Suffering and Sanctification

The History Channel has a show called “Forged in Fire”. It’s a blacksmith competition. Four guys are given a limited amount of time to take a scrap piece of metal and turn it into a functioning knife or sword or some other weapon.

But the winner isn’t determined by just the appearance of the weapon. When it’s all said and done, the final step is for their knife to be tested. It has to chop a block of ice or a block of wood without breaking. It can be a beautifully crafted with intricate decorations, but the question is, will it stand the test? If the knife wasn’t forged correctly, if it wasn’t heat treated correctly, if there were unseen cracks or flaws in the blade, it will show when it’s tested.

As I’m watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities of the Christian life. Jesus found us on the scrap heap. He chose us, not because we had something to offer, but because He’s the Master Craftsman. He takes nothing and makes something. He takes what is dead and gives it life. He takes what is broken and makes it whole.

And He saves us for a purpose – to cleanse us from our sin and make us more and more in His image. And one way he prepares us for this purposes is through suffering. Just like steel being heated in the furnace so that it will bend under the hammer of the blacksmith, God uses every situation in our lives, especially our trials, our times of discomfort and suffering and pain, not to destroy us, but to soften us and mold us for His purposes.

That’s what 1 Peter 4:1-6 reminds us: Following Christ’s example, our response to suffering should reflect a growing departure from sin and a desire to follow God’s will.

1. Be ready to choose suffering for Christ over sinning.  (1 Peter 4:1-3)

When the Bible says, “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (v. 1a), it does not mean that suffering by itself is an evidence that you are perfect. Instead, it means when we choose suffering over sin, to choose pain or discomfort or rejection instead of disobeying God, that shows that we value something more than our flesh, more than our comfort, more than ourselves. We are valuing God’s will over our own will. When we choose to suffer for doing what is right instead of giving in to sin, that is a sign that our faith is genuine.

When a person becomes a Christian, whatever life we have left should be lived differently. Before, we lived to serve ourselves. Now, we live to serve God. And that’s really the essence of sanctification, of moving farther away from sin and closer to God. It’s a growing awareness and valuing of the person of Christ more than yourself, than the world, than sin. It’s seeing the truth of Christ’s infinite value and worth, and then living everyday in response to that truth.

2.  Be ready to follow Christ instead of sinful friends.  (1 Peter 4:4-5)

Christians in the early church who came from a pagan background, they would likely have family and friends who were not Christians. And when the person who is now a Christian would not join back in with the parties and the sleeping around and in laughing at the dirty jokes, not only were old friends surprised, but they would “malign” the Christian – that means they would verbally abuse them, make fun of them, slander their reputation. A life surrendered to Christ will be beautiful to some, and highly offensive to others. And that offense will often lead to rejection, persecution and abuse. And those who do so will be judged by God (v. 5).

We don’t take pleasure in the fact that people will be judged. Rather, this is a reminder for Christians who are suffering rejection and persecution, that God is faithful and just. Their suffering is not forever, and God sees it. It’s a reminder not to give in to the temporary pleasure of following sinful friends.

To give into the sin and temptation of my old life and my old friends is to reject Jesus and the new life He has called me to. But to submit my life to Christ will often means I must be willing to be subject to the rejection and slander of others.  Instead, follow Christ, who will judge the living and the dead, even if it means being rejected by friends.

3. Be ready to preach Christ, knowing that death is not the end.  (1 Peter 4:6)

Eternity awaits us all. Either eternal joy or eternal pain. And Peter is reminding the Church that this is why the gospel was preached, pointing to Christians who have died as an example, to know that even though they have died “in the flesh” in this life, they are not really dead, but alive in the spirit, like God is alive, because somebody preached the gospel to them, and they responded to the truth.

For the Christian, that’s an encouragement and a challenge: It’s an encouragement to know that through the good news of the gospel of Christ, that Jesus paid for our sin and through faith in Him we do not have to fear death, and we do not have to fear the coming judgment.

But it’s also a challenge. The reason we don’t have to fear death or the coming judgment is because someone shared that good news with us, and Jesus saved us. And knowing that this life is but a momentary blink, a tiny speck compared to eternity, those of us who know the truth of that good news, the truth that Jesus is the only one who can save us from the coming judgment, that should challenge us to share the gospel with as many people as we can, as often as we can.

 

This is our comfort, knowing everything we go through in this life, God has a purpose. He is molding you, stretching you, growing you, purifying you in the fire of your trial. Trust Him. Trust His masterful hand. He is bringing something good from this trial. Through our adversity, He is drawing you closer to Himself, to show you how much you need Him, and how much He loves you.

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