Chaos seems to be increasing across the world leading to great individual suffering. Its during our hardest times that we can receive at best, counsel consisting of quips like, “time heals all wounds” or “God has a plan for you”, or at worst we’re told to “suck it up!” shallow counsel only increases the suffering and can cause a person to feel isolated because of the lack of empathy from others. While there is truth to the above counsel, they lack the depth of understanding necessary to strengthen a believer’s trust in the hope for a glorious future.
Paul does not take suffering lightly or immaturely. Before He was a child of God, Paul was very thoughtful on how to make Christians suffer when he persecuted them. One of his many motives was to drive people from their faith through suffering.
Later, as a child of God, Paul endured much suffering—repeatedly whipped, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, bitten by a viper, neglected by fellow believers, and eventually martyred. Paul understood suffering in all its details.
In Romans 8:8-30, Paul wrote a magnificent passage that dealt with hope and perseverance in the face of suffering. In order to provide a perspective of a believer’s suffering that compels how we are to live it out, Paul moves across four main points.
Step 1: Inspect Our Faith
In Romans 8:8-13, Paul encourages his audience of self-professed believers to inspect their faith. There is a difference between the sufferings of an unbeliever and the sufferings of a believer, so the first step we need to take is to inspect whether we really belong to God.
Those who are “In the flesh” are not believers. Anyone who lives according to the common-sense wisdom of the world, who seeks the common desires of the world, and who seek out a meaningful life by seeking out the things of this world are those that live according to the flesh and do not belong to God. They can have no hope in their suffering, and their end is death apart from God.
Those that have the Spirit of Christ have life and live according to the ways of Christ given in His Scriptures. These ways seem as foolishness to those who do not have the Spirit of Christ as they rely on the common-sense wisdom according to the flesh. Christ’s righteousness, for those who have His Spirit, impassions us to live out the righteousness of God, wherein is eternal life.
So inspect whether your daily and long-term concerns are according to the flesh or according to the Spirit of Christ.
Step 2: Gain Assurance of Being a Child of God
Now the self-inspection of our faith should bring us all to a similar place, if we have inspected our faith honestly. All of us to various degrees live according to the flesh – whether one lives entirely to the flesh as an unbeliever or one who is a believer still has areas in life that is led by the flesh.
Verse 13 says if we live by the flesh, we will die. This is a heavy truth. An honest inspection will show that we live a great deal to the flesh. What believer hasn’t doubted their salvation because of this? Unless you are dishonest, every believer has struggled with the assurance that they are a child of God. I don’t want any believer in the Doers class to struggle with that today though. I want you to experience the assurance that you are one of the children of God.
To belong to Jesus is to have the Holy Spirit, and it is through the Holy Spirit that Paul says we can have assurance that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit gives a testimony as a witness in a courtroom. If the Holy Spirit is leading you, He can testify that you belong to Jesus because He has witnessed it firsthand. According to Paul, in Romans 8:13-16, The Holy Spirit leads the children of God in two ways:
The Holy Spirit Convicts Us of Our Sin
The first way the Holy Spirit witnesses that we are children of God is that we are able to be led by Him in our hatred and remorse of our sin (Rom 8:13-14):
- When trusting and leaning upon the Holy Spirit, you make war on the sins of your life
- The Holy Spirit leads you to kill sin
- When sin happens in your life, you hate it.
- What sin are you dealing with right now? If you are frustrated and angry at the sin in your life right now—that is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is witnessing that you hate what you did, and that you are grieved because of it.
- This is the Holy Spirit’s jealous way of saying, “you are mine and only mine, and I will not share you with the wisdom and desires of your flesh.”
If you have any sin in your life that you do not hate nor are grieved about, it is because the Holy Spirit is not in you and leading you, and you are not a child of God. If, on the other hand, you hate your sin and are grieved by it, you can know that you are a child of God because your hatred of sin is due to the witnessing of the Holy Spirit that you are His.
The Holy Spirit Makes Us Cry Out to the Father
In Romans 8:15, Paul shows what it means to be children of God. As children, we cry out to the Father because we are inept and insufficient in ourselves to do anything, and we need the Father to rescue us and help us to live out life.
- This cry out to God, our Father, only comes from the Holy Spirit
- Do you cry out to God as your only Authority and as the only One who can meet our needs?
- Crying out shows we know we are insufficient in the face of all of our life’s needs
- Self-sufficient people don’t cry out like this, and they live according to the flesh.
- This verse describes what is happening to you when you feel the need for a Father and when you feel a hatred for sin.
- This is the leading of the Holy Spirit that testifies you are a child of God.
So if you feel remorse of your sin and you are compelled to trust and rely on your Father as a child, then you are a child of God. The Holy Spirit bears witness of this trust and reliance to you and to Himself.
Step 3: Believers Suffer with the Hope Jesus has Given Us
Being assured of our salvation, by the witness of the Holy Spirit, refocuses us on being in total reliance upon God to help us persevere during our suffering. This perseverance relies on the continued work of the Spirit on our behalf, and our trust and hope in our future glorification with Christ.
The Holy Spirit Intercedes for Us
For believers, the Spirit convicts us of sin, makes us rely upon the Father, and also “helps in our weaknesses” by interceding in our prayers, on our behalf, to the Father (Rom 8:26). What power we possess and have access to because Jesus saw fit to send us the Holy Spirit! We are completely different from the rest of the world in our sufferings.
While we can be quick to think that our suffering must be because we are outside of God’s will, Paul continues in verse 27 by letting us know that the Spirit’s intercession for us is according to the will of God. While we are crying out to the Father during our time of helplessness, we can be reassured that the Holy Spirit, in us, is interceding in our prayers according to the will of the Father.
This intercession by the Spirit is not just for the sake of surviving our suffering. God wants us to ascend far above just surviving! Everything about His intercession during our weakness is so we can endure with His strength, His bold assurance, and His joy.
Jesus Promises a Glorious Future
In Romans 8:17-30, Paul explains what our suffering in this world is really about. Please read this passage and observe the key takeaway of hope that is ours to have. Hope is looking forward with confidence to the future promises of God.
- (Rom 8:17-18) notice that the finished glory of the gospel is contrasted against the present state of a believer’s suffering. We suffer now, but we are going to be glorified, and become heirs with Christ.
- (Rom 8:19-22) All creation is also looking forward to our glorification in Christ as well.
- (Rom 8:23-25) While the children of God presently groans through obeying our Saviour with so much suffering, we have the hope that our corruptible bodies will be redeemed and removed from all suffering. It is in our hope, through faith, that we are saved to begin with.
Paul is showing that the engine of hope in the promises of Jesus, is what drives us to persevere by looking beyond our current situation. In fact, in Romans 8:25, 28-30, we see that a believer’s suffering is essential to producing hope and strengthening our perseverance. This shuts down any claims by prosperity gospel teachers that suffering is not God’s will for our lives. So what is perseverance in Christ?
- Perseverance moves us beyond any notion that successful and fulfilled lives are correlated with less suffering.
- While suffering and order are not mutually exclusive, perseverance pushes back against chaos and restores order.
- Perseverance is the removal of our crutches in this world—those wrong things we lean on for contentment and security (relationships, material items, position, etc.).
- Perseverance not only removes our crutches, but it toughens us up to be able to handle greater suffering in order to live for Christ and for others in a greater capacity in this world.
Step 4: Believers Suffer with the Church Jesus has Given Us
Believers suffer for many reasons that may be due to physical, mental, and relational, reasons, yet we are not supposed to suffer in isolation. After all, it is the church that Christ died for which is glorified with Him in the end, according to Romans 8. In 2 Tim 4:2-5, Paul tells Timothy that he will suffer greatly in his ministry to the church. Paul’s solution to this suffering comes in verse 5 where he says, “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Paul was telling Timothy that in times of turmoil, he needs to keep his focus on point by serving others. That command can only be carried out within the boundaries and influence of the local church.
We are not called to endure suffering in isolation from each other. Jesus has adopted us and given us a family, called the church, that we are commanded to rely on and share life with. Regarding disciples Timothy had made in the church, Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:3, “You therefore must [share in] hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Soldiers can only withstand suffering and win battles when they act together. Individualistic Christianity will only cause a believer to undergo greater and longer suffering while never winning battles.
Many have seen the wrongs by people in the church, or may have experienced real hurt from others in the church, but they respond by distancing themselves from involvement, accountability, and therefore ministry opportunities in the church. This is the reason so many believers can’t understand why their life seems so unfulfilled, why it seems God constantly shuts down doors for ministry they desire, and why they can feel that God has turned His back on them. Many believers can spend decades in this condition forgetting the simple truth that each believer is only just a small member of the body of Christ, and living spiritually apart from the church is like being a discarded amputated limb left lying in the dirt. Fitting into the body of Christ takes great humility and patience, but it is in the church that we can live out peaceful and joyful lives that overcome the world (Jn 16:33).
Yet in all these things we [the church] are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:37-39
Are you trusting in the Spirit of Christ, according to His Word, with every detail of your life in order to fulfill your ministry? Are you a church member who is committed to helping each other and sharing your sufferings? If not, today is the day to start. We are not called to a Spirit fear, as Paul said in Romans 8:15, but to a Spirit that has the all-powerful and sovereign Father to help us.
Suffering gives us the opportunity to be conquerors. Not that we desire suffering, but by Christ and through His church, believers can transcend the cursed world and bear fruit in the process.