by C. Parker Thomas

(Editor’s note: This article was published in the January-February-March 1990 issue of the “Midnight Cry Messenger” with the following introduction: “Although this article was first published over 30 years ago, it contains much truth that is very relevant to what the Lord is doing today.”)

In these days we hear much about “being conformed to the image of his son,” but most of us do not know the path which must be taken if we are to be made like the Lord Jesus. Hebrews 5:8 declares, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” This path of suffering cannot be escaped if we are to be made in his likeness. Romans 6:5 says, “for if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Now we know that positionally we died with Christ, but we must experience the daily death mentioned by Paul in I Cor. 15:31. “I die daily.”

Let us look at the life of Jesus and see some of the things which he suffered. After his baptism by John the Baptist and the coming of the Spirit on Him, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. The very first temptation was to satisfy his physical desires. Later he performed a miracle to feed the 5000 but he would not give in to the desires of his own suffering flesh.

In the garden when “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” his human nature cried out to be spared the cup of suffering, yet he prayed that the perfect will of his Father be done. He did not resist when he was betrayed by one of the 12. At his trial when he was buffeted, spit upon, and smitten in the face, he murmured not. Then when he was led away to Golgotha to bear our sins, he went willingly, obediently because it was only as his life was poured out that life could be given to others.

While he was hanging there on the cross, those who crucified him mocked him saying, “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” The truth is that he could not because he would not. If he had come down from the cross we would still be in our sins. But blessed be his name, He “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”

Now, you say, if Christ died for our sins, how is it that we die? “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, THAT YE SHOULD FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS.”

As Born-Again ones, we know of our death to sin, but we know little about being conformed to death. It is as we are made conformable to his death that we manifest the life of the Lord Jesus. If we continue to take the easy way out, refusing to take up our cross daily and follow Him, then we cannot expect the life of Christ to flow out to others. If we seek to save ourselves, then we cannot expect to save others.

You say, “but I thought the Christian life was a life of joy and not of suffering.” Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” We seem to think that because we have been saved from sin that we are to be free from suffering. Do not mistake the suffering I am talking about to be sickness, disease, bereavement, etc. That kind of suffering is not nearly so grievous to the flesh as the suffering spoken of in I Peter 4:11, “for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” There is a vast difference in this kind of suffering. Peter continues in verse 13, “rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” My dear reader, we will know joy unspeakable and full of glory if we count not our lives dear unto ourselves but live a poured-out life.

There is no short-cut to being made in his image. There is no one experience by which we become like him. It is a daily dying, “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” II Cor. 4:10-12. As death worked in Christ, then life worked in those for whom he died. We died with Christ, therefore, as we reckon or count ourselves to be dead with him, his life is worked in us and through us to others.

Do you know Christ as your Saviour from sin and yet seem not to know the out-flowing of the Christ-life to others? Then perhaps you have been trying to save your life, not knowing the provision that has been made for you to die, and yet live (yet not you but Christ in you).

The Scriptures tell us to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to the Lord Jesus. To reckon means to count it so. We are dead to sin and alive to the Lord Jesus, therefore when we are faced with a situation where we must choose the line of least resistance and live to the flesh, or die to our own desires and live unto Christ, we remember that we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God, and we mortify (make dead) the deeds of the body and live!

We do not have to struggle and strive in order that we be conformed to his death, but claim it because it has been made available to us. As we identify ourselves with that death and continually appropriate the power of that death, the resurrection life will come forth and we will “save others” instead of vainly trying to save ourselves.

The mocking crowd around the Cross cried, “If thou art the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” But little did they know how far they were from the truth. For if he had come down, he never would have been declared the Son of God with power. He had to die in order to be raised from the dead. Paul tells us that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with Power, according to the spirit of holiness, BY THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.” Romans 1:4. And remember, Christ suffered for us, “leaving us an example that ye should follow IN HIS STEPS.”

If we expect to become mature Sons of God, we must walk the same path as our Lord walked, the path of death, burial and resurrection. “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lust of men, but to the will of God.” I Peter 4:1-2.

In II Corinthians 1:3-10, Paul says that God gave them comfort in their tribulations “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that WE DESPAIRED EVEN OF LIFE; BUT WE HAD THE SENTENCE OF DEATH IN OURSELVES, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.”

You see, dear ones, this divine principle of life out of death works. The death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus is more than just historical fact. Do you see why all the service that is being done “for” God today is fruitless: I Corinthians 4:15 gives a true picture of the religious world today. “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” A father is one who reproduces children. The world is filled with teachers and preachers who preach an historical Christ and an historical cross, but how few of them know anything about participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. That is why children are not brought to the birth and then nurtured to full-grown sonship. How grieving it must be to our Father that his children are not reaching maturity that they might be able to reproduce children themselves.

“And all through life I see a Cross, Where sons of God yield up their breath; There is no gain except by loss, There is no life except by death.”

You ask, “Is it possible for a person who is born-again to choose between the path of suffering and death and the path of seeking to save one’s own life?” Paul seems to indicate that is possible, but the end of that one is not a pretty picture.

In I Corinthians 3 he was writing to babes in Christ, carnal or fleshly Christians. He says in verses 9-17, “For we are laborers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that we are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

In chapter 6, verses 12, 19, and 20 he states, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, BUT I WILL NOT BE BROUGHT UNDER THE POWER OF ANY... What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Then in chapter 9 verse 27, Paul states his own determination, “But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway,” i.e., disapproved or disqualified.

Jesus’ suffering was voluntary for he said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” John 10:17-18. Why not take the way of our Lord, the way of death, that we who suffer with him might also reign with him? Romans 8 tells us that “if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For ... the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the SONS OF GOD.”

This seeming paradox of dying and living at the same time cannot be comprehended by the natural man. But it is simple to those who have died to sin and realize their position in Christ. When the husband or wife speaks harshly, we keep sweet. When we are smitten on one cheek, we turn the other. Instead of being ministered unto, we minister. Instead of seeking to save our life, we lose it. All of this of course, because of the Christ in us who lives as we die. Then the love of I Corinthians 13 is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost and the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance, flows out of our innermost beings as rivers of living waters. It is then that the gifts of the Spirit, which are our tools, will operate by divine love and will thereby be edifying and profitable to the church, which is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

If we would be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus, then let us “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Let us “present our bodies as living sacrifices” or “living deaths.” “But the God of all grace who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, AFTER THAT YE HAVE SUFFERED A WHILE, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. TO HIM BE GLORY AND DOMINION FOR EVER AND EVER, AMEN.” I Peter 5:10-11.

This beautiful song by A. B. Simpson bears out the truth of this message.

I am crucified with Jesus,
And the cross hath set me free;
I have risen again with Jesus,
And he lives and reigns in me.

Mystery hid from ancient ages;
But at length to faith made plain;
Christ in me the Hope of Glory,
Tell it o’er and o’er again.

This the secret, nature hideth,
Summer dies and lives again,
Spring from winter’s grave ariseth,
Harvest grows from buried grain.

This the story of the Master,
Through the Cross, He reached the Throne,
And like Him our path to glory,
Ever leads through death alone.

Oh! it is so sweet to die with Jesus,
To the world, and self, and sin;
Oh! it is so sweet to live with Jesus,
As he lives and reigns within.

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