Suffering for Righteousness
Martin Luther’s teaching of “justification by faith alone” was a battle cry for the sufficiency of the merit of Christ and for the graciousness of redemption. His slogan sola fide (“by faith alone”) was merely an extension of Augustine’s earlier credo, sola gratia (“by grace alone”).
What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not merit. No one can possibly subtract from or add to the merit of Christ. His merit is capable of neither diminution or augmentation. Our best works are always tainted by our sinfulness. We are debtors who cannot pay our debts, let alone accrue a surplus of excess merit. To interpret Colossians 1:24 in the way I mentioned in the previous reading is to cast a grotesque shadow over the utter perfection and fullness of Christ’s meritorious suffering.
What then does Paul mean by filling up what is lacking? If the lack is not merit, what is it? Paul repeatedly stresses the idea that the church, the body of Christ, is called to a willing participation in the humiliation and suffering of Jesus. For Paul, as with any Christian, it was a singular honor to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. But it is one thing to suffer for righteousness’ sake; it is quite another to suffer for merit’s sake.
Coram Deo: If you are suffering, reflect on these questions: Is it because of your own bad decisions? Is it because of your circumstances? Are you suffering for righteousness’ sake or is your suffering self-inflicted?
1 Peter 4:13: “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
Philippians 3:10: “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”