The fifth chapter of Romans lists the grounds on which a person who has been justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ can know that he is saved from sin and can be steadfast in that knowledge. Verses 1-2 have listed several ways a Christian can be sure of this. Verses 3-5 give one more reason. It is the way believers in Christ respond to the troubles, trials, and tribulations of this life. Christians do have tribulations, just like anybody else. Paul says that Christians respond to their trials by rejoicing in them, however strange, abnormal, or even irrational this may seem to unbelievers, and that this is itself another evidence of their salvation.
The problem of suffering is a big one, and it’s not easy to answer it in a single study or even a single book. Here we will study God’s purposes in human suffering, since there are a number of them. We will study a few of these as part of our general approach to this large topic.
Corrective suffering: The most obvious category of suffering for a Christian is what we can call corrective suffering, that is, suffering that is meant to get us back onto the path of righteousness when we have strayed from it. We have an example from family life in the spankings given to young children when they disobey and do wrong. It’s the same in the case of the divine Father and those who are His spiritual children. The author of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and punishes everyone He accepts as a son” – concluding that we should: “Endure hardship as discipline…For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Heb. 12:5-7). The first thing we should do when suffering comes into our lives is ask God whether or not it is intended by Him for our correction. If it is, we need to confess our wrongdoing and return to the path of righteousness.
Suffering for the glory of God: A second important reason for suffering in the lives of some Christians is God’s glory. As an example read John 9:2-3. The idea is hard for many people to accept, particularly non-Christians. But it’s not so difficult when we remember that life is short when measured by the scope of eternity and that our chief end is to glorify God – by whatever means He may choose to have us do it.
Suffering as a part of cosmic warfare: A third kind of suffering is illustrated by the story of Job from the Old Testament. The story explains a great deal (perhaps most) of the suffering some Christians endure. I can imagine that for every believer who is suffering with a particular form of cancer there is also a nonbeliever in exactly the same condition and that the Christian praises and worships God in spite of his afflictions while the unbeliever curses God and bitterly resents his fate. Here God is showing that the purpose of life lies in a right relationship to Him and not in pleasant circumstances.
Constructive suffering: The fourth purpose of God in suffering is what Paul presents in Romans 5, namely, that God uses our troubles, trials, and tribulations to form Christian character. Paul indicates that steadfast, approved character by perseverance in its turn produces hope. We see it as an assurance of what will one day be ours, though we don’t possess it yet. When we look at our sufferings, we see why we can rejoice in them. It’s because they lead to endurance, endurance to an approved character, and character to an even more steadfast hope. And all this is further evidence of our security in Christ – when we share in Christ’s sufferings and embrace them in like fashion.
According to the Bible, suffering is not harmful; on the contrary, it is a beneficial experience. It’s beneficial because it accomplishes the beneficent purposes of Almighty God. It is part of all those circumstances that work “for the good of those who love Him…” (Rom. 8:28).
Romans 5:3-5 Reflection Questions:
How does the progression that is outlined in verses 3-5 build from one point to the next?
How are verses 3-5 both difficult and hopeful for us as we live out the Christian faith in the world today?
What would the celebrating or rejoicing of verses 2-3 look like in each of the contexts talked about in these verses?