Discipleship and the Cross
“If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, If we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.”
There is a definite contrast between normal suffering and Christ-like suffering. Some say the story of a Christian should mirror that of Jesus. A Christian is to walk in the way of Jesus and is shaped and formed by Jesus making Jesus’ teachings not just dry words on a page, but concrete actions in reality. A Christian is not about hunkering down in a dusty, worn-out building praying for God to pull them out of the world, but getting out in the world, loving and serving others. A Christian does the hard things not for their own honor, but for the glory of God.
Christ-like suffering is deeper and more meaningful than ordinary suffering. It is other centered. It means to ease the suffering of another, to take on the concern of your fellow brothers and sisters. When we willingly suffer in place of another or take someone else’s need or feelings above our own and do what we can to improve a stranger’s situation or bring meaning to suffering than we are acting in Christ-like ways. When we replace ourselves as the center of attention, we are acting as Christ did. To be a Christian is to love the unlovable, include the excluded and ease the pain of the suffering not for any reward we may gain, but to glorify God. We do this not to win converts, but to show God’s unconditional love and grace for all of creation.
Leonard Sweet tweeted, “The church at worship is a mass protest against the prevailing order of things—the people of God set to upset the world.”
If we are having a bad day that is not suffering for Christ, but if we even for a moment or two take on the suffering or pain of another than we are suffering for Christ. It’s all about the degree of self. Our culture is more concerned about personal safety and pleasure and rarely looks towards another’s wellbeing. As Christians, we need to ask how we can make our brothers and sisters life easier and better. How we can make another’s way through life not as difficult.
People are hurting. They are out of work. Marriages and Families are out of order. Hearts are breaking over lost loved ones and broken relationships. People are sick and need comfort. Some are abusing their bodies. Some are hurting others. They feel lost and unloved. They feel trapped and hunted.
We need to do something. We need to the hands and feet of God. We need to show them Jesus, not with words and useless doctrine, but in actions that say, “You are loved, you matter.” That’s what it means to suffer for Christ. Being a Christian should matter and effect lives in a positive and transformative way.
Manning writes, “Power affects behavior; love affects the heart. And nothing on earth so moves the heart as suffering love. That is why the perfect expression of God’s love for us is the dying figure of Jesus pleading for someone to moisten his burning lips.”
Answering the call of Jesus is the most important choice each of us makes. We make this choice in multiple ways each day. Jesus said to pick up your cross and follow me, he didn’t say to fashion a cross for others and strap it to them. A Christian can no longer put one’s welfare before his needy brothers and sisters. This transforms the Christian and all involved. This is not easy and is not done by us, but what is “impossible for man is possible with God” (Matthew 19:26).
Sometimes we try to get out of the suffering.
If we have a proper surrendered attitude to God, we will step out in faith and do the will of God for our life. Jesus prayed in the Gethsemane to have the cup taken from his lips, he didn’t want to go to the cross, but surrendered to the will of God knowing it was what was required of him. Just as he did, we will need to surrender to the will of God in every aspect of our life. That too is part of Christ-like suffering.
There’s a Jewish saying that says, it is not your obligation to complete the task [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist [from doing all you can]. You will not be able to do it all yourself, but this no reason to stop what you can do.
Bonheoffer argues that two types of suffering face Christians is (1) abandonment of lusts/desires and attachments of the world and (2) bearing the burdens of others (including forgiving others).
When we abandon what we want for what God wants, forgive others when we want to punish them than we are suffering for Christ, no longer is our ego in control, but God is. We are never really in control, but sometimes we pretend that we are. This is a lie. Jesus is about shattering all false barriers that keep us from living an honest centered life.
Forgiving others is releasing the false notion that we are special and people need to be punished for treating us bad. When someone does something wrong correction is needed, but to punish is to dwell on those actions, to be trapped by the past. We forgive others in gratitude for the forgiveness and grace offered to us by Jesus’ work on the cross. Christians do not put themselves before others. Jesus was on the cross asked for forgiveness for those who put him there. He didn’t curse them, but forgave them. A key attribute of a Christian is forgiveness, because that is a key attribute of Jesus. When we center in on Jesus rather than our own petty concerns and desires and pray God’s will be done not ours and mean it that will produce a certain kind of suffering, but through this kind of suffering, we will transform into more Christ-like Christians.
Abandoning lusts and desires does not mean that we will not enjoy life, in some ways we will enjoy life more. By centering our lives on the values that God encourages will make life more carefree and simple. Anxiety for tomorrow only increases the undue pressures on our life. We need to live for today. As Jesus said, “why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” Matthew 6:28-30
Bonheoffer suggests that God did answer Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane… the cup of suffering would be taken from Christ by his drinking the cup.
Some say when you are going through hell keep going. Don’t stop. Keep moving. When in the midst of suffering if we listen to the darkness than we would wither and die. Some say to not doubt in the dark. If on the cross, Jesus had spit down on the Romans and cursed them, it would have ended differently, no resurrection. Drinking the cup in the midst of suffering means trusting that God has a reason for and a way out and it will be for the good.