By Beth Hyduke

Suffering is a common theme in Scripture. Joseph suffered for years in slavery and prison, many of the prophets had to suffer in their service to God, and the entire book of Job is dedicated to the sufferings of one man.

Jesus promises suffering for His followers, as well as the grace to endure it. But is God's grace to us limited to the role of helping us endure? Or does His grace do more for us, in terms of being able to overcome?

In reality, God's grace empowers and ushers in a host of practically significant and radically effective changes in the life of every Christian believer. Standing in stark contrast to God's wrath, grace is the means of our salvation (i.e., Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11). Though by nature of sin, we all deserve God's condemnation (i.e., Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:3), because God is gracious, He chose to save some undeserving sinners. He raised us from our spiritually dead condition and made us alive (Ephesians 2:4-7), declares us former ungodly rebels to now become His own righteous sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:17), and gives us the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). Through grace, God enables us to live in ways that please and honor Him (Ephesians 4:25-5:2; Galatians 5:13-26). Because God has shown us grace, we can live godly, self-controlled lives that make a new discipline out of rooting out sin and putting it to death (Colossians 3:5-16).

Jesus said, "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). If we are in Christ, we have overcome because He has overcome (1 John 4:4), and we can be victorious over sin and death and Satan because He was victorious over sin and death and Satan (Galatians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 15:56-57; James 4:7), and we are in Him. Additionally, God's grace, working through the Holy Spirit, works to safeguard and guarantee our eternal security (Ephesians 1:13-14). As Jesus said, "My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).

Ultimately, the ability to overcome, endure, and persevere to the end is a working of God's grace in the lives of Christian believers. However, this does not mean that Christians may abdicate personal discipline, effort, and responsibility in overcoming obstacles, nor does it mean that life gets any easier or more comfortable for a new Christian. To the contrary, God divinely places obstacles, difficulties, and suffering directly in our path, knowing that suffering brings perseverance, perseverance shapes character, and character produces an enduring hope and confidence (Romans 5:3-5).

Why is there such a strong emphasis on the importance of suffering as Christians? Since suffering in any form is unpleasant, what is the point of suffering?

Suffering is an essential component of following Jesus, so much so that Jesus not only guarantees its presence in the lives of His followers (John 16:33), He calls and appoints us to it (Matthew 16:24; 1 Peter 2:20-21). The first reason for this is because we follow a Man who was Himself defined by a life of suffering (Isaiah 53; Matthew 24:9). We are called to identify with Christ on a deep, personal level, and since His life and ministry was defined by suffering, close connection with Him will inevitably involve a close connection with suffering (2 Timothy 2:3; Matthew 10:38; 1 Peter 4).

The second reason is the one we touched upon in the previous answer — God has baptized suffering as the means of our spiritual growth (Romans 5:3). For the unbeliever, suffering is as pointless and meaningless as a cruel twist of fate or a turn of bad luck, but the Christian recognizes God's hand is behind everything, including the most extreme trials of suffering, hardship, and adversity. To the Christian, suffering in any of its forms is divinely designed to shape us more and more into Christlikeness, and ultimately to glorify God. Suffering and adversity indicates that God's kingdom is at hand (Luke 21:25-31). Christian believers and the unbelieving world view adversity from opposing spectrums. For the world, suffering is a dead end to be avoided at all cost. To the Christian, suffering is a gateway to spiritual growth and the kingdom of God. Paradoxically, as it was with Christ, so it is with all believers — suffering and glory go hand in hand (Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 5:1, 10).

The theme of power through weakness runs through the entire Bible, but especially through Paul's letters to the Corinthians. Because Christ was "crucified in weakness and yet lives by God's power" (2 Corinthians 13:4), we can not only accept our own divinely-rationed portion of weakness but we can learn to look at weakness and suffering from a different perspective than the unbeliever — an eternal perspective. From this perspective, we can rejoice in suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17) as a channel through which the power of Christ may be revealed to the world (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Image Credit: Unsplash; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | God-Father  | Hardships  | Jesus-Christ

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Published on 12-12-16