St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome (Romans 5:3-5), encouraging them to remember
Tribulation leads to Perseverance,
Perseverance leads to Proven Character, and
Proven Character leads to Hope.
Modern feel-good pop-psychology churches most often focus interpretation of this scripture upon tribulation as a means of strengthening, and proving the strength of, our character. I wonder if perhaps it might be more helpful to shift our focus to realize that perseverance through the Lord’s grace and strength leads to us having proven God’s character, giving hope that He will sustain us to the end.
The word ‘dokime’ (δοκιμή) has been translated variously as trial (Douay-Rheims), approvedness (ASV), experience (KJV), character (RSV), probatio (Vulgate, proving/trial/approval/proof/demonstration), and proven character (NAS). William Barclay gives the sense of the original meaning as “Dokime is used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it… It describes something out of which every alloy of baseness has been eliminated. When affliction (tribulation) is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better and near God.”
Faith in our own faith may, in fact, be more harmful than helpful, but if we place faith in God, He will never disappoint us. Proving our own character, in the sense of eliminating those base things which are an obstacle to grace, makes us a better conduit of that grace, but if we consider our character proven in the sense of having confidence in our character, we may find ourselves upon a dangerous road. St. Peter’s example painfully reminds us our own strength of character is insufficient, and confidence in that character, misplaced. Paul tells the Corinthians the power of God reaches its perfection in weakness. So much so that when he is weak, then he is strong. (2Cor 12) If perseverance leads us to trust in our own strength, we’ve missed the point entirely.
Perseverance through trial allows God to purge our character of that which is unworthy of entering His presence. Confidence in our own character gives us only a false hope that we’ll persevere to the end, but confidence in God’s character gives us hope with substance – faith.
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