Saturday, May 02, 2015

Sharing in the Suffering of Christ

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 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. (Romans 8:16-17)

What does the Apostle mean when he says, "... if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."?

The word translated “if indeed” in verse 17 is used only 6 times in the New Testament. (See also Romans 8:9, I Corinthians 15:15 and 1 Peter 2:3 where this word is used.) It is not the common word translated “if” in the majority of the New Testament places where the English word “if” is used. It carries the sense “if, as is the fact”. It is a way of saying since “X” is true, “Y” is also true. Since we are the children of God, we will suffer with Him (Christ), and since we will suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him. This verse is not at all pointing to our suffering as a way of “earning” our glorification. To be a child of God, is, in this life, to suffer with Him, and to “suffer with Him” in this life is a sure sign that we will also be glorified with Him.

"Mention must here be made of the mechanics of translation. In the Authorized Version we read: ‘If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together’. The whole exegesis, the whole interpretation depends upon a right understanding of this ‘if so be’.

We have a key to his meaning in verse 9: ‘But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.’ We have there the same expression ‘If so be’. And we have seen that it can carry only one meaning. It means ‘since’ there and it means ‘since’ here. What the Apostle is saying therefore is this: ‘If children, then heirs; heirs of God , and joint-heirs with Christ; since we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together’. So the translation should not be ‘If’ but ‘since’, or ‘If, as is the fact’; or ‘Seeing that’, ‘In view of the fact that’. There is nothing conditional about the expression. The Apostle is saying, ‘As we are suffering with him now, we shall also experience the glory with him’." (Martin Lloyd-Jones)

How are we to unnderstand what it means for the Christian as the child of God to “suffer with Him”; to share in His sufferings? At his point we need to examine some of the other passages of Scripture that talk about the Christians experience of suffering and tribulation.

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So they (the Apostles) went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41)

After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21-22)

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:29-30)

......we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. (1 Thessalonians 3:2-4)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 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)

What is it that we are to understand from all of these passages of Scripture?

" Suffering is a very common theme in the New Testament, particularly in the writings of the apostle Paul. As Christians we are baptized into the death of Christ, and we are called, in a certain sense, to participate in the sufferings of Christ, in the tribulations of the Kingdom of God. The purpose of these sufferings is not to accrue any merit but rather to solidify our identification with Jesus and to work out the redemptive purposes of God. Tribulation is to be expected in the Christian life. Paul, however, says that if we share in Jesus’ sufferings we will also be glorified with Him. Just as Jesus has been exalted and been given the promise of the fullness of the kingdom of God, so we will participate in the glory that the Father gives to the Son." (R. C. Sproul)

Several considerations as to why the fact that Christians will suffer should not surprise us.

1. Though redeemed and no longer under condemnation, we still live in a physical body on a physical earth, both of which are not yet full redeemed. This point will be made in the verses that follow that speak of the whole creation “groaning”. We see this in the deterioration of physical health, and in the fact that if the Lord should tarry, we also will experience physical death.

2. Though redeemed, but not yet glorified, we still have the battle with the remnants of sin that comes from our flesh.(See verses 12-13.)

3. We live in a world order that is hostile towards God, and does not, nor is willing, to subject itself to God. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Mathew 10:24-25)

4. Over all of these other things, there is our Sovereign God and Father’s loving redemptive purposes and work in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ; at times in ways of providence that are way beyond our understanding even as it was when He dealt with Job; the ultimate end being our eternal good and the exaltation of His glory.

How should the Christian view and respond to sufferings in this life?

1. What is your only comfort in life and death?


That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

~ Heidelberg Catechism

(These notes are taken from a Bible study I prepared and presented to a Men's Bible Study group at our church.)