The Letter to the Romans
COLLEEN MOORE TINKER
27. From Suffering to Glory
In the first 17 verses of Romans 8, Paul argues powerfully that we can choose that as Christ followers, we can choose between living by the flesh or living by the Spirit. He also states that part of living by the Spirit includes sharing in Christ's sufferings. This shared suffering, though, includes the promise that we will also share in His glory, although this connection between suffering and glory seems counterintuitive. When we live for Christ, however, we can be certain that the world will mistreat and misunderstand us, because it does not know the Father or the Son. (John 15:21) In fact, Jesus told his disciples that the time is coming when people would kill them (and those who belong to Him) and think they are doing this violence for God, because they do not know Jesus or His Father. (John 16:1-4)
Peter told us we should not be surprised when we suffer. Instead, we should rejoice and be unashamed that we are participating in Christ's sufferings, because such trials mean we bear His name. (1 Peter 4:12-16) Paul also gave perspective to the issue of suffering. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 he explained that just as Christ's sufferings overflow into our lives, so His comfort overflows to us. We suffer so we can share the comfort we receive with others who also suffer. He added that our "light and momentary" troubles far outweigh the eternal glory we are achieving as a result of what we endure for Jesus. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
When we suffer on account of Jesus and the gospel, we will find that all our losses and pain are nothing compared to the "surpassing greatness" of knowing Christ. The mere material things we lose seem paltry compared to having the righteousness of Christ which nothing on earth could ever achieve for us. (Philippians 3:7-10) Further, we can know when we suffer that God is disciplining us to grow in faith and in trust of Him. This discipline confirms that we are God's sons and daughters because He only disciplines His children. If we were not experiencing trials and discipline, that lack would mean we were "illegitimate" children, not God's true family. (Hebrews 12:7-10)
From early in His ministry, Jesus connected our suffering for His sake with eternal glory. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake," He said, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."(Matthew 5:10) Jesus also assured His followers that their suffering would not be in vain even on earth. When we lose family, spouses, houses, or lands for the sake of Jesus, we will receive a hundred times as much and inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29) While we may not receive direct physical replacements for all we lose, God does bring people and provision into our lives that more than makes up for the devastation of the losses we experience. Jesus gives us Himself, and our hearts are full and content in deep ways not possible without Him.
Jesus told His disciples that a seed could only produce a harvest if it dies first. (John 12:23-26) We lose our lives as we have always known them when we follow Jesus, but He works a change in us that glorifies Himself through us and equips us to honor Him. The world will hate us, He said, but this hatred is evidence that He has chosen us out of the world. (John 15:18-21) Jesus prayed that God would protect His people while they are in the world that they may experience unity together as Jesus and the Father are one. (John 17:11) Again He acknowledged that the world hates His people, but He prayed that the Father would give them the full measure of His joy. Further, Jesus said he has given His people glory that they may be in agreement with each other, and that the world will know God loves them. (John 17:13-15, 22-24)
Neither our suffering nor our glory is the result of our plans or efforts. If we love and serve Jesus, we will be misunderstood, feared, and hated. Simultaneously, we will be filled with God's glory through the Holy Spirit. We will experience His comfort and peace and unity between ourselves and other believers, and we can know that our names are written in heaven. We need not fear "those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."(Matthew 10:28) Jesus is our identity and our security; we can trust Him with what happens to us, and we can trust Him to redeem the suffering we experience.
The promises of future glory underlie Paul's statement that "creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." (v. 18) Already, as Christ-followers we have the "firstfruits of the Spirit" (v. 23), but our spiritual birth is not all God plans for us. We are waiting for the "redemption of our bodies". Now, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:2, we see reality only imperfectly. We see and know Jesus indirectly, as a reflection in a mirror. When our bodies are redeemed, however, we will see and know Him fully, as He already knows us. When we are given our new bodies, we will lose our likeness to mortal humans and take on the likeness of the "man from heaven". (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) Jesus' resurrection body is the model and the promise of our future inheritance. Already we are God's sons and daughters, but our bodies are still wasting away. Inwardly, though, the Holy Spirit renews us daily, and God has promised that we will share in the eternal glory Jesus has. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, 1 Peter 5:1, 1 John 3:1-2)
"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God," Paul says in verses 20-21. He is pointing out that it was not only humanity that suffered as a result of sin. By personifying creation, Paul is emphasizing that not only do we struggle with the physical fallout of sin, but the earth, the animals-even the universe beyond us is affected by sin's marks.
When Adam and Eve sinned, God's curse was not only for them. He also cursed the ground, the very stuff from which Adam and Eve were made. By cursing the ground God showed that their sin did not affect only themselves. Their disobedience cursed all humanity, and it resulted in their environment and also the physical components of their existence and sustenance being cursed as well. Never could humanity hope to improve its lot apart from divine intervention; even the raw materials of life were changed. Instead of serving man and providing what he needed, mankind would now have to fight nature in order to reap harvests and support for life. Never could mankind think he could unlock the physical secrets of life and produce an improved human species; God cursed nature, and that cursed raw material could never yield redeemed life.
"Cursed is the ground because of you;" God told Adam; "through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:17b-19)
The ground, which had been the stuff of physical life and sustenance, now became the symbol of Adam's physical struggle and death. God's curse of the ground is emphasized in Genesis 5:29 which records the birth of Noah. Lamech named his son Noah, a word which sounds like the Hebrew word for "comfort", and he said, "He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed." Sin resulted not only in spiritual death; it also yielded a cursed creation that causes humanity always to struggle to maintain physical life. This struggle for life will end only when all creation is redeemed and made new at the end of time.
God has promised, however, that the day is coming when creation will be made new. Peter tells us that the heavens will "disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare." This destruction will happen, he says, on "the day of God". He restates this apocalyptic prophecy by saying that on that day the heavens will be destroyed by fire, and "the elements will melt in the heat." After this destruction, however, there will be a "new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." (2 Peter 3:10-13)
Similarly, Revelation 21:1 says there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and there will be no more sea. Shortly after Pentecost, Peter alluded to the future restoration of creation when he said, "[Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets."(Acts 3:21)
Hope In Suffering and Waiting
Paul didn't whitewash a Christ-follower's experience on earth. While being born again and being in Christ does yield deep security and peace that is not possible apart from knowing Jesus intimately, still one's day-to-day existence is a struggle against "the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12) The Holy Spirit indwelling us, though, is only the "firstfruits" of our inheritance. Because we have the firstfruits of the Spirit-the literal presence of God in us-we know that we will eventually be brought to full glory. "We groan inwardly," Paul says, as we wait for the redemption of our bodies.
Part of the yield of the "firstfruits" is the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirits that we are God's children and that we are co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17) The indwelling Holy Spirit is God's seal of ownership on us. In the spiritual realm, our identity as His children is clear. Further, the indwelling Spirit is our guarantee that we will come into future glory, and He also causes us to stand firm in the face of trials. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) God made us for eternal life, and the Holy Spirit guarantees it is ours. (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14)
The knowledge that our suffering is not the end for us gives us hope as we wait patiently for our final redemption.
For a Christ-follower, hope is something certain and secure. We have become used to using the word "hope" as a variant for the word "wish" or "aspire". We might say, "I hope I finish these jobs by noon." Such a statement does not suggest certainty; rather, it expresses simultaneous doubt and a wish for completion. It suggests that unseen events might prevent one from realizing one's goal.
Biblical hope, however, has no uncertainty attached to it. Its realization is not yet seen-that future reality is what makes our certainty "hope" instead of "attainment". Because our hope for our future resurrection and inheritance is based on God's promises, though, there is absolutely no doubt that it will be fulfilled. Unlike worldly hope which is based on our best efforts, we have no role to play in attaining our hope for our future with God.
Paul reminded the Ephesians that before they knew Christ they had been "without hope and without God in the world." (Ephesians 2:11-13) Because they had received Christ, however, they were brought into hope. Similarly, Paul reminded the Ephesians that they did not need to mourn their dead as did the pagans who had no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) Further, he encouraged them to wear the "hope of salvation" as a helmet. (Ephesians 5:8) If the hope of salvation were a "maybe" instead of a certainty, it could not serve as a helmet guarding the mind. Salvation would have no protective power at all if it were not a certainty. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians about hope. In our hearts, he said, we all felt the death sentence from our incurable sin. But we have put our hope in Him who raises the dead. He has rescued us from the death sentence that was our natural inheritance. Our hope is certain, not merely a wish. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)
To the Romans Paul wrote that hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts. His love confirms the certainty of our hope, and the scriptures further encourage us and show us the certainty of God's word and the absolute assurance that what He promises, He will fulfill. (Romans 5:5; 15:4)
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul is even more direct about the source of our certain hope. "Christ in us," he says, is our "hope of glory." With Jesus living in us through the Holy Spirit, we know from His personal witness to us that our future is secure and not subject to loss or change. (Colossians 1:27)
Our hope is like an anchor, the author of Hebrews wrote; it is secure in Jesus where He has gone before us into the presence of the Father. We can trust Him to complete His promises to us because God bases His promises on Himself-His eternal, unchanging self. (Hebrews 6:18-19) Because we trust in an unchanging, eternal God, our faith and hope are eternally secure even though we can't yet see how our future will look. We know, though, that Jesus is faithful and God cannot lie; therefore our hope is certain. (Hebrews 11:1)
Intercession By the Spirit
Our hope, which sustains us through suffering and the grinding demands of life, is related to the remarkable fact that the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for us. We don't know what we even need to pray for, but the Spirit knows what we need and intercedes for us "with groans that words cannot express." (v. 26) This verse confirms that Jesus and the Spirit intercede for us with the Father. Verse 34 plainly says that Christ "is at the right hand of the Father" and is interceding for us. The fact that God has always defended and taken responsibility for His people was something even very early God-honoring people understood. Job, who probably lived during the second millennium B.C., was convinced that even though he might never be vindicated in front of his peers, he had a friend in heaven who would plead for him. (Job 16:18-20) Isaiah also prophesied more specifically about the Messiah, saying He "poured out his life" and was counted among the transgressors, bearing the sins of many and making intercession for transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
Jesus revealed the identity and truth of these Old Testament shadows. Hebrews 7:23-25 states that Jesus has a "permanent priesthood". He "saves completely" those who come to Him because He "lives to intercede for them." He entered heaven itself-the very presence of God-to appear for us in the Father's presence. (Hebrews 9:25) John also confirms our security with God because of Jesus' death and intercession. In 1 John, he explains that we are no longer slaves to sin, but if we do commit a sin, we are secure because Christ speaks to the Father for us. He is our atoning sacrifice-and, indeed, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Jesus intercedes for us to grant us His righteousness in spite of our mortal flesh we still inhabit. Likewise, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, pleading our true needs before God when we don't know what to pray for because He alone knows our hearts and our vulnerabilities.
Verse 26 tells us that the Spirit knows our weaknesses and knows better than we do what we need. Verse 27 tells us that "he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit"These two verses suggest to us that both the Spirit and the Father intimately know our hearts. Our Father is not distant, allowing the Spirit and Jesus to do whatever they need to and benevolently granting whatever they wish. Rather, He is as intimately involved with us as are the Spirit and Jesus.
We have seen that Jesus continually intercedes for us. He knows when we sin, and He pleads His blood to cover us. Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us because He knows what we need when we do not. Romans 8:27 reveals that the Father searches our hearts. All three members of the Trinity are involved in knowing us and holding us safely in Christ.
Revelation 2:23 records the words of Jesus, "I am he who searches hearts and minds."1 Samuel 16:7 says, "the Lord looks on the heart." Solomon declared, "God alone know the hearts of men." (1 Kings 8:39-40) David praised God, declaring that He had searched him and knew him, including every moment he sat down or rose up. "Search me, O God," he pleaded, "and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."
Solomon wrote Proverbs 21:2, "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart." Through Jeremiah God spoke, "I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind." (Jeremiah 17:10) Jesus exposed the Pharisees inner evil repeatedly. In Luke 16:15 he told them that they justify themselves to the public, but God knows their hearts. Paul also acknowledged God's intimate knowledge of us. He wrote to the Thessalonians that he wasn't trying to please men; rather, he wanted to please God "who tests our hearts." (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
The entire Trinity knows our thoughts and feelings. Although they are three Persons, they are One, and their purpose is one. We cannot hide from God, nor do we need to fear God when we are in Christ. These texts reveal that God knows the hearts of all people, whether they honor Him or not. When we accept Jesus, we begin to know the thoughts of God; we begin to think with the wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 2:16, that "we have the mind of Christ." Yet as long as we are in mortal flesh, our knowing will be limited. Because the Holy Spirit is in us, we begin to know God and His will, but, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
God already knows us fully. When we become born from above, we begin to know God. Further, He begins to reveal the truth about ourselves to us. Just as Jesus pointed out the Pharisees' deceit and duplicity, just as He knew Nathanael's heart when he first saw him and declared, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false" (John 1:47), so God begins to reveal to us the truth about ourselves which we have hidden deep inside our hearts. When we are in Christ, we can begin to acknowledge our brokenness and hopelessness, and the Holy Spirit can begin to mediate healing and discipline and comfort as he transforms us into "ever-increasing glory". (2 Corinthians 3:18) When we are in Christ, the God of the universe takes personal responsibility for healing us from the crippling effects of our sin and drawing us always nearer to Him. He reveals more and more of Himself to us as we commit to embracing truth and trusting Jesus with every level of our experience.
God is asking you to surrender to Him the suffering and hardship you are experiencing in your life. He is asking you to trust Him to reveal to you the things you must know in order to walk in truth and to experience healing from your anxiety and pain. His call is not to denial or to a refusal to think about your concerns and wounds. Rather, He calls us to trust Him as He leads us into increasing understanding of out lives. We can trust Him to peel back the layers of our defenses because we are not standing alone, vulnerable to the world. When we are born of the Spirit, we are new creatures, and God Himself now guards our hearts and minds in Jesus.
God is asking you to trust His knowledge of you. He is asking that you trust Jesus' intercession for you and the Spirit's prayers for you which you do not even know how to pray. God wants you to experience freedom from the bondage of the sins done to you as well as from the sins you have committed.
The life of a Christ-follower is a life of truth, not wishes. It includes suffering for the sake of Christ; anguish for the sake of freedom. This suffering, however, comes to us with the loving permission of our Father who comforts us and heals our hearts through our acceptance of the pain in our lives. There is no quick fix or cheap forgiveness. We cannot forgive the sins committed against us by forgetting them and going on as if they are no longer real. We can only experience the peace and healing of Jesus in our hearts when we accept and know the nature of the sins against us, then turn over the transgressors to God,. When we release our anger and hurt to Jesus and acknowledge how we have been hurt, Jesus can then heal and comfort us because we have finally faced the pain from which we had been hiding.
As we begin to let God show us the truth about ourselves and our lives, we also must confess to Him the ways we have sinned against Him and transgressed against others as the result of our own brokenness. We open our pain and our anger to Jesus, and we trust His intercession for us to relieve us of the burden of carrying the guilt of our lives. We release that burden to Jesus and confess our sin, thanking Him for His eternal forgiveness and for the restoration He is working out in our hearts.
Ask God to show you what you need to know, to change you in the ways that need changing, and to give you His courage and strength to accept the truth and to blossom in the light of His love and discipline.
Praise God for knowing your heart completely. Praise Jesus for always interceding for you before the Father. Praise the Spirit for praying for you when you have no idea for what you need to pray.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit for choosing you and for giving themselves
for your salvation and eternal redemption.
Copyright (c) 2004 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted September 18, 2004.