“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:14-25)
When the author and theologian Helmut Thielicke visited America several decades ago he was asked by reporters what he considered the most important problem of our time, especially concerning Americans. He shared that his concern was that Americans did not know how to deal with suffering and in fact considered it to be an illegitimate part of life. He shared that Americans regarded suffering as fundamentally inadmissible, disturbing, embarrassing and not to be endured. By contrast people in some other parts of the world understand suffering to be a part of the way of life. Yet what’s interesting and ironic is that in Third World countries we see a greater level of happiness generally speaking than we do in our own country and especially by believers who have far less of this world’s goods and opportunities and yet seem to have a different perspective on life, a biblical perspective on what it means to be a person who has hope in this fallen world. And though suffering is something that’s part of the human condition, there is a form of suffering specific to believers that will increase as we pursue a deepening and more vocal and obedient relationship with Christ. Here in America this may cost us in our careers, profits in business, friendships, etc., whereas in other parts of the world it can and does cost believers persecution and even martyrdom.
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” – As we follow the Holy Spirit He will lead us to be increasingly more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) and that will lead us into increased suffering in a world that hates Jesus. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) “The world cannot hate you (Jesus speaking to His unbelieving brothers at the time), but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” (John 7:7) “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20) If we follow Jesus we will suffer but it will be redemptive for us and can be for others. And yet, if we don’t follow Jesus we will suffer but it will be a different kind of suffering, the suffering of futility, meaninglessness, and the loss of eternal rewards. “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” (Eccl. 1:14) “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15) Suffering for Christ is always life giving as the labor pains of pregnancy bring forth the life of the child and the ultimate joy of the “suffering” mother. Yet suffering apart from Jesus is like a malignant cancer, it brings forth death, loss of joyful intimacy with our Lord and fruitless deeds of bitterness and resentment.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Vv. 16-17) Commentators have different views on this passage; some saying that all believers are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ and others say that being a fellow heir (co-heir) with Christ is contingent upon suffering with Him or the degree to which we suffer with Him. The Greek word for “if” (or “if indeed”) is “ei per” and can be translated “if” (which makes the share of glory conditional upon the sharing in suffering) or “since” (which implies that all believers will suffer with Christ and be glorified with Him). The most regular use of this word is “if” not “since.” It is true that all believers will be glorified (Romans 8:29-30) but there are many other passages that speak of rewards or glory being contingent upon suffering with and for Christ. At the judgment seat of Christ believers are judged and rewarded commensurate with their works done for Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and Jesus says persecution for Him will be rewarded in heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Paul says that suffering righteously can “produce” glory: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) If we think of glory as our capacity to serve, honor and glorify God in heaven then we can understand how all believers will be glorified (sinless in body, soul and spirit) and yet some more than others because of faithful and costly obedience on earth. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26) “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:4) Other commentators add that since Jesus is the firstborn (in rank and prominence) and that the firstborn receives a double portion of the inheritance, that being a co-heir with Jesus means sharing in the double portion of His inheritance.
Jesus’ example of righteous suffering and glory: For the joy and glory set before Him Jesus chose and endured the cross, the greatest suffering man has ever known. (See Hebrews 12:2) “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27-28) “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come (the cross) glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” (John 17:1) To receive Jesus as our Savior costs us nothing but to follow Him as our Lord costs us everything. “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v. 18) Paul goes on to say that the blessed state of glory in heaven will be so wonderful that our brief suffering in this life pales in comparison. This is where faith, hope and love all come together. We place our faith in what Jesus did in the past (the cross) and hope for what God promises for us in the future (glory and never-ending joy and bliss with Him and the community of saints) and love sacrificially now in the present. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. ” (1 Corinthians 13:1-4; 13) “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:22-25) Remember as a little child how we used to hope for Christmas morning and Santa Claus and presents under the tree. It was a lively hope because we knew it was coming and knew it was going to be wonderful but it was still unseen. Likewise, we should hope for and long for and groan for the fullness of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters, being perfectly sinless in body, soul and spirit in the presence of the Lord and all the saints in a perfectly redeemed creation and yet even more beautiful and glorious that we can even imagine.
Yet Satan has used lies (like Santa Claus, etc.) to wed our greatest hopes to this fallen world which leads to shattered dreams, bitterness and a self-focused worldly mindset. Too often what we hope for is more important to us than God Himself and what we hope for, we go for, and this temporal mindset saps our time, energy, and resources on things that have no spiritual and eternal value. Sometimes one of God’s severe mercies is seen in this phrase: “Age conspires with God to take away our temporal hopes.” Some of the saddest and most depressed people in the world are old folks who have put all their hopes in health, wealth and busyness and no longer have or can enjoy any of these. Yet those who have put the Lord and His purposes for their lives first and preeminent are joyful and hopeful until the end.
[“Do Christians in fact eagerly long for Christ’s return? The more Christians are caught up in enjoying the good things of this life, and the more they neglect genuine Christian fellowship and their personal relationship with Christ the less they will long for His return. On the other hand, many Christians who are experiencing suffering or persecution, or who are more elderly and infirm and those whose daily walk with Christ is vital and deep, will have a more intense longing for His return. To some extent, then, the degree to which we actually long for Christ’s return is a measure of the spiritual condition of our own lives at the moment. It also gives us some measure of the degree to which we see the world as it really is, as God sees it, in bondage to sin and rebellion against God, and in the power of the evil one. (1John 5:19)” Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem]
Groaning for glory – The creation (vv. 19–22), believers (vv. 23, 24) and even the Holy Spirit Himself (vv. 25–27) groan now for the glory later. But sadly many people (even some believers) still put so much of their hope for joy and happiness in this life, in this fallen world, and seldom think about and long for Jesus’ return. Some years ago I did a teaching on groaning and longing for the return of Christ and below are some excerpts from it.
[“If you ask some people when they want the Lord to come back many say, not now, later, after I marry (and have sex), or after I have a family, after my grandkids grow up, after I enjoy some years of retirement, after, later, but not today! ….
In the meantime – The world hates our Lord. I want to see Jesus come so He will get what He deserves: He commanded us to pray for His Father’s Glory and righteous rule on this earth just like it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10) and this will not occur in its fullness until Jesus returns. Most of the world hates, ignores or belittles Jesus and many religions reduce Him to a human being as a prophet or good moral teacher. This should break our hearts every day. Only when He returns will He and our Father receive all the glory they so greatly deserve. “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne (God the Father) and to the Lamb (God the Son) be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Rev. 5:13-14)
In the meantime… “The whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19) And Jesus says in Matthew 24:12 that evil will increase in the last days. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Life since the Fall is called “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) and evil and suffering will not end until our Lord returns and establishes His kingdom where “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) Just one sad example of why we should long for Christ’s return is that thousands of children are starving to death each day and our best efforts as God’s church have not been able to remedy this sad (and evil) situation. That along with the almost unspeakable evil done every day (child molestation/sex-slaves) should cause us to beg for our Lord’s soon return.
In the meantime…. Even on our best day we still have to deal with the flesh and sin that grieves us and our Lord. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rom. 7:19-20, 24) The closer we get to Jesus (spiritually) the clearer we see our sinfulness and the more it grieves us. That is why a godly saint like Paul called himself the chief of sinners near the end of his life. (1 Tim. 1:15-16) We want to be at last and forever the pure, sinless bride without spot or wrinkle for our pure and perfect Bridegroom.
In the meantime….All of nature is cursed. One of my favorite gospel songs is, Where the Roses Never Fade. Beginning with the Millennial Kingdom and going into the eternal state our glorious future will include a new heaven and a new earth and all the good things of earth we are familiar with and greatly enjoy– but a purified and perfect earth.
In the meantime…. We are strangers, pilgrims, sojourners, exiles; God has set eternity in our hearts. (Eccl. 3:11) As believers we do not belong in this world anymore and things of the world grow increasingly less satisfying because we long to be with our Lord and with the family of God who loves Him too and in our true home – the unimaginable beauty and glory of a new heaven and a new earth forever and ever and ever. And they lived happily ever after. The deepest longing of our heart, the Dream of all dreams, really does come true.
In the meantime….. we are separated from Jesus, the Lover of our soul. Jesus longs to be with His bride (us) and we long to be with our Bridegroom, Jesus, face to Face continually and forever. “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:6-7) Job yearned to see Jesus face to Face (Job 19:25-27), Paul longed for His appearing (second coming; 2 Tim. 4:8) and Jesus said, “[Surely] I am coming quickly (swiftly, speedily). (And John prayed) Amen (so let it be)! Yes, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20) And we should regularly and passionately pray the same.”] http://www.lensykes.com/archives/482)
I wrote a song and the last verse ended with a prayer for Jesus’ return and I pray it almost every day.
COME SOON TO REIGN IN GLORY RESTORE ALL THINGS TO THEE
FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, O BLESSED TRINITY
TIL THE WORLD IS BOWED BEFORE YOU IN WORSHIP LOVE AND PRAISE
TO THE GLORY OF YOUR KINGDOM HALLELUJAH TO YOUR NAME
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. “Americans do not know how to deal with suffering and in fact consider it to be an illegitimate part of life.” (Helmut Thielicke) Do you agree with this as true for the majority of Americans? Was it true for you before you came to know Christ and the biblical perspective on suffering?
2. Suffering for Christ is always life giving as the labor pains of pregnancy bring forth the life of the child and the ultimate joy of the “suffering” mother. Yet suffering apart from Jesus is like a malignant cancer, it brings forth death, loss of joyful intimacy with our Lord and fruitless deeds of bitterness and resentment. Where has suffering in your life brought redemption to you and others? Have you known people who grow bitter toward God though suffering? Have you seen the “death” it brings? How can we learn from their bad example?
3. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) What is the condition for our suffering to “produce” an eternal weight of glory?
4. To receive Jesus as our Savior costs us nothing but to follow Him as our Lord costs us everything. “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33) What may you still be holding onto that keeps you from following Jesus as Lord?
5. Too often what we hope for is more important to us than God Himself and what we hope for, we go for, and this temporal mindset saps our time, energy, and resources on things that have no spiritual and eternal value. Sometimes one of God’s severe mercies is seen in this phrase: “Age conspires with God to take away our temporal hopes.” Read Romans 1:25 and discuss how this relates to this statement.
6. Are you groaning for glory – the return of our Lord Jesus Christ? Which of the six “in the meantime” statements spoke to your heart the most?