Suffering With or Without Christ

Michael Beck

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Paul contrasts the state of the believer before and after having access into the grace of Christ. Before, he is “without strength” to endure the suffering that come with tribulation; after, he can “stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Christ “died for the ungodly” so He could live in the redeemed and make them godly.

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:1-6)

When we were “in the flesh” (i.e., without Christ) we could not overcome the sufferings which inevitably produce sin and death.

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:4-6)

motions > Gr. – pathema > KJV – suffering 11, affliction 3, affection 1, motion 1

Once we are in Christ, our former way of dealing with suffering, is crucified with Christ. We are now called to serve God in “newness of spirit,” and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24,25)

The commandments in the law revealed man’s impotence to keep the law. The commitments of those under the law revealed man’s impotence to act righteously and godly when pressed with pain.

<<To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.>> I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue, LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. (Psalm 39:1-5)

sorrow > Heb. – ke-eb > KJV – sorrow 3, grief 2, pain 1 – pain (mental and physical), sorrow

Man’s spiritual weakness is revealed both through the law and through suffering. Even as the law was a schoolmaster to bring the afflicted/humbled to Christ, so suffering can draw the afflicted to Him.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. (Psalm 119:67)

Those who have been broken by their inadequacy to “suffer without sinning,” appreciate the part suffering has played in their life to bring them to their knees.

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71)

There are still “many” opportunities for us to be afflicted. Brokenness does not end when we get saved. The Lord has not promised us deliverance from all painful experiences; but He has promised us a “way of escape” whereby we can endure in a godly way all He permits us to go through.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all. (Psalm 34:18,19)

What was once Satan’s opportunity to harm us; is now God’s opportunity to heal us. Why? Because His grace is sufficient for us, and His power is made perfect in our weakness.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

Our “old man” (i.e., who we came to be while living “in the flesh”) was corrupt according to the particular wrong turns we took. Our character became ungodly through the repeated wrong choices in the face of suffering. Now that we are new creatures in Christ, and no longer in the flesh, we are called to learn Christ’s response to suffering.

But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (Ephesians 4:20,21)

Being “renewed in the spirit of our mind” involves finding a new, godly way of responding to the suffering we previously reacted to in an ungodly way. After a lifetime of programming ourselves to react in certain ways to life’s pressures and stressors we are now in position to be reprogrammed as we are confronted with the same types of events.

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Through accepting this process we are given the opportunity to “cease” from the sins of our past.

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 Peter 4:1,2)

Peter, who had once opened the door to Satan through his intolerance of suffering; came to understand Satan was neutralized when suffering was accepted as a means to godly transformation.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11)

The author of Hebrews attributes the “perfection” of Christ to His response in suffering.

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Even as the Son learned to hear from the Father in and through the most painful of experiences; we His brothers are to do the same.

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:10,11)

We were once lost sheep, finding our own way to deal with the pains of life. We are now in God’s fold. Christ is our good shepherd, who has gone before us, living and dying to enable our feet to no longer be lame and wayward. Every painful experience we face is an opportunity to grow up in Christ, and be healed of the damage we received when we were sheep without a shepherd.

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:9-13)

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.