You Are Called to Suffer

It is common to hear some Christians say that suffering is not something that should happen to God-fearing people. In some contexts, it is argued that suffering is a sign that God is not happy with you. Those experiencing any form of suffering are told that if only they trust God, he will take it away. Is this practical?

We all know that suffering is part of the human life, as long as Jesus tarries. The question is not whether we are to suffer, but how we should suffer. A most practical way to face and persevere in suffering without cursing God, as Job’s wife asked him to do, is to have right beliefs. It is best to embrace what Scripture says to us about suffering, and to affirm it when suffering does come. The starting point for this practice is first of all to accept the fact that as followers of Christ, we are called not to a suffering-free life but rather to expect it. What is the evidence for this?

  1. Suffering along with faith is God’s gift to us (Phil. 1:29).
  2. According to Peter, suffering is what we have been called to (1 Peter 2:20-21).
  3. Suffering provides us with an opportunity to make a defense for what we have believed (1 Peter 3:14-15).
  4. Suffering dishonor for the sake of Christ’s name is worth rejoicing over (Acts 5:41).
  5. True children of God will suffer, and we must suffer with Christ in order to enjoy eternity with him (Rom. 8:17).
  6. Suffering purifies our faith and prepares us for glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7; Rom. 5:3).
  7. We are destined for affliction, and those who hear the gospel must also hear that they must expect affliction (1 Thess. 3:3-4).
  8. Our suffering testifies to God’s power (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
  9. We are not better than Jesus, who suffered for us not because of any sin on his part. If he was persecuted, how much more his followers (John 15:20)?
  10. We have the example of Jesus to follow in suffering (1 Peter 2:21-23).
  11. Our sufferings become a means of comfort for fellow believers (2 Cor. 1: 3-7).
  12. Suffering causes us to rely not on ourselves but on God who delivers us (2 Cor. 1:8-11).

The next time someone says to you that suffering is not your portion or that God does not want his children to suffer, tell them to get behind you for they are not speaking in accordance with the truth of Scripture. Those who shun suffering in the name of spirituality may find in the end that they have no place in the kingdom of God. It is indeed through much suffering and affliction that we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

You are I are called to suffer and to honor God in our suffering. We will suffer well (for the glory of God) only when we focus not on our present temporary afflictions but on the reality of our future glory (2 Cor. 4:17-18; Rom. 8:18).

May God grant us to suffer well like Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Present Suffering and Eternal Glory

In the last post, we asked the question, “Can we speak like Paul in 2 Cor. 4:17-1?” On an even deeper level, what moves a man to speak the way Paul did? This is what Paul wrote:

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

What is it that enabled Paul to respond to affliction in this manner? In the context of this passage, Paul is surrounded by many trials (read 4:8-11). Yet, he describes them as “light momentary affliction” which “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.” Lloyd-Jones puts the question like this; “What was it that made him to write in this way and manner? What is the explanation of his ability to face all these things?”

According to Lloyd-Jones, Paul could speak this way simply because he was a Christian and not because he was a great apostle. But what does that mean? It means that any Christian (a person who has a totally new view of the whole of life because of his or her faith in the Lord Jesus) can speak this way. Before Paul was a Christian, he could not speak like this in the face of trials. In Christ, his life and worldview changed. He became a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Now he sees everything in light of Christ. Those in Christ do not get stuck with the little things of life, no matter how hard, but they strive to see them from the whole picture of the Christian life. Faith looks not only at the individual situation at hand but at the whole picture. That is what Paul did and why he could say what he said. He did not only look at the afflictions, but he saw that they were momentary, and that there is an eternal glory for believers. This affected how he responded to his present affliction.

As a Christian, Paul, through the lense of the gospel, saw that life is for a moment. Unseen things are eternal while the things that we see are temporary (4:18). Though life is long (100 years at most), those with a Christian worldview know that it is momentary. Paul also had a view of affliction that is gospel centered. He listed all his trials and then called them light. Does that make sense? There is no doubt that what he listed is enough to send one into depression and to despair of life, yet Paul calls them “light.” As Lloyd-Jones points out, we are wrong to use the word “light” focusing on the afflictions themselves. There is no denying that they are heavy things that he described. In what sense, then, are they light? Lloyd-Jones answers, “What he says is that they become light when contrasted with something else.”  Look again at verse 17. Lloyd-Jones explains that it is like Paul puts all his toils, troubles, problems, and tribulations on one pan of a scale and the weight is heavy. Then, he puts on the other pan of the scale “an eternal weight of glory,” which overbalances the weight of all his afflictions. No matter the weight of his momentary afflictions, when compared to the future glory they become as light as a feather.

So, Paul could respond to affliction the way he did because he had a glimpse of future glory. He understood that what awaits him in the future cannot be compared to anything he has suffered. He understood that because of what the gospel has done in his life.

Christians can speak like Paul when they have gotten a glimpse of glory through the gospel, and have a new view of life. They look not on what is seen  but on what is unseen. What is seen is temporary (including afflictions) but what is unseen is eternal and far better. Paul says, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Paul’s secret according to Lloyd-Jones is that, “He sees into the glory by faith.” That too can be our secret in the face of adversity, learning to see into our future glory by faith. Like Paul, we can always weigh our afflictions against our “eternal weight of glory” and we will always find that glory outweighs affliction.

What are some practical ways that we can face present sufferings in light of our future glory? (See next week’s post).

The Real Acid Test of Our Profession of Faith in Christ

In the last post, I noted that Martyn Lloyd-Jones lists and rejects three possible acid tests for one’s profession of Christianity. Having rejected those, what is the real acid test?

The answer for Lloyd-Jones is found in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18;

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

This passage, according to Lloyd-Jones, includes the other three tests, covers them, and guarantees them. Thus, he says, “I am suggesting that the acid test of our profession is our total response to life, to everything that takes place within us and around us.”

The real issue is not what we say we believe, how upright we are, or what experiences we have had. The real test is our response at that moment when we are face to face with end of life situations. What is our reaction when facing “a disease that brings us face-to-face with time and eternity, with life and death?” The acid test in these situation for us in situations is “what we feel, what we say, and what our reaction is . . .” when facing a possible life-ending situation.

But how does this answer relate to the 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 passage? In the context of those words by Paul, he is facing many troubles and trials. Even then, Paul could say, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Lloyd-Jones then asks, “Do we react like that as we look at the worst, as we look at life at its darkest and its starkest?”

This is the ultimate test because it brings out our orthodoxy. Only those with right belief about God can speak like Paul in this passage. Those with only right belief will turn away in hard times. It covers morality because we continue to trust and obey God in crisis. It covers experience because only those who have experienced the new birth can speak like Paul. They have truth living in them.

This being the real test, the question for us is, “Can we speak like Paul?” Even before answering, we must seek to understand what is it that moved Paul to speak this way, and how it can be an example for us?   (See next post).

[1] This sermon can be found in a recently published book, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on The Gospel and the Church, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 11-27.

How Can You Know Whether You Are A Christian?

Even without saying it out rightly, one of the weaknesses of the human heart is to pass judgment on others as to whether or not they are Christians. Sometimes we even ask that question of ourselves. Sometimes these judgments/questions are based on expectations that the other person has not fulfilled. Some examples are: committing particular sins, holding to certain doctrines, or lacking in “required” experiences.

If there were a test to see if one is a Christian, what would that be? Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers this question in a sermon, “The Acid Test.”[1] He asks the question, “What is the acid test of any man or woman’s profession of the Christian faith?” He lists and dismisses a number of possible tests. For example:

  1. Test of orthodoxy (right belief). If one does not believe certain things he cannot be a Christian. This is a true and important test BUT Lloyd does not accept this as the acid test. Why? “It is quite possible to be perfectly orthodox and yet to be spiritually dead.”2
  2. Test of lifestyle (morality). One can claim to believe all the right things but is that person moral? While morality is an essential part of the Christian faith, Lloyd-Jones rejects it as the acid test. Why? “There are many men and women who live highly moral and ethical lives in this world, . . . yet who cannot be called Christian . . . because they deny God himself.” Morality is necessary for the Christian life but it cannot be the acid test of our profession of faith.
  3. Test of experience. That is, anyone who can clearly testify that he has come through some dramatic experience that has made him a new person. The experience of being born again is essential as well but it cannot be the acid test. The reason is that there are a growing number of cults (and some churches) that give people experiences, but do not fear God.

With the rejection of these three tests, what then is the acid test of our profession of faith?  See next post.