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Trusting God Is Good, But You Need More When Suffering Comes

Trusting God Is Good, But You Need More When Suffering Comes

When you think about your sanctification, what do you believe regarding your role in it? Are you beholding to passive or active obedience or both? Passive is sitting, soaking, and trusting while active is doing something with your faith. When suffering comes, is trusting God all you need? Or are there things you should do that flow from your affection for Christ?

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The Three Camps

After a person is born again (John 3:7), he becomes a Christian, where he spends the rest of his life progressively transforming into Christlikeness. We call this progressive sanctification—a process that we never perfect though we’re always changing. The lifelong process of progressive sanctification is an inside to outside operation, a reliable and straightforward way to think about how we live. Of course, different camps posit their perspectives on how our ongoing transformation happens.

  • Quietists focus mostly, if not entirely, on inside transformation.
  • Legalists focus mostly, if not entirely, on outside transformation.
  • Biblicists focus on both aspects of how we change.

Another way to think about the passive obedience crowd is a “sitting and soaking” method for change. This movement has been picking up steam the first part of this century because of a “gospel transformation movement.” Everyone is talking about the gospel. We live in a gospel-hyphenated world. Some of this “gospel talk” has focused too much on the internal, e.g., preach the gospel to yourself every day. Though this is a good and needful language in our Christian culture, some sectors have created an unintended negative consequence because of this hermeneutic.

Passive Obedience

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

There has not been enough clarification about what preaching the gospel to yourself should mean. Passive obedience is the act of believing God and, based on your ability to trust Him, will be the proportion that determines your obedience, purity, and transformation. According to this view, sanctification is primarily about believing in the Lord.

In a very good sense, they are correct. All of our growth flows out of our belief in Him. There is no other place from which we can derive our transformation. Everything we do in life flows out of what we believe about God, even if a person is an atheist, agnostic, unbeliever, nominal Christian, seeker, new Christian, growing Christian, or mature Christian. All of us live out our theology—our personal experience with the Lord, regardless of what that experience may be.

The Upside

The more time you spend with your Bible and your God, meditating and reflecting on Him while building a robust, sound, and comprehensive theology, the more profound your sanctification will be. There is no reasonable argument against this. I have counseled hundreds of people whose lives were dysfunctional, and without exception, there was always something wrong with their internal, personal relationship with the Lord. They did not practice passive obedience. These attributes did not describe them—things we all should say.

  • I am in love with my Bible?
  • The Bible is mastering me?
  • I have a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus?
  • My relationship is transforming me on the inside?

If those things are not happening, you are not passively obedient. The animating center of your life should be a growing, wild, rugged, satisfying, reciprocal relationship with God. If you are not incrementally heading in that direction, please stop and turn around because you are going the wrong way.

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Gospel Plus Something

Some folks love the passive obedience teaching so much that they scoff at the notion of doing something, per James 1:22. They will say it’s the gospel plus nothing equals salvation, and the gospel plus nothing equals our sanctification. This type of sloganeering is poor communication. In our effort to make a memorable point, we dip our toes into theological hyperbole.

Nobody disagrees (or they should not) that our salvation and sanctification are all of grace. For by grace we are saved and sanctified. But you don’t want to forget that we are to add stuff to our passive obedience, i.e., be doers of the Word. Of course, we know that we can only do these things because we find our empowerment from God’s kind grace to us. It’s an empowering favor.

If our obedience is not active, we have no way of putting Jesus on display in our culture unless we walk around, letting our little light shine through our teeth. Standing on a street corner makes us no different from the next person who stands there. We are to be different from our culture, which means we must do things. We take our passive obedience and externalize it into objective actions that transform us into being Jesus to our neighbors.

Passive, Active, and Beyond

At the end of most of my articles are “call to action” questions or CTAs. I hope the reader will do more than pray about what they just read. Mental reflection is good, but activating your faith with clear, specific, and practical action items is better. How many times does a person “like” something on a social media platform and moves on to the next thing? That process is neither passive nor active obedience. One social media curse is that we don’t take the time to entrench anything into our long-term memories.

There is a war going on in our souls, in our relationships, and in our world. While the teaching of 2 Corinthians 3:18 is excellent and needful, there are scores of Scriptures that talk about the need for working out our faith (Philippians 2:12). The recipients of Paul’s letters (Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.) found themselves entangled in all kinds of things, and he appealed to them about how to overcome their sin problems. Paul’s solution was knowing God (passive), but there was also an active element that he gave equal time to in his letters.

An excellent example of this is the book of Ephesians. The first half of the book (three chapters) talks about God, who He is, what He has done, how He thinks about us, His overall trustworthiness, and the multifaceted benefits of His great salvation. These three chapters should always be clearly understood when we talk about obedience because God is our foundation. As important as this is, and it is, Paul did not stop his teaching. He then gave us a three-chapter call to action that began with Ephesians 4:1.

Application Is Vital

In chapter four, Paul launches into applying the gospel, as mentioned in the earlier chapters. There is no doubt from reading these passages that sanctification is hard, active work. There are things we must do to mature in progressive sanctification. Paul urged his readers to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling. Rather than saying all we need to do is believe, we should say,

Because of the great love in which He loved us, we are motivated and empowered to obey (walk) Him in all ways and, thus, we work out our obedience by doing things.

This statement is better for gospel sanctification, which puts the gospel first, foundational, and fundamental. The gospel comes before  our obedience (Ephesians 1-3), and it’s because of the gospel that we are motivated and empowered to obey (Ephesians 4-6). A wrong view of passive obedience teaches:

The only thing to think about and the only thing to put your energy and resources into is a belief, and if you do this, you are not going to fail. And if you do fail, it proves you do not believe in the Lord the way you should.

Passive obedience undersells and weakens our views on temptation, sin, the enemy, and our depravity. This person does not see the proportional responsibility to do stuff. Our obedience is more contoured than just a belief system or our identity or how we think about the Lord. Carefully think through these “active belief statements” to examine how your life reflects them in your day-to-day affairs.

  • I am to believe God (John 3:16).
  • I am to amputate sin (Matthew 5:30).
  • I am to mortify (to make dead) the members of my body (Romans 8:13).
  • I am to put off the old man (Ephesians 4:22).
  • I am to renew my mind (Ephesians 4:23).
  • I am to put on Christ (Ephesians 4:24).
  • I am to be a doer of the word, not just a hearer only (James 1:22).
  • I am to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11).
  • I am to flee fornication (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • I am to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
  • I am to forgive those who persecute me (Matthew 5:44).
  • I am to actively try to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
  • I am to suffer (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21).

This list continues. You will find many “calls to action” in the New Testament, which does not imply that salvation is works-based. The gospel is the foundation of our salvation and our sanctification. Any response to the gospel is only because of the Lord’s unmerited favor that enables us to respond and do these miraculous things.

The Call To Work

Here are four examples of people who need more than belief in God. These illustrations come from my life narrative. They were times of crisis. I needed more than a “trust God” mantra in the moment of each of these tragic circumstances. Yes, I know that “Jesus has me,” and I will be okay ultimately. But when a crisis comes, I need more than “Jesus love me! This I know.”

  • A person who has experienced a tragic circumstance like the murder of a loved one will need to do a whole lot more than believe God to work through all the webs that sin has brought upon them.
  • A person who has been verbally abused by his parents, especially his dad, and then grows up crippled by the fear of man will need to know more than “trust God.” He will need to believe God, no doubt, but he will also need other means to help fight against the onslaught of sin that attacks his belief system.
  • A person who just found out his wife committed adultery will have a lot more to work through than merely “trust God.” There is no question his stability will be proportional to his belief in God, but God is calling him to do some mighty things.
  • A person who just lost his spouse and children through a divorce will need to trust the Lord. This concept is essential and not debate-able. This person also requires training in overcoming the complexity of evil that is trying to entrap him.

In each of these illustrations, I had to do more than trust God, believe in Him, and rest in Him. This process was more than a mental mind game of shaking myself until my belief was strong enough to keep me from sinning. Many years of wrestling with God and repenting from sin against others helped to bring my soul back to Christian normalcy.

Call to Action

The most vital key to your sanctification is for your obedience flowing from a heart that is “head over heels” in love with Christ. If a deep affection for Jesus does not energize your soul, your works could be rote—legalistic. If you have a profound love for God but are not mobilizing it into objective obedience, your impact on your sphere of influence will be nil.

  1. Will you describe your affection for Christ?
  2. Is there a mental stumbling block that hinders you from entering into a more profound love for God? What is it? Why is it there? Who will you talk to for help?
  3. Are you working for Jesus, but your affection for Him is cold? What could happen to the person who presents well, but their heart is drifting from the Lord?
  4. Describe what it means to have a growing affection for Christ that translates to observable acts of obedience. An excellent example of this is Christ: He loved His Father and was busy doing His Father’s work.
  5. Which way are you heading? Are you leaning into Christ, which is the process of abounding fruit? Or are you heading in the other direction, which ends in death? We do not stand still; we’re moving in one direction or the other, even if imperceptibly slow.
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