalty has already been paid.”

What is our relationship to the Law? If we are in Christ, then we are freed from the Law. We are dead to the Law. The Law has no more jurisdiction over us because just as Christ died, we have died. We have been set free from the Law.

Morning Devotional

The Present Choice

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[Romans 6:23]

In Romans 6:19-23, Paul said you have a choice of who is going to be your master. Every day you choose whether you will serve sin and Satan, or whether you will serve righteousness and Jesus Christ. Paul gave us three reasons that we should not live as slaves to sin.

First, Paul said sin characterizes the old nature, not the new nature. Look at what happened when we were saved. Romans 6:2 says we died to sin. Verse 3 says we were baptized into Jesus’ death. Verse 4 says we were buried with Him. Verse 18 says we have been set free from sin. If all these things are true, then why would we go back and live under sin? Satan is no longer our master.

Second, sin leads to slavery, not to freedom. When you violate God’s laws, you are saying, “God, I think You are withholding something good from me, so I want to experience freedom.” But sin does not lead to freedom. It leads to slavery. Romans 6:19 says that lawlessness results in further lawlessness. Sin is habit-forming. Do not think you are going to just sin once and be done with it. Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 5:22: “His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin.”

Third, sin results in death, not life. Paul asked, “What benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?” (Romans 6:21). Before you go back to your old way of living, ask yourself: What was life like before I came to Christ? Was it really that great? What benefit was there? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23). To Christians who are in danger of going back to their old way of living, Paul said, before you make that choice, consider the consequences. The wages of sin is death.

Why should we choose life in obedience to God? Paul told us about the benefits of the choice of righteousness. “Having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:22-23).

When you choose whether you are going to serve sin or righteousness, you should understand two things about obedience to God. First, obedience to God is profitable. The benefit of serving God, of righteousness, is eternal life. Eternal life means the ultimate fulfillment of your every God-given dream and goal. Second, obedience to God is possible. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead has given you a new life and the freedom to say no to sin. Jesus Christ said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Why would any person in his right mind choose to serve Satan rather than Jesus Christ? “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).