Redemption of Relief – Part 3 – Following God’s Perfect Example

This is the third installment of a short blog series titled Redemption or Relief. I hope that this will be an encouragement to our church as we follow Christ together. As you read I encourage you to ask yourself this question, “Would I be satisfied if the only thing redeeming in this suffering were that it gave glory to God?” If you have not read the first two installment of this blog series click here to read them.

Is redemption really better?

As a quick review in our first two installments we began by examining God’s story of redemption as it relates to human suffering. God’s desire is to redeem mankind’s suffering by restoring His relationship with them through Christ’s work on the cross. Then we took a look at the world’s distortions of this story. The world offers the mirage of relief through distraction, but God offers to redeem our suffering. He does not always take it away, but He does promise  to strengthen the sufferer spiritually despite physical weakness (2 Cor 12:9-10). At this point in the series every sufferer must be asking, “How is the offer of redemption really that much better than relief?” The concept may seem like rhetoric. To understand the beauty of redemption through pain and suffering let’s gaze for a moment at the ultimate display of suffering, Jesus. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Is 53:3).” The suffering that Jesus faced on the cross provides the perfect example for sufferers to follow. Jesus suffered as no other man, yet he suffered without sinning. Jesus did not revile or threaten his accusers, he trusted himself to the just judge (1 Peter 2:18-25).

This is beautifully pictured in John Chapter 12. The week of the Passover had come and Jesus rode into the city on the colt of a donkey. Imagine the turmoil that Jesus experienced in his soul as the crowds proclaimed His praise. The reality was that on this day, when the rest of Jerusalem was setting aside the lamb that would be sacrificed for the Passover, He too was being chosen by the people as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Heb 10:14). He knew that in just a few short days those shouts of adoration would be transformed into murderous cries for His crucifixion. His disciple’s excitement was starkly contrasted with the looming prospect of the cross, the cross on which He, the sinless Son of God, would bear the sins of the world.

Exemplary Pattern for Suffering

Jesus tells the Greeks who came to seek him, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (Jn 12:23).” Jesus presents His perspective of suffering. He does not say, “The time has come for the Son of Man to suffer.” He presents the suffering of the cross from the standpoint of redemption and its resulting glory. He follows this with instructions for His disciples to follow by first of all presenting them with the exemplary pattern for suffering. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).” The pattern presented here is death that brings life. He reminds sufferers of the price of redemption, death. The suffering and death of Jesus on the cross would bear much fruit. Jesus looked through the suffering to the fruit that it would bear. The fruit that He speaks of is all who would believe in Him. Jesus died so that we could live. Jesus’ suffering breathes life into the discouragement of the sufferer. While suffering is painful it has a purging effect upon the sufferer (1 Pet 4:1). “Believers can face death with the same attitude their Lord had, that when it comes they will have entered into an eternal condition of holy perfection, free from all sin’s influences and effects.”[1]

Eternal Principle of the Heart

Jesus continues by secondly displaying the eternal principle of the heart. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn 12:25).” Jesus dives into the motivation of the heart. To love this life, is to love this life more than the next. Jesus had an eternal perspective on His suffering. He willingly gave His life on the cross in obedience to the Father for the payment of sin. He looked forward to the eternal rather then becoming engrossed in the temporal. The tendency of a person suffering is to focus on the present remedy for the suffering. Jesus calls believers to hate their lives. This refers to a comparison. A sufferer should hate their life when compared to the eternal weight of glory that Christ offers (2 Cor 4:17). A person suffering must continually check their heart motivation. “What does my heart want, long for or crave? Am I motivated by eternity or engrossed in the current?”

Exclusive Path of the Humble

The third principle that Jesus presents is the exclusive path of the humble. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:26a).” Jesus calls believers to pursue hard after Him. This is incredibly important for a person suffering. It is easy to be so consumed with suffering that a person stops serving. Jesus is calling sufferers to live their life with Jesus and eternity as the object of their desire. The amazing thing is that when a person follows hard after Christ they will receive just that. They get Jesus. The pursuit of their life will be given as they are finally reconciled to God after the resurrection. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2).”

Extravagant Payment of Honor

The final exhortation that Jesus gives to His disciples is an extravagant payment of honor. “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (Jn 12:26b).” What exactly is this honor? The fullness of this honor will not be realized until a believer is in heaven with Christ (1 Cor 13:12). This is why Christ was the perfect one to offer this promise. As God Jesus had experienced the glory of heaven. He knew what heaven was like and offered a perspective that no other human could match (Jn 16:28). Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, The Portion of the Righteous, explains the rewards that believers will partake of in heaven in heaven,

For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others… there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness, because they will see most of the image of God in them.[2]

A believer’s capacity to enjoy heaven is contingent upon how he or she followed Jesus here on earth. Jim Fain applies this concept to suffering in reference to 1 Peter 4:12-13, “To the degree that you share in Christ’s suffering you will rejoice in his presence.”[3] Suffering is like air being forced into a balloon that expands its capacity while increasing its tension. Suffering expands a believer’s ability to enjoy Christ by increasing tension in this life. Those who share in Christ’s sufferings most closely in this earth will appreciate Christ most fully for eternity.

Unwavering Commitment to God’s Glory

The next two verses demonstrate the suffering of Jesus and His unwavering commitment to the glory of the Father. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name (Jn 12:27-28a).” Our frail human minds can hardly understand what Jesus meant when He mentioned the trouble in His soul. “In His humanness, Jesus felt all the pain associated with bearing the curse for sin (Gal. 3:13).”[4] The author of Hebrews refers to this prayer of Jesus, and others like it, when he wrote, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:7-8).” Jesus did not waver one moment in His obedience to the Father. He cries out, “Father, glorify your name.” And that is exactly what God did with Jesus. Through His sacrifice God was glorified. As a voice from heaven confirmed, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again (John 12:28b).” The focal point of the suffering that Christ endured was giving glory to God through redemption.

A sufferer must ask, “Would I be satisfied if the only thing redeeming in this suffering were that it gave glory to God?” Jesus Christ was the perfect example of a sufferer. In His suffering He never sinned. He never got angry and shook His fist at God. He never pursued relief, but instead paid the hefty price for redemption. As Jesus, by choice, faced unimaginable suffering from which there was no escape His faith was unwavering and His focus was fixed upon the glory of the Father. As we counsel men and women, like those mentioned in the introduction, we must call them to suffer like Jesus did. We must help them to understand their suffering on the timeline of God’s story of redemption, despite the distraction of the world’s distorted story, and beckon them to follow Christ’s perfect example when faced with the prospect of relief or the promise of redemption. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).”


[1]John MacArthur, 1 Peter, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004), n.p.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, “The Portion of the Righteous” (text of sermon, Northampton, Northampton, MA, December, 1740), accessed April 16, 2016,

[3] Jim Fain, “Biblical Counseling and the Exclusivity of the Gospel” (lecture, Grace Chapel, Englewood, CO, April 1, 2016).

[4]John MacArthur, John 12–21, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2008), n.p.

Redemption or Relief – Part 2 – Recognizing the World’s Distorted Story

This is the second installment of a short blog series titled Redemption or Relief. I hope that this will be an encouragement to our church as we follow Christ together. As you read I encourage you to ask yourself this question, “Would I be satisfied if the only thing redeeming in this suffering were that it gave glory to God?” If you have not read the first installment of this blog series click here to read it.

As a quick review in our first installment we looked at God’s story of redemption as it relates to human suffering. God desires to redeem man’s suffering by restoring His relationship with them through Christ’s work on the cross. It is the intention of this installment to help us to recognize the World’s distorted storyline.

Our world is actively telling us a very different story. Its story does not explain suffering; in fact it avoids the idea all together. Its perfect story ends when the handsome healthy hero rides off into the sunset. This story is myopic and incongruent with the reality that many people face. It points to lasting hope through relief, which is out of their control and often an empty promise in this temporal fallen world. When a person’s story doesn’t match this fairy tale story the world offers to edit the storyline to make sense of reality.

Mirage of Relief

Because of the fallen nature of the world is powerless to redeem suffering or give meaning and purpose. Instead the world proposes the mirage of relief. It offers new treatments, medications, diets or homeopathic remedies that promise healing. There is always something new in the medical fields. Well-meaning people are often ready to share a new ‘miracle’ cure that has changed their life, or the life of someone they love. Each of these cures offers hope for healing. And the reality is some of them may actually bring the healing or relief they promise. But because the medical fields are constantly changing and science is bringing new and better treatments every day, pursuing each and every avenue of treatment could become the hopeless endeavor of a lifetime. And a life is exactly what these sufferers are trying to purchase back.

As well intentioned and promising as each of these treatments may seem they offer hope that is not a guarantee. This is not to say that a person should not pursue medical treatment or cures, but that they should guard their mind against the twisted story line of the world that relief will bring them peace. Satan, the crafty serpent from the garden, has been twisting storylines since the very beginning of time. The scriptures record his distortion of God’s story in Genesis 3:1. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Eve answers the deceitful serpent with God’s command, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die (Gen 3:2-3).’” Satan immediately began to attempt to diminish the command of God by distorting the cost, “You will not surely die (Gen 3:4).” He offers the opportunity to cheat death. This subtle lie can lay hold of the heart of a person suffering from a disease. By taking these pills, doing this treatment, pursuing these cures death can be averted and pain can be relieved. The reality is that because of the curse of sin pain has become an unavoidable part of life. Death cannot be cheated (1 Cor 15:22, Heb 9:27).

Though its intentions may not be as deceitful as those of the crafty serpent in the garden the world offers similar rhetoric. “Since the moment sin entered the world, straightforwardness was lost in communication. Barrier-free communication left creation.”[1] The reality is that at the fall all communication broke down. It is practically impossible to offer a remedy without also offering the resulting hope and relief that will come from its success. Though unintended this communication breakdown is the effect of the fall. The story that the world tells will always become distorted and partial.

Replacement of Perspective

When a person becomes hopeless because none of the treatments are working the world offers a new perspective through therapy that instructs sufferers to look for the positives in the negative. They offer multiple techniques to reduce stress, enjoy each moment intensely, reorient priorities, do something good or learn to love yourself more. Each of these are presented as solutions for suffering. Marshal Segal addresses the folly of these self-care methods when he wrote, “It’s the licensed healthcare equivalent of turning up Taylor Swift so loud you couldn’t possibly think about anything else. Just shake it off. It’s medication by distraction, not redemption. Practicing forgetfulness, rather than pursuing forgiveness.”[2] While Segal’s characterization of self-care may not offer a full understanding of the complex therapeutic methods that the world presents. His conclusion is correct. Therapy seeks to distract from the reality of the pain and fails to give true meaning and purpose. It offers relief through distortion rather than purpose through redemption.

At the end of the day each of these treatments or therapies, no matter how old or scientific, carry with them the seed of a lie. They subtly tell a sufferer that they would be happy if their condition were healed. If the pain would go away life would be purposeful again. If the crushed dreams and desires were attained there would be some sort of meaning to all of this. When this seed is planted and allowed to grow the fruit will ultimately return the sufferer to a new level of hopelessness, discouragement and despair (Jer 6:13-14). They will conclude with King Solomon, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless (Ecc 1:2 NIV).’”

Grace in Weakness

This is not to say that sufferers should simply relegate themselves to the idea that there are no cures, to stop pursuing medical help or just accept the cold hard facts. This mindset diminishes God’s healing the power (Jas 5:14-15). A practical guide to how a sufferer ought to pursue medical remedies will be addressed more deeply in a future installment of this series, but for now it is important to remember that healing is not always what God has in store for those who are suffering. While this may be discouraging for many, Paul actually found comfort in this when he said, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor 12:9).” Paul actually rejoiced in his suffering. Weakness was cause for him to worship in the midst of his suffering.



[1] Abner Chou, ed., What Happened in the Garden: The Reality and Ramifications of the Creation and Fall of Man (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016), 177.

[2] Marshal Segal, “The Insanity of ‘Self-Care’,” Desiring God (blog), March 14, 2016, accessed April 14, 2016,

Redemption or Relief – Part 1 – Understanding God’s Redemptive Story

This is the first installment of a short blog series titled Redemption or Relief. I hope that this will be an encouragement to our church as we follow Christ together. As you read I encourage you to ask yourself this question, “Would I be satisfied if the only thing redeeming in this suffering were that it gave glory to God?”


What hope can be given to a young man whose life changed 3 years ago in an accident? Every day is marked with confusion and pain. A middle-aged father of 2 teen boys is on the verge of loosing his job, suffering from multiple medical conditions, the inability to think clearly and an ever-growing mountain of health bills. The feeling of helplessness grows with every moment. A young mother of 4, is given the diagnosis of a debilitating degenerative disease, for which there is no known cure, that will render her with the inability to care for herself in the near future. She experiences a deep longing to be healthy again, that will likely never be satisfied. A frail elderly woman who’s helpless feeling grows daily as she watches her husband’s once brilliant mind deteriorate under the scourge of Alzheimer’s. She fears the day when he will no longer remember her name. Each of these people is suffering and there is no end in sight. They yearn for relief. They have and are pursuing every medical lead, and yet there seems to be no answers.

Each of these men and women are facing different medical issues. None of them have answers, and all of them are losing hope because there is no light at the end of the tunnel. They all desire to be healed from their maladies so they can function as ‘normal’ people. The temptation to believe that they cannot be ok unless their bodies are healed is very strong. God has a grand plan for each of these people, a plan that transcends simple physical relief, a bigger story that climaxes at redemption. The gospel gives hope to these suffering men and women by leading them to seek redemption over relief, by understanding God’s redemptive story, recognizing the world’s distorted story and following Jesus’ perfect example.


There was not always suffering and disease. The world that God created was perfect. He created man in His image and gave him authority over His creation. He blessed man with the work of filling the earth and caring for it. He provided man with food from every tree in the garden to enjoy and nourish his body. God designed the perfect companion for man and called her woman. They enjoyed daily fellowship with God. The earth reflected its Creator. There was no shame, no pain and no disease. When the creation was finished God proclaimed, “It was very good.”


Man rebelled against God and all of this changed. The storyline became distorted by sin (Rom 5:12). Everything fell and the world was radically transformed as sin began its destructive work upon the lines of history. God’s creation was cursed. Man had to labor, by the sweat of his brow, to provide for his family. His relationship with his wife was damaged and the seeds of conflict were sown. It is here that we see pain enter the world as part of the curse associated with childbirth (Gen 3:14). But worst of all the entrance of sin demanded that man be separated from the holy God and sentenced to death. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. Disease, pain and suffering became a part of the daily expectations of life. No one escapes these effects of the fall.

This should give those who are suffering insight into the source of their suffering. Often people ask, “How could a loving God allow people to suffer like this?” The answer is that God’s justice demanded the curse against sin. Man’s rebellion against God is the cause for suffering. This is not to say your suffering is outside of God’s control. On the contrary God uses the very effects of the curse to draw us to Himself. He did not curse the world for sin without adding to the storyline the hope of redemption and restoration.


In the very words of the curse God gave the promise of redemption. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gen 3:15).”[1] This is where Jesus is introduced into the storyline. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal 4:4–5).” On the cross Jesus paid the penalty for man’s sin in full and offers His righteousness to those who will turn from their sin to Jesus through believing in Him as their Savior and Lord. Redemption begins the process in which God works in believer’s hearts transforming them into the image of Jesus. This process of sanctification does not bring relief from the physical effects of the curse. In fact it is through the tests of suffering that God gives joy and growth (Jas 1:1-4). God’s plan is not primarily to relieve suffering on this earth but instead to redeem it. Redemption gives purpose to pain and suffering that otherwise would seem purposeless. Elizabeth Wurtzel writes about her desire to have her circumstances match the suffering she felt inside, “That is all I want in life: for this pain to seem purposeful.”[2] Christ gives purpose to that which seems to be devoid of purpose, not always by giving relief, but by promising to redeem our suffering.


“Without God’s story, everyone should be depressed, hopeless, and despairing because, with all the counterfeit stories, everything we deeply cherish comes to ruins in the end.”[3] God’s redemptive narrative does not culminate in a battle against suffering in which relief is impossible. He offers something infinitely better. The ultimate purpose of redemption is restoration. Jesus died on the cross to restore the relationship that was broken at the curse. He suffered in this temporal world to purchase eternal restoration with God. The disease, pain and suffering of this world will be utterly obliterated. The 20th Century Anglican scholar John Wenhem wrote, “The toils which seem so endless will be seen to have been quite transitory and abundantly worthwhile.”[4] The apostle John records this amazing scene of final restoration, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev 21:4).” The rift that was caused by sin will be utterly destroyed when Satan is defeated once and for all (Rev 20:10). God promises to make all things new (Rev 21:1-5). In eternity there will be complete freedom from the curse and the ravaging effects of sin. This restoration is not the end, but the beginning of a new story in a new and perfect world. C.S. Lewis describes this in his last statement in Chronicles of Narnia. As he describes the children’s fear of being sent out of Aslan’s presence and back to their world, the shadow lands, Aslan, the lion that represents God, comforts them by telling them,

“The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.[5]

The world attempts to distort Christ’s work of redemption. It bypasses the focal point of God’s story and offers a substitute relief. Relief is what each person who is suffering so desires, but it is not always best. “Redemption is Christ’s saving work viewed as an act of “buying back” sinners out of their bondage to sin and to Satan through the payment of a ransom.”[6] God desires to redeem man’s suffering by restoring His relationship with them through Christ’s work on the cross.



[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are from the ESV translation.

[2] Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America (New York, N.Y.: Riverhead Books, ©2000), 50.

[3] Edward T. Welch, Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, ©2011), 227.

[4] Ron Rhodes, Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good? (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House Publishers, ©2004), 225.

[5] C S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, vol. 7, The Last Battle (New York: HarperTrophy, 1994, ©1956), 228.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Bits & Bytes/Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1253.