In Romans 8:17 Paul tells us of four things that hold together:

Being children of God,
being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,
sharing Christ's suffering,
and sharing Christ's glory.

We need to ask here: 'In what way do Christians share in Christ's sufferings?'

Obviously, we cannot and do not personally experience the suffering Christ experienced when he was dying the death penalty for our sins. He alone suffered that spiritual agony of separation from the Father. We do, however, share in the results of that suffering.

We do share in the incognito factor of Christ's suffering: the world did not recognize that here in Jesus of Nazareth stood the Lord God Almighty (John 1:10-12; 10:33), rather it treated him as a blasphemous man and a common criminal. Similarly, the world does not recognize that those who believe in Jesus Christ are children of God (1John 3:1-2), and it views with disbelief and scorn any claim we make to that effect.

As a human being Jesus Christ shared in our human suffering, and by that learned what it meant to be an obedient human living in a sinful, suffering world (Hebrews 2:9-19). He, the holy One, lived in an unholy world; we, set apart by God and for God, God's special treasures, also know in part, the tension of living as God's people in a godless world.

We share also, as the Holy Spirit does his inner transforming work to make us more and more like our Lord (2Corinthians 3:18), in the distress of heart and soul that Christ experienced when face to face with the wrongness of human sin and human suffering. He stood on this earth among the shattered, hurting fragments of his perfect creation, and he wept. The closer we come to him, the more we share this suffering, grieved by unrepentant hearts, grieved by broken lives, grieved by human tragedy, moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36; 17:17; 23:37; John 11:35).

We at various times and various places share in the opposition and persecution that he received from those who were opposed to him and to God. In becoming his, we are automatically the enemies of Satan and are attacked by this enemy in various ways, simply because we belong to Jesus.

We share in his suffering when we, like him, are persecuted for bearing testimony to God’s truth.

Sharing in Christ’s suffering is what we could term an essential tension caused by our identity as God’s children. It is something we cannot get away from. Apart from his final suffering by which we are saved, and which we can never duplicate or experience, the sufferings of Christ in this world related to his essential identity: he suffered because he is who he is. It is the same with those who believe in him.

The Christian believer, through the promises of God, participates in the very nature of God (2Peter 1:4) and is intimately and indissolubly united to Jesus Christ. This essential identification and union with Christ creates inevitable tension and suffering for as long as the believer is in the world. This earth was not the natural habitat of Jesus Christ nor is it, in its cursed and fallen state, any longer the natural habitat of those who, united to him by faith, have been redeemed and rescued from it (Hebrews 11:13-16). Here on earth the citizens of heaven are out of place. We are light in the midst of darkness. We are truth in the midst of error. We are God-lovers in the midst of God-haters. We are evidence of the fact that one true personal God is there, in the midst of a world which denies his existence. Here our very presence as salt and light (see Matthew 5:13-16) is offensive and condemnatory to those who do not believe.

Because of this dichotomy, this dissonance between the person regenerated by the Spirit of God and the world in which we still live, we share the suffering of Christ.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Check out these two new study series: Job and Suffering Revisited .