Joy in Suffering: It’s Not a Paradox

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings… (Romans 5:1-3 ESV)

A paradox on the surface, a treasure in reality

There’s this sweeping generalization that has plagued churches since time immemorial. That generalization is this: people who have been in church for years understand the Gospel. If you believe that is indeed a general trend, then you can call me a deviant case.

I’m a church kid. I grew up in one. Also, my family has been Christian as far as my memory recalls. However, this fact didn’t prevent me from spotting paradoxes in Christianity. I was in a fallout with my relationship with God from the latter part 2016 up to midyear 2017. Coupled with my fondness of Philosophy, I started to question paradoxes such as “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10) and contentment in hunger (Phil. 4:11-12).

It is only by God’s grace that the Holy Spirit has taught me what these glorious Gospel truths meant. God, in His sovereign grace, has also allowed painful experiences for me to have a grasp of it. As I write this, I wish to impart – to whoever is reading, searching, and even crawling for the ever so evasive joy – Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency amidst the lowest point of your life.

Enemies then, reconciled now

In Romans 4, Paul expounded on Abraham’s (and our) imputed righteousness, which is by grace through faith. Then he explains that, because we are now justified by faith, we have peace with God through the cross of Christ (5:1-2). Paul reiterates that this, our identity and state, is all because of God’s grace. Therefore, because of all these beautiful truths, we joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

The fruit of suffering

Now, it would have been already wonderful enough if the Apostle Paul stopped there. However, in verses 3 to 5, Paul doesn’t sugarcoat his addressees. He doesn’t cuddle them neither does he disillusion them. As Christians we are to partake in His suffering (Rom. 8:6-17; Phil. 1:29). This suffering was already happening with the Christians then and it is inevitable for every co-heir in Christ.

So that means this — if you are a child of God you will suffer. I can only imagine the change of moods of people who view Christianity as a fairy tale, a walk in the park on the way to heaven. I pray that, if you do believe in this watered-down version of the gospel, God moves in and shatters this notion. And then, may verses 3 to 5 be sweet mercies to your ears.

These verses are wonderfully sequenced; a purposeful link of causation that gives us overflowing joy and hope (which are packaged together) as we wait upon the Lord. Why do we rejoice in our suffering? Why do we keep looking to Christ despite our pain? Paul says,

…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (5:3-5).

First, our suffering is not in vain because it produces endurance. Because of God’s sovereign and faithful hand during your hard times, you develop a stronger faith. You become more persevering.

Second, this endurance brings about character. Some translations, such as NASB, reads “proven character.” The persevering of the saint, amidst his moments of weakness, is a stamp of authenticity.

Third, this authenticity forges hope. This gives us confidence of our identity in Christ.

Lastly, this Gospel-centered hope will not dismay us. Why? Because all these are brought about by God’s love residing in us.

Contrasting our tendency with God’s scandalous grace

In verses 6 to 11, Paul reiterates the Gospel. It’s wonderful how he highlights God’s faithfulness and unconditional love. He reminds us that before our justification, the loving sacrifice was already made. Even in our state of rebellion, Christ died for you and me.

Paul then contrasts human tendencies of “dying for.”

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person who would dare even to die (v. 7).

The righteous person here denotes an individual of great conduct. Perhaps an externally upright man. Paul says “one will scarcely die” for this type of person. On the other hand, people might only consider to die for someone who is good. Good person perhaps would mean a benevolent person who is well-loved.

That human tendency is in stark contrast with God’s love. His love covers us who are  neither righteous nor good, but sinners – in fact, great sinners.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (v. 8).

He uses this as a springboard in the next part of the text, which is meant to give hope. After verse 8, he reminds us that God remained indescribably faithful and loving while we were still His enemies. Then, how much more now that we are of His fold? If God manifested grace upon grace in our state of being children of wrath, how much more now that our identity is in Christ?

Take heart, Christian! Your God is more devoted to you than you will ever be with Him.

Romans 5:1-11 gives us assurance and hope, whilst maintaining our joy in the middle of inevitable suffering. We are reminded of our justification in Christ, our hope-forging suffering as His co-heirs, and God’s faithfulness in carrying out His promises.

Indeed this is a paradox if we don’t understand the good news. Even if we do understand, we Christians need His daily mercies to remind ourselves of these glorious truths. Not only is our God more loving than we will ever deserve, our God is more devoted to us than we will ever be with Him (see Isa. 49:14-16). He shows this by prizing His glory above everything, including our suffering.

We fixate on Christ. He is supreme – over all our sufferings. He is sufficient – in our sufferings. He is faithful – to finish all our sufferings in his time.

Take heart, Christian.

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