“You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” -Keller
There are often 4 kinds of people with 4 subsequent responses in times of suffering in life.
- The unbeliever
- The saved, but untouched
- The saved, and bitter
- The Christlike
Do you identify with Christ in his sufferings or do you reject them?
The first person is one who has heard the gospel, may even know some Christian lingo, but as the puritan Thomas Watson once wrote, “He carries Christ in his Bible, but not in his heart.” The Word has taken no root, he feels no conviction, he is not stirred by God’s Word, and is not troubled by sin’s presence. This person has no conviction, because he remains unconverted. Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is required for any God-honoring response in their times of suffering.
The second person cannot identify with the suffering of Christ because, perhaps, she has avoided identifying herself with him. She has chosen to be like the Apostle Peter. Instead of gladly associating herself with her Savior, she is ashamed of him. These are the people who praise God on Sunday, yet have no time for him on Monday. These are the people whose Bible reading plans are kept up only for appearances, but when asked by an unbeliever about why they go to church, they can only respond: “We’ve just always done it in my family.” Many in this category may even feel like they must pretend to understand suffering, but perhaps the reason they have never experienced suffering is because they have never truly considered the cost that comes with following Christ?
The third person, perhaps even you reading this, believe that you identify with the sufferings of Christ; but the real reason you are mocked, looked down upon, or stricken down is not because of your Christ-likeness, but because of your own refusal to surrender your life to him. These are those of us who profess that we are changed by our association with Jesus, while refusing to be changed by His Word. These people would stand proudly to say they are a Christian, and they are the same people who curse at their waiter for cold food, who complain incessantly while in line or bad traffic, who have nothing nice to say, but speak anyway. These are people in need of brokenness before God and an awareness of the weight of their sin, that they may look outside of themselves and see the glorious hope of their Savior.
Or perhaps, you identify well with the sufferings of Christ. Perhaps you are worn down, beaten, battered. You have tried to share the love and gospel of Jesus with your family and coworkers. You have been laughed at, belittled, scorned. Fear not beloved brother or sister, remember that the bruised reed, he will not crush (Isaiah 42:3).
Permit me to recall the words of the puritan Thomas Watson once more, “The soul is bruised enough when the love of sin is purged out.” May our identification with Christ in our sufferings not bring us to woeful despondency, but healthy reliance upon our understanding High Priest in God-glorifying humility.
(This post is loosely based on the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. Adapted from a sermon to New Hope Baptist Church in Louisville, KY; January 2020).