sermon: Assurance (Part Two): Of the Path to Glory
Assurance and Suffering
Martin G. Collins
Given 18-Jun-16; 71 minutes
In this physical life we are assured of many things. Advertisers especially try to assure us, for example that best car will never be in an accident but if so that accident will not kill us. The pharmaceutical companies they are constantly advertising and try to assure us that their, drug whatever it may be, will solve whatever problem we have and you hear a long list of the things that will it will solve and then you read the fine print and find out that you could die from it.
The same with the banks. You have your money in the bank in a savings account you are sure that it is insured and that it is safe. As an example, in Argentina at the beginning of this century, Argentina was the fifth largest economy of the world and their economy collapsed and one of the first things that the government did was confiscate everyone's savings accounts. What I am getting at is that nothing physically is assured in this world.
Please turn with me to Romans 8. The purpose of Romans 8 is not to instill doubt in God’s people, but rather the exact opposite. It is to give us assurance through His Spirit that we are true Christians.
Paul tells us to examine ourselves and he does this by sharply contrasting those who live according to the sinful nature and those who live according to the Spirit. We covered that in my previous sermon, and now, I want to pick up where we left off.
In Romans 8:14, Paul provides us with five important teachings that help to put assurance in perspective. We went through three of them last time, which I will recap here. 1) Not everyone is a member of God’s Family, 2) all true Christians are members of God’s Family, and 3) to be a true Christian means to be led by God’s Spirit.
The fourth important teaching in Romans 8:14, which we did not get to last time, is indirectly, a promise of fatherhood.
Verse 14 tells us that we can know we are in God’s Family because we are God’s children. We are sons or children of God if the Spirit of God is leading us in our daily lives.
Those who are true Christians will live accordingly, in obedience, to our Holy Father. We are on the sanctified path of discipleship, therefore, although we may fail and fall while walking along that path, we also inevitably get up again and go forward, because God has given us the power and will to do that.
We grow in grace and knowledge and holiness according to our Father’s will. Jesus Christ’s tutelage, by way of the Spirit, accomplishes this because He always does the will of His Father.
The fifth and final important teaching in Romans 8:14 comes from the fact that the words we are dealing with are plural. Therefore, those led by the Spirit of God are our true brothers and sisters and we are part of the same spiritual Family.
Matthew 12:50 “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
So we are Jesus’ Family if we do God’s will. Now there are many differences between members within the church of God. Differences of secular status, personality, background, economic status, character, abilities, energy, sensitivity, and hundreds of other things.
These have led to divisions in the church, but not all divisions, perhaps not even the majority, are doctrinal. Many divisions exist that should not exist, and sometimes these lead Christians in one group to suspect and even fail to associate with those in another. This should not be!
God teaches through the apostle Paul that what makes other true Christians our brothers or sisters in Christ is not what group they may belong to, but whether or not they are being led by God’s Spirit. Anyone for whom that is true is our brother or sister in Christ, and we should recognize it and be willing to work with that person to fulfill God’s purposes. If we are led by the Spirit, we are doing the will of God.
Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
What does Paul mean by “the spirit of bondage”? He is referring to the danger of having a serf-like spirit and attitude. The spirit that binds is the spirit of a slave and that produces only fear. The slave attitude generally arises from the tendency to turn God’s way of life and living the Christian life into a burden of servile toil.
This brings to mind what the Pharisees did in making portions of God’s truth a burden by their figuratively “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.” The slave is under constant fear and anxiety, but the spirit of adoption is the spirit of freedom, and of confidence. It is the spirit of children and not slaves.
Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
As we continue to look at Romans 8, for the first time in the letter, Paul introduces the thought of Christians being “children of God” which also means members of God’s Family.
The section begins technically with verse 15 and continues through verse 17, though the phrase “sons of God” was introduced in verse 14, and the words “sons of God” and “children of God” are also used later. Paul’s development of this idea makes these verses among the most important in the chapter. It is important to see how they fit in.
Remember that Paul’s overall theme in Romans 8 is assurance. Assurance is the doctrine that Christians can know that they truly are Christians and that, because they are, nothing will ever separate them from the love of God.
The experience of assurance demands that we actually be God’s children, and this is the reason that we must test our convictions. It would be fatal to presume we are fine in this matter and continue on assuming that everything is okay.
However, Romans 8 has not been written to make us uncertain of our salvation, but to give assurance of it, and that is where Romans 8:14-17 come in. They give multiple and connecting reasons, one in each of the four verses, why the child of God can know that he or she really is a member of God’s Family.
In those verses Paul exhibits four proofs of our being the sons of God. The first is our being led by the Spirit of God, in verse 14; the second is the Spirit of adoption which we receive, crying, “Abba, Father,” in verse 15; the third is the witness of the Spirit with our spirits, in verse 16; and the fourth is our sufferings in the communion with Jesus Christ; to which is joined the fruit of our sonship, in verse 17. The apostle is saying that if children, we are heirs of God, and then joint heirs with Christ, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.
Now let us look at two of those proofs, the second being adoption and the third which is the witness of the Spirit with our spirit, which belong together.
Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
God called us into a relationship with Him and redeemed us from the penalty of sin, it is an adoption to sonship. God was not our original father, but He took on that role after He extracted us from the grasp of Satan, sin, and the world.
The primary idea in this verse is adoption resulting in absolute sonship. Some Bible translations use the word “sonship” for adoption in verse 15. But the Greek word is huiothesia, which means to have an installment or a placement as a son. It is the technical Greek word for adoption.
Adoption is the procedure by which a person is taken from one family, or no family, and placed in another. In this context, it refers to removing a person from the family of Adam, or Satan, and placing him or her in the Family of God.
Adoption is related to regeneration, or the new birth, but they are not the same thing. Regeneration has to do with our receiving a new life or new nature. Adoption has to do with our receiving a new status.
Paul has been talking about the Christian’s former state in which, being in Adam, we were enslaved to sin. He has argued that we have been delivered from that former bondage by way of the Holy Spirit. Now he adds that this new state, which conveys freedom from bondage, also contains the privilege of sonship.
The word adoption is not common in the New Testament and it does not occur in the Old Testament at all. It is used only five times by Paul, three times are here in Romans. They had other procedures, such as Levirate marriage, which is the system of remarrying within a family, for dealing with the situations of widows and orphans or inheritance.
Paul used Greek and Roman law to help explain the idea of adoption for two reasons. First, he was writing to Greeks and Romans, in this case to members of the church at Rome. So adoption, being part of their culture, was something they would easily understand.
Second, the word was useful to Paul because it signified being granted the full rights and privileges of sonship in a family to which one does not belong by nature. That is what happens to followers of Christ.
I have spoken of adoption as giving the adopted one a new status. But “new status” may not be the best description of what happens. What is really involved is a set of new relationships. New relationships to other people, both believers and unbelievers, but above all a new relationship to God.
When we think of adoption, we are thinking of God as our Father, which denotes a far closer relationship, than for example the legal term justified. This is why the apostle says that the Spirit of adoption causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father.”
It is important to recognize that our authority to call God, “Father,” goes back to Jesus Christ. It goes back to no less important a statement than the opening phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:9 which begins, “Our Father in heaven . . .”
The situation is similar in the Old Testament. Occasionally the word father is used as a designation for God, but it is not frequent and it is never personal. In fact, it occurs only fourteen times in the whole of the Old Testament.
In Exodus 4:22 God refers to Israel as “my firstborn son.” In Psalm 103 David says:
Psalm 103:13 As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
Although Isaiah writes in Isaiah 64:8, “Yet, O Lord, You are our Father,” in none of these passages does any individual Israelite address God directly as “my Father.” In fact, in most of these passages the point is that Israel has not lived up to the family relationship. In Jeremiah 3, Jeremiah reports God as saying:
Jeremiah 3:19-20 (NIV) “I myself said, “‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.
Similarly, Hosea records God’s words in Hosea 11.
Hosea 11:1-2 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images.”
Likewise, in the time of Jesus the distance between the people and God, suggested by their detached reverence by which God was customarily addressed, was widening rather than growing more narrow.
Jesus Christ came and revealed the Father and He always called God, “Father,” and this fact must have impressed itself in an extraordinary way upon the disciples. Not only do all four of the Gospels record that Jesus used this address, but they report that He did so in all His prayers.
The only exception was His cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” This enforces the importance of this point. That prayer was wrung from Christ’s lips at the moment in which He was made sin for us and in which the relationship He had with His Father was in some measure temporarily broken.
At all other times Jesus boldly assumed an intimate relationship to God that was considered to be highly irreverent or even blasphemous by His contemporaries. This is of great significance for our prayers. Jesus is the Son of God in a unique sense, and God is uniquely His Father. He prayed to God as God’s unique Son.
Jesus revealed that this same relationship can be enjoyed by all who believe and obey Him, all whose sins are removed by His shed blood. They can come to God as God’s children and God can be their own personal Father.
But even this is not all. When Jesus addressed God as Father He did not use the normal word for father. He used the Aramaic word “abba,” which is what Paul quotes in Romans 8:15 and the parallel text in Galatians 4:6.
Obviously this word was so striking to the disciples that they remembered it in its Aramaic form and repeated it in Aramaic even when they were speaking Greek or writing their Gospels or letters in Greek.
Mark used it in his account in Mark 14 of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane.
Mark 14:36 And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
So what does “abba” mean specifically? The early church fathers who came from Antioch, where Aramaic was spoken, unanimously testified that “abba” was the address of small children to their fathers. The Talmud confirms this when it says that when a child is weaned it learns to say “abba” and “imma,” which is daddy and mommy. So this is what “abba” really means is daddy or dad.
To a Jewish mind a prayer addressing God as dad would not only have been improper, it would have been irreverent to the highest degree. Yet this is what Jesus said in His prayers, and by doing so He set an example for them of how to intimately pray to their Father in heaven.
God’s Spirit produces the fruit of love listed in Galatians 5:22, which means that that love is initially from God.
I John 4:19 We love Him because He first loved us.
So God’s love produces love in us if we have His Holy Spirit flowing in and through us. This is why God’s children are drawn to Him and have such affection for Him. Now back a few verses to verse 16, it says:
I John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Our intimate relationship with God is based on that love. We have infallible assurance of our own personal salvation and it is founded on the truth of the promises, on the inward evidence of God’s love working in us, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption.
We now come to the third verse in this four-verse section, a verse that gives another reason for knowing we are in God’s Family.
Romans 8:16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
There is no question what the two “spirits” refer to in this verse. The first is the Holy Spirit and the second is our human spirit. God’s Spirit gives evidence and also motivation to our human spirit. Sometimes this is obviously noticeable, often it is not.
No spiritual experience is ever valid in and of itself. Any such experience can be counterfeited, and Satan’s counterfeits can be very deceptive. But the fact that a spiritual experience can be counterfeited does not invalidate all of them.
Those who seek to have experiences of the Holy Spirit frequently run to excess and fall into unbiblical ideas and practices. Every such supposed experience must be tested by Scripture. But in spite of these objections, which are important, nevertheless, there can be a direct experience of God’s Spirit that is valid testimony to the fact that one is truly God’s child.
Have you at some time, perhaps at many times in your life, been aware that God has been more personally involved in a special way and that there is no doubt whatsoever that what you are experiencing is from God?
Have you ever felt compelled by some strong drive to step out on faith to seek God and pursue something? Maybe His truth or serving Him in some way? Or doing something that would further your own growth spiritually?
Know that those “spiritual” experiences do not replace any of the other primary and essential things. The written Word of God is primary. But we may rejoice that God also has a way of making Himself so real to us that we are lifted up, even in hard times, by something that reveals a glimpse of how awesome God is, and by this we are greatly encouraged and are absolutely assured of God’s love and mercy that we are and always will be God’s children.
Quite often a person who is new to the church has their first love and are excited and cannot get enough of God’s Word and of His people. With time that dissipates, but we all have to try to maintain our “first love” type of attitude.
The phrase, “with our spirit” in Romans 8:16 refers to the spirit in man. This pertains to the adoption. It means that God, through His Spirit reveals evidence to our minds that we are adopted into the Family of God. In II Corinthians 1, Paul writes:
II Corinthians 1:22 who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts [speaking of God] as a guarantee [or as an assurance].
How is this done? It is done by producing in us the appropriate effects of God’s influence. It is His to renew the heart, to sanctify the called-out ones, and to produce the fruit of the Spirit in us.
If a Christian has these, he has evidence of the witnessing of God’s Spirit with his spirit. If not, he has no such evidence. So, the way to determine whether we have this witnessing of the Spirit, is by an honest and prayerful inquiry whether these fruits of the Spirit actually exist in our minds and behavior. If they do, the evidence is clear.
If not, all futile confidence in one’s material things, all visions and fancied revelations, will be mere delusions. In addition, the effect of these fruit of the Spirit on the mind is to produce a righteous character, and in this we may rejoice as an evidence of faithfulness.
Romans 8:17 introduces us to two important biblical ideas: suffering and glory. At first glance they seem to be opposites, but, in reality, one may lead to the other. Verse 17 begins with the glory, talks about suffering, and ends with glory again. The first statement is that children of God are God’s heirs and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
What a wonderful thing this is, to be an heir of God Himself! Sometimes children hope fondly for what they might inherit from their parents, but quite often these very human hopes are disappointing. So we start from the truth that most of our rewards are in the future, that is being members of God’s church. But then we immediately want to ask, what will the children of God actually possess in God’s Kingdom? There are amazingly and infinitely great blessings that await us as “heirs of God.”
First, let me give you some linguistic background by reminding you of a grammatical distinction, namely that there are two kinds of genitives in most languages. One genitive is what grammarians call a subjective genitive; the other is what they call an objective genitive.
If you are like me, your eyes have just glazed over but just bear with me. Here are examples: the love of money and the value of money. In each case the words “of money” are the genitive, having to do with possession.
In the first phrase, “money” is the object, since it is the thing loved, making it an objective genitive. The person involved has a love for money. In the second phrase, “of money” is still a genitive, but here it is the subject. The phrase does not refer to an individual who values money. It speaks of “money’s value,” the value that money possesses.
Now take another phrase: “love of God.” Is that a subjective genitive or an objective genitive? The answer is that, in this case, it can be either.
If God is the subject, subjective genitive, the phrase refers to God’s love for us. If God is the object, objective genitive, it means that we have a love for God. Since the words can have either meaning, the interpretation has to be determined by the context.
With that distinction in mind, let us come back to Romans 8:17 to the phrase “heirs of God.” Is this a subjective or an objective genitive? Again, it could be either. If it is a subjective genitive, then God is the subject and the meaning is that we belong to God as God’s heirs. He has fixed His love upon us and made us His heirs by grace.
If it is an objective genitive, then the meaning is that we have God as our inheritance and this is what Paul is saying here and here is why. First, this is taught in the Old Testament, which Paul certainly knew and from which he often paraphrased and quoted. It is true that the Old Testament often speaks of “the land of promise” as the people’s inheritance.
This was a literal, earthly inheritance, though it was connected with God’s greater promises to the patriarchs and their descendants. The important thing, however, is that it is transcended by the passages that speak of God himself as their inheritance.
This greater reality was kept before the people in an interesting way in regard to the inheritance of the tribe of Levi, an inheritance given to them when the people invaded Canaan to possess it in the days of Joshua.
You will recall that the land was divided tribe by tribe, along the lines specified by Moses even before the conquest. Each tribe got its predetermined portion: Reuben, half tribe of Manasseh, Gad, Judah, Ephraim, the other half tribe of Manasseh, and all the others, except for Levi!
Levi was the tribe of priests. They were scattered throughout the land in the forty-eight priestly towns, from which they were to serve the whole people in God’s name. They had no physical inheritance. Why?
Joshua 13:33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance, as He had said to them.
What are we? We are a holy priesthood, are we not? In the case of Israel, the land was certainly a good thing, promised from the time of Abraham. But the truly great inheritance was God Himself. The purpose of scattering the Levites was to remind them of it.
Second, Romans 8:17 speaks of our being “co-heirs with Christ.” That is, we inherit whatever we inherit along with Him. But then, what does Jesus inherit? The only thing that can properly be said to be His inheritance is the Father. This is what He had in mind in His prayer just before His crucifixion. He prayed, in John 17:
John 17:4-5 “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
Christ’s inheritance is the glory of God, which means the vision of, participation in, and enjoyment of God Himself. This is the flow of the thought in Romans 8:17.
Because, having spoken of our being heirs and having reminded us that we must enter into our possession by the gate of suffering, Paul ends up again with glory, reminding us that we may also share in His [Christ’s] glory, which is the glory of God. All this is done through Christ.
Galatians 4:7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Third, is that elsewhere in his writings, although not here, Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit which is given to us as the earnest, or deposit, assuring and guaranteeing our inheritance.
Ephesians 1:13-14 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
I also want to read verse 14 in the Amplified Version.
Ephesians 1:14 (AMP) The Spirit is the guarantee [the first installment, the pledge, a foretaste] of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession [His believers], to the praise of His glory.
II Corinthians 1:21-22 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
II Corinthians 5:5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing [mortality swallowed up by life] is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
The Holy Spirit is the earnest which guarantees our spiritual inheritance. An earnest is a pledge or something greater, but it is more than a mere document, bill of sale, or contract. It is a part of what is actually to come later.
For example, in the way of a physical analogy, when we buy a house we usually guarantee our intent to purchase it by making a prepayment of a small amount, a cash pledge of the greater amount to come. The real estate industry calls it an “earnest money deposit.”
The basic reason for the deposit is to impress the seller that the buyer earnestly intends to purchase the property. You see, once a buyer and seller agree to terms, the earnest money deposit is usually placed in a trust account. At that point it is no longer the buyer's money, it belongs jointly to the buyer and seller.
So, the earnest of our inheritance is God’s Spirit. Then the full inheritance must be God Himself.
Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The word “portion” in the Hebrew means inheritance, forever.
Lamentations 3:24 “The Lord is my portion [or inheritance],” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
God is the portion, or inheritance of His people and in Him, who is the possessor of heaven and earth, we are heirs of all things. God is all-sufficient, and this is an all-sufficient inheritance. God is eternal and unchangeable, and therefore it is an eternal inheritance that does not fade away.
In a sense, it is God himself who is the inheritance of His children. If God is our inheritance, we can be assured of salvation, since nothing is going to move God. Nothing is ever going to dispossess us of our heavenly inheritance, that is if we are truly Christians.
All of this would be merely something that is pleasant to contemplate but is very unlikely to be realized if it did not have a practical effect on us. Yet that is precisely what it does have, if we truly believe this and are thinking this way and are living this way.
Consider Abraham. The history of God’s acts of redemption begins with Abraham. When God called him out of his own country and sent him into a new land that he would show him, God promised in Genesis 12,
Genesis 12:2-3 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This calling contained the promise of a land, but it was far more than that. By promising a blessing to the nations through Abraham, God was also promising the Redeemer who was to come through his offspring.
That promise was amplified throughout Abraham’s long life, and it was this upon which Abraham’s faith and hope fixed. This is why, when the author of Hebrews came to praise Abraham for his faith in Hebrews 11, he says of Abraham:
Hebrews 11:9-10 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
This promise of grace was not earthly. It was a promise of great spiritual blessings to be fulfilled ultimately in the Kingdom of God. Abraham was looking forward, not back. It is the same with all the other heroes of the faith in this chapter.
Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
Abel received no earthly inheritance. He was murdered for his righteous stand, but he will receive a spiritual reward.
Enoch was a preacher of righteousness. He preached of judgment before the great Flood, warning the ungodly of his day to repent and flee from sin and turn to God. He preached for three hundred years, but he received no reward then. It appears he was utterly unsuccessful.
No one was converted, and when the time for the Flood came the only ones who were saved were Noah, his wife, and his six family members. Enoch pleased no one else on earth, or so it appeared in the record.
Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death [at least not by the hand of evil men], “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
What did Noah inherit? Everything he had was swept away by the Flood.
Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
It does not say that he inherited the land and the earth, it says that he became an heir of righteousness which is according to faith.
Isaac and Jacob lived with Abraham in tents (verse 9), having no real inheritance here. But they looked to the future and hoped for their spiritual inheritance, though they sometimes did it poorly.
Joseph lost his home and his freedom for righteousness’ sake. And even though God later advanced him and made him second in power only to Pharaoh of Egypt, Joseph’s hopes were not there in Egypt. He hoped in God’s promise, in proof of which he gave instructions that his body was not to remain buried in one of the Egyptian tombs (verse 22), but was to be carried from Egypt to Canaan when God eventually led the people out of slavery.
Moses had no love for earth’s treasures. He sought no earthly reward. Rather, he turned his back on the riches of Egypt, regarding, “disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” (NIV), because he was looking ahead to his reward.
Hebrews 11:26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
It was the same with all the Old Testament faithful: Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Hebrews 11:35-39 describes many heroes of faith facing tremendous trials and tribulation.
They were “tortured, not accepting deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection,” meaning the first resurrection, the resurrection of the firstfruits. They were mocked and scourged, chained and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and murdered with various weapons. They wandered about destitute, afflicted, and tormented, yet they await their possession of the inheritance prepared for God’s saints.
Why should we expect it to be any different for us? It is not. Why should we expect our lives to proceed along a gentle primrose path, when others will gain eternal life only by a hard trek across a wilderness?
Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
What we have in Romans 8:14-17 is what is elsewhere in Scripture called reproof or rebuke. Back in the midst of the section on Romans 8:15, I pointed out that verses 14-17 contain four proofs of our being sons and daughters of God, if the Holy Spirit is our assurance we have been brought into God’s Family.
First, we are led by God’s Spirit. This refers to our conduct. If we are following after Christ in true and obedient discipleship, then we are Christ’s and can be assured of salvation.
Second, we have the internal witness of our spirits by which we cry, “Abba, Father.” We know that we have a new family relationship to God.
Third, the Holy Spirit witnesses to us. I described this as an overwhelming sense of God’s presence, something most Christians have experienced, though they may not understand it or know how to describe it.
Fourth, we participate in Christ’s sufferings. These items are certainly proof; being four good reasons why a child of God can know that he or she really does belong to God and that nothing in heaven or earth will ever snatch him or her away from God’s love or break the family relationship.
But why should Paul introduce the idea of suffering, of all things, and at this point? Probably none of us would do it on our own, if we were trying to assure Christians that they really are Christians and their salvation is secure. Suffering is probably the last thing we would mention. We think of it in the “problem” category, because we view suffering through human eyes much too often.
We acknowledge the problem of suffering and sometimes wrestle with it. But few of us would think of presenting it as a proof that the suffering person can be a true child of God. To human reasoning, it would seem to be the other way around. And, that is exactly what many mainstream Christians have been taught.
“Prosperity theology,” often called “prosperity gospel,” is a prime example of this theological error. This is a religious belief among some Christians that financial blessing is always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations will increase one's material wealth.
The false doctrine of prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as the guarantee of physical health and economic prosperity. It emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment.
Some who have embraced prosperity theology ignorantly argue that Christianity has historically placed an unnecessary focus on suffering. So why does Paul drag the subject of suffering here into Romans 8:17?
The first reason is that he was a practical person. More than that, as an evangelist and a pastor, he knew that the people to whom he was writing were suffering, much as the church does today. The early ministers of the gospel began to suffer for the gospel as soon as they began to obey Christ’s great commission and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Peter and John were jailed. Stephen was killed. Paul himself was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, starved, threatened, and exposed to the elements. And what was true of these early ministers soon became true of their followers as well. In great numbers they were ridiculed, hated, abused, and eventually martyred for their faith. They also endured the many disappointments, deaths, deprivations, and disasters common to all human life in an extremely sinful world.
Read the New Testament with suffering in mind and you will be startled to discover how extensively it is mentioned. The words “suffering,” “suffer,” and “suffers” are found forty-eight times in the NKJV of the New Testament. Jesus said in John 16,
Most of the New Testament epistles have important discussions about suffering. Suffering is as common to God’s people today as in New Testament times, possibly even more since that society was a society of slaves.
We need to understand that. It is true that most of us do not experience that special kind of suffering we call persecution, though many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world do. But we all know suffering, at least in a sense, and all, especially our children in school, suffer at least some sort of mild persecution for our beliefs.
We suffer when we lose a husband or wife or other family member through death. We grieve when life itself, or our friends or children disappoint us. We groan under pain, trauma, and sickness. We are hurt by prejudice, poverty, or sometimes a lack of rewarding work. The list is endless.
Practicality and pastoral concern undoubtedly caused Paul to introduce this subject here. Fair-mindedness did not allow him to talk about our inheritance without at the same time acknowledging that the path to glory involves suffering.
A second reason Paul probably introduced the subject is that he must have been aware of the many non-Christian approaches to suffering that were around at the time. They were around then, and they are around today.
His words, though quite brief, correct the following non-Christian approaches: One is the response to suffering is anger. This is common with unbelievers, who blame or even curse God for their troubles. But sadly, it is also true of some Christians.
They blame God because He has not done something for them that they wanted, forgetting that Christ has not promised us an easy life here, much less the fulfillment of our desires. He has called us to discipleship. We are to be joyous in our Christian standing. The glory comes later.
The second response to suffering is avoidance. If the path before them looks rough, some people turn from it and try to find something easier or more rewarding. Or, if the path cannot be avoided, they try to balance it with other things that are more attractive or pleasant. In the world, this is a type of hedonism.
In the church, this takes the form of asking God to remove an undesirable thing such as sickness so that only afterward they might praise Him for the healing. It is certainly not wrong to ask for healing, however, to ask and then withhold praising God until He does what you want is both faithless and selfish. Real spiritual growth comes by working through our hardships rather than by avoiding them.
The third non-Christian approach is apathy. It is the attitude of not having much emotion or interest. The apathetic may lack a sense of purpose or meaning in their life, often accompanied by unresponsiveness or sluggishness. One form of apathy is stoicism, the philosophy of the stiff upper lip, which also includes quite a bit of pride.
Paul was surrounded by these non-Christian philosophies, just as we are today, which is why he refuted them by introducing the subject of suffering at this point.
It is important to realize that, for the Christian, suffering is the arena in which we are to prove the reality of our conviction and achieve spiritual victories. We do not triumph by trying to avoid hardships at all costs.
Now this brings us to the value of suffering according to a right life-view. It has several important values, and the primary reason Paul mentions in Romans. He has been talking of Christians being sons and daughters of God; now he speaks of suffering as proof of that relationship. Though the suffering may be in any of several different forms, each with a particular purpose. Let me discuss three of them here.
First is that some suffering is in the form of persecution. One value of persecution is that it proves to us that we really are children of God. Jesus taught this in the Sermon on the Mount, here in Matthew 5.
Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
There are two things to notice here. First is that Jesus suffered. Suffering was part of His purpose, and it has always been part of our purpose as God’s people because we live in an evil world.
Secondly, persecution proves that we are on the side of Christ and His church, because if we were not, the world would approve of us rather than being hostile. Not all suffering is in the form of persecution, however.
I always like to bring to mind that the world does like to reward its own according to its standards. God may bless us with material things at times, but that is not His focus at this time.
Second, some suffering is for the purpose of spiritual refinement. Some of it is from God or allowed by Him, or is for no other reason than to produce spiritual growth and holiness. This is what the author of Hebrews was talking about when he wrote in Hebrews 2:10, in reference to Jesus:
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him [Christ], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation [Christ] perfect through sufferings.
Since Jesus was completely without sin, He was morally faultless. Nevertheless, as Luke says in Luke 2:52 that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature.” So He obviously could grow in that area.
Perfection means wholeness, and Jesus grew into a wholeness of experience and understanding through such things as poverty, temptation, loneliness, abuse, and betrayal. God used these and many other experiences to “perfect” Him. He also uses them to perfect us.
You are very well aware that in the Bible God uses the image of the refining of precious metal when referring to this similar work in us.
Zechariah 13:9 “I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
It pictures God as a skilled refiner, heating the ore until the dross that has been mixed with it rises to the surface, where it may be scraped off. The refiner knows the metal is ready when he can see his face reflected in the glimmering molten surface. In the same way, God purifies us until He can see the face of Jesus Christ in His people.
Another image of the Christian’s suffering is of God disciplining us as an earthly father disciplines his children. The author of Hebrews writes of this too in Hebrews 12.
Hebrews 12:7-8 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
Hebrews 12:10-11 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them [fathers], but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
This brings us to the third purpose of suffering, which is that some suffering is for the purpose of training. This has value for Christians because it is similar to the suffering endured when a soldier is trained for combat by his commanding officer or, for that matter, the suffering endured in the battle itself. Paul wrote to Timothy in II Timothy 2.
II Timothy 2:3-4 You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
Elsewhere Paul changes the image and speaks of the rigorous preparation of an athlete as stated in I Corinthians 9.
I Corinthians 9:27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
If you are called to endure any of these three kinds of suffering, you should be encouraged by them because they prove that you are a child of God and are being prepared to be used by Him in the spiritual warfare that will lead to final victory.
Another value of suffering is that our witness to Christ is empowered by it. I am not saying we grow stronger in our ability to witness to Christ to the extent that we are called to endure persecution or some other form of suffering, though that is undoubtedly true.
The blind man of John 9 grew stronger in his witness every time the religious authorities leaned on him to get him to modify his testimony. Nevertheless, the witness of Christians carries particular weight when it is given under duress; when it is evident to everyone that it would be easier and seemingly more rational to back off from one’s witness; or even, as Job, in Job 2:9, was advised by his wife, to “curse God and die!”
Physical suffering gives particular clout to the witness of Christians. It means something special when a person can testify to God’s grace when he or she is suffering from acute bodily pain or while dying. It is even more convincing when Christians bear witness to Jesus when they might suffer the loss of all things for it.
The final thing we need to say about the value of suffering is that it is the ordained path to glory. It does not mean that suffering is the only thing needed, but it is part of the path to ordained glory. Paul says this explicitly in verse 17 Romans 8.
Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
And in another place:
II Corinthians 4:17-18 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Those differences are the rewards of the world which are seen and the rewards of God which are not seen.
There are two basic things to remember about suffering. First, suffering is necessary. Jesus taught that it was necessary for Himself when He said to the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24,
Luke 24:26 “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”
Then He proved that this was necessary by showing it to them in the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets. Jesus taught that suffering is necessary for us.
Second, although suffering is necessary, and has value, suffering is not the end of the story for Christians, glory is. If suffering were the end, Christianity would be a form of masochism, suffering for suffering’s sake. Since it is not the end and since suffering is the path to glory, Christianity is a religion of genuine hope and effective consolation.
The Christian who needs to worry about suffering is not the one who is suffering, particularly if it is for the sake of Christ. The person who should worry is the one who is not suffering, since suffering is a proof of our sonship, a means for the spread of the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God, and the path to glory.
Now obviously we are not always suffering through our entire lives, but there should be some bouts of it that happen throughout our lives to fine tune us. And they come in all forms. Some people suffer more from one thing than another. One person can shrug off a trial and for another, it is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to them. Only God can judge and rightly bring trials and bring us through these trials in the right way.
So let us encourage one another as we run the race and fight the long battles. We need each other, and we have each other, and that is what we are given to each other for. Thus, by the grace of God, we may actually come to the end of the warfare and be able to say, as Paul did to his young protege Timothy.
II Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
May it be so for all God’s people as well!