Trials vs. Consequences

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:14, ESV).

When life is hard and you’re in pain, you need to ask yourself a searching question: “Am I suffering in a trial, or is my pain a consequence of something I’ve done?” It’s important to identify the source of that hard thing in your life, because your responsibility in the matter and your response to it depend on the source of your hardship. As 1 Peter 4:14 teaches, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

What brought on this hardship? Is the difficulty you’re enduring a wake-up call to the reality of your bad choices, or has it been allowed by God to train your character? Is it “for the name of Christ” or a natural consequence?

A painful consequence is something you reap when you plant a seed full of sin—harmful actions you’ve done, harsh words you’ve spoken, dangerous places you’ve gone, wrong priorities you’ve pursued, important commitments you’ve neglected, or selfish choices you’ve made. If today you are reaping heartache from a sin you previously planted, then the resolution is straightforward—humbly repent of your actions right now.

Many believers are experiencing very painful consequences to sin in their lives. They may call those consequences trials, but “Do not be deceived,” Galatians 6:7 says. “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows that will he also reap.” Don’t fool yourself. Are you suffering for your faith—or for your own foolishness?

Consider the following four scenarios and discern the cause: Which is a trial, and which is a consequence?

1. “After many years of neglect, my marriage is in trouble.” 2. “My husband lost his job because the auto industry is suffering.” 3. “My husband lost his job because he stole items from work.” 4. “My child has been hospitalized with a serious, genetic illness.”

Answers to the quiz: 1) consequence, 2) trial, 3) consequence, 4) trial.

Peter defines and clarifies what a true trial is: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:16). Is your suffering because you’re aligned with Christ? Trials we embrace and learn from; consequences we repent and turn from. Consider Paul’s stern warning about consequences: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (4:15).

“Murderer” describes anyone who disrespects life and commits a hateful action or harbors murderous thoughts. “Thief” describes someone who takes what rightfully belongs to someone else—such as a person who loses his or her job for stealing time; someone who loses his or her marriage for pursuing selfish interests; the person who loses his or her friend by hoarding too much attention. “Evildoer” is a general term describing anyone who participates in sinful activity. “Meddler” describes anyone who is “prying into other people’s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15b, NLT).

If any of these descriptions is what’s causing your hardship, then you’re suffering a consequence, not a trial. While it’s true that we are forgiven the penalty of sin, we must still harvest the consequences. Wrong actions have wrong consequences, even for Christians. God will make sure of it. If you’re suffering consequences, repent right now. Turn around and run—don’t walk—back to God.

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