For Greater Holiness
He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.(Hebrews 12:10)
What exactly is the connection between adversity and holiness?
For one thing, adversity reveals the corruption of our sinful nature. We don’t know ourselves or the depths of sin remaining in us. We agree with Scripture’s teaching and assume that agreement means obedience. At least we intend to obey,
Who of us doesn’t read that list of Christian virtues called “the fruit of the Spirit”- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)- and agree we want all those traits in our lives? We even begin to think we are making good progress in growing in them.
But then adversity comes. We find we’re unable to love, from the depths of our hearts, the person who’s the instrument of the adversity. We’re not disposed to trust God, unbelief and resentment surge within us. We’re dismayed at the scene. Our growth in Christian character seems to vanish like a vapor. We feel as if we’re back in spiritual kindergarten. But through this experience, God has revealed to us some of the remaining corruption within us.
“Blessed,” Jesus said, “are the poor in spirit…..those who mourn…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 53-4,6). These descriptions refer to the believer who has been humbled over his sinfulness, who mourn because of it, and yearns with all his heart for God to change him. But no one adopts this attitude without being exposed to the evil and corruption of his own heart. God uses adversity to do this.
In making us holy, God wants to get at the root corruption of our sinful nature. He uses adversity to rein in our affections that have been drawn out to unholy desires and to subdue our stubborn and rebellious wills.
Many believe that adversity makes us but in truth adversity reveals us. In times of adversity and stress the real us surfaces. That part of us we attempt to keep suppressed; that we do not wish to be revealed often comes to the surface. Further, in adversity, the devil will attack our will and give strength to those things that we struggle with. For example, if we struggle with losing our temper, in adversity that temper will rise and try to display itself in the old way before we came to Christ.
Most of us shy away from adversity and rightfully so, for it usually is not a pleasant place. We know that the world and the devil work together to cause the believer to struggle with their faith and walk with God. When we are pressing to do good and to live right, that’s when adversity seems to show its ugly head. This shouldn’t surprise us for Scripture tells us that even Christ Himself was tempted often. It would be a mistake to think that after the wilderness temptation that He was never tempted by the devil again. Luke tells us that when Satan departed from Jesus in the wilderness that “ he departed from Him for a season.”
“And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.”
What we do with the revealing of our sin nature will determine the outcome of the adversity. Adversity only reveals. In Revelation the church at Laodicea has been shown by Christ their lack of spiritual condition.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
In this message Christ is saying that they believe everything is well and they have “need of nothing.” They appear to be trusting in their abilities and resources rather than leaning on Jesus. As a matter of fact the very next verse tells us that they are going about their business and Christ is standing outside the door.
It is easy for us to find ourselves so busy with our activities and life that we forget our need for God; so God in His love allows adversity to come and allows us to face things beyond our strength that He might reveal our sin nature of pride and independence. He does this not to tear us down but to build us up for it is in “our weakness His strength is made perfect.”
In the sixth chapter of Isaiah we find a wonderful example of how this all works. Isaiah who serves as high priest has come into the Holy of Holies to offer the sacrifice for the people’s sins. He has gone through an elaborate preparation in order to do so in keeping with the law of Moses. As he presents the sacrifice, he sees the Lord.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
This is the purpose of adversity that we might see the Lord in His rightful place; seated upon the throne. It is in adversity that we see the smallness of ourselves and the greatness of God.
As Isaiah sees the Lord, high and lifted up, he also sees himself in his true condition. There’s no doubt that he had done everything possible to present himself before the altar in the holy place as clean and holy as possible but in view of the Lord, he realized that even with all his efforts he was still sinful.
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
As adversity reveals to us our flawed nature; and as we find ourselves reacting to our adversity sinfully we cry out as Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone…” Our situation seem hopeless. We have done our best to be holy only to find that adversity has revealed the fact that our old sin nature has just been lying dormant waiting for the moment to rise up again. We have no means to press it back down and in our minds the failure is an indicator of the futility of trying to live more holy. But let’s not give up for the God who has brought us to this place of revelation has done so to provide the remedy.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
This altar from which the seraphim takes the coal is none other than the altar upon which the sacrifice has been burnt. The fire of the altar represents the holiness and righteousness of God. When the sacrifice is place upon the altar, the blood mingles with the fire until they become one. This coal that has commingled the blood of the sacrifice and the holiness of God is now placed upon the lips of Isaiah and the seraphim declares that the “iniquity is taken away and thy sin is purged.” We could say that had not the sin of Isaiah been revealed, he would not have recognized his inability to stand in the presence of God and see his great need for something beyond his efforts of making himself acceptable to God. But once he saw his utter hopelessness and that all his effort was in vain, he cries out to the Lord and God provided the cleansing and purging through His own power and provision. There’s nothing of human in the process other than that of recognizing his need.
The outcome of this encounter with God is a renewed obedience to the Lord. The desire of God when He allows adversity to come is that first it reveals our sinful hearts that are far too often filled with unbelief and rebellion. In adversity God desires that we turn our faces toward heaven that we might see Him in all His glory and holiness. In adversity as we see our utter helplessness, God desires that we cry out to Him from the depths of our despair. And in adversity, God will once again take a coal from the altar and we will find our “iniquity taken away and our sin purged.” All this that we might be prepared for the work that God has prepared for us. Our reluctant souls, our rebellious hearts, our disobedient spirits are brought into submission to the will of God. Our response the the question of God, “Whom shall I send”? will be “Here am I, Lord, send me.”
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
Dr. John Thompson