Suffering With Christ
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. Romans 8:16-17
These words from Paul, about being children and heirs of God with Christ, include an “if” statement at the end that may cause us consternation. Is he saying we can be the children of God and fellow heirs with Christ if and only if we suffer? Is childhood in a spiritual sense only possible through suffering? What does this say about God if he makes us suffer, or requires this of us, in order to be his children? However, the understandable concerns this raises in our minds, even to the point of questioning God, come from a mistaken reading of what Paul is saying.
First, we must recognize that suffering in this life, in this world, and due to our weak and vulnerable nature, is not optional. Everyone suffers. Suffering is not what followers of Christ alone experience. We all face hardships, temptations, trials, rejection, difficult relationships, strife within ourselves and with others, and to these add all the struggles that come with having physical bodies which develop ailments. No one goes through life without suffering.
Paul’s is not talking about whether we suffer or not, but whether we suffer with Christ or apart from him. That is his point of distinction! Suffering itself is not some prerequisite to being a child of God, nor is it intrinsically the means to glorification. Doing all things with Christ is the very meaning of being a son or daughter of God and fellow heir with Christ, suffering included. When we journey with Christ in this world and through the inevitable sufferings that come, we will finally be glorified.
For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21
Since suffering is unavoidable, how wonderful it is that Christ gives us an example of how to live through these hardships! Peter says that Christ’s suffering for us is so that we might have an example of how to follow him through this universal experience.
Now, to be clear, all suffering is not the same. The suffering that is associated with sin, the inevitable painful consequences of ungodly behavior, is less part our lives as we learn to imitate Christ. However, while that may decrease, the suffering which is inherent in the struggle against sin, to be holy people and be like Jesus, increases. In living apart from Christ we suffer from sin. In Christ, we suffer in the struggle of putting off the old and being clothed in the new. In all this, the Lord shows us the way.