No Cross? No Crown!
When we identify ourselves with Christ, we sign up to live a life that looks remarkably like His. We are called to love unconditionally as Jesus did, show compassion towards others, pray for those in need, make disciples, heal the sick, cast out demons, resist the devil at every instance and suffer for the sake of the Gospel. The life of a believer is not a bed of roses by a long shot.
Why not though? Why would the God who loves us so much that He would sacrifice His One True Son not give us a blueprint for a problem-free life here on earth?
I suspect that the answer to this question has more to do with how God would like to see us at the end of our earthly life than with our temporary comfort. It would be great if I never experience the loss of a friend due to betrayal but when I do, I know that Christ sympathizes. The same Christ whose closest friends and disciples betrayed, denied and walked away from Him during His darkest hours understands the agony of my pain. When I suffer the pain of illness, I know that Christ who suffered the agony of the cross can sympathize. He is looking at me with eyes of compassion and working all things for my good even as I go through the process from affliction to healing.
Obedience to God does not always bypass suffering. Oftentimes our unwavering obedience to the Lord is what uniquely qualifies us for a life of hardship. Obedience may mean enduring painful trials and tribulations and still proclaiming His goodness during our heartbreaks. Suffering for the sake of Christ looks different in each believers’ life.
Giving God a YES may mean forfeiting the comforts of modern living to take the gospel around the globe, leaving behind biological brothers and sisters in order to enlarge God’s family in the furthest regions of the world. In this, we choose to endure the loneliness and heart ache of being separated from loved ones so that we may identify more closely with Christ who also left mother and father and siblings to fulfill the will of God and spread the Gospel in His earthly ministry. In fact, many of us are called to live a life so “peculiar” that it makes us an enigma in every space. When believers sell their worldly goods and give away 90% of their salary in other to better serve “the least of these,” they look strange to the watching world but if we are following God’s instructions for our lives, then we joyfully bear the cross of not fitting in.
Sacrificing for the cause of Christ may require us to forfeit the comforts of a social life and general acceptance to cultivate a lifestyle of personal consecration. We may be unable to go where other believers are free to go because God requires more from you and I based on the influence we have been called to steward. Living a set-apart life often leads to being misunderstood and misjudged by those that should know us better. Even Christians have an issue with believers they perceive as “too deep.”
“It does not take all of that to be saved,” goes the popular saying. Maybe not, but the crown that God has prepared for you is unique to how well you obey the instructions for your life, not necessarily how well you fit in among other believers.
If we are looking for a bed of roses, free of the thorns of affliction, the life of Christ is not the best model. One of the least claimed promises of our Savior is that tribulation is a guarantee. “In this world, you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The difficulty we endure as believers in Christ provides an opportunity for Christ to be glorified. Whether in our steadfastness when the storms of life should have blown us astray; or in our continued joy when grief should have robbed us blind – we proclaim that God is worthy of all glory, and all honor and all praise.
Suffering for righteousness sake is part and parcel of the believer’s walk of faith. It is as much a part of our identity in the Lord as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Our joy is that the temporary suffering of this world holds no comparison to the glory that awaits us in heaven. The Bible outlines many different crowns that await us in eternity if we live this life of Christ faithfully. Each one however, has the same prerequisite.
You want to wear a crown? Carry your cross. This too is your identity.