Is suffering for Christ always part of following Him?The short answer to this question is: yes, suffering will always be a part of following Christ. Second Timothy 3:12 says that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Jesus was hated and suffered greatly, and as His followers, we will experience the same: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). There are a couple different ways that we can expect to suffer for Christ.
First, we can expect our worldly desires to suffer. When we become born again, our old self dies. We are "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). Crucifixion always results in death. Of course, Jesus died a physical death, but the crucifixion that we experience is a daily death to our old fleshly selves for the sake of daily life in Christ. We say no to sin so that we may say yes to Christ: "And he [Jesus] said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'" (Luke 9:23–25). Like Paul, we must get to the point that we consider the things of the world as "rubbish" for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7–10). This does not mean that we cannot enjoy the natural pleasures of life, but it does mean that the things of this world will not be foremost. It also means we will deny the sinful so-called pleasures lauded by the world system. It does not feel natural for us to deny things like our personal quest for power or our appetite for abundant wealth or our urge to gossip; rather, putting the desires of our sinful nature to death feels like suffering. When we live surrendered to Christ, our fleshly comfort will suffer, but our spiritual life will flourish.
Second, we can expect that we will suffer persecution from those who do not follow Christ. This type of suffering can come in a variety of forms and from several different spheres in our lives. For many, it is physical persecution like beatings or martyrdom. Others might be jailed for worshipping God or socially and financially ostracized from participation in their societies. In countries that practice religious freedom, followers of Christ will likely still be teased, belittled, or socially excluded in some way. We might suffer at the hands of a governmental institution, society at large, peers, and even relatives. Sadly, sometimes we might even suffer at the hands of other professing Christians. The early church experienced persecution, even death, at the hands of the religious leaders of the day (Acts 4:1–3; 5:40). God has standards of behavior that we as Christ-followers must live by. As we develop the discipline and devotion to following Christ in our own lives, it is inevitable that we will suffer the wrath and mistreatment of others. We cannot choose to please both God and the world: "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10; see also Luke 16:13; Romans 8:8). In as much as those in the world dislike the ways of God, they will dislike the ways we follow Him, and we will experience suffering as a result.
The gospel is the good news of salvation, but it is also offensive to many because, as mentioned above, it disrupts our own fleshly comfort. Paul was persecuted and imprisoned many times for his faith and he died a martyr. He found contentment within the mistreatment, because he saw God as the greater treasure and the true source of his strength: "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10; see also 1 John 2:15–17). Jesus said that we are blessed when we are persecuted for His sake and that we will reap a heavenly reward (Matthew 5:10–12; see also Philippians 1:29). We are more blessed when we have God's favor rather than the world's favor.
It is true that suffering is part of the life of a follower of Christ. But in Christ we know that our suffering is not in vain. When it is our sinful flesh that is suffering, we know we are being transformed into the image of Christ and we rejoice in His work in us (Philippians 2:12–13; 2 Corinthians 3:17–18). When we are suffering persecution from others, we rejoice that God can cause our suffering to work together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Romans 5:3–5 encourages, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (See also James 1:2–4). Ultimately, we know that this world is not our true home (Philippians 3:20–21). One day there will be no more suffering (Revelation 21:4). As we await that day, we endure suffering patiently, entrusting ourselves to God and praying that many more will come to Him and receive salvation (2 Peter 3:9).
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