It is a great pity the yoke that the legalists and self-righteous have often put upon those who are going through times of suffering and hardship. They are precisely like the religious “friends” of Job, who, when God had in his good pleasure smote Job, circled around him like vultures seeking to pick the depths of his heart for some sin so that they could explain his sufferings according to their works-based theology. However, after God was pleased to remove his hand from the head of the righteous Job, he rebuked those fools who sought to explain the ways of God by the philosophies of men, and he, after sufficiently humbling Job, raised up his righteous servant in renewed splendor.
The case with us who are in Christ is no different than that of Job. Because of what Christ has done upon the cross and because of his righteous life, we who are in him are likewise counted righteous. For this reason, when we suffer as God’s children, it is never because we are being judged for some sin that we may have committed or some duty that we may not have fulfilled, for all of our sins, all of our shortcomings, and all of our judgment has been cast upon Christ fully and finally. Therefore when we suffer, it always has a much grander purpose.
For this reason, the apostle Paul declares in the context of his discourse on suffering that “For those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rm. 8:28). And this grand purpose for which these sufferings work together is the molding of us into the image of Jesus Christ–he who suffered more than any man could ever suffer (cf. Rm. 8:29, 30). For while many men have suffered hardships and have endured great tribulations in this life, none them have descended from the Throne of Heaven and have become as a slave, and none of them have been rejected as he was rejected, and none of them have been blameless and yet bore the sins of others. Yet Christ, though being God over all, suffered in this way, and we who are his followers are called onto the same path that he walked, for Christ declared, “He who would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24).
And what does it mean to take up our cross and to follow Christ? It means that we who are Christ’s followers will endure the same hardships that he endured. For the apostle Paul begins his aforementioned discourse on suffering writing, “[We are children and] heirs, provided that we suffer with [Christ] in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm. 8:16, 17). This means that we who are children of God will by necessity suffer as our Firstborn Brother suffered. Just as Christ was hated by the world, so shall we be hated by the world (cf. Jn. 7:7). Just as Christ was reviled and cursed by men, so shall we be reviled and cursed by men (Mt. 5:11, 12). Just as Christ suffered unjustly, so shall we suffer unjustly. Just as Christ was poor and lowly, so shall we be poor and lowly. Just as Christ was rejected by his own people, so shall we be rejected by our own people. And just as Christ loved deeply and yet was hated, so shall we love deeply and yet be hated.
Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors in Christ who loves us (cf. Rm. 8:37), in spite of the fact that we are being killed all the day long (cf. Rm. 8:36). For despite these sufferings and hardships in this age, we have the hope of the glory of God set before us. For when we suffer as Christ suffered, we are being made like him in all things, so that we might share in the Great Inheritance that is his. For if we are indeed Christ’s followers, our hope and desires are not in this world, but they are vested in the Kingdom of God, so that we might be like Moses, who, though the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and heir to the riches of Egypt, counted the reproach of Christ as greater riches (cf. Heb. 11:24). We likewise must consider the reproach that comes with being named with Christ as greater than the pleasures of this world, and, because of the riches of Christ and his glory, we should always rejoice knowing what is laid in store for us.
Therefore, dear brother or sister, do not let your heart be overcome by the venomous lies of those who teach that your suffering is evidence of your sin and disobedience, for, in reality, the opposite is the case. If you are indeed suffering while you are following hard after our Lord, you can rest assured that you are in God’s will and that God is using these things to refine you into the image of his most Beloved Son. God has much greater riches laid in store for you than the comforts, conveniences, pleasures, and esteem of this wicked age, and you should lift up your head in thanksgiving to him who saw it fit to refine you as gold.