Bearing the cross not only strengthens the faith, patience and hope of the godly, but it also begins to remove from their hearts their inordinate love for this life. Even though all people want to appear to be living for eternal life, if you really examine their plans they are filled only with earthly concerns, which brings to expression their greed, ambition and desire. To remove from us our love for riches, power and honour. God reveals the vanity of the present life through the afflictions of the cross. Then only do we rightly advance by the discipline of the cross, when we learn that this life, judged in itself, is troubled, turbulent, unhappy in countless ways, and in no respect clearly happy; that all those things which are judged to be its goods are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and spoiled by many intermingled evils.
Their conformity to Christ crucified means that any and every hope believers have for earthly happiness will be taken away from them. This is obvious: the entire company of believers, so long as they dwell on earth, must be “as sheep destined for slaughter” [Romans 8:36] to be conformed to Christ their Head. Believers should not only develop contempt for this life through their experience of the cross, but they should also develop an increasing love and longing for the life to come. When it comes to a comparison with the life to come, the present life can not only be safely neglected but, compared to the former, must be utterly despised and loathed. Believers should compare the lowly state of their bodies in this life to the glorified state their bodies will have in the kingdom of God
When they will participate in the same glory now seen only in the body of Jesus Christ. When they do so, they will lose the fear of death that haunts the hearts of unbelievers. For if we deem this unstable, defective, corruptible, fleeting, wasting, rotting tabernacle of our body to be so dissolved that it is soon renewed unto a firm, perfect, incorruptible, and finally, heavenly glory, will not faith compel us ardently to seek what nature dreads?
Our progress in the Christian life is in part determined by how much we look forward to the coming of the day of our death and await the return of the Lord, who will transform our mortal bodies to become like his immortal body. Let us, however, consider this settled: that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection.
Just as the resurrection of Christ removed the disgrace and shame from his cross, so the hope of our own resurrection makes it possible for believers to bear the cross of Christ in a way that frees their hearts from the perverse love of this life. If believers eyes are turned to the power of the resurrection, in their hearts the cross of Christ will at last triumph over the devil, flesh, sin, and wicked men.
The coming of Christ also provides believers with an essential comfort and consolation, for when Christ comes as Judge he will afflict and destroy those who afflicted believers in this life. For, as Paul testifies, this is righteousness: to grant rest to the unhappy and unjustly afflicted, to repay with affliction the wicked who afflict the godly, when the Lord is revealed from heaven [2 Thessalonians 1:6–7].
One of the major sources of the bitterness of affliction arises from the fact that those who afflict the godly are not themselves afflicted by God, but rather seem to flourish and prosper in this life. This contrast would be intolerable to the faithful unless they could look forward to the day when they will be comforted, and their oppressors who now flourish on earth will be afflicted. This truly is our sole comfort. If it be taken away, either our minds must become despondent, or, to our destruction, be captivated by the empty solace of this world just as Lazarus and the rich man.
The godly who are called to love and bless their enemies therefore do so with the consolation that there will be a day when God will take vengeance on their enemies. And there is still this consolation, by which all their distresses are soothed. They entertain no doubt, that God will be the avenger of obstinate wickedness, so as to make it manifest, that those who are unjustly attacked are the object of his care.
The command to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us is oriented toward the conversion of our enemies to faith in the gospel. If they remain our enemies even when we love them and pray for their forgiveness, then we know that they will perish under the wrath of God, and may be comforted thereby. Although we ought not to pray to God to avenge our enemies, but should pray for their conversion, so that they may become our friends, yet if they should continue in their wickedness, the same thing will happen to them as will happen to all the others who despise God.