“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
The portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, called “The Beatitudes” (Mt. 5:3-12; Lk. 6:20-23), derives its name from the Latin, “beatitudo,” meaning “blessedness.” One mistaken view of blessings is to see them as things to acquire, like toys, and the biblical injunctions related to them as the means to collect them. So, if I endure some difficulty (like an unpleasant supervisor), then I can expect to get some reward (like a new car). Such a view, however, turns God’s blessings into a shameful idolatry.
Instead, God blesses His children in the midst of their hardships. To persevere under trial IS the blessing. Likewise, to be poor in spirit, to mourn (especially for sin), to be gentle, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and to be insulted and lied about because of Christ are great blessings.
The flesh wants to fight or flee adversity, but Christ’s Spirit enables us to stand resolute in His grace. If we follow Christ, trials are certain, but He grants us persevering power (2 Cor. 12:9).
An ancient form of theft was to shave the edges off metal coins. A legitimate money changer who dealt only in fully-weighted currency, however, was called in Greek, “dokimos” (approved), which meant he was a person of integrity. The person who is approved in Christ, James said, “will receive the crown of life.” By the way, don’t look for a golden crown, as some do. The crown is a metaphor for the life that adorns believers and will adorn us in eternity.
So, when are we approved and when do we receive the crown of life? In one sense, we’re approved in Christ when we’re born again. The instant we’re regenerated, we’re crowned with life; that is, Christ lives within us (Gal. 2:20). The apostle John wrote toward the end of his Gospel, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). Believing in Christ and having life in Him are concurrent realities. We believe in Christ when He makes us alive in Him.
James, though, spoke of the approval that will come after we’ve endured this life’s trials. Certainly, every Christian longs to hear the words recorded in Jesus’ parable of the talents: “Well done, good and faithful slave… enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21, 23). That pronouncement will come in the final judgment.
The opposition to the gospel and the church today hasn’t yet risen to the level of intensity the early church faced, but it’s coming. It’s alarming to see the speed at which major moral shifts are taking place in our culture. Christians have to prepare ourselves for what’s next. Want to guess what it might be? Read the New Testament. Even a cursory view of the Book of Acts will show the hostilities that existed. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs describes in painful detail many atrocities that believers endured throughout history. The history of the German Nazis will reveal some disturbing parallels with what’s happening in the United States today.
How we persevere isn’t a matter of military, political, or even social strategies. We persevere by turning to Christ, seeking Him and His righteousness. When the religious authorities threatened Peter and John for preaching Christ, the church prayed for confidence to continue proclaiming the gospel of grace in Jesus’ name. Then, Luke wrote, “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
May God again shake His church into resolute courage to make much of Christ at any cost.