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Suffering is ‘intrinsic component’ of Christian faith, speaker says

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Every Christian, because of his or her union with Christ, is called to suffer, a worker with the International Mission Board said during the 22nd annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference.

The New Testament makes it clear that everyone who is called by God to salvation also is called to sanctification and service as well as suffering, the worker said. It is just as certain as their salvation that suffering will come to every Christian but it is always for their good and God’s glory, he said.

The IMB worker, who works in a restricted access area and cannot be identified for security reasons, was one of the keynote speakers at the July 13-16 conference at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., with the theme of “The Fellowship of His Sufferings.”

Founders is an organization founded in 1982 for the perpetuation of historic Calvinistic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention often referred to as “the doctrines of grace.”

“If we are called to salvation, sanctification and to service, we are called to suffering in each one of those things,” the worker said. “It is an intrinsic component of every one of them. Suffering is part of our calling to salvation. Suffering is a consequence of our relationship with Christ. It is a consequence really of our union with Him.

“The call to suffering, like God’s call to salvation, is always effectual. It is the inevitable part of any believer’s life. The call to suffering is also irrevocable [and is] a normal part of the Christian life. In fact, [the Apostle] Paul even goes so far as to call it a gift. It’s a blessing. It is hard for us to bend our minds around this [idea] that the call of God to suffer is a call to blessing.”

Scripture also makes it clear that God is behind the sufferings of His people, the worker said. Suffering never falls outside of God’s sovereign will and control. It is part of His wise but often mysterious plan for all believers, he said.

“It is God who calls us to suffering,” he said. “It’s His sovereign initiative, based on His sovereign wisdom and His immutable purposes that we, as the children of God, should suffer.

“So, this call to suffering is right, it’s holy, it’s good. He knows what He is doing. It reflects His wisdom and His character that when He calls us to suffer, it is the right thing for us to do.”

While believers may seldom know why they are going through fiery trials, the Bible gives several reasons why God allows His children to enter the red-hot cauldron of suffering, the worker said. Suffering may or may not be God’s punishment for a particular sin and it often occurs simply because we live in a fallen world, he said.

“There are many passages in Scripture that warn us against [making] too facile a connection between suffering and particular sin,” he said. “It may be but it may not be. Simply because we live in a world that we, as a race, have messed up by our rebellion against God, there is suffering that we may experience just because we are in a messed-up world.”

Sometimes suffering does come as a consequence of sin and may serve as discipline from the hand of our loving Father, he said. However, he cautioned believers against trying to discern the judgment of God within the lives of others.

“It is always wise, when you are the person suffering, to ask yourself the question, `What is God trying to tell me through this?’” he said. “Sometimes I believe God allows suffering to come into our lives as a warning to us…. I am a sinner and, just as I discipline my children for their own good, God may be doing that to me.

“It’s seldom wise to apply that to someone else’s life without incredible care and discernment but it is always wise to apply this possibility to yourself.”

Suffering also comes because the world system — which has set itself in rebellion against God — regards Christians as traitors and outcasts who swim against the current of “conventional wisdom,” the worker said. Christians should be alarmed and must examine themselves if they are not facing at least a measure of opposition.

“The world hates us because it hated Jesus,” he said. “There is an inevitability to that. And where there is no sense of being out of step or out of kilter with the world around us, that should be cause for tremendous alarm.

“Where there is no opposition, where there is no suffering of any kind, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why does the enemy regard me as so impotent that he can leave me alone? Why am I able to be in a fallen world without experiencing any opposition?’ There is opposition because of our union with Christ, because the world hates Christ and because the world is threatened by Him.”

Above all, suffering often is God’s instrument for sanctifying His people, the worker said. It is actually a manifestation of His matchless grace that God has called believers to share in His sufferings.

“God often uses suffering in our lives so that it very graciously begins to wean us away from our affections for the things of this world,” he said. “Suffering is a component of service. When you seek to serve Christ, there will be some component of suffering to it.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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