Christianity 201

April 7, 2017

Feeling Down? Romans 8:18-30

As promised yesterday, today we’re bringing you the 2nd of two in a row…

…by Clarke Dixon

We witness, and sometimes experience, awful moments of tragedy. We see incredible injustice; whether it be bad things happening to good people or good things happening for bad people. We experience terrible health concerns; some elusive, some chronic, and some severe. There is also tragic and irreversible loss. All of this can be from “natural causes,” conflict, or shear stupidity. Being “in Christ” and “walking according to the Spirit” does not lift us out of the suffering of our world. But the suffering we are witness to can consume our focus and rob us of the joy of the Christian life. If the Christian life is supposed to be a joyful life, how can we keep suffering from robbing us of our joy? How can we keep from being overwhelmed by frustration?

Paul gives us the answer in Romans 8:18. But before we read it, let me offer an example from my own “first-world-problem.” There is a kind of suffering in dieting. Indeed, dieting is the only thing I have ever wanted to give up for Lent! The hardest part is looking at the food on the table and not reaching for a second helping. “Seconds” to me is not just a wee bit more, but an entire dinner again. But I have discovered the secret of losing weight. The secret is to look at the food with only one eye. Keep one eye on the future. Look forward with eager anticipation to not feeling bloated at the end of the meal. Look forward to not feeling a sense of regret for the course of the evening. Look forward to the numbers heading in the right direction when you stand on the scales. Look forward to fitting into those clothes that have collected some dust in the closet. The momentary “suffering” of self-denial at the dinner table does not compare to the joy ahead. So look ahead. Likewise with the suffering of life; don’t look at suffering with both eyes and so letting it consume your entire focus – keep one eye on the future.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

Paul looks forward with eager anticipation to what the future holds. The current suffering of those who are in Christ is not worth comparing to to the future, either qualitatively or quantitatively. The future joy will be of far greater scale than the current sorrow. The time spent with God in eternity will far outweigh the time spent watching or experiencing suffering now. Though our suffering may seem overwhelming as we are enduring it, in hindsight it will seem as nothing when compared with our joy in God’s presence.

Paul gives us four things to keep in mind as we keep one eye on the future.

First, we are not alone in looking forward with eager anticipation. Indeed all creation is keeping an eye on the future:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now . . . Romans 8:19-22

When God looked at creation he saw that it was good. When it seems less than good in our day, we are seeing the result of the fall, the result of human sin. Thankfully for all creation, God had and has a plan to deal with that sin, and so all of creation is spoken of as looking forward to God’s rescue of His people. Creation faces frustration because of us. Creation will be renewed because of God’s love for us!

Second, in keeping an eye on the future, we look ahead to things we have never experienced.

. . . and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:23-25

The gist of these verses is “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” While we enjoy great privilege in walking with the Spirit in the here and now, there is so much more to come. Hope is caught up with the eager anticipation of something we have not seen or experienced yet; our resurrection.

Third, we are keeping an eye on a future which is beyond our understanding.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

Sometimes suffering is so intense we are left speechless. The Spirit helps us pray when we are speechless. The future that God has in store for us will also leave us speechless. We cannot pray about our future glory without the Spirit’s help. We are not bold enough in our prayers. We often pray for an alleviation of suffering and leave it at that. What God has in store for us is so much more!

Fourth, we keep an eye on the future knowing that it is ensured by God’s ultimate rule.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30

There is much deep theology to unpack in these verses, but to keep it simple, the focus here is on God’s initiative, God’s plan, God’s purposes, God’s will, God’s way. The suffering we witness and experience can’t touch it, or alter it! Though I may be sidetracked from my diet, God does not get sidetracked from the unfolding of His will. The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to revealed to us. And with God in charge, the glory will be revealed to us.

To conclude, let us go back to the where Paul began his current summary of our rescue:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1,4

This does not mean that life is perfect in the here and now for those who are in Christ, in fact we should expect suffering to continue. But even while we see, experience, and expect suffering, we can keep one eye on the future. Because it is glorious!


Read more in this series at Clarke’s blog.

March 28, 2014

Did Jesus Experience Spiritual Formation?

Nearly two weeks ago, we asked the question, Was Jesus Ever The Recipient of Grace? The purpose of that question, and the one today is not to go off on tangents or formulate some weird doctrine, but simply to get us thinking about the implications of certain scriptures.

Spiritual formation is a term that some find particularly upsetting; probably because the term went into widespread use with a particular movement they object to, The Emergent Church. But the term spiritual growth — or it’s aim, spiritual maturity — has been around much longer and means the same thing. In a familiar passage we learn that,

Luke 2:52 …Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (NIV)

The purpose of this sentence is to provide narrative structure linking a passage showing Jesus in the temple at age twelve — Luke is the only gospel writer to include this — and the beginning of his ministry in chapter 3.

But in Hebrews, the King James introduces the idea of Christ being ‘perfected by his sufferings.’

Hebrews 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

I can hear some of you asking, “Wait a minute! He was already perfect wasn’t he?”

Yesterday, someone suggested to me that this is analogous to the rest of us being formed and shaped through testing, trials and tribulations. But was this true of Jesus? If so, is this referring to unwritten things that happened between age twelve and age thirty; the period Luke sums up in a single phrase? Or is it saying that Jesus experienced ‘sufferings’ even as he pursued his earthly ministry; trained disciples; healed the sick; taught in parables; and challenged the Pharisees?

The answer is probably neither.

Rather the ‘sufferings’ of Jesus almost always refer to his suffering in the humiliation and pain of his death on Calvary.  The NLT renders the same verse,

Hebrews 2:10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

The last phrase doesn’t occur at all in the KJV but introduces the idea that the perfection of Christ is in the atonement; that Christ becomes our perfect sacrifice, but this can only take place after (i.e. through) his suffering and death.

The NIV blends the two. In this he becomes perfect through completing God’s ultimate plan and purpose:

Hebrews 2:10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

So how do we resolve this? Was Jesus spiritually formed by the hard times in his life?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that this was part of the whole humility of Christ, to be found in the human condition (i.e. “found in like manner as we”) and coming as carpenter and an itinerant rabbi and not a king (i.e. “taking on the form of a servant.”)(Both ref.’s Phil. 2)

But no in the sense of what is happening here is that we’re confusing two different ideas and we think the text is talking about something that more often applies to us not Him, namely that we are perfected by our sufferings.  We get that from:

Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

II Cor. 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

I Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

I Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

For the Christ-follower, this is simply the way it is; these are life principles.  But while the language is the same, I don’t believe the Hebrews passage fits the same pattern, and therefore I don’t believe that Christ was being shaped or formed by his circumstances or challenges the way we are. This seems to rob him of the divinity he possessed, at the very, very least, at the outset of his public ministry. (I phrase it that way only because some do not ascribe to Jesus an awareness of his divinity at earlier stages. I’m only making a concession here, I personally believe the Luke 2 passage is included to give us an insight into his full knowledge of his unity with God the Father.)

Some of the less common translations flesh this out to various degrees.  The Amplified Bible:

Hebrews 2:10 For it was an act worthy [of God] and fitting [to the divine nature] that He, for Whose sake and by Whom all things have their existence, in bringing many sons into glory, should make the Pioneer of their salvation perfect [should bring to maturity the human experience necessary to be perfectly equipped for His office as High Priest] through suffering.

This ties in well with Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.

The Voice Bible seems to suggest a perfecting taking place,

10 It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation.

But in a narrative section that precedes it, states,

Here is God’s Son: Creator, Sustainer, Great High Priest. Jesus has to take on our feeble flesh and suffer a violent death. He suffers for what we need.

So again, he is our perfect sacrifice; he is not being shaped by things taking place in his earthly ministry, but he is becoming — as the writer will say in the verse from chapter four above — our perfect High Priest in death.

Jesus was the perfect man already. He didn’t need to be refined the way we do. His earthly existence did not shape him but it did make him perfectly able to identify with our condition. His submission to death made him the perfect sacrifice and thereby he is the perfect completion of God’s plan.