Heirs to Suffering and Glory
Preached Sunday Morning, November 28, 2004
New York Avenue Church of Christ
Several years ago a notorious publisher of pornography announced that he had become a Christian, that his life had changed. Soon after his “conversion,” the cover of his magazine appeared with only words describing how he had been “born again.” But inside, the magazine looked pretty much the same as it had always had. As time went on, it became clear that Larry Flynt was pretty much the same, too, based on his continued work in pornography and his generally outrageous behavior. Even those outside the church saw something wrong with the idea of a pornographer claiming to be a Christian. They were right, of course, because the redeemed of God should not go on living sinfully.
As we go through Romans, we see that living righteously as Christians is a major theme of the book. In Chapter 6 Paul reminded the Romans that Christians are no longer to be slaves to sin, but rather to present ourselves as slaves to God. In Chapter 7 we saw the futility, as illustrated in Paul’s own struggle, of trying to force ourselves to be righteous. The chapter ended with the question, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
The answer, the good news of God, is that Christians are delivered through Jesus Christ our Lord. Here in Chapter 8 we see what that deliverance looks like for those in Christ and no longer under condemnation. Here we begin to learn the way around both the errors of "faith only" & “works salvation” (1). That way, in brief, comes from giving up on our efforts to justify ourselves and instead allowing God’s Spirit to lead us into life and peace. Let’s look at three elements of living righteous, Christian lives: our calling, our condition, and our challenge.
We are offered a choice: to live according to the flesh and reap a reward of death, or to “put to death the deeds of the body” and live (Rom. 8:13). If we look at this idea of us putting to death our sinfulness, it is tempting to fall back into legalism. By the term legalism, I mean the idea of trying to make ourselves righteous by our own efforts of following the rules. Last week in Chapter 7 we saw the futility of trying to justify ourselves in that way. As one preacher has noted, trying to make ourselves right with God through our hard work is like trying to train a wolf to be a sheep dog, or making silicon chips in a garbage dump rather than a clean room (2).
The danger of legalism, and the reason you hear preachers saying so much about it, is that it’s such an easy trap to fall into. Some folks can fake righteousness well—so well, in fact, that we may convince others or even ourselves that we just don’t sin. What’s more, Christians who inside are struggling to be righteous may on the outside look like the most faithful workers in the church.
So what are we supposed to do? We can’t make ourselves righteous, yet right here in Romans 8 we see that for Christians life depends on putting to death the deeds of the body. How are we supposed to do that?
By the Spirit. The key to righteous living is not our efforts to be good boys and girls, but living according to the Spirit that dwells within us, that we receive at our baptism. Let’s go back a few verses for an explanation of life by the Spirit:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1-4, ESV)
God’s Spirit is a gift to empower us, to purify us, to comfort us. By giving ourselves over to God’s Spirit we walk in the ways of righteousness—a righteousness we have not earned, but one given to us by God. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zech. 4:6). When we walk by the Spirit we no longer set our minds on the things of the flesh, because keeping our thoughts there will yield only death (Rom. 8:5-7). We may still sin in the body from time to time, but “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
So Christians are no longer debtors to the flesh—to follow the way of sin. We are debtors to God who redeems us from sin and death. And once we have been saved, once we have received forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit in our baptism, we still have a choice to make daily: Will we walk by the flesh or by the Spirit? If we want to live a life of righteousness and power, we must be led by the Spirit of God—the Spirit described in the Word, the Spirit with us in prayer, the Spirit who empowers us to practice obedience. Learning to walk in the Spirit, to be shaped more and more inside and out by that Spirit, is an ongoing process—a process we call sanctification (3).
The picture we see here of sanctification is really a very beautiful one. Paul would be remiss not to remind us that a life of the flesh is really death. But the tone of this whole section is not one of guilt or warning, but of joy (4). God has done something wonderful for Christians. He has spared no expense in taking sinful human beings and making us righteous through a precious gift. Here in Chapter 8 Paul reminds the Roman Christians just how wonderful that gift really is.
We see that gift explained beginning in verse 14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Sons of God. Those words are so simple it’s easy to miss how awesome they really are. This is really one of the most wonderful promises of the Bible—that we can be children of God. You know, the term "child of God" is thrown around pretty loosely these days to refer to any human being. In the sense that we're all created in God's image, there is a degree of truth there. But for Christians, sonship is a special blessing. It is the pearl of great price, worth more than anything else. And because we're sons and daughters of God, we're also heirs—heirs to the kingdom of heaven itself (Lk. 12:32). That's an awesome promise, one worth taking some time to consider and meditate on.
In being heirs, Christians have a future hope for when we come into our inheritance. Looking ahead to verse 23 we see that "we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." That promise encourages in us hope for a glorious future with God. The promise of sonship will be realized in the future, but it has the power to help us now.
We look at ourselves, of course, and don't see creatures worthy of the Kingdom of God. We still sin. We resist God's promises. We think small. Then again, we're children, and children sometimes live in ways unbecoming their true stature (5). Even at our best we struggle to live lives worthy of our adoption. Yet we know that with every fledgling step we have the love, the protection, the patience, and the nurturing care of a loving Father. In Chapter 6 we were urged to present our selves as slaves to righteousness. Here in Chapter 8 we find that in presenting ourselves as slaves we are lifted up as sons. As children who need extra guidance, of course, we may not look much different from slaves. But as sons and daughters God does not treat us as slaves, does not force or coerce us in obedience. He loves us and encourages us to remember who we really are—children of God. And knowing who we are is important for living as we should (6).
We are privileged to call out to God as Abba, a word usually translated "father." Notice that here in Romans Paul chose to write the word both in Greek (Pater) and Aramaic (Abba). There's something very child-like about the word Abba. It comes out of the mouth like the word of a little baby. And that, of course, is how we should come to God—as little children speaking to our Daddy.
New Testament Greek, along with older English translations of the Bible, conveys a sense of this familiar, loving relationship to God with the use of the pronouns thou, thee, and thine. Although most of us have forgotten the importance of these words today, when the King James Bible of 1611 came out, people understood perfectly the significance of these pronouns. When a person addressed a close friend or family member, he always used thou, thee or thine. Those were known as the familiar pronouns used with those closest to the speaker. When addressing a stranger, or someone above one's own station, a person would say you, your, or yours. Those were known as the formal pronouns. Today, most people have a totally inverted idea of these words as they are used to refer to God. We save the words thee and thou for the most "formal" things we do—addressing God in the assembly. In fact, thee and thou are the familiar words we should use when we're sitting in God's lap.
So that is the picture we have here of our relationship to God: God has given us the greatest gift, I believe, that even he can give—membership in his own family. And he longs for us to relate to him with all the love and affection that a little child shows for his Daddy.
And yet at the end of this passage we hear what may at first sound like a discordant note. We've been reading about being blessed children of God, heirs to the Kingdom, and all of a sudden Paul adds, "provided we suffer with him" (v. 17). Where does that come from?
For one thing, it comes from a man who knew suffering. In the cause of Christ, Paul had been rejected, slandered, whipped, beaten, and chained. He had gone up against the forces of the world—where the flesh rules supreme. Paul, like Jesus, knew the cost of being a member of God's family on the earth. That means that he also knew something vitally important about what it means to be a child of God, a disciple of Christ.
Suffering, you see, is at the very center of the gospel. Jesus came to earth and suffered for our sake and in our place. He loved the world, but the world didn't love him. He told the world the truth and as a result suffered the consequences: injustice, beating, and death. John knew also about suffering when he told us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:10-12).
If we, as adopted children of God, expect to share in Jesus' glory, we should expect the same kind of treatment (if not the same intensity) that Jesus received. Jesus reminded us of this fact over and over and urged us to take up our crosses and follow him (Lk 9:23).
So how does that suffering relate to glory? They are intertwined, as Paul points out when he writes that "we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (v. 17). Peter said something very similar when he urged Christians to “Rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pe 4:13)
I must admit: this close relationship between suffering and glory makes me a little nervous. I rarely if ever suffer for the gospel. As a preacher, the world for the most part treats me peacefully and with respect, especially here in the South. And that's not a bad thing. All through the New Testament we are called to cultivate peace with the world as much as we can. But let's never forget that the master of this world is not our master, and that we may be called at any moment to suffer for the sake of Christ.
That suffering comes with a promise: If we suffer with him, we will be glorified with him. Suffering is part of building us up to be what God wants us to be. Paul described this process in Chapter 5 when he wrote that "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame" (5:3-5).
Suffering has another benefit—it encourages us to choose. Pain and suffering open our eyes, get us out of the squishy middle of indecision. There's nothing like a bracing dose of pain to help us make up our minds and remember what's really important. Suffering, then, helps us face the ultimate choice of what's important to us: flesh or the Spirit? Do we try to save our life and lose it, or lose it for the sake of the Kingdom and find new life?
We're encouraged here in Romans 8 to walk in the Spirit of God. We're adopted children of God, heirs to the Kingdom. We will realize our inheritance when Jesus returns, but till then every Christian is called to walk in righteousness, not by our own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our weakness, but his strength. And no matter how much we have to suffer here, we can take each step confident with the hope of God's glory in our own lives.
1. John Piper. "The Liberating Law of the Spirit of Life (Romans 8:1, 2)." Online sermon text at www.soundofgrace.com.
2. Bob Deffinbaugh. "Siding With the Spirit (Romans 8:1-17)." Online study at www.bible.org.
3. Thomas Constable. Dr. Constable's Notes on Romans, 2004 edition. Online copy at www.soniclight.com.
4. Ibid. See also Deffinbaugh.
5. Ray C. Stedman. "The Sons of God Among Men." Online sermon text at www.pbc.org.
Copyright 2004, New York Avenue Church of Christ