MESSAGE FOR JULY 25, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:14-17

 

As we move on in Romans eight, we continue to look at what it means to be a child of God.  Last week, we saw (in this section where Paul is speaking to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer) that all those who have the Holy Spirit are children of God.  We said that in verses 15-17, we could see five characteristics of what it is to be a child of God.  We looked at three last week.  Briefly, they were:  A child of God is no longer a slave to sin which brings a  fear of judgement.  Sons of God are not slaves of sin.  They have been liberated from the tyranny of sin and its control.  It is preposterous to think that God would send his Son to the cross to pay the penalty of sin and break its power for his adopted children but those adopted children of God would then live under sin’s power.  Second, we saw that a child of God enjoys genuine intimacy with God.  We reflected on the wonder of having the Lord of the universe as our Father with whom we can relate to with real intimacy.  Finally, we saw that a child of God is one who has assurance of their position as a child of God.  Just as the Spirit communicates to us by convicting us when we sin, He also communicates to us that we are children of God.

This morning, we are going to look at the final two characteristics of a child of God Paul gives in this text.  Let me repeat Paul’s major point under which these characteristics fall.  That is, All those who have been given the Spirit of God are children of God.  In other words, all those who are truly Christians (because no one has the Spirit unless they are Christians and if you do not have the Spirit indwelling you, you are not a Christian) have been given the privileged position of being God’s child.  As we quoted last week, J.I Packer says, “Father” is the Christian name for God.”  Let’s look at the text, beginning with verse 13 to get the context.  Paul says, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

          The fourth characteristic of being a child of God is:  A child of God has a God-sized inheritance.  Paul brings out a wonderful implication of having God as your Father—that it makes you “an heir of God [and] a co-heir with Christ.”    This concept of being someone’s heir is not something we do much thinking about today except when someone in our family dies.  We don’t commonly think of ourselves as “an heir of so and so.”  That’s not such a big deal today, but in the Ancient Near East, where your reputation as a man was in part based in whether you could leave a decent inheritance to your children, and what you inherited from your parents often made the difference between financial success and failure, this whole concept was very important.

Let’s think about what it means to be an “heir of God and co-heir with Christ.”  Here are three observations about this truth.  First, thinking about our inheritance is to think about our future.  This concept of being an heir of God is predominantly future oriented.  We will receive our inheritance from our heavenly Father in the future after we die.  Paul makes this clear in Titus 3:7 where he says, “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  This inheritance we are promised is something we hope in—it will be given when we die. A second observation about being an heir of God and co-heir with Christ is: this inheritance will be glorious.

          In the second half of verse 17, Paul is more specific about what this inheritance is all about.  Literally it says that “if indeed we suffer with Him [Christ] in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” A huge part of our inheritance is what Paul calls “being glorified with Christ.”  The glorification of the believer is the completion of our salvation process.  This is that final stage of our salvation when the goal of our salvation is realized.  In 8:29, Paul says that goal of our salvation is to “be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  The goal of our salvation is to give Jesus Christ, as the first born Son many brothers (or siblings).  And as proof of this family connection to their older brother, they will all resemble Jesus.  That is, they look like Him in the sense that their humanity will be perfected just as He is perfectly human.  He is also perfectly God and we will never look like Him in that sense.  What is envisioned here is that all that God intended humans to be, from before the creation of the world, will be realized. 

          Paul says in Ephesians 1:4-5, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will  Before he created the world, God knew exactly what his adopted, human children should look like.  These people should be morally perfect, holy and blameless like His firstborn, Jesus.  John says in 1 John 3:2, “...we shall be like him [Jesus], for we shall see him as he is.  But these people, should also reflect His grace and mercy as redeemed sinners.  In that way, these glorified creatures will reflect, for the praise of His glory, both his holiness AND, (because they have been saved from judgment) his grace and mercy.  When we are glorified we will do that—we will perfectly fulfill God’s vision for humanity before he even created the world—a glorious vision, thousands of  years in the fulfillment.  That vision will be fulfilled when we are glorified—when we receive our inheritance as children of God.

          A final observation about our inheritance is: our inheritance will be God, Himself.   You see, our inheritance is not just about what we will BE--glorified children of God, but what we will possess.  The best blessing promised to any believer, Old or New Testaments is relationship with and proximity to God.  We see this way back in Genesis 17 where God told Abraham in verse 7, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”  He promises to be the God of Abraham—His Protector, Provider, Object of worship—to be related to Abraham through the covenant. 

          Part of our inheritance is the consummation of this goal of so many of the covenants between God and man.  We see this consummation in Revelation 21:3 where the kingdom of God is brought to a new earth in the form of the New Jerusalem.  From the throne God says, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be their God.”  In verse seven God says, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”  Do you hear that the most glorious aspect of our future inheritance will be that we get to relate to God in his holy presence and he will be our God, our Father forever?  If that doesn’t thrill us when we think about it, there is something desperately wrong with us!

          We see this part of our inheritance confirmed when Paul tells us in Romans 8:17 that we are “joint heirs with Christ.”  What Paul means by that is, we will receive the same inheritance that Christ longed for when He was on earth.  And what did Christ receive as his “inheritance” when he left earth?  We know the answer from what He prayed in John 17:5 where he asks His Father, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  Christ wanted to have the relationship with His Father completely restored to the way it was before the world began.  That is, to dwell in His Father’s manifest, personal presence and to once again show forth His glory, the glory of God, completely unmasked.  The chief portion of our inheritance will be a shadow of this.  We will dwell in the royal courts of God-He will be right there and we will manifest the glory of the sons of God which Paul discusses later in this chapter.  Our inheritance is future, it is glorious because it involves our glorification and best of all, it is God Himself.  Receiving this inheritance is an unspeakable implication of what it means to have God as our Father—to be a child of God.

          Paul, however doesn’t speak only of a future implication of being a child of God.  In the second half of verse 17 he says, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  There is not only a glorious, future implication of adoption, there is a present condition which must be met in order for the glory to be revealed.  And that condition is…suffering.  The final characteristic of being a child of God is this:  A child of God is one who suffers with Christ.   Paul couldn’t have been more clear in how he worded this sentence.  In order to be glorified with Christ we must suffer with Christ.  The suffering is a condition for the glory.  That means very plainly--no suffering with Christ, no glory with Christ.  This does NOT mean that we are saved by suffering.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  What it means is that if you are a genuine Christian you will suffer and that suffering with Christ marks you off as a child of God.       Why is suffering a condition for receiving our inheritance?  Let me give two  biblical reasons.  The first reason is drawn from what Paul has said so far in Romans chapter eight.  We know that a Christian has received the Spirit and is therefore enabled, according to verse four, to fulfill the law.  That is, to live a life of obedience to God.  It should be no great revelation that obedience to God often means suffering for God.  Now, don’t misunderstand.  Obedience is also the only way to know the joy of the Lord.  Obedience does not mean ONLY suffering—it also brings great joy.  But make no mistake, obedience to God brings suffering.

          Just think about it for a moment.  Obedience is conforming yourself to the will of God and His kingdom.  We know that every time we seek to be conformed to the kingdom of God, three adversarial forces stand ready to oppose us, the world, the flesh and the devil.  It is as we face this triple opposition, that we encounter suffering of various sorts.  We face opposition from the world.  Remember, “the world” as the New Testament describes it is this spiritual system native to this planet, run by Satan and organized in opposition to God, His plan and His people.  Well, when you live according to God and his agenda, the world will oppose you.  This can be manifest in things like persecution.  Jesus said in John 15:18-19, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Whenever we behave or think in a manner not consistent with the world, we will find opposition.  Paul says in 2Tim 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”  Paul says if you even DESIRE—if you even set your sail toward obedience, you will be persecuted by the world.

       This may come in our work places when we seek to live out the Christ life.  It may come in our neighborhoods or our other contact points with the world, but wherever it comes from, it WILL come or something is wrong with us.  It may come from the strain and fatigue which comes to every sincere Christian who is faithfully swimming upstream against the strong and godless current of this world.  The flesh is another source of suffering for the obedient believer.  We said “the flesh” is that spiritual weight within us which is anchored to this world and which identifies with and loves the world.  The flesh will consistently try to lead us to do that which is SELF-centered and selfish as opposed to God-centered.  The only response we are to give the flesh is to resist the impulses of the flesh by putting to death the sins it would try to cause us to commit.  Jesus put it this way in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

          When we deny our self centered agendas and pick up our cross and die to what our flesh wants, there is suffering involved.  Our flesh wants to date or even marry a certain person—Jesus says no.  The obedient person breaks it off and suffers for awhile.  We want to spend our savings on a new boat or house or sewing machine or stereo and Jesus wants us to give it to missions.  Obey and suffer.  This is hard.  It is no accident that Jesus refers to it as “picking up our cross.”  The cross is an instrument of death.  Dying to what our flesh wants involves suffering and if you have never experienced this, you need to do some serious soul searching because there is no such thing as a Christian without a cross.  Obedience brings us suffering as a result of conflict with the world, our sinful flesh and finally, the devil.

          If you stand for obedience, Satan will be in your face and the result will be suffering.  He can and will bring oppression—you’ll sometimes feel like you are being buried alive with discouragement or despair.  When it comes from Satan, this is suffering for Christ’s sake.  As you seek to be obedient, he will flood you with temptations.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from THE EVIL ONE.”  He is a tempter and fighting off those temptations means suffering.  As you move out for God, he will put on his accuser’s hat and give you 10,000 reasons why you, the no good worm that you are, should never even try to obey God.  Listening to and fighting off those stinging, fiery accusations, involves suffering.  He will stir up others who have open doors of sin in their lives to come against you.  You will be slandered and brought low by a thousand whispers.  This involves suffering.  One reason we must suffer to gain our inheritance is because the obedience that marks a Christian will, in this fallen world, inevitably bring suffering on a variety of fronts.

          A second reason Christians MUST suffer is found in the nature of the Christian’s life here on earth.  One of the pillars of Christianity is faith.  We are saved by faith and we live by faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”   Christian maturity can be defined as Paul does in Romans 1:5, “the obedience that comes from faith.”  Living by faith forces us to connect to suffering in two ways.  First, faith is brought into maturity by suffering.  Suffering strengthens our faith and if suffering strengthens our faith and God’s goal is to bring us to maturity of faith, suffering is necessary to accomplish God’s purpose.  We have seen this already in chapter 5:3-4 where Paul says, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Suffering terminates in hope and hope is an aspect of faith.  It is the sense of certainty that God will do what He has said He will do.  That is faith and it is produced and strengthened by suffering.  Show me a person who has not suffered for Christ and I will show you a person with either non existent faith or grossly immature faith.  Apart from suffering, it is impossible for faith to grow very deep.  When we pray for maturity in the Lord, assume suffering will be part of God’s answer to our prayer.

          A second way faith is connected with suffering is faith is expressed by a willingness to suffer for Christ.  In many ways, a willingness to suffer for Christ is the ultimate expression of faith.  If we doubt that, we need only examine the lives of those the Scripture points to as examples of faith.  In the faith chapter, Hebrews 11, what life experience is a common denominator uniting all the people heralded for their faith?  The answer is:  they all suffered mightily.  Let me just read verses 35-39 where the author labors to show some powerful expressions of faith. He says, “Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39These were all commended for their faith,…”

          Why were they commended for their faith?  Because they believed God and his promises enough to lay, not only their comfort and status on the line, but their very lives.  The difference between a shallow belief and a true faith conviction is seen in a person’s willingness to suffer for it.  Because that is what faith is, heaven will be populated by people who were willing to suffer for Christ.

          A willingness to suffer for Christ indicates a person belongs to Christ.  Notice the pattern of Christ’s life.  Hebrews 12:2 gives it.  He says that Jesus, “…for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The pattern is clear, first you suffer, then you experience the glory promised to you.  First Peter 1:11 gives the same order.  His exact words are, “…the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”  Suffering, then glory.  We see the same order applied to the lives of the saints in 1 Peter 4:13 where it says, “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.”  Suffering, then glory. 

          The same truth is implied in dozens of texts.  Here are just a couple.  Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,”  Suffering is as much a gift to the Christian as his faith is. Jesus in John 15:20 says, “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If the world persecuted Jesus and the goal of the Christian is to be conformed to his image, then faithful Christians will suffer.  The Christian life is a life of faith.  Because suffering is both a builder of faith and an expression of faith, Christians will suffer for Christ, period.

          Today, in the Western church we have allowed this truth of the necessity of suffering to be turned on its head.  Today, instead of understanding that suffering is a significant part of the Christian’s life, we assume just the opposite.  When a person is sensing that God might be calling them to do something which would separate them from family or cause them to lose their job or decrease their earning potential or give up something very precious to them, the standard response of most of evangelicalism is, “Oh, God would never call you to do THAT!”  Where does that come from?  It certainly doesn’t come from Hebrews 11—it doesn’t come from any biblical view of the life of faith.  Today, if someone in church is suffering for Christ on a regular basis, the church at large assumes there must be something wrong with that person—sin in their life.  How repulsively unbiblical!  There are more martyrs today than at anytime in the history of the church.  God hasn’t forgotten how to call people to die tortuous deaths for Him as many in the West would suppose.  He does that today with a higher degree of frequency than ever before in church history. The trend world wide is moving up, not down.  Suffering is the lot of a true child of God.

          So here you have this incredible text with the promise of a future inheritance so glorious it is unimaginable.  To be glorified, made like Christ—free from sin forever and more importantly, the unspeakable privilege of being able to relate to God as our Father in his presence forever and ever.  What true Christian isn’t thrilled by that prospect?  But counterbalancing that truth is the other side of the coin of being a child of God.  This  unpleasant reality of the necessity of suffering as a condition which must be met in order for the glory to come our way.

          Where are we in relationship to this truth?  Do we spend time day dreaming about the glories of being glorified, of being in the very presence of God?  We need to—if we are believers, that is what our Father is going to give us as our inheritance. I am of the opinion that one reason why people are so unwilling to suffer in the present is because they have thought so little of the glories to come. And as for suffering, can you think of ways you regularly suffer for Christ?  If you forget everything else, remember this—no suffering, no glory. If we are not suffering for Christ, then we have every reason to question whether or not we will ever see the glories promised to the heirs of God. May God give us grace to regularly hope for our inheritance and to suffer for Christ. 

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