God has given us the gift of faith, so that we may believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved . . . and a sword will pierce our souls too. These “swords” take many forms. We will suffer as we fight the good fight of faith against the world, the flesh and the devil. We will suffer sorrows. We will suffer sickness. We will suffer slander. We will suffer separation and loss. We will suffer shame. We will suffer at the hands of both sinners and saints. Yet this sword of suffering, wielded by the mighty right hand of our loving God and Father, does more to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ than anything else in this world. It is by that sword that we will, as James said, become mature and complete in our faith.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you know from personal experience that the sword of suffering must be a lifelong experience because our “self” is still with us every step of the way. As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and he must increase,” and that process of “decreasing,” cutting away everything that is part of the old, sinful self, is a painful one. As the sword of suffering is doing its supernatural work, our old self is fighting tooth and nail against it. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit,” Scripture warns, “and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). As the oft-quoted Pogo comic strip once observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Treasure the truth
So . . . what are Christian believers to do with this truth? Mary treasured it in her heart (Luke 2:19) and watched the Christ child grow and become strong and be filled with wisdom and the grace of God (Luke 2:40). In the end, he would be crucified as the Savior of the world, offering his life as an atoning sacrifice for all who will come to him, by grace through faith, to receive the gift of eternal life.
We, too, are to treasure the truth of the sword of suffering, as we align our will with the will of God, who has promised to form Christ in us. We, too, are to grow and become strong in our faith and be filled with the Spirit of the wisdom and grace of God. Yes, it is a painful process, but it is the only place where we will learn to put off our old self, to put on the new nature, and begin living a life that really matters because we will be living a life that points others to Jesus Christ.
Francios Fenelon, 17th Century theologian and poet, puts a sharp point on the truth of our Great Physician: “The Great Physician, who sees in us what we cannot see, knows exactly where to place the knife. He cuts away that which we are most reluctant to give up. And how it hurts! But we must remember that the pain is only felt where there is life, and where there is life is just the place where death is needed. Our Father wastes no time by cutting into parts that are already dead. Do not misunderstand me; he wants you to live abundantly, but this can only be accomplished by allowing him to cut into that flesh part of you that is still stubbornly clinging to life.”
Christian, how are you progressing in the process of Christ being formed in you? Are you joyfully allowing the sword of suffering to do its work? As you decrease and he increases in you, others will see more of Jesus, and more of Jesus is exactly what this world needs!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that…Amen!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.