For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 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 8:15-17 ESV
These three verses contain some incredible promises to us who are believers in Jesus Christ. First of all, we have been adopted into God’s family. Paul puts it this way: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV). There was a time when we were alienated from God because of our sin. But because of Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, we have been made right with God. Not only that, He has adopted us into His family and made us His children. That phrase, “Abba! Father!” can literally be translated, “Father, my own Father!” He is not only our God, He is our Heavenly Father and we are His children and heirs. Adopted. Family members. Heirs. That’s incredible news. But Paul adds a rather sobering caveat. He includes the somewhat surprising condition of suffering.
Our adoption as sons and our new-found position as God’s children have their ultimate fulfillment in the future. Our inheritance awaits us somewhere out there in eternity future. As the old hymn states, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” At one time we were alienated from God, now we are aliens living in a strange land. Which is why Peter tells us, “So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as ‘foreigners in the land’” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). The fact is, God saved us and made us His children. But we are not yet living in His home with Him. We find ourselves living on this earth, having to deal with our old sin nature, the attacks of a formidable enemy and the hostility and hatred of a world system that is diametrically opposed to us. This is our time of “suffering”. Peter reminds us, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 ESV).
The apostle Paul described his earthly life in very honest terms. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ESV). This life is not an easy one. Living Christ-like lives in the midst of a sin-saturated society is far from a walk in the park. But Paul gives us some words of encouragement. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV).
One of the things we have to realize is that our future glorification is preceded by what the Puritans called mortification – the daily dying to self. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NLT). He also told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). Paul warned Timothy, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). So the path to our future glorification will take us through our own mortification or death to sin and self. But Paul felt this journey well worth the effort. Which is why he could say, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). What we endure now is nothing compared with what we will inherit later. Yes, the cross precedes the crown. Mortification comes before glorification. Suffering will be our lot until the time God calls us home or sends His Son to take us to be with Him. But our suffering is far from wasted. It is perfecting and purifying us. It is transforming us into the likeness of Christ. We share in His sufferings in order that, one day, we may share in His glorification.
Jesus came to earth and took on human flesh. He endured hunger, thirst, temptation, lack of sleep, rejection, ridicule, weariness, false accusations, humiliation, physical pain and, ultimately, death. Paul succinctly described the suffering and glorification of Jesus. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV). We are the children of God and joint-heirs with Christ. We will one day share in His glory, but for now, we share in His suffering. The writer of Hebrews tells us that even Moses went through what we are experiencing. “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26 ESV).