The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and 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 8:16,17).
Concerning ourselves, there is not a more shocking reality than our adoption as sons into the family of God. While we, in our own imaginations, might contrive a God that would spare us our due penalty out of love or might contrive, as the prodigal son did, a Father who would hire us as a servant out of pity, our adoption by the Father as sons is totally off the radar.
The most significant part of this reality is our adoption as sons. All of the saints of God, regardless of their sex, have been adopted as sons into the family of God. The gender of the phrasing is significant, for our adoption as sons entails an inheritance whereas an adoption as a daughter would not. And this inheritance is no petty inheritance (as if an inheritance from God could ever be!), but is the very inheritance of Jesus Christ, God’s one and true Son! The Apostle writes that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ his Son–the same Son to whom the Father gives the nations as his inheritance in Psalm 2:8. What a glorious thought!
But, the Apostle also writes, “[We are] fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” As glorious a thought being fellow heirs with Christ is, equally sobering should be the phrase, “provided that we suffer with him.” The Apostle says that our sonship and our subsequent inheritance are contingent upon our suffering with Christ in this life. How foreign a concept that is to the American Church!–to us who strive to live our “best lives now” and who try to minimize and eliminate all suffering in our lives.
“What is the nature of this suffering that Paul is writing about?” “How do we suffer with Christ?” These are all valid questions that we need to answer if we desire any amount of surety with regards to our sonship and inheritance, for if we do not suffer with Christ, we have no reason to expect an inheritance. Here are my thoughts on these questions:
Our Sufferings are to be Voluntary and Intentional
I am afraid that the typical American Christian would interpret the sufferings of which the Apostle speaks as strictly those that come upon us for being named with Christ. To that Christian, the sufferings in our cultural context would perhaps fall along the lines of being ridiculed for the Gospel or losing a job for being a Christian–things that are possibilities in America but are not very likely. To him, suffering is a passive thing–something to be endured if encountered but avoided if possible.
I believe however that our sufferings should be, well, more like the sufferings of Christ. In his life, Christ suffered in countless ways. Passively, he was ridiculed and harassed by the Jews who did not believe, but most of his sufferings were sought intentionally. He intentionally deprived himself and became a man; he intentionally humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples; and he intentionally gave himself up to be nailed upon a cross and there intentionally bore our sins. Therefore, if we are to suffer with Christ, we must be intentional about our suffering.
We Suffer with Christ When We Suffer for Our Brothers
Christ said, “Greater love has no one that this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Our lives, in order to reflect the life of Christ’s, must be a laying of them down for the sake of our friends. We may not ever be called to die in the place of a brother or sister in Christ, but we are all called to regard each other as better than ourselves. I firmly believe that Paul gives so much praise in his letters to the Macedonians because they got this. They understood what it meant to regard their brothers in Christ as better themselves, and they proved it by joyfully giving beyond their means and out of their extreme poverty. They were the epitome of suffering with Christ.
How do we suffer with Christ, or do we at all? Do we intentionally seek to suffer for Christ’s sake, and do we intentionally seek suffering by regarding our brothers and sisters in Christ as better than ourselves? We had better find definite answers to these questions, for our sonship and inheritance are contingent upon them.