Suffering with Christ Is Denying Ourselves
“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.”
We often think that to suffer for Christ means going out and being persecuted or martyred, and it most certainly can mean that. But suffering for Christ means carrying your cross, it means truly dying to ourselves, denying the self in all areas of our lives: our ideas, desires, ambitions, dreams, imaginations, wills.
We enter into Christ’s suffering only when we bring the whole person of our will, mind, heart, and actions into submission and obedience to Christ, who likewise lived before His Father. Every single area of the human existence must be sanctified, and we must be willing to do this great work, and pay the cost to do so. "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 Pet 4:1-2) This is the heart that truly loves righteousness.
This could mean being denied food in some prison cell because of persecution, but it also means denying ourselves selfish ambition, conceit, worldly fellowship; suppressing hard thoughts against God, denying and subduing our lusts, conquering the mountain of hate and indifference in our hearts, becoming truly Christ centered in our minds, having them transformed according to the truth of God’s Word, believing the truth about God at all times, trusting God, walking in holiness and putting off all sin, choosing to be faithful to Christ in all circumstances, in all conversations, relationships, actions, thoughts, desires, ambitions, loves… At its centre, it is about constantly denying our own selves so that Christ might be treated rightly—as He deserves. And in this denial of sin and self, we instead love God with all of our heart (affections and desires), soul (will), mind (thinking and beliefs), and strength (all physical actions, what you do). We constantly combat everything that arises in ourselves against the glory of Christ and bring it into subjection. Everything. Not some things, but everything.
Suffering for Christ is something every believer in every situation will face because it is rooted in the daily denying of ourselves for righteousness. Suffering for Christ is rooted in being faithful to Christ in all things, choosing Him always in every place, and always paying whatever cost to do so. This is what it means to deny ourselves for Christ’s sake, and suffer with Him. We may suffer in a prison cell or simply suffer the loss of our vain “dreams”. The defining characteristic is not merely the circumstance, but being of what is of Christ, and the refusal of all else that is not of Him.
It is important for us to understand what suffering for Christ is rooted within, because it keeps us from many errors. One error is being overburdened by any obligation, and not having the freedom and power to discern our accountability to take on only what is of Christ and reject what is not. Another error is inventing our own crosses and persecutions—we go and stir up our own conflict or jump into any conflict because we believe this has meaning and purpose, and think any conflict we choose is somehow of Christ. Another error is not being content, failing to realize that discontent and ambition are quick ways to destroy the little peace we and others can enjoy in this life, and we are guilty, not heroic, when we choose “suffering” from such motives. Another error is living for our own views about things; many of us elevate our views about politics, justice, morality, family, education, or medicine (the list goes on!) so they are competing with our loyalty to Christ and hindering the Gospel, as we try to tie these things with our own personal agendas. We are either too quick to take on any suffering, failing to realize it must be of Christ (Matt 5:11), or we are slow to take on any real suffering, to be faithful to live for Christ and His Gospel at whatever cost. Often the Christian can idolize living some “great life for Jesus”, and they fail to see how significant it is not to be “great” but to be holy. How trying to be great is actually a refusal to simply love holiness, and live after this alone. That we prefer some great name for ourselves over a life lived in righteousness. Or, the Christian comes to see that they’re to live more contentedly and they deceive themselves into thinking they’re simply obeying this, when they too have cast off the standard of living a holy life. They say, in effect, “If I can’t live to be great, at least I can live an easy life,” and they seek to please themselves, thinking that this is the “peace” they’re meant to enjoy, rather than be rebuked for.
The believer must be so willing to live for Christ that they truly are willing to pay all things for Him. Not some Hollywood movie’s version of this, but God’s version, holiness’s version. The version in which the things we pay look so small to the natural eye, where our fight is against the evil in our own hearts. Where we suffer the loss of the desire to be great, or greater than other Christians, the desire to appear as some hero. Or the desire to live an “easy” life, living after our own ideas, morals, or “dreams”. Both “sides” of error have a great cost to the Christian living rightly within the things of God.
The Christian must love righteousness so much that this alone is what they are truly living for. For Christ, with Christ, acknowledging and accepting the cost because He has paid far more for us than we are asked to pay, and we are not our own (1 Cor 6:19-20). And this is the the self denial we are called to. Ready to suffer the loss of all things for the surpassing worth of Christ (Phil 3:8). Not merely physical, but of the heart. Willing to suffer the loss of our desires, to suffer through the furnace of having our minds transformed, to suffer the great fight of bringing ourselves into obedience to such things as prayer, Bible reading, and worship. To be truly willing to love God with a whole heart, and love others as ourselves, fighting daily for such a heart.
When these things are our motives then we begin to see where the right physical sufferings are. We spiritually understand what it means to pray for and love our enemies, and what this doesn’t mean. We understand where persecution is and where it isn’t. Where we are to deny ourselves for Christ’s sake in each area of life. And yes, we will see where we must be willing to physically suffer persecution, imprisonment, torture, and even death for Christ. But there are a thousand degrees of change in the heart, many things of suffering that we should be bearing up each day even without these physical circumstances being the case. And if we saw this, and took up this cross as the great work it already is, we would stop creating new crosses or wasting our sufferings or coasting in apathy. We would enter into the true suffering of Christ along with every brother and sister in Christ and walk the long road faithfully.
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Heb 10:36)
September 20, 2021