Question #1: What does it mean to ‘suffer’ in Christ? Why do we (and why are we expected) to suffer?
When most Christians think talk about their walk with Christ, they often pair it with the word ‘suffering’, and for many that’s a big turn off.
Romans tells us the following:
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:2-5 NIV
Paul also tells us that we are the children of God (heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ) if we also share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. But what exactly does that mean?
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
I too also had this question: what is the suffering and why do I need to suffer? The problem is that most of us go about thinking of this in the wrong way. We think of suffering in the faith as persecution—we compare it to those being killed for their faith, or those being persecuted for spreading the Gospel.
Even as a believer, we often think that such persecution is only limited to us, but God explained to me that this isn’t really the case. Instead, God showed me two sides to the coin. The first is that the suffering we will endure may be of the flesh. One way the Holy Spirit helped me to look at it was by first examining how we view ‘the law’.
There are two ways to look at salvation: one is through the lenses of moral obligation, and the other is through the lens of personal conviction. We hear that we are saved through faith and not works yet we are expected to obey the moral laws. I’ll be doing another post on this, but let’s just say we think about this wrong.
Our duty as Christians (believers) first, is to hold steadfast to the faith. Paul, when writing to the churches, encouraged them to persevere in the faith, holding to sound doctrine and belief in the Messiah’s death and resurrection. This is our first and most important duty as a Christian.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Paul talks about endurance, fighting the good fight, and running the race to the end in reference to holding onto the truth that Christ is our Redeemer who has come to save us. Then, we are expected to profess our faith and preach the Gospel.
Our new identity in Christ allows us to freely tell others that we are believers, and to spread the Gospel to others throughout our journey in this life. However, when it comes to ‘moral obligations’ we should understand that as the Holy Spirit lives in us, it is for us to remain obedient to the Spirit, allowing Him to guide us. We are given an idea of how to live in the Spirit in Galatians, but this same Galatians also offers us some insight into what to avoid, that is the works of the flesh.
It is this ‘work of the flesh’ that really tears us away from Christ, and ultimately this is where our suffering comes from. The constant battle in our minds and in our flesh forces us to doubt Christ and His work on the cross.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.
Let’s say you’re dating a person, an atheist. This person treats you well, and respects your beliefs as a Christian. He even attends church with you. You think the relationship would work, but as you push further and further into this relationship, you begin to ask yourself some questions.
Your partner may take you to some conferences that questions Christianity. You start to wonder if salvation is even legit. Perhaps you contemplate what a future would look like without Christ. Ultimately, you’re forced to choose between God and your partner.
It’s moments like these that create an internal battle between the struggles of the flesh and the spirit. This is where your faith is truly tested. Would you endure to the end, or would you fall victim to the enemy’s snares?
This simple scenario touches on another type of suffering, but it’s not that we suffer for Christ, but rather that we suffer with Christ. Well, what’s the difference?
God showed me that even if we weren’t Christians, suffering is still eminent. After all, the entire world experiences some degree of suffering or persecution. In Afghanistan, Muslim women experience persecution at the hands of the Taliban, and in India a civil battle between Hinduism and Islam leaves many killed.
Atheists are mocked and ridiculed, pagans are scorned and despised, and to even hold a religious belief, no matter what it is, can get you killed in some countries. There are homeless atheists and Christians alike. Many refugees are Muslims and they are in need of food and shelter. Becoming a Christian doesn’t promise and end to suffering, and the Bible teaches that suffering may even increase, but leaving Christianity doesn’t put an end to it either.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
There is, however, one key difference. As a Christian, we suffer knowing that Christ suffered for our sake, and because of that, we are guaranteed an eternal life with Him at the end of this present life. We suffer with Christ; we suffer knowing that Christ too has experienced what we are currently experiencing, and that His love will surpass it.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
We suffer knowing that we have a Redeemer we can run to. The psalmist David said hear my cry oh Lord, attend unto my prayer. For when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is Higher than I.
Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Most who don’t believe suffer and then in the end, believe that there is nothing more. In truth, they suffer through this life for nothing. Others who do believe in an afterlife teaches that we must also do work to gain God’s approval. So, on top of earthly struggles and fleshly struggles, payments must be made for a heaven that is not sure.
Yet, Christ teaches that once we trust in Him, believe in Him, and call on His name our salvation is guaranteed. Eternal life with Him is our end goal and our earnest desire. All we need to do is hold fast to the faith.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sharing in Christ’s Suffering: Philippians 3:8-11
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3 thoughts on “Must We Suffer? | The Inquiring Christian”
Sadly, there are churches out there teaching if you suffer or have a major health issue, you are a sinner, not right with God. If God does not heal you right away, you are a sinner. Some even thought Christians would be spared getting COVID before the shut down. I think God allows people to suffer, get disease etc. so you can show empathy towards those who also have these problems and give them hope.
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You’re so correct. Many churches teach Christians to falsely put their hope in material possessions or physical health instead of teaching them to put their hope in Christ. Our true hope is our inheritance with Christ who teaches us to seek first God’s Kingdom and then all these things will be added if it aligns with His greater plan for us.
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Jesus said that whomever will be His disciples must take up his cross and follow Him. The cross is our total surrender of our lives to God. I like that you said we suffer with Christ knowing that He endured all the pain and suffering that we are going through.
Thanks for sharing this insightful post. I pray that your commitment to God will grow from strength to strength and your ministry will grow and flourish. I pray also that the blessings and favor of the Lord will follow you all the days of your life. Continue to keep up the good work. Blessings 🙌
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