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Why Christians Suffer
By David A. DePra
Why must Christians suffer? The other day I heard a television preacher – one who actually preaches a pretty good basic message on the Cross – he stated that Christian people do not have to suffer. His reasoning was that since Christ suffered for us on the Cross that we don’t have to suffer. But this is error. The Bible says the opposite. The Bible says that it is precisely because Christ suffered – that this is WHY we must SUFFER WITH HIM.
Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Pet 4:1-2)
Christ died FOR us. He suffered FOR us. But now we will suffer in Him, and with Him. Why? Because we have become ONE with Him in His death and resurrection.
All that Jesus Christ is, and all that He did through His redemptive work, must be experienced – Redemption is to be experienced in Christ. Salvation happens all at once in a moment. But now you and I must work out our salvation – or, to put it another way, salvation in Christ must be worked out IN US. Jesus Christ must come be made manifest in and through us. This requires that we lose OUR lives. That will result in suffering.
What we see in this is that suffering happens because of the NATURE of things. Suffering is like birth pangs. It is not the goal, but is the result of the goal being worked out – IF we yield to God by faith. Suffering will happen if we walk with, and grow in, Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is absolutely impossible to live in Christ and to follow Him without suffering.
Jesus Christ Himself said so:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 16:24-25)
According to Jesus Christ, the ONLY WAY to follow Him is by taking up your Cross and LOSING your life. But again – this isn’t because God arbitrarily or unnecessarily made it work that way. It is because of the nature of what we are dealing with. The old life dominants and MUST die. That is the only way the life of Christ can come to govern us. In short, the old must give way to the new, and since we are bound by the old, this process will cause suffering. It is the NATURE of things – the warfare between the old and the new, if you will – that results in suffering.
Thus, if we follow Jesus we WILL suffer. Not maybe. We will. The nature of the old creation will not easily give way to the new. The moment you try to follow Jesus you are going to encounter the Cross – which will be the means of LOSING your life into the hands of God. That will cause SUFFERING. Thus, if you want to follow Jesus you are going to suffer.
What we see here is foundational: Suffering is always the result of losing your life in order to find it in Christ. This is why suffering is part of the Christian walk – this is why it is the outcome of following Jesus. For a human being to be set free from the flesh and from the natural, such that we can then walk in the LIGHT – this is going to cause suffering. The nature of things demands it.
Everything about the OLD creation is – by nature – opposed to the NEW creation. This warfare is INTERNAL in each believer:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Gal 5:17)
This is but the tip of the iceberg – but can we not see that by the very NATURE of the new creation that everything about our flesh and natural man is going to oppose it? Sure. Indeed, any one who has gone along with Christ in any measure knows that doing so produces a continual warfare, and results in suffering.
So suffering is the NATURE of, yes, of the Redemption which Christ won. Christ SUFFERED FOR US. But it is likewise the NATURE of things if that Redemption is to be worked out in our experience. We must suffer WITH Him – and BECAUSE of Him. This is why Jesus said, "If any man would follow me…he must lose his life." His Redemption must work out IN US. This is why the Bible teaches what it does about suffering:
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (1 Pet 2:21)
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, (Phil 3:8)
Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Pet 4:19)
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: (2 Tim 2:12)
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; (Phil 1:29)
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom 8:16-18)
One With Christ
Eternal life is not a THING or merely a legal classification that God gives to us. No. God gives HIMSELF to us in His Son. Thus, rather than say God gives us a THING called, "eternal life," it is the Truth to say that God gives us Christ – who IS our life.
Christ Himself is our life. How so? Well, Christianity is CHRIST IN US, the hope of glory. In effect, if Christ is in you, you have LIFE – it is the only reason you have life. In Him alone there is life.
Christianity is Christ in us. But HOW is Christ in us? He is ONE with our spirit. Paul wrote:
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit (with Him.) (1 Cor 6:17)
Once we see that we are ONE with Christ – Christ is IN US -- it opens up much Truth about what Christianity IS, and why the Christian life carries the experience it carries. For if Christ is IN US, then all that is NOT of Christ – mainly, our flesh – will need to be adjusted TO HIM – or, in fact, it will need to be brought under the power of the Cross. This will result in suffering along the way.
Note how clearly Paul explains this necessity:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12)
Here we see that suffering is not final outcome, but the means unto the outcome – suffering is what happens as the flesh comes under the death of Christ – but unto the end result that the LIFE of Jesus might be made manifest in us. The notion that any of this can happen without suffering is utter nonsense.
Now, incidentally, this passage shows the real Truth about sanctification. Sanctification is not something God DOES TO US. Rather, sanctification is the result of Christ being made manifest in us. The work of the Cross brings death to US – so that the life of Christ might be seen. That is sanctification. In short, HE IS our sanctification.
But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:30-31)
So what is sanctification? It is Christ – seen in and through us. Yet none of this is possible until WE are crucified out of the way. This will necessitate suffering. Indeed, we might even say that as Christ emerges our flesh will suffer – almost like when a baby is born into this world. Birth pangs hurt. But a child is born.
Again we see that Christianity is NOT a religion. It is Christ in us – it is the result of receiving new life from ABOVE. But life from above is not compatible with the life from below. Christ is life, light, and Truth. We begin in death, darkness, and error. For Christ to come to dominate will therefore entail great upheaval and adjustment – it will require that the entire old SELF come under the Cross. We will have to lose ourselves to Him in order to find real life. That will produce suffering – the very nature of things will produce it.
If Christianity is Christ in us – if Christianity is being ONE with Christ – then immediately you are going to be at odds with all that is NOT of Christ. And primarily, what is at odds with Christ is your flesh, natural man, and self. Thus, there is great warfare and suffering. Yet it is all unto freedom and life – IF we yield.
Baptized Into Christ
Christians so easily take the living reality of Christ and turn it into dead religion. For example, we read that we are baptized into the death of Christ and we simply incorporate it into our list of doctrines. We often don’t realize that Christianity is a LIVING oneness with Jesus Christ. In short, these Truths are more than doctrine – they speak of the reality and experience of salvation in Christ.
The Truth of being baptized into Christ is a case in point. What does that MEAN? What are the results? Is it just another dead doctrine to add to our list? No. Such statements are revelations as to the NATURE of redemption and life in Christ. Indeed, there are many such statements in the NT that point directly to life in Christ and what it all means:
Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom 6:3-7)
This passage is NOT a discussion of forgiveness FOR sin. No. It is a discussion of freedom FROM sin – "For he that is dead is freed from sin." We are forgiven for sin in a moment. But do you still sin? Yep. In fact, you still sin in ways for which you have been forgiven. No. Paul is here revealing HOW and WHY those who are in Christ can be FREE from sin itself.
We are free from sin ONLY because we are, "baptized into His death." We are, as Paul says, "planted together with Him in His death." And the result is --- what? Well, Paul says here, and in Colossians, "You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." In other words, Jesus Christ absolutely died FOR us. That is our salvation, and is the foundation for all. But now, in order to actually get free from sin and to be able to walk in His resurrection, we must DIE IN HIM and BE RAISED IN HIM. Or, as Jesus said, "I must die and be raised FOR you. But if you want to follow Me, you have to pick up your Cross – you have to come under the power of My death and resurrection."
I emphasize that we are saved once and for all and forever. All of this process of bearing in our body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus might be made manifest – all of this that produces suffering – is not a matter of being saved again. Nor does it means salvation is a process. No. You are either saved or you are not saved. But if you are saved you are not fully sanctified in your experience. You are not fully set free from all sin in actual living. For that there must be an inward work by the Spirit of God – not to get you saved all over again, but to make manifest Christ in and through you.
Obviously, if Christ is in us – if we are baptized into Him – then this MEANS SOMETHING! It means that all that He is and all that He carries is going to begin to impact us and bring to pass in us the redemption He won. He is to us sanctification, redemption, etc. Christ will – for lack of a better term – begin to invade us. This will result in warfare, conflict, and upheaval. It will produce suffering in the flesh. But IF we yield to Him, begin to experience what He won for us – primary to that being freedom from sin.
Paul had a number of ways in which he expressed this very same Truth:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
No one knew better than Paul that Christ had been crucified FOR him. Sure. That is why he writes that Christ, "gave Himself for me." But nevertheless, Paul says, "I am crucified WITH Christ." He meant what he wrote. For he goes on to say, "Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ." Here again we see the Treasure in the earthen vessel. Here again we see that Christianity is Christ in us – we are ONE with Him. And built into this verse we also see that because Christ is in us, "the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is alive because of Christ." (Rom. 8:10) Christ within IS our life. But that means death upon US – our flesh. And that will produce suffering.
Quite often in the Christian walk we encounter suffering and have no answers. This is not unusual because part of the clash between flesh and spirit is that the natural mind cannot receive the Truth of God – at first we just cannot understand. But once we recognize what God is doing through Christ, it ought to give explanation to much.
For example, many of us have bought into the idea that once we give our lives to Christ that it is good and right for us to expect that God intends to bless OUR LIVES. We read passages like the sermon on the mount where Jesus says that if you ask God for bread He won’t give you a stone, and you read how all you have to do is ask and you will receive. Sounds easy enough. And God IS love. So there should be no problem.
But the reality of it is, that quite often, God’s blessings don’t come as we expect. In fact, for many Christian people, there is only trouble. It is at that point, because we do not understand what God is doing, that we are liable to become deceived. For example, the answer many sincere Christian people will give you for all of your trouble, and for your lack of blessings from God, is that you must surely be sinning somehow in your life – whether you know it or not – or perhaps you are omitting some act of obedience. But despite the fact that sin can play a factor in such situations, this line of reasoning usually does nothing more than put people right back under the law. (Read the book of Job! That error is central.) It is NOT the answer – it does not get to the Truth God wants us to see.
If your suffering is because you have somewhere sinned, then once you clear that up, the suffering ought to stop and the blessings ought to flow. Yet most of the time this is NOT what happens. Indeed, I’ve got news – you will never stop sinning or start obeying God enough to earn or insure His blessings. So sure, obey God. But don’t think that this alone is the pivot point in your suffering.
The answer here goes right back to what Jesus said in Matthew 16. He said, "If any one would come after Me, he must deny himself, and pick up his Cross, and follow Me. He must LOSE his life in order to find true life in ME." Well, it is entirely possible for any one of us to unwittingly SKIP over the need to lose our lives – and then to expect God to bless us! In short, we might try to SAVE and KEEP our lives for ourselves, and then ask God help us and bless us.
It is vital to grasp what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that God has only ONE WILL for OUR life. There is only one outcome for OUR life if we want to follow Jesus. We must LOSE it by surrendering to the work of the Cross. Thus, rather than continually try to get God to bless OUR LIFE – we need to LOSE it into His death. The result will be exactly what Jesus said it would be: Death and loss to OUR life. But we will find NEW life in Him.
It is amazing how easy it is to try to possess our own lives for ourselves – and to expect that God has promised to bless us in doing so! He has not. In fact, He is set against us possessing our own lives – for doing so is the very essence of sin itself. Thus, it is entirely possible that the answer to many of these questions about suffering in the Christian life is found right here: We are trying to save the life God is telling us to lose. We are trying to live as new creation IN THE FLESH – and expecting God to help us! He won’t. He is working upon an entirely other basis.
I emphasize again – Jesus said we have to LOSE our lives – we have to lose ourselves to Him. That is the ONLY way to come after Him. Yet millions of us say we are following Christ, all the while we are in complete control and possession of ourselves. We cry and strive to get God to bless us but He cannot. God can bless us only IN HIS SON – He cannot bless us in OURSELVES. In short, we are operating on the wrong side of the Cross – we are trying to live on the wrong side of the Jordan. We are really walking in the flesh and expecting the results of walking in the spirit.
I suppose the most common manifestation of this error is religiosity and self-righteousness. Rather than lose all of our righteousness at the Cross we try to establish our own. We present to God our righteousness – which is OUR life laced with good works – and then having done so, we expect blessing. Will God bless our righteousness? No. In fact, He will seek to demolish it – He wants to bring an end to it through the Cross. He wants us to put on the righteousness of Christ.
But there are millions of Christians right now who are trying to follow after Christ on the basis of their own righteousness – which is their OWN LIFE. They expect blessing from God in return, and in fact, some claim that they have been blessed. That is not possible. Self-righteousness is the enemy of the Cross of Christ. Indeed, Paul said, "If righteousness comes by law keeping, then Christ died in vain." (Gal. 2:21) God is not going to affirm through blessing a denial of the Cross.
Yet if I am living on the basis of my life and self-righteousness, and God is not blessing me, I will not understand if I am blind to this Truth. How many of us actually accuse God of unfaithfulness on this very point. We rehearse to God all of our obedience and faithfulness and then grumble because He does not seem to acknowledge through blessing our entitlement. He never will. Again – God will seek to bring down this entire deception because He loves us and wants us to see the Truth. As He does bring it down, it may seem as if God is against us. No. He is against our deception. But He is for US in Christ. He is trying to bring us into the Truth.
Paul had to lose his own righteousness in order to win Christ and be found in Him:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil 3:7-11)
Paul is essentially describing his own experience in losing his own life to find Christ. Notice that he says that he did WIN Christ and was FOUND in Him – but notice the condition to which Paul had to be brought through the Cross in order for this to happen: Not having my own righteousness…but the righteousness that is through the faith of Christ. You and I will NEVER win Christ or be found in Him unless we come to the same – we have to lose our lives – and yet not just our sin, but our SELF; our self-righteousness. Only then will we have found true life in Christ – for then Christ will BE our righteousness.
These things are not meant to remain theological concepts. They are to be experienced. Christ is a Person and not merely a doctrine.
So we have to LOSE ourselves in order to find HIM. God will always work unto that end. And the fact is, even if we know this, and do our best to cooperate with Him, there will be suffering – because the flesh won’t want to behave. And yet if we yield to God it will eliminate UNNECESSARY suffering. And we will eventually find greater freedom.
The Bible uses the terms IN CHRIST and CHRIST IN US interchangeably. But they both show a oneness in spirit between the believer and Jesus Christ. Consequently, if I am IN CHRIST, then all that He is dwells in me – I am already one with Him – He is one with my spirit. Our oneness with Christ is not only the definition of Christianity, but shows us why Christ is the source of all for us.
Now note: Jesus Christ is not supposed to be ONE source for us. He IS our life. Christ IS our life. He is the Vine and we are the branches.
I say this because if Christ IS our life, then it tells us why we have to lose OUR life. We have to live FROM Christ – which speaks of dependence in every way. But that means more than just praying for help once in awhile. No. If Christ IS our life then it means, as I said, we live FROM Him – we don’t just live FOR Him. You cannot live FROM Christ if you are still living from yourself. Indeed, this point is at the very core of what it means to lose one’s life for Christ’s sake.
Human beings live from themselves and for themselves by nature. We know of NOTHING else. But when we receive Christ, the will of God is that we would live from Him and for Him. Can we see the need here for a tremendous shift? Indeed, it requires DEATH and RESURRECTION to be worked out. There must come a death upon all that we are – including all confidence in the flesh, self-righteousness, and the habit of living from oneself – even religiously. We have to come to the end of all of that through the work of the Cross if we are to live from Christ.
Here we see that to LOSE one’s life includes losing independence from Christ.
The Wrong Goal
Christian people are going to encounter the Cross. This is a guarantee. Jesus said, "If any one would follow Me," and also promised that the Spirit would guide us into all Truth. Thus, God is going to deliberately lead us in a way that gives us the chance to pick up our Cross. There is simply no other way for the Christian – it is the will of God. It is what God is doing.
But most of us don’t understand this. Thus, when difficulty and trials come our way, we immediately look for a way OUT – and usually believe that it is the will of God to get us OUT. But it could be that rather than get us OUT God has put us INTO this situation so that we would lose our lives to Him. In short, we try to save our lives – and pray that God would help us. But the whole thing is the work of the Cross. God wants us to lose our lives.
In those situations we may say, "God, deliver me!" And when God won’t deliver us, it is tempting to fear, or think something is terribly wrong. But God is saying, "I will deliver you – but only if you lose your life. Death and resurrection into My hands is the only way out."
This answers so many questions. We want relief from the suffering. God may want the suffering – not as an end to itself – but to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we might lose ourselves to Him. We want OUT. God wants us IN. We want OUR LIVES – and we don’t even realize what we are doing. But God won’t bless OUR lives – He wants to crucify them. All of this, of course, is unto the end that we might find true life in Christ and be set free.
In this day and age, it has become common for popular teachers, NOT to teach the way of the Cross, but to assure people that God wants to give them THEIR lives and give them THINGS and give them blessings. In short, we are being taught HOW to save our lives and given instructions as to how to get God to help us. This is a LIE. It is a denial of the need for the personal Cross, which is a contradiction to how Jesus said we MUST follow Him.
I want to make a statement that puts this all in perspective – if that has not already been done. That statement is this: If you are receiving blessing, but not as the outcome of finding true life in Christ – YOU ARE OUT OF GOD’S WILL. I don’t care how much money you have, or what has come your way. Unless you LOSE your life in Christ, you are OUT of God’s will. Thus, any benefit you have for holding onto your life hasn’t come from God. It isn’t within His will.
There is simply no other way to follow Jesus except it be by carrying your Cross. Jesus said so. There is no way to find true life unless you lose your self-ownership to Him. Oswald Chambers used the phrase, "my right to myself." That is what we must surrender to God – that is losing our lives to Him. It is the only LIFE God will bless. That is because only then are we in His will and in His Son.
Satan usually won’t try to deny that Jesus died for us. But he has sought to offer every possible substitute for the personal Cross. Why? Because if we take the bait then much of the work of the Cross will be negated for God’s people. Christ won’t be made manifest. Indeed, preaching Christ without the work of the Cross is ANOTHER GOSPEL.
Almost every heresy that has ever taken root in Christianity comes back to a denial, or neglect, of the need for the personal Cross. Heretics often preach that Jesus was crucified FOR us, but deny that we must be crucified WITH Him. This heresy is everywhere today.
Whatever It Takes
It is possible for any one of us, once we realize the Truth about this great plan of God, to think that because we grasp it intellectually that we are actually walking in the Truth. Well, no. It is not enough to know we must lose our lives to find Him. We have to actually do it.
But how? Probably the best verse that tells us how is Romans 12:1:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)
God never tells us that we must do anything at all in order to receive grace, or to experience the Truth of Christ – except one thing. We see that here. We have to come to the Cross – which is very often represented by the altar. He says to us, "You possess ONE thing – yourself. That is what you can bring and what you must bring. I’m not asking you to fix yourself or to make yourself presentable. No. In fact, you need to confess that you are not presentable. You must present to me yourself, as unpresentable as you are. You must do this because you want to be free, no matter what. You must want Christ."
This passage pictures someone who is saying to God, "Whatever it takes Lord, to make Christ my life." If I will do this, I AM picking up my Cross. And God will answer.
We need not worry about whether God will bring the Cross into our lives. He already promises He will. Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, pick up his Cross, and follow Me." He already assumes that the Cross will be there in some form. What form? Well the Cross is the instrument by which we LOSE our lives into the hands of God. And so whatever will do that if we yield is what God is using. Some of that might be quite dramatic. Some of it may be quite hidden and mundane. But all of it is geared to setting us free to actually experience the Christ who dwells within.
It is obviously possible to suffer for your own sins and foolishness. But even those can be turned to God. Even they can be turned into instruments of redemption through repentance.
Now, once we realize all of this purpose for SUFFERING, it tells us why James advises us to TAKE JOY in it. For it is not the suffering – it is what the suffering is producing – IF we yield. It is possible to suffer much but never turn to God. That will waste it. But if we will turn to God – and the only way to do so is by losing ourselves into His hands by faith – we are told that we will come into THE LIFE, who is a Person, Christ Jesus.
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