“to know him and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, sharing in the sake kind of death as his —”
What does it mean to be “found in Christ”? It means that in the context of his imputation of righteousness to us, we come into relationship with him — we know him — and that knowledge gives us a promise of the resurrection to come. He who was raised from the dead will also raise us that we may indeed experience the power of that resurrection firsthand.
Yet, the power of the resurrection also comes at a cost. Paul writes of a fellowship of suffering and entering into a death that is “like his.” How are we to understand this death? Certainly, one must not die on a cross to enter heaven? So, what does Paul mean by this? As you continue to read the flow of Paul’s language, he explains exactly what he means by this — Paul means the putting to death of his sins and the things of the world that he might boast in. That means suffering, when God calls him to suffer, that he might be found faithful in service and grow more like Christ.
Yet, this notion of suffering is something that often is difficult for us to hear. We have been accustomed to the notion that we are to seek the comforts of life and that suffering is somehow undesirable. Yet, did not our Lord choose to suffer for us? Did not our Lord choose to die on the cross for us? And did not our Lord enter into glory through the pathway of suffering? If it was good enough for our Lord’s entrance into heaven, is it not good enough for us? Is not suffering often the way that God refines those who are most precious to him? As C.S. Lewis wrote in his Problem of Pain, if we ask for less suffering and not more, are we not asking God for less love and not more?
We live in a world where many Christians are dying for their faith. And, these Christian brothers and sisters count it their privilege to “enter into” our Lord’s sufferings. At the same time, in the west, we live in a world where, while there is comfort for those who believe, people and churches are apostatizing faster than can be counted. While it is quite true that the freedoms we enjoy in this western world have been a great and profound blessing to the church, particularly in the realm of discipleship (formation of Christian Schools, Colleges, Seminaries, Book Publishers, etc…), with that freedom there has also been a fertile seedbed for false teachers and lazy believers. Let us be neither, even at the cost of persecution, that we may guide the church in a way that willingly enters into Christ’s sufferings — internally as we put sin to death and externally as we face persecution.
“And Abraham said, ‘It was because I said, ‘no one fears God in this place and they will slay me over the thing of my wife.’’”
“For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give you a spirit of cowardice, but of power, love, and self-control.”
(2 Timothy 1:6-7)
How often believers fall into the trap of fear. How sad it is when those who should know no fear of the things that can destroy the flesh of this world succumb to the terrors that it seems to present. Even here, Abraham, the “father of the faithful” (Romans 4:11), falls prey (once again) to the fear of what will happen if Abimelek finds out that Sarah is his wife, not his sister. And rather than trusting God, he falls back into his old sin of half-truths to try and cover himself.
As Christians, though, fear is not a character trait that should mark us. We have a God who is Lord of all of the heavens and who reigns sovereignly over his creation. We are in his hands and not under the power of the hands of our enemies. What confidence that should give to us, what boldness we should have as we share the Gospel of truth with our neighbors, friends, and co-workers. We, of all people, should be going out and sharing our faith; yet how often we adopt a fortress mindset and retreat our Christianity behind the walls of our church buildings. How sad it is that Christians who know the power of God in their lives can then doubt that power so greatly that they become timid and fearful and do not speak the truth into the lives of those around them.
Loved ones, love God. And whether the people in our communities love and fear God should not stop you from sharing the Gospel. What is the worst they will do? Make fun of you? Try and ridicule you? Was not our Lord ridiculed and made fun of for our sake? Will they attack you and harm you? Was not our Lord beaten for your sins and for mine? Will they kill you? Indeed, they may, but why fear those who can only harm the flesh when the God of heaven has the power to destroy both flesh and spirit? Loved ones, there is nothing to fear… go, make disciples of all men by seeing them baptized in the church and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. There is nothing to fear from men.
Shall I, for fear of feeble man,
The Spirit’s course in me restrain?
Or, undismayed, in deed and word
Be a true witness for my Lord?