How to overcome in times of suffering: The inner cross

We’re finishing up our series on Christians and suffering today. Last time we looked at three kinds of suffering we go through as Christians.

  • First, there’s the lowliness and suffering that comes from living in a fallen and sinful world – sickness, brokenness, tragedies and death.
  • Second there’s the lowliness and suffering we freely choose, in that we lower ourselves to love and serve others.
  • And finally there’s the lowliness and suffering that comes our way because of our connection to Jesus – rejection and persecution.

Anytime we go through these kinds of suffering it unleashes a struggle within us. Will we remain faithful to God? Will we take the easy way out of the test? Will we lay down our cross to find relief?

This struggle is a part of what I’m calling the inner cross. And my message today is this – the secret to being victorious in our times of suffering is to overcome by the Spirit in the realm of the inner cross.

First we look at –

Jesus’ inner cross: Mark 14:32-42

When Jesus faced his greatest trial – the cross – he experienced the inner turmoil of it all. Jesus was fully human and as he said to the disciples about humanity, “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).

Mark tells us, “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” (Mark 14:33-34). Jesus doesn’t want to die, and certainly not the shameful death of a criminal or blasphemer on a cross (Hebrew 12:2).

Three times he prayed for deliverance. This, even though he knew it was God’s will for him to go to the cross. (He told his disciples this three times – Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But this is a final discernment. Is there not some other way, God? “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.’” (Mark 14:35-36). (See also Hebrews 5:7-8)

During these times of prayer he received help from the Spirit. As he said, “the Spirit indeed is willing” (Mark 14:38). The word “willing” can also be translated as “eager to be of service” or “ready.”

We see the evidence of the Spirit’s enablement in two ways: 1) Jesus prayed, “not what I will, but what you (Father God) will” (Mark 14:36). He submits his heart to the Father. And then 2) He rose up from prayer to do God’s will. He said, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:41-42). And he then went to the cross.

By the power of the Spirit Jesus crucified his human desire to live and be honored. He denied himself and took up his cross (Mark 8:34). He received strength to endure arrest, slander, shame, torture, crucifixion and death.

So there’s a death within before there’s a death without. He finds victory by the Spirit at Gethsemane, which allows him to find victory in his circumstances of suffering at Golgotha.

Paul’s teaching on the inner cross – Romans 8:1-17

There are several points of contact between Paul’s teaching here and the story we’ve just looked at. Paul seems to have Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane in the background as he teaches. 1) There’s the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8). 2) He talks about prayer to “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). 3) There’s a theme of suffering (Romans 8:17; also 18-39). 4) And he highlights how the Spirit enables us to overcome (Romans 8:3-4, 13). We’ll focus on this last theme.

Because Jesus suffered for us and overcame, we receive the benefits of God’s salvation. After presenting in Romans 7 the futility of trying to obey God from the heart without the Spirit, Paul describes this salvation. We are forgiven – “there is now no more condemnation” (Romans 8:1). And we receive the Spirit of God into our lives (Romans 8:9, 15-16).

And because of our new relationship with God and the presence of the Spirit within in us we are enabled to fulfill “the righteous requirement of the law” (Romans 8:4). We are empowered to do God’s will. And we can do this because we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

More specifically, we are enabled to crucify the desires of the flesh by the SpiritPaul says, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13).

Paul is saying here that by the power of the Spirit within us, we are strengthened to be able to crucify our own desires that oppose God’s way. “By the Spirit we put to death” these desires and thus any deeds that would come from these desires. As he says in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Again, the Spirit is key. And again the inner cross – putting to death our wrong desires by the Spirit – is the key to walking faithfully before God in our times of suffering.

Let’s look at –

How this works

When we’re in a time of testing and suffering, and we’ve discerned that it’s God’s will for us to go through this, and we’re struggling within – so that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17), like Jesus – we can call out to God our Father for help.

And in prayer we can receive encouragement and strength from the Spirit. Without the Spirit we would easily cave in. The desires of our flesh want to avoid suffering. The flesh wants the easy way out, it wants comfort and security. Or it leads us to just give up.

But the Spirit strengthens us to say no to the desires of our flesh. And when we say no a crucifixion takes place. There’s a death within to our own desires, so that we don’t act on these unfaithful desires of our flesh. By the Spirit we put them to death (Colossians 3:5). Our “old person” (Romans 6:6) dies a little bit more. This is the inner cross.

Also, there’s a resurrection within. The new person God is creating us to be is strengthened to walk in the path God has for us. We are raised to new life within so that we can walk in newness of life without.

Just as Jesus had to gain the victory at Gethsemane before he could gain the victory at Golgotha, so it is with us. We must prevail in the realm of the inner cross by the Spirit, before we will prevail in our lowliness and suffering.

Let me end with –

A word of encouragement

 1. We’ve been given all that we need to overcome by God’s grace. As 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” We’re not left to our own resources. We rely on God’s Spirit and power. As Paul says in talking about suffering, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” – Romans 8:37.

2. Even if we fail, God’s grace is sufficient. It’s true, as James tells us, “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). We will not always respond correctly to our times of trials and cross bearing. But as 1 John 1:9 teaches, //“if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And then we can move forward again by God’s grace.

3. God will come through on his promises. As we’ve seen, the faithful will be exalted and blessed (Matthew 23:12, Luke 6:20-26, Mark 8:35). As Romans 8:17 says, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

On the day of the great reversal, when the kingdom comes in its fullness, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom and we will be lifted up by God to receive honor and glory.

Things to remember in difficult times

Our lives can certainly be difficult. I think we can all testify to that. We have our daily stresses and hardships. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (He is talking about securing our food and clothing needs.) So we have it on Jesus’ authority that each day has more than enough problems in it.

On top of this we go through times of intense testing, crises that stretch us to the breaking point. Speaking of this kind of testing, Hebrews 12:11 says, it “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time.” So we have it on Scriptural authority that testing is indeed painful.

God allows us to go through these things. Now notice, I’m not saying that God causes these things to happen in our lives. We live in a sinful and broken world and bad things happen all the time. But God definitely does allow us to go through them. And these things can weigh us down and wear us out. So I want us to look at four things this morning that will hopefully encourage us and give us strength to carry on.

Know that even in hard times, God loves you

When you’re in a time of testing you can definitely feel forgotten, alone and abandoned. So it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care about you. We ask, “Why would God let me go through this?” But we need to understand that even if God lets us go through tough times, God still deeply loves and cares for us.

We know this first of all because we see that God let his own beloved Son, Jesus, go through difficulties. And we know that God loved Jesus above all. So there is allowance of hardship and love together.

Second, Hebrews 12:5-8 teaches us that God will also let us, his beloved children, go through hardship. Again there is allowance of hardship and love together. Let’s look at these verses. The readers were having hard times for sure, experiencing persecution.

The writer says, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children? “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every child whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as children. For what child is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate and not children.”

In this we see that God allows and uses hardship for the benefit of those he loves. In fact, God’s allowance of hardship actually shows that God loves you and owns you as his own child. You are not abandoned, but loved. God is concerned about you and your well-being.

This leads us to the second thing we should remember –

God can bring something good out of your suffering

Now, this is not something you can share with someone flippantly. When you are going through hard times this isn’t usually what you want to hear. Or even need to hear. It is nevertheless true.

It was true for Jesus. Hebrews 5:8 says, Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” And we also learn through our suffering about following God and being righteous.

Scripture talks about this in a number of places:

  • God allows us to be tested “for our own good, in order that we may share his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10.
  • Going through difficult times “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.
  • Romans 5:3-4 says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
  • Testing “is intended to make you worthy of the Kingdom of God” – 2 Thessalonians 1:5.
  • James 1:3-4 says, “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God is doing a great work within us as he allows us to be tested and tried.

Romans 8:28 is a familiar verse and it comes from a context of talking about suffering. It says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Whereas for so many in the world, their suffering seems to be pointless and for no reason, the promise of God to us, his children, is that whatever God allows us to go through he is able to use for our good; and for the good of others. He can bring something good out of it. And we can hold on to this, even if in our trial we can’t possibly see how it is so at the time.

God won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear

1 Corinthians 10:13 is a great verse. It says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When we are going through hard times, these become a test of our faith. The question is, “Will we remain faithful to God in the midst of it?” What this verse says is that God will not let us get into a situation that we cannot handle in terms of remaining faithful to him.

Satan will try to discourage us, and cause us to give up. But God always provides a way of escape. God will make sure that we have the grace and strength we need to get through it, or that the situation will change.

This is God’s promise to us and we need to remember it when we think that we can’t handle our testing. The fact that God has allowed it, means you can handle it.

You will be blessed if you endure

Let’s look at some Scriptures:

  • Paul said, “let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” – Galatians 6:9.
  • Jesus says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – Revelation 2:10.
  • As Paul said, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” – 2 Timothy 2:12.
  • James tells us, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” – James 1:12.

As difficult as our trials are, we can know that the blessings will far outweigh them. As Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” It is more than worth it.