Let us not crave the worldling’s hope: “Give me a life free of misery and oppression!” No. God has visited and blessed you whenever you encounter oppression in defense of righteousness for the honor of Christ. Whether it be in your marriage, your family, your workplace, your community, or your country.
“Life will get worse.” What if that were one half of a ubiquitous Christian bumper sticker? “Follow me to Jesus. Life will get worse.” Maybe a little tacky, but it would be truth in advertising. To follow the Man of sorrows is to enter a life of sorrows.
It is this lesson Calvin works out his chapter, “Of Bearing the Cross – One Branch of Self-Denial.” Calvin exposits our Lord’s own invitation to become a Christian: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
He opens his study by cutting straight to the point: “For those whom the Lord has chosen and condescended to welcome into fellowship with Him should prepare themselves for a life that is hard, laborious, troubled, and full of many and various kinds of evil”
The Christian gets no exemption from a life of grief. This is the way the Savior hath trod. The Head travelled to glory by way of affliction, so must the body. Bearing the misery and bitterness of the cross, the Son of God was obedient to his Father. We now follow, not to atone for our sins, but to walk in the freedom of a full and finished atonement.
Calvin provides several “reasons why we ourselves must spend our lives subject to a constant cross.” The first, he says, is because we are prone to overestimate our own virtue.
By this he means we are easily puffed up, thinking we have in ourselves the strength to withstand life’s little difficulties. We think our own courage explains how we easily endure a little conflict, a little loss, a little disappointment. To deflate this pride, God puts us under not-so-little crosses: “He afflicts us with disgrace, poverty, childlessness, illness, and other troubles. And we, for our part, quickly crumble before such blows, being far from able to withstand them.”
By God’s testing we learn to cry out for God’s strength. The Father will not have his children build with earthly toothpicks what can only stand by heavenly beams of grace. He must bring us to despair of our natural abilities. By these operations of grace we are taught to reach for the gifts and powers of heaven in the risen Christ. God knows we must cling to God alone on the narrow way.