Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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As we saw in the Scriptures yesterday evening, every soul who loves God and His righteousness will suffer persecution in this world. The Scriptures are so clear on that issue that many people, realizing that suffering always attends righteousness, have made themselves suffer, thinking that their self-inflicted suffering would make them righteous. They were wrong.
We can starve ourselves, condemn ourselves, beat, cut, and otherwise abuse our bodies, and make ourselves lonely by moving far from other people, but none of those things can ever make us righteous. They can impress ignorant people with their show of humility and self-sacrifice, but they can never impress God. On Mount Carmel, Baal’s prophets prayed fervently for hours, exhausted themselves with dancing, and in desperation, sliced themselves with knives so that their blood colored the ground around their altar, but it meant absolutely nothing to God. All their self-inflicted pain and struggle was sin. They were making themselves suffer for no purpose. Paul called religious fervor without the leading of the Spirit “will-worship”. What such people as Baal’s bloody and weary priests and prophets really worship is their own will power, their own strength to inflict suffering upon their bodies and their hearts. That kind of religious devotion may impress people on earth, but in God’s eyes it is all just another form of sin, and the world is full of it.
Those who desire to do God’s will and to know His truth are strangers and pilgrims in this world, but they never try to make themselves strangers and pilgrims because that is not what they are seeking. Their whole desire is to know God. They are not seeking to appear to be seeking God, nor do they seek simply to be different from others. They are not seeking to appear to be righteous; they are seeking true holiness, whatever that means for them. They are seeking to do God’s will whether it makes them comfortable or uncomfortable here in this life. That is what makes them strangers in this world. Those who make themselves suffer are not strangers here at all; on the contrary, their self-inflicted suffering fits in very well with all the other bizarre behavior of fallen man. True “strangers and pilgrims” are those humble souls who do not want to suffer at all nor be different at all, but who are willing to bear any pain and walk along lonely pathways for the sake of attaining to genuine communion with the Father and the Son.
It is vanity for men to try to look as if they are holy, as many religious leaders do, by wearing unusual clothing (long, flowing gowns, high, pointed miters, or stiff shirt collars turned backwards) or to appear holy by hurting their own bodies. The man who is truly spiritual does not have to make any effort to be holy because he already is holy. His heart is at rest. Those who are truly devoted to Jesus are laboring to be as much like normal people in this world as possible (but without sin), just as Jesus desired to become one of us. Part of what makes the “strait and narrow way” of the gospel so strait and narrow is that the majority of people on earth pursue only the appearance of righteousness, while those who are truly spiritual pursue the real thing.