The Joy of Sharing in His Suffering
OCTOBER 7, 2023
by Voddie Baucham
Suffering as a Call to Repentance
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that we pay for our own sin; Christ did that. Nor am I suggesting that God is a scornful judge who sits on high waiting for us to mess up so He can rap us across the knuckles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our God is a benevolent, loving, patient Father who loves His children deeply. What I am suggesting is that our Father does not always rescue us from the consequences of our behavior.
For example, there are Christians who have gone to jail because they broke the law. There are also Christians who only get to see their children every other weekend and six weeks in the summer because they broke their marriage vows. There are Christians who flunked out of college because they wasted their time and talents. In these cases and others like them, God does allow believers to suffer the consequences of their sin.
Just imagine the alternative. If God did not allow sinning believers to suffer the consequences, at least three aspects of the Christian faith would be fundamentally and irrevocably changed. First, the decision to come to Christ would be clouded by a desire for a consequence-free life. Many people, seeing the lives of Christians and realizing that they got away with everything, would come running to Christ, not for forgiveness of sin but for relief from sin’s consequences!
The second thing that would change would be the complete removal of all accountability in the lives of Christians. The man who cheats on his wife would never be found out. The child who lies and steals would never get caught. The pastor whose life is inconsistent with the righteous requirements of his office would never be discovered. Holiness and sanctification would be meaningless words.
Third, and most important, God’s character would be violated. The fact of the matter is, God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If God removes the consequences of a person’s sin in order to demonstrate His sovereignty or to accomplish another goal, He is being merciful. However, if God removes the consequences of every believer’s sin, He is not acting according to His revealed character. If a Christian drinks and drives and God shows him or her mercy and they neither hurt another person nor go to jail but instead gain victory over their sin and tell others of God’s goodness, then God has mercifully used their sin for His glory. However, if God only allows non-Christians to have wrecks and get arrested as a result of their sin in this area, the rain is no longer falling on both the just and the unjust.
Suffering as a Means of Building a Testimony
Sometimes the purpose of our suffering is not just our growth or even our identification with Christ. Sometimes the purpose of our suffering is the story we get to tell. Nothing speaks more powerfully to our faith in Christ than our attitude toward the trials in our lives.
John 9:1–5 illustrates how God sometimes uses our suffering in this way. Jesus and His disciples encounter a man who was born blind. His disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This question betrays their theological inclination to view all suffering as a direct result of personal sin. Jesus, however, has a different explanation. He says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”