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So how does this happen? How do we get out of ourselves, that old Adamic nature, and into the very nature of the Son of God? God's surgical tool for this is the cross. Suffering and the glory of God go hand in hand. Peter wrote, "Since therefore Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that has suffered in the flesh has 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 KJ2000)

Paul wrote, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in [into] us." (Romans 8:18 KJ2000) Regarding the mystery of the cross and suffering Madame Guyon wrote in a letter to another believer:

I cannot but wonder at the virtue that lies in suffering; we are worth nothing without the cross. I tremble and am in an agony while it lasts, and all my conviction of its salutary effects vanish under the torture, but when it is over, I look back at it with admiration, and am ashamed that I bore it so ill. This experience of my folly is a deep lesson of wisdom to me. Whatever may be the state of your sick friend, and whatever the issue of her disease, she is blessed in being so quiet under the hand of God. If she die, she dies to the Lord; if she live, she lives to Him. Either the cross or death, says St. Theresa. Nothing is beyond the necessity of the cross but the established kingdom of God; when we bear it in love, it is his kingdom begun, with which we must remain satisfied while it is his pleasure. You have need of the cross as well as I. The faithful Giver of every good gift distributes them to each of us with his own hand, blessed be his name! Ah! how good it is to be chastened for our profit!

We should point out here that asceticism is neither the self-denial nor the suffering that Jesus set forth as a condition for following Him. (Matthew 16:24) True self-denial denies both self-righteousness and self-torment. We have all seen pictures of faithful Shiite Muslims marching down the street in unison while they flog their own backs with chains in a public display as penance for their sins, but this act of asceticism has no power to remove sin. It has no more power to prevent its return than pulling up on your own boot straps. A public display of our piety only serves to feed the flesh and make it stronger with religious pride.

Self-righteousness must be crucified before we can be found in Christ. As long as we labor to be righteous by our own energies, we cannot know the righteousness that is of God. Paul wrote,

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11 KJ2000)

The things mentioned here by Paul that he had come to count as rubbish, were not gross sins of the flesh. He was not referring to smoking, chewing or going with the girls that do. So what were these things? The answer is in the previous three verses, Philippians 3:4-6. Here we see that confidence in the flesh is extremely religious in nature. "Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has reasons he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Paul's confidence in the flesh and those things that once distinguished him above his fellows as righteous and blameless are the very things he came to despise as worthless. All those things that were gain to him are now viewed as hindrances to be discarded for a greater prize. Religious prowess and exercise only builds up pride and separates us from God, for He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

". . . that I may win Christ . . . be found in him . . . That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings . . . If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."

We cannot stand in our own righteousness and be found in Him. These are mutually exclusive. The things that are gain to us must be counted loss for Christ. If we are to win Christ, be found in Him, and know Him, we cannot have our own righteousness, which is of the law. Only through the righteousness that is of God by faith—the righteousness that is through the faith/faithfulness of Christ—can we stand. Only then can we know the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, the sufferings that come upon us as we fellowship in Him. Jesus told His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18-19 KJ2000)

How are we delivered from self-righteousness to a living faith in the faith and faithfulness of Christ? How do we move from a law-based righteousness to a Christ-based righteousness? We find the answer in Romans chapter seven. Paul begins:

For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband dies, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband dies, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she is married to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you 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 passions 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, being dead to that in which we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:2-6 KJ2000)

Chapters 6 through 8 of Romans tell of our death, burial and resurrection with Christ. In Romans 6:7 we discover that only he who has died is free from sin. In chapter 7 Paul continues to explain the extent of this death as it applies to the law. To be free from the old husband (the law) and the righteousness which is of the law, someone has to die. The death that is required is our own as we identify in Christ's death. In chapter 8, with strong praise to God, Paul describes that resurrection life that is known only to men rescued from death into the resurrected life of Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 RSV)

Death to the old man in us is the answer. In 2 Corinthians we read Paul saying, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in [into] us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ." (2 Corinthians 1:5 KJ2000) Later he wrote, " For we who live are always delivered unto [into] death for Jesus' sake that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:11 KJ2000) We are delivered into Jesus' death so that Christ's life may become our life. Paul again wrote about this death saying, "Yes, we ourselves have had the answer of death in ourselves, so that our hope might not be in ourselves, but in God who is able to give life to the dead." (2 Corinthians 1:9 BBE) Death is the answer to life filled with sin and falling short of the glory of God. Paul could unselfishly say without remorse,

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12 KJ2000)

The ever present cross of Christ and suffering are the antidote to the flesh and bring about the release of the Spirit of God within us and life in others. Peter understood this when he wrote, "Since therefore Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that has suffered in the flesh has 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 KJ2000)

The cross is God's pruning instrument. It pares away everything in us that does not produce fruit unto Him. Jesus put it this way, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:1-2 KJ2000) Our Father prunes us with sufferings sent into our lives from His loving hands so we can bring forth eternal fruit unto His glory.

In our culture we do all we can to avoid discomfort and we do our best to run from suffering. Many religious people blame all suffering on the devil. We have a pain and we run to the medicine cabinet or the doctor. We avoid confrontation and discomfort at all cost. There is a pill for every ailment, most treating the symptoms without curing the disease. We buy insurance policies to hedge us in against anything that can strip us of our wealth. We seek comfort at all cost, yet this was not the way of the early church. They were witnesses of Christ's life in them regardless of the cost and counted it all joy to suffer for Him. (see Acts 5:41) James wrote:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. (James 1:2-5 MSG)

Trials are the work of the cross in our lives. They deal death to our old natures and should be embraced because of it. Is your husband or wife hard to live with and doesn't seem to appreciate you the way they should? Then throw yourself on the mercy of God and seek His wisdom on how you should handle it. Is your boss an ogre that never seems to appreciate your work, no matter how hard you try? Then cheer up, your self and ego are being crucified and you are being taught not to find your worth in what you do, but rather in who Christ is within you. Are you handicapped and bed ridden? Know that when you are weak, Christ is being made strong within you as you offer your sufferings up to Him as a living sacrifice.

Regarding suffering and pain C. S. Lewis wrote,

"We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn.'"
"God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain."
"But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Even Paul the apostle was warned by Jesus that following Christ would involve suffering. Jesus said of Paul, "For I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name's sake." It seems that this hard-headed Pharisee needed God's megaphone to rouse him out of his self-righteous deafness. Many of us are just as deaf to the wishes of God in our lives and need suffering to wake us up.

The great missionary who died a martyr in Tibet, Sadhu Sundar Singh, wrote,

"A newborn child has to cry, for only in this way will his lungs expand. A doctor once told me of a child who could not breathe when it was born. In order to make it breathe the doctor gave it a slight blow. The mother must have thought the doctor cruel. But he was really doing the kindest thing possible. As with newborn children the lungs are contracted, so are our spiritual lungs. But through suffering God strikes us in love. Then our lungs expand and we can breathe and pray."

In the letter to the Hebrews the writer tells us that suffering has a divine purpose and is a sign of a healthy relationship with our loving Father.

Looking unto Jesus the author 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. For consider him that endured such hostility of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks unto you as unto children, My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not? But if you be without chastisement, of which all are partakers, then are you illegitimate children, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh who 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 seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are trained by it. (Hebrews 12:2-11 KJ2000)

When we are chastened by the Lord and suffer in this life it is because we are His sons. Even in this, Jesus is the pattern Son. In Hebrews we read, "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 5:8-9 KJ2000) What makes us think that we are above our Christ and can avoid persecution and suffering? What makes us think that we will learn how to be obedient sons of God any other way?

Jesus told His disciples what they could expect.

And you shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee into another: for verily I say unto you, You shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man comes. The disciple is not above his teacher, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? (Matthew 10:22-25 KJ2000)

It is enough that we who are His disciples and servants be as our Teacher and Lord. This is the high calling of the sons of God. "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God."

Suffering in this life is inevitable. It can't be avoided. We can hedge our bets and surround ourselves in opulence, but even then suffering breaks through. It is the mercy of God that it does. What is important, though, is how we react to these events for how we react determines whether they will have attached to them a far greater weight of eternal glory. Our verse in Hebrews twelve is worth repeating, "All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised thereby." (Hebrews 12:11 WEB) Oswald Chambers said, "We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person... the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus."

Chip Brogden wrote:

It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Some things we do to ourselves, other things we do to each other. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling. What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man's experience drives him to curse God, while another man's identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens.

As Joy, the wife of C. S. Lewis, was facing death due to terminal bone cancer, Lewis was angry with God because of her suffering and the fact that he would be losing her. He had been able to write about suffering with that English stiff upper lip, but when it hit him square on in the suffering and loss of his wife, that was another matter. They had many a joyful time together before she had a relapse and became totally bed ridden. To his anger she said, "The pain then is part of the happiness now. That is the deal."

Suffering in our lives has a greater purpose than just being an interruption of our temporal happiness. To the Romans Paul wrote:

Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering works perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn't disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 WEB)

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