Another challenging truth that the Lord seems to be causing us to consider is suffering. It seems like the Lord wants us to include suffering as part of what He has determined for us?  Cheery topic for Sunday morning, huh?  Aren’t you glad you came?  Let’s start in Romans 8.

“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”  (Romans 8:12-17).

This is a wonderful passage, verses that we have read and heard messages from more than once, I’m sure, if we’ve been around for a while. If you haven’t been around for a while, what we often hear—and rightly so—is that we have been adopted as God’s own children and that we can call God Abba, or Daddy. We have also learned that we are fellow heirs with Christ, which is an amazing truth that I’m sure we won’t fully understand, well, maybe it will take eternity to discover what that means. We also, rightly, hear that if we live according to the flesh, we will die. Apart from theological issues about salvation that might raise, it is inconvertible true that if we sin, we will enter into a process of spiritual death.

Wonderful verses.

What we don’t often hear—at least, I haven’t—is that our inheritance seems to be dependent upon suffering with Jesus. And there seems to be a connection to our suffering with being glorified with Jesus.

However, this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Peter wrote, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21).

One of the things that concerns me about the evangelical church—and there are several—is that we become “intoxicated”—perhaps a better word would be toxified—by some aspects our belief system. A lot of that belief system I am fully on board with. But I fear that we have become more concerned about insuring the survival of our own particular expression of the body of Christ and its “growth” than we are about admonishing people, like Peter did, to live a life of sacrifice. Well, I guess it’s ok if the members live a life of sacrifice…

I believe that our culture can be toxifying, too. We have come to value—and I wonder if I should say, made idols of—security, stability and safety. Our ears have been made dull. We’ve become the third seed in the parable of the sower. The cares and the affairs of the world and the deceitfulness of riches have choked out the fruitfulness of the radical truth challenges of Jesus Christ. We’re alive, like the plant in that parable.

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God”  (1 Peter  4:1-2).

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake  (Philippians 1:29).

“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

Here’s an interesting passage from Acts:

“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”  Acts 14:21-22.

I don’t have any easy formulaic answers for these scriptural challenges. How does one intentionally suffer?  I’m certainly not advocating that we go about beating ourselves about the neck and shoulders with sticks. The best scriptural answer I have found is in 2 Timothy 2:3-7. I think it tells us how, when no one is actually trying to harm us for our faith in Jesus, we can, as Peter wrote, arm ourselves with the same way of thinking and follow in His steps.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

And, of course, we should think over what Paul has said, since we’re admonished to do so.

However, all of this starts with a denial of our selfishness.

Luke 9:23: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”

Our old nature is strong. We would prefer not to take up that cross. Let’s pray that He will help us to that, so we will be able to live the rich, full, blessed, reward-filled, godly, sacrificial life He has called all of us to.

And, deeper than that, is our motivation. There is only one motivation that will help keep our hearts pure, free from legalism, free from self-righteousness, free from pride. And that is that we love God more than we love our lives and this present world. However, we must ask for this love. We can’t generate it on our own.