Words have purpose. When words are used either frequently and/or in the wrong settings, they tend to lose that purpose and all meaning associated with them. An observable example of this is when we call customer service centers for support; they’ve told people to “Please hold, we will be right with you” so many times, that “be right with you” can mean anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. Or think about how often we use words like “literally,” “starving,” or “explode.” “I’m literally going to explode from starvation if…”
No, you’re not.
In a similar fashion, today’s evangelical ghetto has lost its understanding of the word “salvation.” We often speak of “salvation” as equatable to our justification, that is, being “saved” and now in a right standing before God because of the work and sacrifice of Christ. The problem is, these two words are not equatable. Salvation does not simply mean justification or “saved.” It means so much more. We will only truly understand salvation when we understand all of who Christ is and all that belongs to him.
Our justification is only one part of our salvation. Some have spoken of this as not only understanding what we are saved from but what we are saved to. When we are justified before God we become united to his Son by faith. When this happens, we become not only partakers in his righteousness and justification, but in his inheritance as a son, in his likeness as we become progressively more like Christ, and eventually in his resurrection body when we receive our own in glorification.
These aspects are often spoken of as the benefits of Christ. Counter-intuitively and counter-culturally one of these benefits is becoming a partaker and sharing in Christ’s sufferings. The Apostle Paul explains this well in his epistle to the Philippians:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law … and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Phil. 4:8-11
When we become united to Christ in faith, we become partakers in his sufferings. One aspect of this portion is gaining the above mentioned benefits which Christ earned as a result of his sufferings and death.
The other aspect is that we ourselves will suffer (Phil. 1:19), and it is an honor to do so.
In his time here on earth, Jesus himself promised that we will have trouble in this life (John 16:33). Because they first hated him, they will hate us also (John 15:18). One guaranteed sign that you are part of Christ’s elect is that you have or are suffering in this life. It is promised to us.
What this means is that just as our Savior and Lord was beaten and bruised to a bleeding pulp, so too can we expect this life to bruise us and beat us until we think we can take no more. And, when we feel like giving up, we remember that he has overcome the world and there is a prize far greater than we can imagine being kept for us in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). We may want to tap out, but we remember that when Christ suffered and died, death itself sucked in innocent blood. When it did so, it ingested poison; death died. So we run the race, we persevere until the very end, seeking after the one who has gifted us with sharing in his sufferings.
Then, on that day this bruised and beaten body will finally be taken home and we will see him face to face. We will see his scars and wounds (Rev 5:6) and we will say, out of supreme worship and adoration, “Your scars are beautiful.”
Then – and only then – will our sufferings finally and truly make sense.