In the last study, we looked at the idea of being called "sons of God" and the implications of this truth is further unpacked in this study.
(A) Adopted as sons, our new identity (Rom 8:14-16)
As we saw last week, those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. Furthermore, in verse 13, we are told that a life led by the Spirit will put to death sin. Hence, we know that sons of God live by the Spirit, and this is evident from their approach and attitude to sin. But how do we attain sonship (v.15)? Paul tells us that this sonship is received. This is interesting because we do not have a choice to decide our natural families. But here, Paul speaks of a different sonship that is given. This also means that this sonship is also not a result of how much sin you can kill. We cannot earn our way into this family. This is extremely precious and encouraging. We should receive this with joy, because we can be sons of God not because of what we do, but really because of the work of the Spirit!
Paul also describes the nature of this sonship with polarizing language -- "spirit of slavery to fall back into fear" vs "spirit of adoption as sons". As slaves, we were bound to the law and had no choice. That was who we were before when we lived under the law and feared the judgment and consequence of not living up to the law. In contrast, as sons of God, we now have the spirit of adoption and the freedom that comes with it. This is our new identity. This is important for us to remember and hold on to before we look at the next few verses, which move on to about suffering.
(B) Present suffering present suffering that refines us for future glory (Rom 8:17-19)
In verse 17, Paul presents the implications of being children of God. He says that the sons of God are also heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. Heirs are heirs of something, and are expected to inherit things. In the same way, the heirs of God will also receive an inheritance. What is the logic that he is getting at here? Paul is trying to tell us that we are not only adopted, but we also have a future inheritance awaiting us. It keeps getting better!
There is another implication of being heirs of God. He says that we are heirs "provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him". What does he mean here? He certainly does not mean we need to suffer our way in order to earn our way into our inheritance. What this mean is simply that those who are finally glorified with Christ will have to go through and persevere through suffering. Suffering is inevitable for sons and heirs of God. This may make us uncomfortable. If we are honest, we don't like to talk about suffering and we try to avoid suffering at all costs. Everyday, we use technology to make our lives as convenient as possible. We also continually think up and adopt many preventive measures, and try to outsmart and outwit life. Doctors and medical researchers are always finding ways to improve the quality of life, and prolong life by overcoming disease and illness. Even in schools, we are told to attain the best grades possible in order to get good jobs and secure a life of comfort and ease. This is the great dream. But this verse challenges all these. It really makes it sound that there is no escaping suffering in order to be finally glorified Christ.
Isn't this a rather strange view of suffering? In 2 Cor 4:7-18, Paul explains why he considers suffering not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed. 2 Cor 4:16 forms the apex and central verse in this passage -- "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" -- and the verses before and after give us much ammunition for not losing heart as we endure suffering day by day:
- Though we die, we die with Him, and at the same time, the life of Christ manifests in our life (2 Cor 4:7,10,11). God (2 Cor 4:7) and Christ (2 Cor 4:10) are working powerfully in our lives.
- We are suffering but we are never destroyed! God has a sustaining presence in our lives (2 Cor 4:8-9)
- The church is being strengthend through all afflictions and sufferings (2 Cor 4:12, 15). Though it may not look like it at first glance, God's church is being built. Some good is coming out of this suffering.
- Our affliction is light and momentary (2 Cor 4:17).
- In comparison, the glory that awaits us is eternal and weighty (2 Cor 4:17-18). The unseen things are eternal and beyond our imagination!
God's sustaining presence, the strengthening and growth of the church and the promise of resurrection keeps us going and helps us not to lose heart. The Bible presents a rather different view and understanding of suffering. It compels you to embrace suffering but also offers hope. Paul is not being unrealistic and offers neither a frivolous "it will get better" nor a simplistic "grin and bear it" hope. Yet he is also not completely cynical and downtrodden. The Bible admits that suffering is real and overwhelming. It is honest about it, and even admits that it is unfair, sometimes afflicting even the undeserving. Instead, Paul offers a real, certain hope, not just hope in hope itself, but hope tied to a person who was part of history and is objective and true. Because Jesus our Savior is real, and His resurrection is true, though the the death of Christ is lived out in our life in every way through the sufferings we might have to endure, the life of Christ is also at work, so we are not crushed by it all.
These verses assure us that the suffering can be seen as light and momentary and even meaningful, because we have a glory that awaits us that is even better. Even the worst suffering that we can imagine -- one that could possibly span our entire lives -- is finite and will end, compared to God's eternal plans and a glory that we cannot even begin to comprehend. These verses are genuinely hard, both for Paul to express and for us to understand, because Paul is trying to paint with words something that all fallen creatures cannot even begin to imagine. After all, as Rom 8:19 tells us, even creation is longing for the day when things will be made right.
What does this mean for us? If even creation awaits the day when things will be made right at the sons of God are revealed, what about us? Do we long for and realise the gravity of the glory that is to come? How does this change the way we view suffering, or even face it?
One day all things will be made new
I'll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I'll praise your faithfulness of old