When sin threatens, the bodily form of my suffering Savior at Calvary turns my heart from temptation to humility and resolve — for He bore all the sin that I commit. His death and resurrection made forgiveness of sin and salvation possible. My sin mocks the purpose for which He died.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:8)
The good news of such suffering is about the effect it has on resisting sin. As the Bible tells me, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
Yet I cannot focus on my sin or even on my part in resisting sin. If I do, I become obsessed with trying to win the battle instead of remembering that this battle has already been won at the Cross. My focus needs to be on Jesus and what He has done and continues to do in my life.
Also, I need to think the way Christ thinks about temptation, sin, and even suffering.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin... (1 Peter 4:1)
Temptation and sin can be appealing, but Christ didn’t think so. He knows how it appears to His eternal and holy Father. It is an affront to all that God is and deadly to those He loves. By arming myself in His way of thinking, I abhor sin and any allure to sin becomes disgusting, vile and repulsive in my mind.
It is the suffering part that is more difficult. I’m not a big fan and prefer comfort by far. However, Christ, the perfect and sinless Son of God had different thoughts about suffering. He used it to learn obedience.
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.. (Hebrews 5:8–9)
Jesus, though fully divine, was also fully human. Though always without sin and therefore always obedient, Jesus acquired knowledge and experience by living as a human being. He learned firsthand what it cost to maintain obedience in the trials of life. As He “increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52), successive temptations were no doubt more difficult to deal with. As He obeyed His Father, He “learned” fully in His experience what He no doubt knew in His mind. It is His lifelong perfect obedience that is the source for my obedience, the ultimate “perfection” of my spiritual life.
But this is established through faith and obedience in suffering. I don’t like that part. Learning to think about it as Jesus thinks about it seems as challenging as trying to leap across the Grand Canyon or swim from here to Southeast Asia. Even the relatively mild sufferings of my homework assignments this past week were daunting, but I realize that they too are designed to teach me obedience.
This also is about looking at the Cross, at the suffering of Christ. Nothing that I experience will ever be like that. This is why Hebrews 12:3 tells me to “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Consider what Jesus suffered and stop feeling sorry for myself. Consider what Jesus suffered for me and let the comparison stop my whining and efforts to escape even mild discomforts. Let the Lord teach me obedience, even it means being mocked, attacked by vile temptations, stricken in my physical body.
As Luther writes, I need to look at Jesus and say, “Ah, why shouldn’t I also suffer a little since my Lord sweat blood in the garden because of anxiety and grief? I would be a lazy, disgraceful Christian if I wanted to lie in ease while my Lord was compelled to battle with a painful death.”
Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude — a challenge indeed.