Why Does God Require Christians to Suffer?
The inescapable message proclaimed by Christ and His apostles is that Yahweh has appointed unto men that they suffer many things in this life. This truth is affirmed through the most common image associated with Christianity; the cross. The cross is an instrument of suffering, leading to the death of the individual.
As has been demonstrated in the previous two chapters, Christ gave forth only one form of invitation. He invited men and women to “Come, take up your cross, and follow Me.” For those living in that hour when Rome used crucifixion as a form of capital punishment, it was clearly understood that what Christ was announcing was a call to embrace suffering.
The question arises, “Why does Yahweh require all who would follow Christ to experience suffering? What is the reason behind it?” The answer is found as we define the salvation that Christ provides for mankind.
I think the most common concept of salvation today is that Christ came to deliver men from the suffering of hell. Many Christians equate salvation with an escape from eternal torment. To them, being saved is the equivalent of receiving a “Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free-Card.”
I do not deny that being delivered from the Lake of Fire, which is also called “The Second Death” (Revelation 20:14, 21:8), is a component of the salvation Christ has provided to mankind, but it does not come near to defining the true nature of salvation. Other aspects of the salvation of Christ are revealed in the following Scriptures.
I John 3:8-9
The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
I John 3:5-6
You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Christ came to set men free from their bondage to sin. In the last chapter we looked at the parable contained in the nation of Israel being brought forth from a life of slavery and harsh servitude in Egypt. This stands as a type and shadow of the bondage all men experience. All who are born of the first Adam enter this world as slaves to sin. Like Pharaoh, sin rules with an iron hand over the lives of mankind and refuses to let them go. Unless God had sent a Savior, all men would remain in bondage to sin today. Christ came to set the captives free.
In his epistle to Rome, the apostle Paul describes this bondage of the natural man to sin.
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate… So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God! He has, through Yahshua Christ our Lord!
The salvation Christ has provided for men is primarily focused on delivering mankind from the sin’s rule over their lives. Prior to the appearing of Christ, no man had ever been able to break free from the shackles of sin. King David was described by Yahweh as “a man after My own heart,” but he sinned grievously, committing both adultery and murder. What a powerful hold this tyrant sin has over the lives of men! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
When Yahweh sent Moses to lead His people out from bondage in Egypt, Moses repeatedly entreated Pharaoh to let the people of God go. Pharaoh adamantly refused. Even when Yahweh struck Egypt with many plagues, Pharaoh remained intractable. He would not permit God’s chosen people to depart from his rule. So too do we see sin refusing to release mankind from its steel grip. No amount of entreaty will persuade sin to free men born under this bondage.
It was only after the blood of the Passover lamb was placed on the doors of the homes of Yahweh’s people that they were released. There is a profound message to be understood in this. Yahweh had told Adam that if he transgressed against His will by eating of the fruit forbidden to him, he would surely die. The Scriptures tell us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and “the soul that sins must die” (Ezekiel 18:4). This is an inescapable law.
Pharaoh stands as a symbol of the power of sin over the lives of men. Men have entered into bondage because they have sold themselves to sin. Our forefather Adam sealed the fate of all of his descendants when he sinned in the Garden of Eden. We were all “in Adam” when he sinned, and consequently we were all made sinners, and all became subject to death.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…
Mankind, in Adam, became subject to the law of sin and death. Pharaoh stands as a type of the mastery of sin over mankind. Pharaoh would not let his captives go free. He demanded that they spend their lives in service to him, and that they die in his presence. Yahweh, however, made a way for mankind to be set free.
Death, being a consequence of sin, could not be denied. The fact remains that “the wages of sin is death.” Yet, Yahweh would permit the soul of one creature to serve as a substitution for the soul of another. In the Old Testament we see this in the substitutionary sacrifices that Moses delivered to the children of Israel. A bull, an ox, a sheep or goat, or a bird could be sacrificed that the sin of man might be passed over. These animals had to be slain. Their blood had to be poured out, for the Scriptures teach that “the soul is in the blood.” Yahweh would accept the soul of these animals in exchange for the souls of men and women. These animals died that man might live.
Understand now, why Israel could not be released from bondage in Egypt until after the blood of the Passover lamb had been shed and placed on their doorways. The only escape from the bondage of sin is through death. The Israelites could either die for their sins, or someone else could die in their place. The penalty of sin must be met.
Pharaoh released the people of God the night of that first Passover, for their lives had slipped out of his control. The Passover lamb had died for them, even as Christ has died for us. His death became our death. Having died with Christ, sin (Pharaoh) no longer has any control over us. The penalty of death had been paid. By becoming partakers of the resurrection life of Christ the people of God are freed from sin’s bondage. This is the salvation Christ purchased for mankind.
You may say, “This is all well and fine, and I agree with it, but why must I then suffer? If the power of sin has been broken over my life, why must I also carry a cross? Was not the cross of Christ sufficient?” These are excellent questions, and they deserve an answer.
We become one with Christ by faith as we believe in His atoning work. When He died, we died. When He rose again from the dead, we were raised to newness of life with Him (Romans 6). All of this is symbolized in the ordinance of baptism. When we are placed under the water, our union with Christ in His death is portrayed. When we are lifted back out of the water, our union with Christ in His resurrection is depicted. Even as a person being brought out of the water will take into his/her lungs a breath of air, so too do all who are in Christ receive into their beings the Holy Spirit that they might have the divine life of Christ inside of them.
In Christ, men and women become new creatures. There is life where there was formerly death. A spiritual being has been conceived, and from the moment that we receive the seed of Christ into our beings it begins to grow, mature, and advance in conformity to the image of the Son of God. Yahweh desires that this process continue until Christ be fully formed in us and we attain to the fulness of the stature that belongs to Yahshua (Ephesians 4:13).
At the same time that a new spiritual creature is growing and advancing in us, the flesh has to be stripped away. Our physical bodies remain with us, and they still remain under the curse of sin. This is obvious, for death continues to work in our natural bodies. They are all decaying and growing old. What Paul declared in Romans chapter 7 continues to hold true. “In my flesh dwells no good thing. Sin dwells in my flesh.”
It is given to those who are born again of the Spirit of Christ to do two things. They must mature spiritually, and they must put the flesh to death. Only by putting the flesh to death can a new creation arise and be manifested before the eyes of God and all creation. This process of the life of Christ arising to maturity within us, while at the same time our old Adamic life is being reduced to nothing, is summed up in the following statement of John the Baptist.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
The apostle Paul expresses this two-fold process in the following manner.
Now those who belong to Christ Yahshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Christians are called to live by, and walk in, the Spirit, and they must crucify the flesh. This is where the cross enters into the lives of those who are disciples of Christ.
It would be difficult for any Christian to determine for themselves the best way to accomplish this two-fold goal. We are often blinded to the presence of sin in our lives, and we cannot kill what we cannot perceive. Nor, do we know the best manner in which to promote the advancement of Christ’s life within our beings.
Suppose God would ask you at the beginning of your life in Christ to design a path through your coming days that would promote spiritual growth and lead to the death of the flesh. Do you have the wisdom and understanding to design such a course? Of course not. None of us do. This is why God never asks such a thing from His children. Yahweh alone knows what experiences and circumstances will provide the optimum environment for our growth as sons of God. Therefore, He requires that all who come to Christ be prepared to surrender their lives to be led of His Spirit wherever He would direct. The invitation of Christ is “Come, take up your cross, and follow Me.”
Yahweh sees with perfect sight those things in our life that need to be put to death, and He also understands how to best promote spiritual growth. As we yield our lives to be led of His Spirit we will find Him ordering our lives so that we encounter those circumstances, trials, and provocations that will expose the sin in our flesh, while providing opportunities for the spirit man to rise up and put the flesh to death.
If you perceive the goal of salvation, to deliver men from sin’s rule over their lives, then you can understand the necessity of God leading all Christians down an afflicted path. Although Christ has purchased this deliverance from sin’s bondage, it must yet be manifested in our lives. There is a difference between being offered a gift and making it your own possession. Christ has redeemed us from sin’s dominion, but we must arise and engage in spiritual warfare in order to put every enemy under our feet. He has promised us that no enemy will ever be able to stand against us, whether it be fear, or lust, or anger, or covetousness, or pride, or any other thing. However, it is required of us that we take the victory Christ has gained for us and apply it to our lives.
The apostle Paul explained the purpose of afflictions and suffering in the lives of the saints. He stated that Christians are constantly delivered over to experiences of death to the natural Adamic life that the life of Yahshua can be displayed in us.
II Corinthians 4:8-11
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Yahshua, so that the life of Yahshua also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Yahshua’s sake, so that the life of Yahshua also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
If mankind is left to determine his own path through life, he will invariably choose a way other than that which God has determined for him. Most Christians choose an easy path, avoiding trials, suffering, loss, and persecution wherever possible. The entire body of teaching known as “the prosperity gospel” has arisen from the soul of man as it seeks comfort, abundance and pleasure above all else. Although such a doctrine is highly appealing to the soul of man, it will lead no one to maturity in Christ. The path that leads to life is afflicted, not one of uninterrupted comfort and blessing.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is afflicted that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
As I look back on the past 12 years of my life, after having yielded to follow Christ wherever He would lead, I observe an afflicted path. There is no better way to describe it. Yet, it has also been a path of tremendous grace. The Lord of life has walked with me the entire way. I am confident He will continue to do so. Like Paul, I want to finish my course with joy, knowing that there is a reward awaiting that is so far surpassing any of these “momentary, light afflictions” as to be beyond comparison.
People of God, if you do not accept the invitation of Christ to “Come, take up your cross, and follow Me,” you will never arrive at the glorious inheritance that awaits those who walk as overcomers. Can we not embrace momentary afflictions now to receive a far surpassing inheritance in Christ? As the apostle Peter put it, Yahweh has determined that we suffer “for a little while,” but the end He has in mind for His sons and daughters is glorious.
I Peter 1:6-7
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yahshua Christ…
I Peter 5:10
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
The past twelve years now seem to have been but a moment. When all is said and done, I too will confess that I suffered only “for a little while.” Christ is calling many more of His sons and daughters to yield their lives to follow Him in this hour. Yahshua is a compassionate Shepherd. He knows our weaknesses, and He is of very tender mercies. He does not desire that any should fall short of the high calling set before them. He is inviting many at this hour to become His disciples. Will you heed the call?