Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer

Part 1

The New Word Alive Conference | Pwellheli, Wales

The theme is treasuring Christ together or treasuring Christ and the call to suffer. So I want to linger over the meaning of the theme and focus on the term treasuring Christ. I think there is a danger everywhere that the faith is held, but probably particularly in America, that Christ become a means and not the end of salvation. And there are good reasons for thinking of him as means and there are bad reasons. He is the means of our salvation. If he had not died, we would not have life. If he had not died, we would go to hell. If he had not died, nothing good ultimately would come to us. We would be judged. And so it is not wrong to think of Christ as the means of salvation.

But there are forms of thinking about that that are offensive and ungodly. We call them the prosperity gospel, my land specialize in exporting that heresy all over the world, especially to third world countries to my great grief and dismay. And then there are less offensive forms of it in ordinary evangelical churches where we never quite get to the end of the gospel. We say he died to forgive sins and he died to get us out of hell and he died to remove our guilt and he died to give us eternal life and he died to give us justification. And that is not the end. That is not the point. All of those things are getting us somewhere. They are getting us to God.

He bore our sins in his body on the tree, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). And until we get to Christ as the end and God as the end of the gospel, then we haven’t seen the reason ultimately for why he died. Now, when you use the word treasure as a verb and you make Christ the object of the verb you are doing something tremendously helpful in our day to combat that error, which is why I love this title and topic. We have a whole mission at our church called treasuring Christ together. And I drive it with all my might. And I want to commend pastors here to go home and to teach your people that treasure is a verb and that the highest object of it is Christ. And if you could just get people to think that way, feel that way, it would change everything in their lives.

Treasure Beyond Any Other

Now it is extremely biblical to think that way about the term treasuring Christ. My favorite little parable is Matthew 13:44:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Jesus is the means of our salvation. If he had not died, we would not have life.”

That is the end of the parable. And the point is that when Christ the King came into the world and offered himself for our fellowship and paid the debt that we might have him and not just heaven and out of hell, he became to us a treasure beyond all values, because it says he sold everything. And he did it gladly. There was no sacrifice. When you sold your wedding ring and your grandfather’s clock and all of your books, yes, all of your books and your computer and your house and all of your clothes except what you have got on your back and you called it vain, because that is how valuable he is. So this idea of treasuring him is biblical through and through.

Furthermore, “Whoever loves mother or father more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever loves son or daughter more than me not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). You better treasure Jesus more than all your family, all your health and all your life or you are not worthy of him. “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). That is why Paul could say, “It is my eager expectation and hope that now, as always, Christ might be magnified in my body whether by life or by death, for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

How can that be? Because you are leaving behind family. The dream of retirement is not going to happen. A single person, 21 years old dying of leukemia, not going to ever get married and saying as they breathe their last: gain. How can that be? Very simple phrase: they treasure Christ above everything. Do you?

More Than Receive

See, in my brand of evangelicalism that I grew up in, that phrase was never used. It was always: receive him as Lord and Savior. And that is absolutely right. But if you don’t ever get around to moving through what did he save us for and what does he use his lordly power and wisdom and love to be for me, then we just become utilitarian.

The cross is useful. Jesus is useful. What a dishonor to the Lord if he is just useful to get you out of hell, just useful to get you pearly gates and streets of gold and reunion with mom and no more sickness. If he is just useful. He is not useful. He is King. He is glorious. He is satisfying. He is everything to us. That is the significance of this title.

In John 17 Jesus prayed for you. Remember this prayer. And the apex of his prayer was: “Father, I desire that those whom you have given me may be with me where I am to see my glory,” period. That is it. That is the end. There is nothing higher than to be folded in to a transforming sight of the infinitely valuable Christ. Oh, how thin is our affection for him. There are even evangelicals who are fearful of this idea of treasuring him, which boggles my mind and I have no categories for comprehending that kind of misunderstanding of the Bible. The gospel is explained in many ways and one of my favorite verses that has so gripped me in the last ten years is 2 Corinthians 4:4:

The God of this age [that is the devil] has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

There it is. What is the gospel? It is the gospel of the glory of Christ. Whatever else he did, he did it to enable us to spend eternity beholding with ever increasing joy his glory. That is why he died. If we don’t get to that, we don’t get to the end of the gospel.

So thank you to whomever chose the title. I love it. And it enables us to get so many things right and make the Christian life as impossible as it really is. Decisions are easy. Affections are impossible. And the Christian life is impossible. You should feel desperate if you are sitting there feeling: but I don’t treasure him that way. Join the club.

Every day I pray about my failing emotions. Every day I pray about how my computer attracts me and my wife attracts me and my daughter attracts and preaching attracts me and Christ is less attractive. That is my main battle in life. That is the meaning of sanctification is to fight at that level, not the decision level, the duty level, the action level. All that comes when out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, when out of the abundance of the heart the hands move. The battle is fought at the treasuring level of life. So thank you. It is a great title. I hope I may be worthy of it.

So, pastors, go home. If you don’t want to use this one, find a better one. Turn the word treasure from a noun into a verb and preach and live so that your people experience Christ as the direct object of the verb above money and sex and career and family and health and life. That is my job as a pastor.

The Call to Suffer

The second half of the title is the call to suffer. The reason that is so relevant to put the two together is because the Bible makes clear that the experience of life, the place in life that causes the value of Christ to be seen most clearly is when he is treasured in suffering. When he treasured in spite of all those statistics, maybe even because of them. When everything goes wrong in your life as the world regards wrong and you say: Christ is all.

God might have to use suffering in Minneapolis to turn the conviction that we should declare the good news to our unbelieving friends into a passion. What might he do? Well, he might have to do it the way he did it in Acts 8. Remember that? The church in Jerusalem was told in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria.” And they weren’t. And so God raised up Stephen whose face shown like an angel and whose speech was irresistible. And the only thing they could do with him was to kill him and they did. Acts 8:1 says, “A great persecution spread through Jerusalem and all the Christians, all the saints were driven out of Jerusalem.”

“There is nothing better than to be folded in to a transforming sight of Christ.”

Now there were at least 10,000 from what we have seen so far in Acts. The apostles left 10,000 people turned into refugees. They were driven out to Samaria and Judea. You can’t help but make the connection. If you won’t be my witnesses voluntarily, I will get you going with the persecution.

They have been driven away from their homes. They had to leave behind possessions. They are looking for friends somewhere to take them in. And Acts 8:4 says that they went everywhere telling the good news of the word. That is very strange. You have just lost your city. You have just been driven out. Your main teacher has been killed. And your life is in jeopardy and everywhere you go you say that there is good news. And people look at them wondering how they could say this after they were driven from their homes. Answer: they treasure Christ above all things, above home, above security, above comfort, above ease.

And when it happens in those moments he shines more brightly. If you are wealthy and healthy and your family is all together and you don’t have a problem in the world and you tell someone you value Jesus above your family above your health and above everything, they probably won’t believe you. But if you lose your wife, if you lose your home and you lose your health and they look at you in your contentment and ask what are you hoping in? And you answer saying, “Christ is more valuable to me than all those things and he has never left me. He loves me. He is going to care for me all the way home. They just might believe you.”

So you see the connection between the two? Treasuring Christ is a way of showing how valuable he is because you have made him so valuable. The Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see he is valuable. And then you put it beside the call to suffer and you see the call to suffer is the very place in life where that testimony will have most credibility and will have most power in shining Christ forth.

On to the Great Eight

The call to suffer is in Romans 8:16–17:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our Spirit that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him.

If we suffer with him — that is a condition — in order that — and that is the result of the condition — in order that we may also be glorified with him. Very shocking way of saying you must suffer. It says that if you hear the call to suffer and reject it, you will not go to heaven. You will not be glorified. Read it again, lest you think I am making that up.

If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ if we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with him. Whoever would be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. That is what Paul is quoting. Whoever desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). If you are left without discipline, you are not a legitimate child (Hebrews 12:8).

Through Many Tribulations

Finishing the first missionary journey, Paul comes back doing discipleship in the churches and the basic, first, inescapable thing he says in Acts 14:22 is, “Through many tribulations you must enter the kingdom of God.” A disciple is not above his teacher. If they called the teacher the master of the house, Beelzebul, what will they call the members of his household?

Now that condition that we must meet in order to be glorified is not intended in Romans 8 to make you feel insecure in your standing with God or the certainty of your glorification to be called into question. And we know that because of what happens some verses later in verse 30 where he says that “those whom he predestined he also called. And those whom he called he also justified. And those whom he justified he also glorified.” Nobody falls out of that golden chain. If you are justified tonight, you will be glorified. There is no doubt about it. So we have two premises. What is the conclusion?

Premise one: all the justified will be glorified.

Premise two: only those who suffer will be glorified.

Conclusion: God almighty will see that you come through your suffering like gold if you are justified.

That is the conclusion. And you will come through like gold. Eternal security is not mechanical. It is absolutely certain, rooted in the sovereignty of the faithfulness of God, not because you prayed a prayer when you were six or walked an aisle or signed a card or anything in the past.

God Keeps His Own

It is so because tomorrow morning God will see to it that you wake up willing to suffer. That is the way you endure to the end. He is God. He keeps his own. Nobody plucks them out of his hand. If they must suffer to get glory, he will see to it that they suffer and if they must come through like gold, he will get them through like gold. It is all over the New Testament that God keeps his own and brings them through whatever he assigns to them. And this text says you are assigned to suffer. There is no escaping it. If your goal in life is to escape it, your goal in life is hell. I don’t encourage you to run away from suffering.

“When everything goes wrong in your life as the world regards wrong, know this: Christ is all.”

Now the point of Romans 8:18–25 is simple: it is worth it. “I don’t consider the sufferings of this present time worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed.” It is worth it. That is the point of these verses. But before we go there and unpack them a little bit, we must take a brief look at the argument of verses 1–17. I will try to keep this short, because I want it to be about what it is announced to be about, though this is the greatest chapter in the Bible and it is difficult to squeeze it in to these few minutes.

“There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [We are in Christ Jesus by being united to him by faith.] For the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. [So the first statement is: you are now free from all divine condemnation forever. And he spent seven chapters making that point. I believe, is an evidential support for it. The evidence that you are experiencing it now and never will experience condemnation is that the Holy Spirit is in you and he is liberating you from the bondage to sin. Then comes the ground].”

“What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did. [What did he do? So that there would be no condemnation and so that the Holy Spirit could be unleashed into us to warrant that glorious reality — God did it — sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. The reason he uses the word likeness is because he was in real flesh, but not sinful. He looked like everybody else and everybody else is a sinner and so he was in the likeness of sinful flesh, really flesh, but like sin, not sin. Looked like everybody else. Got hungry, but his hunger wasn’t owing anybody sin].”

“Now what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [and here is the main statement] he condemned sin in the flesh. [Whose flesh? Jesus’s flesh. Whose sin? His? He had none. Mine. Yours. That is why this conference exists. That is the heart of the gospel and precious beyond words and that it is being rejected today is appalling beyond words in your country and mine].”

In Our Place

A condemnation had to happen. God is just, a condemnation had to happen. It is either me being condemned or Christ being condemned.

Christ was condemned: “By his stripes we have been healed. It was the will of the Lord to bruise him” (Isaiah 53:10). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone [not every sin] that hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). “God made him to be sin who knew no sin that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him smitten, smitten by God and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray and we have turned everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6). And he struck him and killed him.

I know a good friend who does prison ministry and he goes in where these guys have all kinds of experiences with their dads. And one Maundy Thursday, Good Friday gathering in the prison he asked the prisoners: Who killed Jesus? They said: Pilate killed him. Soldiers killed him. Jews killed him. The one wise guy said: We killed him. And my friend John said: his Father killed him. They were stunned. Nobody ever said that before. It is considered today in our land, our lands, appalling to teach this or to sing it. I hope it is not appalling here. I would not have come had I thought it was appalling here. It is my life. It is my hope.

So verse three is the ground of the chapter and everything else in verses 1–17 unleashes from it and what we have is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is manifesting himself so that there is no condemnation and we belong to Christ (verse 9). And he will give us life (verse 11). And we are sons of God (verse 14).

Three Truths About Suffering

And now we come to what I am supposed to spend my time talking about. Verses 18–25. Here is the way I am going to sum it up: it is worth it. Now more than that is being said. That is just the way he starts. Don’t consider the sufferings of this time worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. It is worth it. And how does he help us feel this? Because it is hard to feel it when you are in it. How does he help us? And the way he helps us is very surprising.

Paul steps back from my pain and you have got to be careful when and how you do this pastorally, which is why being a pastor is such a wonderful thing. You don’t just stand beside beds. You stand in a pulpit and they have a kind of rhythm to them and the pulpit can do this and the bed can do other things.

First he says is that all suffering is universal. Secondly he says that it is historical. And, third, he says: it is judicial. And I just look at it and say: That is big. That is heavy. That is global. Does that help? I think he wouldn’t have written it if he didn’t think it would help. So let me unpack those three quickly if I can and show you that and trust God to make them helpful.

1. Suffering Is Universal

Suffering is universal. And when I say universal I don’t mean God is included, because he made the universe. I mean everything but God and unfallen angels, the universe as we know it, all the galaxies and planet earth (verse 22). There are three verses that say this. “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” So there is the term whole creation. Groaning, suffering. Verse 21: “The creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” So there you have creation enslaved to corruption. So all of creation is enslaved to corruption. Third verse, verse 20: “For the creation was subjected to futility not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.”

“If your goal in life is to escape suffering, your goal in life is hell.“

So there you have the third reference to creation. The creation is now subject to futility. So whole creation groans and suffers. The whole creation is in slavery to corruption and the whole creation is subjected to futility.

So the first observation he makes is your suffering should never be thought of merely in private terms. It is part of something absolutely universal. And I think he expects that to be helpful. You need to ponder why that might be helpful. It isn’t just about me. It isn’t about yesterday’s sin necessarily. It isn’t, maybe, about a lifetime of sinning. Something else is going on here, something global, something universal has brought this horrible reality to pass.

2. Suffering Is Temporary

Second observation now that he makes. It is historical. It spans the sweep of history. It has a beginning in history and it will have an end at the coming of the Lord. Verse 18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time [that is history as we know it] are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” That is an event. Creation didn’t come into being this way. What we see in those statistics that were up there it didn’t come into being that way. It happened at a point. It was subjected to futility. That is history. It is something that happened. Now it will have an end? The freedom of the glory of the children of God could end someday.

3. Suffering Is Judicial

Thirdly and lastly, it is judicial. And this is the one that is most important, most controversial and I think the most helpful of those three. Universal, historical and judicial. Let’s go back to verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.” Now who did that? Somebody brought this about. Somebody took the universe and disordered it. It is in disorder. It is in tremendously painful disorder. Your lives are filled with painful disorder, disordered relationships, disordered heath, disordered workplaces, disordered things that break and nothing seems to work. Life is disordered. The universe is disordered. Tsunamis are a disorder. Hurricanes are a disorder. Cyclones, disorder, floods, famines, diseases, disordered. Somebody did that? Who was it?

Answer: God did that. And the reason we know that verse 20 is referring to God is because of the words in hope at the end of the verse. Look at it: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.” There are only two other candidates as far as I can see: Adam and the devil.

So Adam sinned. Maybe Eve could be included. Let’s just lump them together: Adam and Eve and the devil. Did Adam and Eve sin with a view to the liberty of the children of God in the hope of a future great new heavens and a new earth? They didn’t have a clue. They did not do it for that purpose. They are not the ones. They are not the subject of verse 20. How about the devil? He tempted them and brought that about in that way. Was that his design to do this in hope that the whole creation would be set free from its bondage to decay? That is the hope that somebody did it in.

There is only person who did it that way — God did it that way. When Adam and Eve sinned in that day you shall die. And with you the whole universe is coming down. Judicial means God judged the universe because of sin. God judged the universe with its misery, because of sin. This is not moral consequentialism. Oh, there is so much of that in evangelicalism today. Hell is explained that way. The atonement is explained that way. Your suffering is explained that way. God has written off. We are Deists.

We are all becoming Deists, because without Romans 8:18–25 deeply gripping your soul, your first reaction when you meet suffering is to distance God from it. It is everywhere. The first reaction of our line of defense of poor God who needs defending is that we are going to distance him from this. It is all over the radios. It is all over the books. It is all over the pulpits. The first line of response to suffering is: God is not doing it. That is really sad. Deism never comforted a human soul in 1,000 years in the midst of pain. God the great clockmaker winds up the world, moves to another side of the universe and watches it tick and maybe even feels bad about how crummy it is going. That is not comforting. I want to be a comfort biblically.

I have been a pastor for twenty-eight years. I buried a lot of people. I have walked through many divorces. I have wept over so many wayward children, including my own. I am not a foreigner to people’s pain. And I want to be a strong comfort, a biblical comfort, a lasting comfort, a deep comfort. I want to get it right. I don’t want to sell something that is easy, that fits the mindset of the present world and has a thin comforting to it.

“The creation was subjected to futility not willingly but because of him who subjected it in hope.” Now here are a few closing implications of this. And they are amazing. Here is one of the implications: The meaning of all misery in the universe and in the world is that sin is horrific. Say it another way, all natural evil — floods, disease, etc. — all natural evil is a statement about the horror of moral evil.

Good News for Everyone

You see where I am getting that, don’t you? God looked upon sin responded by subjecting the entire creation to this. Until you see the moral outrage of sin in proper proportions and until you see the magnificence of the holiness of God in proper proportions, that will seem to you like an overreaction. Surely the world listening to me would say that this is ridiculous. He saw one sin and he did that?

The implication is that the reason God subjects the world to futility is to teach you about your heart. You don’t know your heart. Emotionally you are not even close to feeling the horrors of the way you treat your wife, daughter, husband, the weakness in worship and witness. Not even close to the moral outrage of falling short of the glory of God. If you see a soldier tripping over his own entrails and then falling down and crying, “Mamma, mamma,” and then dying, choking on his own blood, you just see a tiny fraction of the horrible miseries of the world.

And without this text, there is no biblical way forward here. This text says: God subjected the world to futility in response to moral evil and disobedience and God belittling indifference of humans who think they know better what is right than what God’s Word says. God shows you what that is like. It is like that. And the reason he has to use bodies to show us because we are not sensitive to the Spirit.

Nobody wakes up feeling that God has done an outrage by sending his Son to die for them, because it would be unjust of God to do that. We all feel like we deserve redemption and we deserve better than we get. And God has painted a world for us that says: You want to know how ugly and outrageous and unthinkably hideous your sin is? Look at AIDS. Look at cancer. Look at certain tumors on people’s faces and world that can never leave their apartment. That is what it is.

I need to stop. A thought just came to my mind. Maybe I will share it and try to draw it up with that. I live in the Philips neighborhood where a lot of ordinary poor folks live, because our church is downtown and I like to walk to church so I live where the church is and there is a man in our neighborhood who I don’t know yet. I began to see him not only ago on a bicycle. And his face is the most hideous face I have ever seen in my life. I have only seen him like from thirty feet away. He wears a hat and wears dark glasses. And I want to meet him so bad.

“There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ.”

I am going to corner him one of these times, because I got the best news in the world for him. I am just going to be straight up. I am going to say, “Man, I want to tell you the best news in all the world. You are going to die someday with that face and if you would trust Jesus, he is going to give you another one and he is going to enable you to enjoy him forever and that is why Jesus Christ came into the world.” I have got really good news for that man.

I got good news for everybody who will have Jesus who suffered for us. So in conclusion verse 23 — we will pick it up there tomorrow night — says: Not only has all the creation suffering, but even we, we who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit groan inwardly. In fact, Paul seems so eager to say to this crowd: Christians, don’t conclude from no condemnation, no suffering. Don’t make that mistake. That is what this whole chapter seems to me to say. No condemnation.

Oh, Christian, don’t draw the conclusion of prosperity. Don’t draw the conclusion ease. There is a Calvary road to be walked. Some of it will be physical suffering. Some of it will be persecution. Walk it with me and you come out into the liberty of the children of God and a new heavens and a new earth forever. It will be so long and great that this light, momentary affliction of eighty years with great pain will seem to you as nothing.