Why do Christians, after they have been spiritually “born again,” suffer afflictions in this life and die the physical death?
All that exists and all that happens in this universe comes ultimately from the hand of God. We should understand this from our consideration of natural revelation (see Romans 1.20-21). It is God who gives us “life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17.25).
We are further taught in the Bible that all things were made by the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—“without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1.3). And we are taught that it is Christ who is now “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1.3).
It is evidently God’s will to apply the full spiritual, physical and eternal life that Christ’s redemption has accomplished for his people in a similar way as the spiritual, physical and eternal death1 has been “passed upon all men” (Romans 5.12):
- We are, first, “born again” (the new birth is also known as regeneration)—we receive new life into our dead souls (John 3.1-8, 16; _2 Corinthians_5.17; Ephesians 2.1; Colossians 2.13; Titus 3.5).
- Later, after we have physically died, we will receive the “redemption of our body” (Romans 8.23) in the resurrection on the last day (John 11.24; 1 Corinthians 15.12-57). (However, the last generation of Christians in this present age, before Christ returns, will not pass through physical death. Their bodies will be transformed without physical death (see 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).)
- And after this resurrection (or transformation), the eternal life that God gave us when he gave us our new birth will continue forever—we will “ever be with the Lord” in the new heavens and new earth (John 3.16; 14.1-2; 2 Timothy 2.10; Hebrews 5.9; 9.12; 2 Peter 3.13; Revelation 21.1-5).
At the present time, while we continue to live in this world, we still possess mortal bodies. And this present heaven and earth will endure—this order of things will continue—only so long as it is God’s will to sustain it; and that is, until the Lord Jesus Christ returns (see Genesis 8.22; Matthew 24.14; 28.18-20; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18; 2 Peter 3.10, 13; Revelation 21.1, 4-5).
While it is in the hearts of fallen human beings, and often in their minds and lips, to accuse God of injustice, let us never forget—“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Psalms 145.17). This must include what is happening in this world under his sustaining providence.
So, let us humbly ask: why do Christians, after they have been spiritually “born again,” suffer afflictions in this life and die the physical death?
If the Lord Jesus Christ has died in the place of his people, then it may appear upon first consideration that for Christians to suffer and die it is unnecessary and unjust. However, there would only be Divine injustice in our physical sufferings and physical death if God still counted us as being “in Adam,” and if by our death he was punishing us for being under the broken covenant of life. (But then, this injustice would ultimately have been against Christ, before it could have been an injustice against us, because Christ has already suffered to redeem us in his crucifixion.)
But this is not how things are with Christians. Their case is as David proclaimed in the 32nd Psalm: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalms 32.1-2; see also Romans 4.6-8).
Therefore, physical afflictions and death must serve another purpose for the Lord’s people. They are not an unnecessary part of God’s providence for us; God always works these miseries for our good (Romans 8.28).
Thomas Boston wrote a famous book on the subject on afflictions in life, called The Crook in the Lot, subtitled, The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God, Displayed in the Afflictions of Men. Rather than detain you here on this subject, I would rather direct you to that very helpful book.2