by Bruce Mills
I have been studying Romans 8:14-17 for an upcoming lesson in my adult Sunday School class. The passage reads as follows: "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' 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."
This passage is all about the believer's adoption into the family of God, and there are many rich truths contained in it. But the section of this passage which captured my attention is As I examined this passage, I became intrigued with the last half of verse 17--"if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."
This is the difficult part of the verse, but it fits well with what precedes it. Here we have the proof that we are truly God's heirs. So how do we know that we are the sons of God and His heirs? How can we be certain?
Paul's answer in verse 17 is suffering. The Spirit of God brings suffering into our life to reveal to us that they really are His children. The word “suffering” here has to do with persecution, mockery, scorn, ridicule…whatever comes to us by virtue of our union with Christ. You can identify the child of God by the fact that he’s the one the world doesn’t really like. He doesn’t fit in with the world. And so persecution will come, and its intensity will vary to all kinds of extremes. Sometimes it’s light affliction, sometimes it’s martyrdom, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between.
All genuine believers will be ostracized or shunned or looked down upon or mocked in some way or another for their faith, if indeed, it is faith in Jesus Christ. Because Paul says here that we are God’s heirs if we’re the ones who are suffering. We are the ones who will be glorified together with the Lord if we’re the ones that are suffering. So it’s a statement of fact about us. Christians are going to be alienated from the world.
Now let me help you understand what the phrase “if indeed” means in the Greek. The word here is a marker of an emphatic condition and a good way to translate it is “in as much” or “since.” One commentator has translated it “since indeed.” And I would also point out that the word translated “we suffer with” is a present active indicative verb, expressing an on-going activity. So you can translate this verse this way: “and if children, heirs also; on the one hand, heirs of God and on the other hand, fellow heirs with Christ, in as much as (or, since indeed) we are suffering together with Him.”
In other words, it is a mark of our identity. It is assumed to be a reality, and it is assumed to be something that continues throughout our lives. I don’t think Paul means that it is continuous in the sense that there is never a break. But I do think he means that throughout our lives, there will be a pattern of scorn, ridicule, and persecution at some level for all those who are true believers.
2 Tim. 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Now, someone might say, “Ah ha, Bruce, that verse says ‘all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’ The reason some Christians are not persecuted for their faith is because they simply don’t have the desire that they should have to live a godly life for Christ.” Then I say, they aren’t really true believers. Genuine believers love their Lord and are willing to suffer for Him. They don’t like it, but their love for Him is greater than their fear of man. It is the proof of the fact that they belong to Christ. Suffering is a necessary element in the life of a believer. If you’re a true Christian, you are going to suffer.
So examine your life. Is there a pattern that arises every so often of you suffering for Christ, in the sense that others mock you or ridicule you for being so simple as to believe the Bible and not participating in the sinful activities which they love? Do others sometimes avoid talking to you because you bring up the Lord in the conversation? Have you ever been treated unfairly at work—perhaps passed over for a promotion or an assignment—because the boss liked the ungodly, unethical behavior of someone else rather than the godly character and ethical standards which you upheld? Are there perhaps some of your family members who want nothing to do with you since you became a follower of Christ, so they don’t invite you to certain gatherings anymore because your presence might put a damper on their behavior?
I’m not talking about the suffering that comes from being a part of the overall group of people known as evangelical Christians which the world loves to ridicule. I admit that if you identify yourself as an evangelical Christian in our society, people look at you like you have a third eye. But I’m not talking about suffering for the Lord in that sense. Anyone can hide in a group which is ridiculed, because they can still get reassurance and comfort from the other members of the group. But I’m talking about whether or not you have been persecuted, ridiculed, mocked, or rejected on an individual basis because of your professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Suffering for Christ is the mark of identity for those who are the true children of God.
2 Tim. 2:11-12 puts it this way—“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him.” It is a trustworthy statement…in other words, this is true as true can be. And he says, if you’re going to be one of those who reign with Him, you’re going to be one of those who endures suffering with Him. True Christians are a rebuke to the world. A hostile, God‑hating, Christ‑rejecting world doesn’t take kindly to believers.
You say, “Well, why do we have to suffer? I mean, if we are the sons of God who are going to inherit eternal glory, why don’t we just get on with the glory? You know, as soon as I get saved, just take me to heaven. Why do I have to hang around and suffer?” Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:10. It says, “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.”
So what’s the answer? The answer is that the more we suffer, the more we grow, and the more we grow, the greater capacity we receive to glorify the Lord in eternity. 2 Cor. 4:17 says, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” You see, the more you suffer here in this life, and the more you learn about God and abandon yourself to His service, and take the rebuke of the world, then the closer you draw to Him, the more you’re infused with His strength, and the more that affliction is producing in you an eternal weight of glory. The more we suffer in this life, the greater will be our capacity for glory in the life to come.
I am convinced that when we get to heaven, there will be very few American Christians who receive as great a capacity to glorify the Lord in eternity as many believers from other nations where suffering for Christ goes to a level which none of us have ever experienced. If we only truly understood that whatever affliction we receive, whatever ostracizing, whatever difficulties we might have is only a “momentary light affliction [which] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
So then, suffering for Christ in this sin‑cursed, Christ‑hating world is normal for the Christian. It’s routine stuff. We should be willing to do it because in so doing it we not only receive the assurance of the Spirit that we are God’s children, but we are also given a greater capacity to glorify God in eternity.