The last two regional conferences went through Romans 5-8. Each time I felt my understanding of Romans improved. I still haven’t arrived, but I’m inching closer (I hope).
One of the insights that came out concerns suffering.
No one likes suffering.
Some traditions say that suffering is avoidable. Teachers promise that you can live a life of such blessedness in the here and now that you never have to suffer. And if you do, it is never God’s will.
In other traditions, suffering is necessary if you want to be saved at all. That would be the case in many ascetic traditions.
It hit me that, in the NT, suffering is necessary for three reasons, only one of which I will mention here because it is mentioned in Romans 8.
Did I say suffering is necessary?
But it’s necessary for a specific purpose.
You don’t need to suffer to be born again or to have eternal life. Not at all. But you do need to suffer for a different goal:
and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:17-18).
All believers are heirs of God. But notice, not all believers are joint heirs with Christ. That’s a special heirship—a conditional one. It depends on whether you have suffered with Christ. That doesn’t include self-inflicted suffering (e.g., getting arrested for public intoxication, or getting fired for laziness). It means suffering for Christ, for the testimony of the gospel.
If you want to reign with Christ, you must suffer with Him.
Suffering is necessary for that.
However, the implication seems to be that not every believer suffers for Christ. Why not? It seems that you could avoid suffering for Him, i.e., by becoming a secret believer (see the article by Bob Bryant). That is, you could come to a point of faith in Christ for eternal life then keep it under wraps to avoid suffering. I could imagine an ex-Muslim coming to faith in Christ then continuing acting outwardly like a Muslim, so as to avoid persecution. That seems possible.
But if you want to reign with Christ and be a co-heir with Him you must suffer with Him. In that case, suffering is not optional; it’s necessary. It’s even God’s will for you.
Of course, it might not be your will. Suffering for Christ is hard. It can mean a great many things—from mild ridicule at work to witnessing the martyrdom of your children. That temporal suffering might not seem worth it. You might wonder—“Isn’t simply being saved enough? What more could I want?”
If that’s your thinking, you need to change it! You have the wrong perspective on both suffering and ruling with Christ. Paul assures us that suffering will be worth it: “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (v 18).
You might think suffering isn’t worth it. Try asking a different question: Is it worth Him?