by Mike Ratliff
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
The natural man in each of us wants to paint God as a combination of a spiritual Santa Clause and the Genie from Aladdin’s Lamp or at least a lesser deity whose will is subject to his. We tie our good works into how well our lives go. If we do good things then God will surely see to it that we don’t lose our jobs or we get a great raise each year or our health is good. Some even demand this and hold God accountable if He “does not come through.” Equity or fairness is our cry. Just look at our society. Even though it isn’t a reality everyone seems to demand that no one be offended or that everyone be treated fairly. This has bled over into the Church in the 21st Century.
Christians who are driven by their flesh are very superstitious. These folks are the suckers that the hucksters of the Word Faith movement prey upon. These folks give their money away to evangelists and faith healers hoping to be blessed. I remember when I lived in Tulsa in the mid-1980s that Oral and Richard Roberts were preaching “seed-faith” theology. That meant they asked people to send in their money to show their faith and in return God would bless them by multiplying their seed. In other words, send in some money and we guarantee you that God will give back to you even more.
The “Christians” who fall for this sort of thing could not know their Bibles very well. Are Christians promised a life of health, wealth and prosperity from scripture? Jesus said that our peace is found in Him while in the world we will have tribulation. The problem seems to be that these Christians don’t know that they are to take up their crosses, deny themselves and follow Jesus. Instead, they want ease and to be rich in the things of this world.
“The ancient and saintly fathers and theologians have contrasted the living wood with dead and have allegorized that contrast this way: from the living wood (the tree in the garden of Eden, Genesis 2:17) came sin and death; from the dead wood (the tree of the cross on Golgotha), righteousness and life. They conclude: do not eat from that living tree or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise you will remain in death.”1
The problem today seems to be that most Christian converts are not discipled at all or if they are they are not discipled correctly. They are not taught how deadly it is to remain in love with this world. They are not taught about how vital it is to eat of the dead tree.
“You do indeed desire to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of some tree. I will direct you to a tree so full that you can never eat it bare. But just as it was difficult to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult to enjoy eating from the dead tree. The first was the image of life, delight, and goodness, while the other is the image of death, suffering, and sorrow because one tree is living, the other dead. There is in man’s heart the deeply rooted desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from death where one has the sure source of life.
Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. It must not be self-imposed (as the Anabaptists and all the work-righteous teach); it is something that is imposed upon a person.”2
God’s ways are not our ways. Neither are His thoughts our thoughts. His ways are higher and always right. Our natural man sees the world and wants all the best it has to offer. It sees the cross and wants none of it. However, legalistic Christians seek to earn salvation by works instead of being justified by faith. Christians must learn the desperate need they have for bearing their own cross with patience.
Christians must be conformed to the image of the Son of God.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29 ESV)
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 ESV)
20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20 ESV)
17 and 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. (Romans 8:17 ESV)
8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:8 ESV)
If it was not necessary for Christians to become conformed unto the image of Christ then why so many passages like those above in scripture? From where does tribulation and suffering arise?
“Because the devil, a mighty, evil, deceitful spirit, hates the children of God. For them the holy cross serves for learning the faith, for [learning] the power of the Word, and for subduing whatever sin and pride remain. Indeed, a Christian can no more do without the cross than without food or drink.”3
We sure don’t hear that much anymore do we? If you are paying attention to what is happening today in the Church then you cannot be unaware of the Purpose Driven and the New Evangelism movements. It has actually become quite difficult in most communities in the US to find a church that has not been infiltrated then overrun by “men” who have brought the world into the “Church.” Their leaders would never preach or teach that Christians must be partakers of Christ’s suffering and of the cross. Why? They don’t want to drive away their “seekers.” Therefore, they teach a non-threatening “gospel” that requires no commitment.
“The touch of Christ sanctifies all the sufferings and sorrows of those who believe in Him. Whoever does not suffer shows that he does not believe that Christ has given him the gift of sharing in His own passion. But if anyone does not wish to bear the cross which God places upon him, he will not be compelled to do so by anyone—he is always free to deny Christ. But in so doing he must know that e cannot have fellowship with Christ or share in any of His gifts.
For example, a merchant, a hunter, a soldier risk so much pain for the sake of an uncertain gain and victory, while here, where it is certain that glory and blessedness will be the result, it is a disagreeable thing to suffer even for a bit, as Isaiah 54:7, Christ in John 16:20-22, Peter in 1 Peter 1:6, and Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17 usually put it, “for a little while,” and momentarily.
Notice how our adversaries, those torturers from the devil, are torn and divided in their teachings in so many ways that they fail to realize their hopes, since they must be concerned with so much peril and misfortune that they can never act for a moment with certainty or confidence. And these penalties and punishments are only temporal! How can I comprehend their guilt, namely, that without God and through the devil’s craftiness they, beset by an evil conscience, are eternally lost? Even though they are uncertain as to the outcome of their endeavor, they keep on rejoicing in a hope that is completely and absolutely lost, while we, on the other hand, have God’s unfailing promises for our comfort.
In short, since God is the same and the cause is the same, in which He has upheld the faith of all the saints so that He might be vindicated, God will not now, just for our own sake, be found a liar; nor are we to make a liar of Him. God grant, whether we do or do not believe, that He will yet defend His Word and surely help [us]. This demands great effort and care so that, in the first place, we turn our eyes from the might [of this world] and second, hold fast to the Word. Eve disregarded the Word and relied on what was visible, but a Christian, in contrast, disregards what he can see and holds to the Word. The godless do not do so but rely upon the emperor to uphold them in this world, but because they neglect the Word, they will be ruined and lost to eternity. In the year 1530.”4
We must not self-impose our own crosses. That is works-righteousness. Instead we must learn to bear with patience the cross that God gives us to bear. The tribulation that we experience is coming from our enemy but that is not our cross. Our cross that we are to bear through it is how we react to it. If we patiently, by the grace of God, endure the fires of tribulation then we are bearing our crosses and following our Lord because we are in fellowship with Him and with His suffering.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1Martin Luther, That A Christian Should Bear His Cross With Patience from Faith and Freedom (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 321.
2Ibid, p. 321.
3Ibid, p 322.
4Ibid, pp 322-323.