This is the ninth and last in a series of blogs on common misconceptions facing Christians.
While we do partake in the sufferings of Christ, we must understand what this really means so we don’t needlessly endure emotional pain, anxiety, depression, and other ailments the Lord may want to heal. The disease in our bodies may be linked to the deception (lies and strongholds) in our minds and the sin in our flesh. Once we see these strongholds, we can begin, with Christ, to tear them down using the instructions of Scripture.
The purpose of suffering
God uses suffering to chasten us. The term chasten here means to send hardship, not to intentionally inflict pain for its own sake. This hardship reveals what is in us—what we believe. Most often, it reveals the lies that support our thinking. God may bring physical and emotional suffering to us so we’ll draw closer to Him. God is willing to remove our suffering, but He sometimes will not remove it if we remain bound by the lies and sin that cause it. He will work in us to allow suffering to have its perfect work. God, being sovereign, chooses what experiences we must walk through. He knows how to conform us to His image.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
We should not seek out suffering
Most of us are familiar with religious ascetics who actually seek suffering, sometimes deliberately inflicting physical pain on themselves. Even evangelical believers will punish themselves with long fasts or sleepless nights of prayer, all in an effort to please God. Believing this will help them conquer the sinful flesh, they identify with Paul’s comment, “I buffet my body.” But how can fleshly activities conquer the flesh? Clearly, this is not what the Bible means by “sharing the sufferings of Christ.” This mindset flows from a skewed picture of what God requires. Any technique that diminishes the finished work of Christ has missed God’s purpose.
Clearly, we all experience suffering in this life, including nonbelievers. But there is a certain frame of mind that gravitates to suffering, expects it, even relishes it. People may derive a false sense of pleasure from the belief that they’re “suffering for God.” They may even place themselves in risky situations to provoke the pain they crave. Most tragically, they miss the healing work that God would do in them.
Others wallow in a victim mentality, feeling sorry for themselves and thus avoiding the struggle necessary to change. They justify it all with the unquestioned belief that “I’m supposed to suffer. There’s nothing I can do about it.” Such self-pity is inconsistent with the hope the scriptures provide. These actions, too, are driven by strongholds in our minds. They leave us weak, helpless and unchanged.