Co-Sufferers, Co-Heirs
Suffering With Christ

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 36b of 83

17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17-18).

[In the first part of our exposition of this text, we noted how believers are heirs of God and joints with Christ. But we also noted that all who are joint heirs with Christ can expect to suffer just as Christ suffered. In this installment, we must consider what it means to suffer with Christ. JJL]

2.  Suffering with Christ

First, we should be clear that Paul is not talking about the suffering that God metes out through His providence. This present world is a world of suffering. All who live in this world must and will suffer. They will and must suffer because of sin. Sin is in them and in the world.

Paul is not talking about this kind of suffering. He is talking about suffering with Christ. “If so be that we suffer with him,” he says.

What is it to suffer with Christ?

In the first place,  we must realise that Paul is not speaking about suffering with Christ in His atoning sacrifice. That suffering is complete. We cannot suffer that suffering or add to it because it is finished! It was finished when Christ our Lord pronounced it to be ‘finished’ on the Cross.

But while the atoning suffering of Christ is complete, we must realise that there is yet another suffering of Christ which is not yet complete.

Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaks of filling up that which is behind or lacking of the afflictions of Christ (Col 1:24).

Writing to the Philippians, he speaks about the fellowship or partnership of the suffering of Christ (Phil 3:10).

The apostle Peter, likewise, speaks of being “partakers of Christ’s suffering” (1 Pet 4:13).

What are they talking about? They are talking about the suffering that will befall the body of Christ. Christ is the Head of the Church. The Church is His body. When Paul speaks about suffering with Christ, he is speaking about the suffering that the body of Christ will have to endure on account of our union with Christ.

He is not taking about the suffering of the Head, but the suffering of the body which is covenantally joined to the Head.

The Church of Christ is so closely united to Christ that He Himself accounts the suffering of His Church as His own suffering.

Remember how He confronted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus? Saul was persecuting the Church, but how did the Lord confront him? “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4), He asked.

Saul was persecuting the Church, but our Lord regarded it as persecuting Himself.

Therefore, when we suffer for our faith in Christ, we are said to suffer with Christ. Why will we suffer for our faith? Because the world hates Christ. Christ has Himself already warned His disciples that this would happen. He says in John 15:18—

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).

The world is blinded by sin. And Satan hates Christ because Christ is altogether righteous and holy. Therefore, when the world sees Christ in the believer, it will hate him and persecute him.

Thus, Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages. They began to be persecuted in the days of the Lord. And they were persecuted in the days of the apostles. Saul of Tarsus and the unbelieving Jew arrested them and stoned them. Stephen was martyred.

The Romans persecuted them too. The apostle Peter wrote to encourage the church concerning it:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Pet 4:12).

It is to be expected, he is saying. If you are walking with the Lord, it is to be expected that you will suffer for Christ’s sake.

Shortly after that letter, emperor Nero unleashed his fury upon the Christians. Many Christians were doused in tar, impaled on stakes and set afire to serve as torches for his garden. Others were made to wear animal skins and torn apart by wild dogs just for his viewing pleasure.

It was a most terrible time of persecution. But let us pause for a moment and ask: “Did they have a choice?” Did they have a choice whether or not to suffer as they did?

Beloved brethren, let this be clear in our minds. They did have a choice!

When the unbelieving Jews arrested Stephen, they put him on trial in the Sanhedrin. They brought false witnesses against him. And they asked “Are these things so?” Stephen could have chosen the easy way by recanting of what he said concerning Christ. Instead he chose to preach to the Sanhedrin. He was stoned to death.

When the Romans arrested the Christians, they likewise, would put them through some kind of trial. The Romans were polytheistic. They did not require the Christians to give up Christ so long as they were willing to bow down to the Roman idols—just once. But they refused. They suffered for their faith.

This is the kind of suffering which Paul is talking about. It is the kind of suffering for which we have a choice.

The suffering of Christ that will befall the sons and daughters of God is not unavoidable. You have a choice. You can choose not to suffer for Christ. You cannot choose not to suffer in the case of the suffering that God metes on you by His providence. But you can always choose not to suffer for Christ.

You will have to choose whenever you reach a fork in your walk on the way everlasting.

You have been offered a job with a high pay. But it requires you to entertain clients in karaoke lounges. Which will you choose? Christ or mammon?

You have been offered a place in the national soccer team. But it requires you to train on the Lord’s Day? Who do you choose? Christ or fame?

It is Friday, you have had a busy week. You have not learned your catechism and memory verse. What will you choose? Christ or sleep? Or what will you forgo? Christ or your computer time?

You will always have to choose when you reach obvious junctions in your Christian walk. But you will also have to choose at not so obvious junctions.

Should I have family worship today, or should I just watch television. Should I go for prayer meeting, or should I should I just stay at home and laze around. Should I read my Bible, or should I play a computer game, or watch a video. Should I tell my friend about Christ, or should I keep quiet and keep his friendship.

Every day and every moment you will have to make these decisions: Will I choose Christ or my honour? Christ or my job? Christ or my wealth? Christ or my pleasure? Christ or my comfort? Christ or my freedom? Christ or my friends? Christ or parents? Christ or my spouse?

I am not saying, you must understand, that choosing your honour, your job, your pleasure, or your spouse will always mean forsaking Christ. But if any of these things hinders you from obeying God, and you choose it, you have cast a vote against Christ.

But let me warn you: Whenever you have to make such a choice and you choose Christ, you will be choosing suffering. The apostle Paul says elsewhere:

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2Tm 3:12).

If you choose Christ, you will often have to forgo honour, convenience, money, and other forms of creaturely comforts. And in place of that you may have shame, reproach, persecution, and possibly even prison and death.

We can choose to avoid the suffering. Professing believers who are not in Christ will always choose to avoid the suffering.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 12 we are told that many of the chief rulers of the Jews believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. But were they true believers? Look at what John says:

“…among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: 43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Jn 12:42-43).

Did the chief rulers become joint-heirs with Christ? I don’t know, but do you not think John leaves us with very strong doubt that they did. They love the praises of men more than the praise of God. They were not willing to suffer for Christ by confessing Him. Could they be true believers? It is very doubtful, is it not?

By contrast the apostles, we are told, rejoiced that “they were counted worthy to suffer shame for [Christ’s] name” (Acts 5:39). We have no doubt by their testimony that they are joint-heirs with Christ!

Yes, true Christians will also be tempted to choose to avoid the suffering. Who would not be?

But if we persistently choose to avoid suffering for Christ’s sake, we are not of Christ. We are not joint-heirs with him. We will not be glorified with Christ. This is what Paul is telling us.

That is not to say that a true child of God will never sinfully avoid the suffering of Christ. The apostle Peter chose the honour of man rather than the reproach of Christ. But he did not continue in that way. When he had fallen, he repented of his sin. And then he chose the way of suffering that led him to the cross. Tradition had it that he was crucified upside down.

Which of us has never been unfaithful? But if you persistently choose to avoid the suffering of Christ, then you are not walking in the way of life everlasting. You are not of Christ. You will not be glorified with Him!

But what encouragement do we have to suffer for Christ?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim