In the 2005 Ligonier National Conference, Mark Dever addressed the subject of worldliness. He answered this simple question: “Whatever Happened to Worldliness?”

An Intro to the Institutes (Derek Thomas) – Derek Thomas writes, “In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else.”

Millennial Sex Practices – According to Dr. Mohler, among the Millennial generation, it’s a very common thing for couples to engage in pre-marital sex even before the first date.

$5 Friday: Justification, the New Birth, & Predestination – As always, enjoy some good $5 book deals from Ligonier.

Seven Costs of Disciple-Making – “Dietrich Bonhoeffer memorably wrote on the cost of discipleship, but he’d be the first to insist that the Christian life involves more than simply following Jesus by being his disciple. Better put, Christ’s call to discipleship (Luke 14:26–33) includes his call to disciple-making (Matthew 28:19).”

Do You Have an Inadequate Understanding of God? – “John MacArthur explains that many of the problems that exist in the present day church begin with an inadequate understanding of God.”

A Quiz on the Doctrine of Salvation – Tim Challies has posted a helpful little quiz on the doctrine of salvation that you will find helpful.

Twitter says product changes are main growth driver, not just the President’s usage – Why is Twitter growing?  Apparently it’s not due to President Trump.

Theology Word of the Week:  Suffering

Suffering. The reality of suffering, especially that of the helpless or innocent, is a problem for anyone who posits the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent Deity. The Bible, however, says little about suffering as an intellectual conundrum (see Theodicy). Gn. 1–3 shows that evil entered the world through sin. The first sufferings, which were emotional and the immediate consequence of disobedience, were followed by God’s curse (Gn. 3:16–19), which promised pain, toil and death. Although suffering results from sin (a moral evil), it is not itself a moral but a physical (or material) evil, for God is frequently presented in Scripture as its dispenser (e.g. Jos. 23:15; Jb. 2:10; Is. 45:7; Je. 25:29; Mi. 2:3), sending it either as punishment of individuals and nations (both historically and eschatologically) or as chastisement of his people (see Eschatology; History; Judgment).

While Scripture says very little about the sufferings of humanity generally, it does speak extensively about the suffering of God’s people, and it is in respect to the latter only that a theology of suffering may be formulated. Suffering assumes a distinctly negative character in much of the OT owing to the nature of the Mosaic covenant, which stipulated for the children of Israel health, prosperity and success for obedience and a variety of afflictions for disobedience (e.g. Ex. 15:25, 26; 23:25, 26; Lv. 26; Dt. 28–30). The corporate and material nature of the Mosaic covenant gives to its blessings and cursings a quality distinct from that of any prosperity or suffering that does not have as its ultimate cause a covenantal relationship contingent upon covenantal faithfulness. Hence the suffering that was the consequence of violating the Mosaic covenant was devoid of mystery. In spite of this apparent clarity of cause and effect, however, the wicked within Israel often prospered and afflicted the righteous, causing the latter’s consternation regarding God’s purposes (e.g. Pss. 37; 73). God’s judgment of national apostasy was often withheld for a time, and when it came both the wicked and the righteous were swept away by the same calamities. This evoked a feeling of helpless frustration (e.g. Ps. 44).

Even during periods of national faithfulness, God’s people were still sinners who could benefit from discipline. God told Abraham that his descendants’ sojourn in Egypt would be a time of discipline (Gn. 15:13–16; cf. 5:15; 26:5–9). After reminding the people that the Lord had humbled and tested them in the wilderness, Moses says, ‘Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you’ (Dt. 8:5; cf. Pr. 3:11–12; for individual examples, see Pss. 94:12; 119:67, 71, 75).

At other times the afflicted are perplexed by their suffering since they can find no explanation for it. The OT only gradually developed the concept of suffering as a mystery, as God’s people were slowly weaned from the temporal to the eternal, from the material to the spiritual. Even the most spiritually sensitive and mature believers in the OT, though they saw the Lord as their ultimate reward, did not see tribulations as experiences in which they should exult. It was not until after the resurrection of the Suffering Servant that those in close communion with God could grasp fully that as co-heirs with him they were to share his sufferings as a prerequisite to sharing his glory.

That this lesson was not part of the Jewish consciousness at the time of Christ is well illustrated by the tendency to view specific sin as the immediate cause of suffering (e.g. Lk. 13:1–5; Jn. 9:1–12) and by the persistent failure of Jesus’ disciples to understand the redemptive nature of his mission (e.g. Mt. 16:21; 17:12; Lk. 17:25; 22:15; Jn. 2:19–22). Not until after his resurrection did his followers grasp the necessity of the Lord’s atoning suffering (see especially Lk. 24:13–35). Once understood, his suffering became the focal point of apostolic evangelism (e.g. Acts 2:23; 3:18; 17:3; 26:22–23) and a frequent emphasis in the epistles (e.g. 1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 5:2; 1 Pet. 1:10–11, 9; 3:18). While the OT promised prosperity for obedience, Christ expected affliction (e.g. Mt. 5:10–12; 10:24–25; Mk. 10:28–30; Jn. 15:20), as did the apostles (e.g. Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17–18; 2 Cor. 1:3–7; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12; Heb. 12:5–11; Jas. 1:2–4; 1 Pet. 4:1–2, 12–16).

The sufferings that Christians experience can be divided into two categories. 1. Suffering can be the direct result of grace. Only Christians can experience the civil war of spirit and flesh, described by Paul in Gal. 5:17, and graphically personalized in Rom 7:14–25. Furthermore, when Christians are persecuted for Christ’s sake, they are experiencing a type of suffering that in its cause and purpose is distinct from anything that the unregenerate suffer.

2. Christians also suffer as a consequence of sharing in a fallen humanity in a fallen world. Here their suffering does not differ qualitatively from that of the unregenerate. They too can bring suffering on themselves by their own errors. They also experience sorrow, poverty, sickness and death. Christians are saved in such suffering and not from it. They share with all mankind the experience of and vulnerability to it. The vital and spectacular difference is God’s use of it and their response to it. Heb. 12:5 admonishes Christians not to be indifferent to affliction or discouraged by it, because God’s purpose in disciplining his children is to refine them and to equip them for kingdom service.

The suffering Christian is sustained by the fact that Christ not only suffered for his people but also suffers with them (e.g. Acts 9:4–5; 1 Cor. 12:26–27). He is their High Priest who can sympathize with their weaknesses (Heb. 4:15; cf. 2:18) as they also share his sufferings (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5; Heb. 13:13; 1 Pet. 4:13). Thus to suffer with Christ is a prerequisite to being glorified with him (Rom. 8:16; cf. 1 Pet. 1:16–17; 4:13; 5:10). Hence Christians can rejoice in afflictions (Acts 5:41; Rom. 5:3; 1 Thes. 1:6; Jas. 1:2).

While the suffering to which believers respond aright contributes to their spiritual growth and fellowship with Christ, it is also a form of witness—to each sufferer of his own salvation; to the unsaved for their conviction; to fellow Christians for their edification, encouragement and comfort; to principalities and powers in accordance with God’s mysterious purposes. Thus, suffering ‘produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Heb. 12:11). The Christian’s capacity to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit in the midst of suffering is commensurate with an appreciation of the paternal sovereignty of God, who is the ultimate cause of a bewilderingly diverse variety of proximate causes that can impinge upon their lives, until God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes’ (Rev. 21:4).

Throughout history, attitudes toward the purpose of suffering have been diverse. The NT presents Christ as the believer’s example in all things (Phil. 2:5) including suffering (1 Pet. 2:21; Heb. 12:3; Lk. 9:23). Applying the imitatio Christi (see Imitation of Christ) to the realm of suffering, however, presents various problems, since Christ’s sufferings were expiatory and unique in kind, degree and cause. Nevertheless, during the early centuries of Christianity the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sufferings was increasingly seen as limited to the remission of the penalty of eternal damnation, thus leaving sinners liable to satisfy God’s justice by suffering temporal punishment in this life (cf. Penance) or, by the late Middle Ages, in purgatory. This theology has fostered a variety of aberrations based on the supposed merit of self-inflicted suffering. Such are now quite rare.

Different aberrations confront the church today. Process theology sees human suffering as contributing to God’s ongoing development. Along more orthodox lines, theologians have paid new attention to the suffering of God in Christ, e.g. in Moltmann’s influential The Crucified God (London, 1974) and K. Kitamori’s Theology of the Pain of God (1946; ET, Richmond, VA, 1965). This concern has been partly stimulated by reflection on the Holocaust, in an endeavour to theologize sensitively in the light of Auschwitz (cf. U. Simon, A Theology of Auschwitz (London, 1967). Some modern presentations of the gospel leave little room for suffering as an aspect of the Christian life. Toleration of religious diversity together with materialism, prosperity and medical sophistication that encourage an analgesic mentality in the West have conditioned many evangelicals to regard most suffering as an intrusion on the tranquil life that they feel is their God-given due (cf. Healing). To all such aberrations the biblical teaching acts as a health-giving corrective. [1]


  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 667–669.

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