16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.(ESV)
These verses at first glance would seem more encouraging if that last bit about suffering had been left off. But it wasn’t left off so we need to understand what its significance might be. The phrase “provided we suffer with him” is a conditional statement. There’s something that either will or will not be true depending upon whether this condition is met. There are two possibilities. Either our status as children of God is dependent upon whether we suffer or our status as heirs is conditional. It seems clear to me that the issue that is conditional upon our suffering is not our status as children but rather our status as heirs. Our status as children of God is entirely contingent upon faith, not suffering, so that possibility is ruled out. D.J. Moo sees this similarly…
Paul makes clear that this suffering is the condition for the inheritance; we will be “glorified with” Christ (only) if we “suffer with him.” Participation in Christ’s glory can come only through participation in his suffering. What Paul is doing is setting forth an unbreakable “law of the kingdom” according to which glory can come only by way of suffering. For the glory of the kingdom of God is attained only through participation in Christ, and belonging to Christ cannot but bring our participation in the sufferings of Christ. Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (506). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Ths Spirit speaks to our human spirit that we are children. It follows from being children that we are heirs. But we will only lay hold of this inheritance through suffering. Apart from suffering, we will not lay hold of the inheritance that is ours as children. Taken in context this becomes quite interesting. Paul is here speaking of the Spirit of Adoption. In my last post I referenced Wuest’s reading of this adoption not as the receiving of someone into the family previously outside the family, but rather as the setting in of a naturally born child into a status of maturity. When this status change occurs there is conferred upon the child the authority to access the Father’s estate and do business as the Father’s representative. I believe this reading to be theologically potent simply because our conversion to Christ involves being born from above and becoming partakers in the divine nature. Given that we are children by being born from above and being partakers of his nature, whatever is meant by adoption, it cannot simply be a change of legal status that includes in the family those who were previously outside.
Let’s take these two ideas together. 1. A child in the family is recognized as mature and authorized to conduct family business as the Father’s reprentative. 2. A child in the family is only able to lay hold of inheritance through suffering. It then follows from these that maturity can be achieved only through suffering.
Are you eager for authority? Influence? Power? Glory? As a son of God is it your desire to represent Him and conduct family business in His name? If so, you desire a good thing. All Creation is longing for you to do this.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.(ESV)
But make no mistake about it. There is no path from here to there that avoids participation in the suffering of Christ.