“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus
Christ.Through him we also have obtained access
by faith into this grace in which we stand and we
rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1
In this blog, we will examine how the Gospel not only causes us to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God but also to rejoice in our sufferings. One of the ways we can measure whether or not we are participating in the freedom the Gospel produces is by examining our attitude towards our sufferings.
Most religions teach their adherents to endure suffering. Christianity differs from the others in that it doesn’t merely teach its adherents to endure sufferings but to rejoice in them as well.
How does it give such instruction? Equipping the believer with the knowledge that God uses sufferings to form godly character in his people. Paul starts by telling the Roman church that suffering produces endurance. The text’s English word ‘endurance’ is the best translation of the Greek word hypomone. That word is used by the writer of the book of Hebrews at the end of chapter ten to introduce what is known as the Great Faith chapter (“for you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised” Hebrews 10:36). The theme of that chapter is not merely that God’s people must have faith. Still, believers must have the quality of enduring faith.
Knowing that only by having this quality of endurance can true Christian character be developed, the believer can rejoice in their difficulties. The Gospel sweetens all of life, including the most extreme difficulties we face. This was especially true of the apostles Jesus had chosen during his earthly ministry. He had to prepare them for suffering, including its ultimate form—martyrdom. Here is what he told them in the upper room before He suffered an excruciating death for their sins:
I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out
of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is
offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known
the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told them to you. John 16:1-3
The reality that they were called to suffer, even, at times to the point of death, prepared them to endure suffering in lesser ways. Their ability to suffer was informed by their deliverance from the fear of death, as the writer of Hebrews made clear:
Since, therefore, the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook
of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power
of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were
subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15
But there is another way that the gospel frees us to deal appropriately with suffering. It delivers us from thinking that our sufferings are a form of punishment. That was precisely what some of Job’s friends attempted to convince Job of; his sufferings were evidence that he had sinned and was paying for them with his ailments. But God corrected this notion making it known that Job’s sufferings had nothing to do with the fact that he had sinned.
That is not to say that sufferings are never the result of sin. Scripture teaches that, at times, they can be. One example of that is the fact that some of the Corinthian church members were physically sick due to their taking the Lord’s Supper improperly (“that is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (I Corinthians 11:30, italics mine). And the general teaching that sin might, at times, result in sickness is revealed in the words of Jesus to the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda (“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” John 5:30). So while as a general rule God does not cause sickness to come upon a person for punishment for sin, there are times where he might use sickness to punish a person for sin.
How can we be assured that God isn’t punishing us for sin? For the simple reason that God punished the Lord Jesus, who “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). The Lord Jesus purchased me by means of his precious blood, and I am now righteous in his sight. So, although the believer must suffer in this life, these sufferings are not punitive in nature but are opportunities to become more Christlike. Glory be to God.