Christians live before the face of God while they await the final consummation of His Kingdom. As Christians, we should never be surprised when we face various trials because we live in a world at war with God, so we should expect difficulties from nature and people.
The key to trials, though, is our response to these situations. James’ book has much to teach the people of God about how authentic faith must respond to trials, and as with all Scripture, these instructions are not necessarily what we might expect.
For example, instead of grumbling, Christians are told to rejoice when they meet trials (James 1:2).
True Faith in Christ and the Purpose of Trials
True faith sees trials as an opportunity for growth in grace, not as an opportunity for God to tempt them to sin in them. We should not think that God is evil because some biblical passages may appear to teach God as an agent of evil or temptation (2 Samuel 24; Isaiah 45:7).
The answer to this difficulty is the doctrine of concurrence, which tells Christians every time a human agent acts, God’s will is being served. So, when human beings act in an evil manner, a sovereign God reminds His people that His hand works in such evil.
God is able to work through evil actions in a way that doesn’t make Him responsible for the evil humans do. See, whatever evil is intended by mankind, the Lord God intends the ultimate good for His people (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Evil is not brought then directly by God but is the result of human beings being sinners by nature and choice.
James reminds Bible readers that the Lord is never to be blamed for the evil in the world. After all, the Lord is not liable for the sins of humanity because, as James 1:16-17 tells readers, He is the source of every good gift, and being the “Father of lights,” He cannot sin.
The ultimate example of God’s goodness to mankind is that according to God’s sovereign will, He has redeemed His people to be the firstfruits of the renewed creation (James 1:18).
The Goodness of God and the Gifts of God
In James 1:17, James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” Here, in James 1:17, James uses two related terms for gifts. James is emphasizing, in this text, the source of the gifts and not the number when he says, they come down “from the Father of lights,” that is from God the Creator (James 1:17).
While humans may change according to their mood or season of life, the Lord is unchanging, which means there is no variation in His goodness. The Lord gives good gifts, not impossible tests, so the people of God must view tests not as traps, but as gifts of His grace.
The Remedy for Tests
People succumb to temptations, and they may trap us, resulting in our failure to endure and persevere in love for the Lord. We need to understand that even in our sin, we do not thwart God’s purpose, nor do they lead to hopeless ruin, and there is hope in two forms to remedy these issues.
First, if a Christian fails a test, he still loves the Lord, even imperfectly. The Lord knows those who are His own that we are changeable, and He is changeless. Lastly, if a Christian is liable to judgment, James says in James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
If an unbeliever fails a test, the Lord can use their failure to lead them to the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus. The Prophets call this the gift of a new heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
James refers to this as the birth through the word in James 1:18. God took counsel with Himself and resolved that He would not leave sinners to their plight by granting them spiritual life by the word of truth.
The Means from God
The Lord accomplishes the spiritual birth by means of the “word of truth” (James 1:18). The “word of truth” appears five times in the New Testament, once here, in James 1:18, and four times in Paul’s epistles. Two examples of this are in the following:
- And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (Ephesians 1:13).
- Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you (Colossians 1:5-6).
Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
Such is the kindness of God in saving sinners, for as the gospel wins the hearts of sinners, they freely choose the new life that He already willed for Him.
Since our life rests on God’s unchanging goodness and not on our changeable choices, our eternal life is secure in Christ. Such is the greatness of God’s gift, which proves His good intent in the midst of our trials.
At the moment of trusting in Christ alone, Christians become “a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18). Firstfruits here is the language from the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.
James has three Old Testament principles about firstfruits in mind here:
1. All the produce of flock and field comes from God. But the firstfruits were especially His. The rest of the food was for daily use, but the firstfruits came to the priest and tabernacle.
2. The firstfruits were only the best (Exodus 23:19; 34:26).
3. The firstfruits were an annual confession that God supplied the year’s bounty, that he was faithful to his covenant people yet another year.
James explains that God’s people are His firstfruits, which means they are the first and best of his “produce.” The Lord is always faithful to His people, which means He will care for them year by year even as He cared for Israel in the wilderness.
Tests teach us to trust the Lord. Even if we fail the test, our failure teaches the people of God to turn to the Lord for mercy as He offers it in the finished and sufficient work of Christ. Then, as we persevere with Him in love, come what may, we will receive the crown of life that He has promised.
Encouragement in the Middle of Trials
Today, it may be hard to swallow the truths we’ve been discussing so far in this article, but Scripture is crystal clear that even in the face of evil, the Lord is working all things for the good of the people of God.
Whether you are facing very challenging situations or not, the Lord prepares good gifts for His Beloved, some of which they will receive in this life, and some they won’t see till heaven.
Please take some time, even perhaps right now, to discern the goodness of God in the midst of your troubles. Then thank Him for His grace and all the good gifts that He has given you.
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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.