Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Suffering in the Spirit

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Paul carries forward his discussion of the Christian struggle into Romans 8, where he reminds us that the Holy Spirit has been given to ensure our ultimate victory over the remaining horrors of indwelling sin. As he said in chapter 6, so he says again in 8:10, we are to count our old selves as dead, and our new selves as alive in the sphere of the Resurrection.

This leads Paul to remark that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to our future glory (Romans 8:18). In context, he is probably not referring to external persecution but to the inner struggle he has been describing for two chapters. There have been times in history when the church has not suffered external persecution, but there has never been a time when Christians did not suffer from the power of indwelling sin.

Paul describes this suffering as “groaning” (Romans 8:23) and, of course, he has illustrated that groaning in Romans 7. The Christian suffers more than other people because only the Christian experiences the horrible struggle with sin. It is the work of the Spirit to bring about this suffering, because the Spirit shows us Christ, and shows us how we have betrayed Him over and over again. In this way the Spirit afflicts us for our own good, and causes us to look forward to the day when we shall no longer be burdened with sin.

It is in this context that Paul writes that all things work together for good, and that we can be assured of eventual deliverance, because God is absolutely sovereign. It is important to sec that Paul brings up the doctrine of predestination not as a theological abstraction to be considered at the beginning of his letter, but as a comfort to believers who groan as they struggle with sin, fear, worry, and nagging doubts.

God controls everything, says Paul, and because He controls everything we can count on Him. His promises cannot fail, because He has predestinated everything from the beginning to the end. Our sufferings are part of His plan, and He will ultimately bring good out of them. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, because nothing can interfere with His plan. Thus, no matter how much we suffer externally and internally, if we cling to the promises, we can rejoice in the knowledge that we are absolutely secure.

How long has it been since you experienced any of the groaning Paul refers to in Romans 7 and 8? Is it possible that you have allowed your conscience to become hardened to your own waywardness? Ask the Lord to search your heart, and make you sensitive to your own failures, and more desperate for His grace.