Sanctification and Suffering
We are continuing with the series on The Glorious Doctrine of Sanctification, Part 3 now under Sanctification and Suffering
God is at work in the life of every true believer, making each of his people more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. In the previous post we saw that the Holy Scriptures, the word of God, is the primary instrument that the Holy Spirit uses in that whole process. Just as God uses Scriptures to make the believer holy. We must never forget, therefore, that the Bible plays an essential part in the life of the people of God. If we are ministers of God’s word in the churches we have a huge responsibility that our people are receiving a rich diet for their souls. They will not become holy people on a diet of emotionally moving stories or exciting music. They need the pure milk of the word that they may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1).
The Word and Our Lives.
We do not however receive the word, so to speak, in isolation. We receive it against all the background of all the experience that make up our daily lives. God has designed the events of our lives to make us feel the force of his word. As we live through all the joys and sorrows of life and face all its demands, God feeds us with his truth and its blessed to our souls. Just think of the way the word has become especially precious to you, can you not remember moments in your life when doctrines which you had known for years were made vital and life changing in your heart? It may be a time of special need. It may have been in days of great danger or sorrow. Paul had been a preacher and teacher for a long time when he wrote 2 Corinthians 1:9. He had known for years that the believer does not serve the Lord or live the Christian life in his own strength. Nevertheless, it was while he was facing all the difficulties with the Corinthians church that he was able to write: Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. The doctrine, that he knew very well was impressed upon his life and character when he passed through the dark experience.
Experiences, therefore, make the truths of scripture vital to us. We can appreciate this truth in many other ways. The Bible tells us that the ways of the world are vain and utterly dissatisfying. We find that hard to accept because our hearts are inclined to worldliness. So, the Lord takes us through difficulties and disappointments so that we accept and feel the truth that the world holds nothing for us.
Now among all the experiences that the Lord sends us to assist in our sanctification, suffering is very important.
Suffering and Glory
There are several places in scripture where the promises of glory for the people of God is firmly linked to their suffering in this world. We shall consider the two most prominent passages.
Let us, therefore, refer first to Romans 8:16–30. From verse 29 and 30 we can see that God’s ultimate purpose for his people is that they should be glorified. The eternal glory is our destiny. God, in his eternal counsels, has set that destiny for us; he has predestined us for nothing less. Now, as we look carefully at those verses we see that we are actually predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. God has decreed that we shall be like Christ. That is glory! It is to be like the one who is perfectly glorious. It is impossible that there should be anything greater. That helps us understand what Paul means when he says in verse 17….that we may also be glorified together. If we are to be glorified together with Christ, we must have the glory of his nature in us. Of course, the whole process of sanctification is that we should be like him.
Now look more closely at verse 17. We are told that if we are children then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together. Our present suffering, as believers, therefore, is in order that we may be glorified with Christ. One well-known commentator has said , “The design of God in the affliction of His people, is not to satisfy the demands of justice, but to prepare them to participate in his glory. To creatures in a state of sin, suffering is a necessary condition of exaltation. It is a refining process through which they must pass.” Paul makes a similar point in 2 Timothy 2:11,12.
Romans 8:18–30 has to do with this theme. In verse 23, we are told that even we grown within ourselves, eagerly waiting the adoption, the redemption of our body. Now that statement is very helpful because Paul is obviously referring to suffering resulting from the weakness and weariness of our mortal bodies. We are eagerly waiting for transformed bodies. It follows, therefore, that the suffering that Paul has in mind is not only persecution and the daily burden of dedicated labor in the gospel. It is also the suffering of our feeble bodies through sickness, disability or old age. Its all being used to develop our souls for glory.
Paul concludes this argument with the very memorable statement in verse 28: We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. The good that Paul has in mind is evident from the immediately following verses: that we should be conformed to the image of Christ. We see, therefore, suffering is essential for the preparation of God’s people for glory. The second passage that specifically bears upon this truth is 2 Corinthians 4:16–18. Paul has been made to feel the weakness of his body and, certainly, by the time he wrote this letter he had suffered a great deal (2 Corinthians 11:22–29). But he says: Therefore we do not lose heart….The considerable suffering that he had endured did not damage him spiritually nor cause him to be discouraged. He knew that his suffering has a wonderful purpose. He could say with confidence: For our light affliction, which is but for moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. What amazing words those are! Paul describes his considerable suffering as a light affliction. He also views it momentary. It will soon be over. But, most important of all, it will result in our enjoying much more glory! We cannot understand how that can be but we must believe the word of God. Somehow this suffering is accomplishing for us a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory. What we have to endure in this life profoundly affects us so that we shall enter into much greater glory in eternity.
Referring back to Romans 8:18, we see how Paul weighed up the whole issue of his suffering. He says: I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
A Great Blessing
Paul wrote: Therefore we do not lose heart. He is saying that the great truth concerning our suffering and its eternal value keeps us from despair or from being crushed by the hard experiences of life. It enables us to go on living the Christian life, serving the Lord and even rejoicing while suffering affliction (1 Peter 1:6–9). Indeed, as we shall see next time, some suffering results in such great spiritual blessing in this life that we can say with Paul: Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me….(2 Corinthians 12:9).
It is so good to know that our sufferings are for a great purpose! The sorrows of this world are ultimately useless. They can achieve nothing. The unbeliever can do no better than to eat, drink and be merry (Ecclesiastes 8:15). His sorrows take from him the enjoyment of life. For the Christian it is so different. His sorrows and afflictions have a great and glorious purpose.
This must encourage our hearts. We might be sure to teach this great doctrine to the people of God. God so loves us and has such great plans for us, that he will not allow us to go through life without affliction. Many modern preachers are teaching just the opposite by saying that God does not want his people to be afflicted, and that suffering only comes because we are not trusting God sufficiently. That is a wretched heresy which makes a suffering Christian feel miserable and guilty.
In our next article we shall consider some ways in which suffering works for our spiritual blessing. Of course, we cannot look at a suffering Christian and explain just what is happening to him and why, but we are given very precious insights in the Scriptures that greatly reassure our hearts when we are caught up in hard and painful circumstances. Please pray that we shall be men and women of understanding, able to encourage our own hearts in the Lord and also able to minister to others, as, sooner or later, we all face the tribulation that lies between us and heavenly glory. (Acts 14:22).
Article edited and re-shared from Grace & Truth magazine, issue №79(1996) , Nigel Lacey