GRACE – THE CHRISTIAN’S STABILITY IN SUFFERING

Because of our destructive self-centredness most of us tend to interpret anything that happens to us as having some legal cause in ourselves. If something good happens we see it as the result of our merit or ability. If something bad happens we see it as an indication that we must have done something wrong.

When suffering comes, we hear people say things like ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ and we hear people commenting about the wrongness of ‘all those innocent people’ suffering when a disaster occurs. We see wrong-doing and suffering in a punitive cause and effect, tit for tat, relationship, and find ourselves confused when the apparently ‘innocent’ or ‘righteous’ suffer.

An understanding of the biblical grace liberates us from this legalism, this confusion and this spiritual and emotional pain which is added to our suffering.

In the kingdom of Jesus Christ grace, not merit, is the operating principle. Grace reigns [Romans 5:17]. Those who know Christ and his grace know that the law of sin and death, that damning, punishing principle under which every sin and every short-coming attracts a penalty, has been put aside forever  [Romans 8:1,2].

When suffering comes the Christian knows with absolute certainty that this suffering is not, and never again will be, God meting out punishment for sin.

Thus Paul, having referred to the ‘grace in which we now stand’ [Romans 5:2] states confidently: ‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings …’ [Romans 5:3]. Later he takes up the whole issue of suffering and repeatedly assures us that God is for us, not against us, and that nothing can ever again incur us in condemnation from God or separation from God; nor can any suffering ever again be legitimately understood as condemnation or separation from God [Romans 8:17-39].

Indeed, those who interpret our suffering as God being against us and try to force us to look for some sin in ourselves which has attracted God’s condemnation and punishment in the form of our suffering are booted out of court by this Romans 8 passage. Who are they, Paul asks, to condemn us when Christ our substitute has died for us and then risen again, and now represents us in the very presence of God? Who are they, Paul asks, who charge us with wrong-doing when God has justified [= acquitted] us? Are such people more just than God? Why do we allow such people to effectively demolish grace when God himself has enveloped us in his immeasurable grace in Christ?

Would God be so unjust as to send Jesus Christ to fully pay the just penalty for our sins [= grace] and then to exact further penalty from us in the form of personal suffering [= denial of grace]? Does grace reign only where there is no sin? Not so. Grace reigns, indeed grace is only meaningful, in the presence of sin. Only the sinner needs grace. If we claim to be without sin, even for a moment, we are claiming that we do not, for that moment, need grace.

And here is this amazing grace: that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can or will ever again indicate that something we have done is separating us from God. Are we suffering? It does not mean God has once again become our enemy. Are we suffering? It must never be understood as God punishing us. Are we suffering? It does not and cannot mean that we are cut off from God. Are we suffering? It does not indicate that God has turned a deaf ear to us because of some hidden or persistent sin.

Are we suffering? Yes. We all are in some form or other. That is the way it has been since Genesis 3 and that is how it will be until Revelation 21. Suffering simply is. [Romans 8:18-27].

Those who know the Lord Jesus Christ live with this amazing grace: that we can rejoice in our suffering because the Scripture gives us this absolute and liberating certainty: that this suffering has nothing whatsoever to do with punishment or retribution for some past or present personal sin. Grace, not our sin, calls the shots. Grace, not the law of sin and death, reigns.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2010