Rom 8:17 And if children, heirs also: heirs of God, and Christ’s joint heirs; if indeed we suffer with him , that we may also be glorified with him ..
Suffering with Christ in Romans 8 is not what we would naturally tend to think – to do something for Christ that causes us to suffer. Rather, there is a suffering – a kind of groaning – that Christ, the believers who have the first fruits of the spirit, and even the entire creation is undergoing – a suffering of anticipation.
Our initial legalistic reading of Romans 8 would bring us to verse 17 where we see that we are heirs with Christ, but would stop at “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him.” Perhaps we would say “I cannot be an heir unless I suffer for Christ.” Our natural mind may immediately supply all kinds of meanings of what it means to suffer for Christ, from various places in the Bible and sermons that have been preached on the subject.
However Paul tells us what this suffering is in Romans 8 in the verses that follow (18-25). This suffering is a groaning – a longing – to be delivered from the bondage of the flesh, and experience once and for all the true liberty of a son of God.
Remember that Romans 8 is a continuation of Romans 7, which ends with “oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” This is the cry of a person who has realized that every effort of the self to be pleasing to God and to conform to the will of God ends in utter failure.
Romans 7 shows us a picture of a person who has discovered that he now delights in God’s will, but has also discovered that there is another principle at work in his members, “the principle of sin”, that takes him captive to do its will, so that the very thing he hates he ends up doing, and the thing he wants to do, he has no strength to do.
When Paul talks about the groaning of futility we sense within us, He is bringing us back to this point –
He has already told us in the previous verses that us that to be led by the spirit is to be delivered from the bondage and fear that was produced when the law of God, the will of God, was made known to us, and we discovered the inward ruin of the flesh when we attempted to perform it. (Romans 8:15)
This leading brings our attention to the redemption that is in Christ, which is testified to by the spirit of sonship, the witness of the Spirit with our spirit that we are sons of God. This inward witness retunes us to begin to recognize the gracious tenor of God’s voice toward us. (Romans 8:15)
We begin to learn that God is no longer dealing with us according to the principle of the legal merit of our conduct (or lack thereof), but solely according to His grace towards us that was given to us in Christ from before the world began. This is the leading of the Spirit – the voice of the Shepherd who calls us by name, causes us to learn His voice and leads us into the pasture of His kindness and grace.
There is great comfort in the realization that regardless of what we are in the flesh, because we have believed the message we have heard, we are guarded by the power of God unto salvation, and we have an incorruptible inheritance (1 Peter 1:5) that has been guaranteed and pledged to us by the sealing of the Spirit (Eph 1:14). It will be ours one day.
This on the one hand produces great hope (Rom 5:2), but Paul says it also produces a kind of suffering here. The more we are conditioned to the tone of grace, the more we find that it is at odds with almost every voice in the world. We cannot feel at home in the world when we have known this voice!
Also, the person who has been led this way is in the process of giving up all hope in the flesh.(Rom 7:18) He is no longer seeking to correct it, teach it, get it to conform to anything – he agrees with God’s judgement on the old self and has resigned that it had to be crucified. (Rom 6:6) The only self that is worth anything is the new self – the new life that is Hidden with Christ in God.(Col 3:3)
The legalist who is struggling to merit is always attempting to get his earthly life to match up to some standard in order to be in a position to believe that he could be blessed by God. But Paul taught that the old man has been judged, and there is a new life , the life of a new creation, that is hidden. Its manifestation is yet future, and is the inheritance of the believer.
Having given up on all hope in the flesh, a grace believer finds himself “unemployed” in a sense. He is sometimes overwhelmed with the futility and meaninglessness of so much of the struggle and minutae in this life, because he knows that it has been subject to futility – not only by its weakness and failure, but by God who has subjected it in futility through the death of Christ. (Rom 8:20)
So the Apostles spoke much of the believers longing and hope – to put off the corruption and to put on the incorruptible, to be clothed with our glorified body and to be fit for the kingdom of God, free from all sin and weakness..to at last receive our inheritance and be delivered as Paul says “from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the sons of God.”
This is the suffering talked about in Romans 8, which is really only experienced as a byproduct of our realization of grace and having an eternal perspective.