We can rejoice when we participate in the sufferings of Christ, knowing that God has divinely ordered and appointed them for the good of both ourselves and Christ’s Body, and the strength to withstand the suffering steadfastly is made possible through our union with Him. God is making us perfect through both our union with Jesus and our participation in the sufferings of Christ.
One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is knowing that we have not only been purchased by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, but that we have been joined together to Christ by faith. We are counted as members of His very Body. The beauty of this consists in the fact that all who come to Christ—no matter who they were, what sins they committed, or where they’re from—are welcomed into His Body. We are made one with Christ and one with one another. As 1 Corinthians 12:13 succinctly puts it, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Yet, as glorious as union with Christ is, there is a neglected aspect of it that is ignored to our own peril: the fact that union with Christ means participation in the sufferings of Christ.
What Makes Union with Christ So Great?
Notice the language that the Apostle Paul used: “In one Spirit, we were baptized into one body, and we are made to drink of one Spirit.” In Romans 6:3-4, Paul elaborated on this idea by explaining that, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Therefore, our union with Christ consists of a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, whereby we are counted as having been joined together with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. Physical baptism symbolizes this great truth: as the minister takes us and lowers us into the water, our death is pictured. Held beneath the water, our death with Jesus is symbolized by the water surrounding us. Finally, as he lifts us from the water, our resurrection to new life in Christ is pictured.
We are, spiritually, now one with Christ. But our union with Christ does not end with a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit. Our union with Him is an eternal union, with covenantal bonds no less dissoluble or breakable than God’s love for us is conquerable. This is a union to which we are permanently and inseparably joined.
We share all things with Christ: His righteousness is ours, His peace is ours, His standing before God is ours…We are led to continually boast in Christ alone for, in Him, “All things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21). Now, clearly, that does not mean that we become as God, or share in His incommunicable attributes, like His sovereignty or aseity. But it does mean that He has graciously poured out an incredible number of gifts upon us—including the gift of participation in His sufferings.
What it Means to Enjoy Participation in Christ’s Suffering
There are various texts that point to the suffering that Christians can expect to experience when they are joined together to Christ. From the hatred of the world (John 15:18-25) to the persecution of the godly by the ungodly (2 Timothy 3:12), there is a great deal of suffering to be experienced in the Christian’s union with Christ.
Of course, Scripture not only warns us to expect suffering, but encourages us to delight in it. Now, that may seem strange and even impossible at times, but consider the following from James 1:2-4, which states, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In other words, the suffering we endure on account of the trials we face is purposed by God to produce steadfastness, and steadfastness in Christ makes us mature in Christ so that we lack nothing. Therefore, we must rejoice! No suffering is without its purpose; all of it is divinely purposed and appointed for our good and God’s glory.
In Acts 5:41, we find the Apostles being persecuted for their faith in Christ.