What Hath Suffering to Do with Christianity?

One of the characteristics of human beings that plagues us is that of lust. Lust and its cousin, impatience, linger in the hearts on all sorts of levels, every day, every hour, every second. Oswald Chambers defines lust as this: “I must have it now.” Men see an attractive woman and begin lusting after body. We see someone with something we want, and we begin lusting after that possession.

Someone once said, “I’ve learned that if you give a pig and a boy everything they want, you’ll get a good pig and a bad boy.” The worst thing that can happen to us is for us to have what we want, when we want it. But that’s what happens in our natural hearts. What makes this all the more tragic is this happening, but with a Christian spin to it. It’s no wonder so many chase after this—it’s Christianizing a very natural and a very dangerous mindset, even to the point of making God subservient to us.

In last night’s session, we ended with this verse: “If children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). That word ‘provided’ is an interesting pivot. We will be fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him.

As we read Romans 8:18-25, we see a longing and an expectation on two fronts: the created order and followers of Christ. In fact, you will notice that this particular longing is described as a “groaning”! Take a look:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing 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 will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The word ‘groan’ (stenazo) refers to the expression of “a person who is caught in a dreadful situation and has no immediate prospect of deliverance.” There’s that tension we spoke of earlier — and amidst the tension of this world in our longing for the next, we await for the resolution to glory! Creation groans (v. 22), but not just creation—we as believers groan inwardly (v. 23). In this passage, we positionally are adopted as His children, but one day that full reality will come in the “redemption of our bodies.”

Our sonship with Christ is connected with our identity with Him (provided we suffer with him).

We as Christians know that Christ suffered. In theology books, it’s called his “humiliation.” Christ served as our mediator—He served His Father by keeping His law perfectly and never sinning; He served His church by paying for the sins of His people (Matthew 1:21). In this aspect, Christ took on the office of mediator. The Westminster Confession of Faith says this:

The office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.[i]

Christ suffered and for a good purpose—and God tells us from his Word that our identity with Christ will bring suffering in this life, not end it.  The suffering now galvanizes the hope and reward thereafter.

One preacher said on this passage that the prosperity gospel is off regarding priority and timing. When we suffer for Christ now, even if we do not have all the material possessions we want, we “exult in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Every single thing in this life will pass away. None of the worldly trimmings that we long for, either inside or outside the church, will last. All will stand before the judgment seat of God (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The priority is that Jesus isn’t sufficient, but what He will do for us, what He will give us becomes the priority. Yes, he gives salvation—but ultimately that salvation will bring prosperity in this life—and here is the timing. Theologians call this a realized eschatology. In other words, all the blessings that God promises in the hereafter, we should and would receive here.

Paris Reidhead puts an incredibly poignant question before us: “Is God for us an end, or is He a means?”

The creation, here speaking of that which was created in the first five days, was tainted with the decision that Adam and Eve made. How did this happen? How did creation become “subject to futility.” Through the Fall, when man and God were separated and the curse of sin infiltrated the entire world. That curse takes away our fellowship with the Lord, and we begin looking to self for satisfaction.

Creation is looking and longing for the revealing of the sons of God. When? When the ‘hope’ is realized—the resurrection of our bodies. Creation and our bodies are in bondage and decay, but one day we shall “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” John Stott is right: “Suffering and glory are inseparable, since suffering is the way to glory (see verse 17), but they are not comparable. They need to be contrasted, not compared.”[i] We look at the ‘weight’ of the issue.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, we read:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We avoid try to avoid the suffering, the groaning, the longing for God’s full redemption to come to full fruition. Yet, this is the only way we can get to glory. The suffering is a ‘light and momentary affliction” which is—look at that word—preparing a weight of glory. The suffering serves as the preparation for the glory. The suffering is light—the weight of glory is ‘beyond all comparison.’

In Mark 8:34-37, we read:

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?

Following the Spirit of God will not always lead to health, wealth, or prosperity. You may lose your health (your life), your wealth (your money and position) and your happiness (unless you enjoy being charred to a crisp). But the hope we have in Christ is through identifying with him in his suffering. Their hope was in God through Christ! That was enough for them. Nothing would make them compromise.

Is Jesus enough for you?

[i]John R.W. Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 237.

[i]Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 10, Paragraph 4. Quoted in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1184.

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