My musings after meditating on Romans 8 for six weeks for my Systematic Theology III course:
In this passage Paul begins by pronouncing the absence of any condemnation for those who are in Christ (v. 1), for those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (v. 4). Starting in verse 14 he reveals that we who are led by the Spirit are God’s adopted sons. Then in verse 17 he states, “And if [we are] his children, then [we are his] heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Up until the second half of verse 17 I was tracking with the Apostle. There is no judgment left for God’s elect because Christ was condemned in our place. And those who are particularly set free from the law of sin and death are indwelt by God’s Spirit so as to put to death the deeds of the body and to live righteously. Indeed, we are even God’s own children and heirs. But all of these are only true “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 17b). And I’ve lost him.
Wait, what? Suffering as a category for our discipleship? Suffering with Christ as a prerequisite to glory with Christ? I got the forgiveness part. I got the grow-in-holiness part. But suffering?
Apparently, a part of the Christian life is for us to suffer with Christ that we may also be glorified with Christ. In verse 18 Paul refers to this adversity more generally as “the sufferings of this present time.” In verses 35-36 he gets a little more specific: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, slaughter.
My experience of Christianity has included basically none of those things, if any at all. In fact, my experience of life in general has barely included any suffering, any longing, any desperation. This passage is a stern wake-up call even as it builds my hope. For Paul’s repeated point as he discusses our necessary experience of affliction is that “[nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39; c.f. 35, 37). Even more certain than the fact that I will eventually suffer (whether the more tragic or “normal” kind) is that Christ’s love never leaves. Even in the deepest possible pain “all things are working for our good” (Romans 8:28) and he “never stops doing good to us” (Jeremiah 32:40) and “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord” (Psalm 32:10).