Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bearing Our Crosses

"We all have our cross to bear." How many times have you heard that old expression? We rarely think of this being a good thing. Often it is an expression recited to bring some comfort to someone who is struggling.

Calvin has a better take on this expression. To him, "bearing one's cross" is a good thing. It shows that we belong to God and He is improving us. "For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil." The fact that we suffer helps us to relate to Christ and the suffering he experienced for us. And when we are going through our own sufferings, it can ease our pain to know that it is God preparing us throughout the situation. "How much can it do to soften all the bitterness of the cross, that the more we are afflicted with adversities, the more surely our fellowship with Christ is confirmed!"

When we are suffering, we tend to focus more on God. I am sure that everyone here has experienced that - I surely have. It has been times of great adversity in my life that my faith has grown the most because I recognize my utter dependence on God. During the good times of life, that is when we tend to drift away because we get inflated egos thinking that we are in control. Calvin writes, "...we are by nature too inclined to attribute everything to our flesh - unless our feebleness be shown, as it were, to our eyes - we readily esteem our virtue above its due measure."

We recently watched the movie Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandella. Several times during that movie, Mandella quoted the line from a William Ernest Henley poem which reads, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." You would think that someone who suffered as much as Nelson Mandella would recognize a bigger master and captain than himself. God uses suffering to help us recognize His power and realize how feeble we are. Calvin writes, "Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions."

"And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope," (Romans 5:3-4, NKJV).  We receive blessings through bearing our crosses, especially hope.  Calvin lists ways that the cross strengthens our hope.  We are cleansed of a blind love of ourselves.  We become more aware of our incapacity and learn to distrust ourselves.  In our distrust of ourselves, we may learn to trust God.  Our trust in God will help us persevere to the end.  In the end we may be able to "stand in his grace that [we] may comprehend the truth of his promises; to have unquestioned certainty of his promises that [our] hope may thereby be strengthened."

Another use of affliction by God on His people is to "test their patience and instruct them to obedience."  Although God has blessed His people, he still needs to test and train them in His ways.  His people will become better servants when they are instructed by God.  The classic example Calvin uses is when God tested Abraham.  This clearly demonstrated Abraham's faith.  Abraham became a great servant for God.

The cross can also be seen as medicine for us.  Calvin compares God's people to horses.  If a horse is allowed to get fat and not be yoked, when the time comes for that horse to work, he will refuse.  It is constant training that a horse needs to be a productive animal.  Each horse needs to be trained according to that horse's temperament.  Likewise, God treats us according to our needs.  "The Lord himself, according as he sees it expedient, confronts us and subjects and restrains our unrestrained flesh with the remedy of the cross."

Finally, God uses the cross to "correct our past transgressions so that he may keep us in lawful obedience to himself."  He does not do this because He is a bully, nor does He do it to ruin or destroy us.  But God wants to "free us from the condemnation of the world," and this is how he accomplishes this freedom for us.  Calvin addresses how Scripture views similar sufferings by unbelievers in that they only become worse and more obstinate through sufferings.  God's people attain repentance because they recognize their sinful ways.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.8.7-3.8.11

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