1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through him we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.Romans 5:1-4
2020 was a very difficult year for us all. 2021, in the UK at least, looks a little more promising, but certainly the first part of it has also been very tricky. The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought difficulties to us all. Maybe our own health has suffered as a consequence. Perhaps we’ve lost loved ones to the virus. It might be that we’ve lost our job, or found our business forcibly closed. No doubt we’ve missed spending time with loved ones, going out for a meal, visiting the local leisure centre, or flying away for a week of sun. I suspect we’ve all, in our own way, experienced far more suffering in a single year than we would have liked. Like me, you’re probably desperately hoping for a return to some sort of normality soon.
The Bible has much to say about suffering. Paul writes about suffering to the Romans, as we see in the passage above, Sometimes we might think that being a Christian precludes us from suffering, but Paul is clear that this is not the case. It might be that our approach to suffering is a little different to those around us, but suffering is just as inevitable for a Christian as it is for anyone else.
So, what can we learn about suffering as a Christian from these verses?
Firstly, that we we can “glory in our sufferings” (verse 3). This suggests that as we contend with the difficulties life throws at us, we can maintain an attitude of joy. We don’t feel joy because we suffer, but we are able to feel joy despite our suffering. This attitude is possible for a Christian for the reasons that Paul outlines at the beginning of this chapter: despite our suffering, we know that “we have been justified through faith,” we “have peace with God,” because “we have gained access by faith into [Jesus’s] grace,” and because we are able to “boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Once we were God’s enemies, but now we are his friends, and because of our understanding of our relationship with God, our lives now have purpose and an eternal perspective. We can take a positive approach to life despite our suffering because our perspective is eternal, not limited to our earthly existence. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, we understand that our troubles are only “light and momentary,” and suffering is “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Secondly, we can draw comfort that despite our current difficulties, our suffering is teaching us perseverance. Paul tells us that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” When we find ourselves confronting dark periods in our lives, we can give up, or we can persevere. Since we have an eternal perspective we are more likely to persevere through our suffering, since we know that even when we find ourselves going through the darkest periods of our lives, we have a future hope to look forward to.
Then the question is – where do we find the strength to persevere when everything is so bad, so horrible, so bleak in our lives that we just feel like giving up? For Christians, we can draw that strength from our relationship with God. We can lean into God, and he will support us, and equip us to persevere. As the Psalmist sings,
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—Psalm 121:1-2
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
A Christian is able to endure suffering, and cope with problems and trials, because they believe that their help comes from God. God supports us inn our perseverance by listening to us, offering comfort when we experience trials and tribulations, and by reassurance that ultimately, things will get better. He may not end our suffering straight away, but he does walk with us as we suffer, shares our pain, and gives us hope for a brighter future.
Thirdly, by choosing to place our trust in God as we suffer, our character changes and develops. As Paul writes, perseverance produces character.
It’s often said that we take on some of the characteristics of those we choose to spend time with. If we lean into Christ when we are enduring suffering, it is he who we are choosing to spend time with. It is Jesus, therefore, that we will come to resemble, it is his character that will shape our character. Simply by virtue of our suffering, and our desire to lean into Christ, we will become more like him.
Fourthly, Paul tells us that character produces hope – hope of a future with Christ in God’s new creation, where there is no suffering, no sin, no pain and no death. Hope of an eternity with Jesus as a consequence of his death and resurrection. As we become more Christ-like, we become more aware of our ultimate destiny, the final destination of our journey through life on earth – salvation, eternal life in God’s perfect new creation.
There is no doubt that suffering hurts. It is painful. It can sometimes feel like it is more than we can bear. But because of our justification by faith, and our peace with God, we can find joy even as we suffer. We can be joyful because of the future hope that our relationship with Christ gives us. By leaning into Jesus and drawing comfort from him, we can find the energy to persevere, to keep going when life gets really tough. And by leaning into Christ, we find our character developing, and Christ in turn shaping our character. Our lives are transformed to more closely resemble Jesus’ life, and his character. Becoming more Christ-like, we can draw on new hope – a new hope of our salvation. We place our confidence and trust in Jesus, and consequently find hope in his suffering, and his death on the cross, and his resurrection. We trust that he suffered in our place. We trust that he died in our place. And we trust that just as Christ rose to new life, so too will we. After all, from an eternal perspective, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”