What does it mean to be "Reformed"? (6)May 7, 2013
The fifth feature of a Reformed view of God and life takes an interesting turn.
(5) To be Reformed means you humbly receive suffering as a gift of God’s grace no less so than you do the blessing of salvation.
Many are inclined to protest the notion that persecution is in any sense “from God” (see Phil. 1:28). After all, don’t pain and oppression and rejection and slander mean that God doesn’t care about us anymore? Far from it, says Paul, “for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).
This verse is nothing short of stunning. Paul couldn’t have been more to the point: Suffering is as much God’s purpose for your life as is salvation!
Take note of the verb Paul uses: charidzomai = to graciously give. It’s one thing to give; it’s one thing to reluctantly give, but it’s something else to graciously give! Consider the nature of a “gift”. You are glad to receive it. It is typically an expression of the giver’s love for you. It is undeserved. You ought to give thanks for it! Thus we see that suffering for Christ’s sake is not punishment or a chance occurrence that catches both God us and by surprise. Our suffering is not a reluctant concession on God’s part.
The sort of “suffering” he has in view is persecution, not physical illness or disease (v. 30). And this “gift” is not because God enjoys your pain or discomfort. It isn’t because God wants you to pretend that evil is good. He orchestrates it not because of what suffering is but because of what it does; not because of what afflictions are but because of what we become by God’s grace for having endured them.
(6) To be Reformed means that although I will always act responsibly to protect my family and my property, when so-called natural disasters strike, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, I will humbly acknowledge that there is no such thing as a random raindrop or a wayward wind or so much as a molecule in nature that is not subservient to the mysterious providential purposes of God.
See Psalms 104; 105:16; 135:7; 147:7-20; 148; Job 9:5-10; 26:5-14; 37:1-24; 38:8-38; Mark 4:39,41. Other texts:
"It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, and brings out the wind from His storehouses" (Jer. 10:12-13).
"Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not Thou, O Lord our God? Therefore we hope in Thee, for Thou art the one who hast done all these things" (Jer. 14:22).
"And furthermore [declares the Lord], I withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another city I would not send rain; one part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up" (Amos 4:7).
(7) To be Reformed means that you never live in fear of Satan or his demons or doubt the ultimate victory that God will achieve over his and our enemies.
In 1 John 5:19 the Apostle declares that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” But Satan’s power and the extent of his influence are only what God allows. Satan does nothing that God does not permit. All his wicked deeds operate within divinely ordained boundaries and limits.
Consider the fact that “whenever Jesus confronted the enemy during his earthly ministry the gospels record that the spirits ‘obeyed’ him. There was no debate, no bargaining, no eluding his rule by an appeal to some spiritual loophole. Demons are subject to the sovereign authority of Jesus” (John Piper).
Let our hearts be strengthened with this truth, that whereas Jesus said in Revelation 2:10 that “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison” and that you will be tested and that some of you will even die, he also said through James that whether we live or die or do anything at all is subject to the will of God (James 4:13-16). He also said through David in Psalm 139 that in God’s book “were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (v. 16).
Whatever role Satan had in stirring the heart of Judas to betray Jesus, whatever role he had in hardening the hearts of Pilate and Herod, whatever role he had in intensifying the hatred of the religious leaders in Israel, all of which led to the brutalization and murder of the righteous Son of God, his nefarious role was at every stage subject to the sovereign purposes of God. Being “Reformed,” among countless other things, means that we take comfort from the fact, as Peter said, that “in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).