The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. —Romans 8:18
When I was a little boy my family used to take summer vacations on Cape Cod. Just off Thumpertown Beach where we stayed was an old navy ship beached about a mile offshore. The Air Force used it for target practice. It seems unimaginable today, but I would lie back on the beach and watch these four-engine bombers flying low overhead as they released their rockets at that ship. I could track the rockets all the way down to the ship – kaboom! It was every boy’s dream. My own World War III every afternoon.
Sometimes you and I are like that grounded ship. We’re stuck where we are, we can’t seem to get moving, and the buffetings of this life leave us feeling like target practice. At those moments, what do we need? Do we need a right good scolding? Maybe. But to get off that sand bar, we need the tide to rise. We need fresh currents of hope to lift us up. Then we can move without having to be dragged along.
You and I are in church today because that’s what we want. We don’t want to be dragged or towed or forced. We want to be refloated, relaunched. We want the tides of Christ to lift our hearts into hope.
The opposite of hope, of course, is despair. And despair is the air we breathe every day. It doesn’t always feel like despair. We Americans are rich enough and privileged enough to build little worlds of personal pleasantness with sandbags around to keep unpleasant realities from encroaching. But what is Iran going to do to us? What might the annual check-up with the doctor reveal? What if my wife or husband turns against me? In our culture, despair rarely takes the form of weeping and wailing. We have drive-thru happy meals to keep us comfortably numb – as Pink Floyd put it. Our despair is more like a low-grade fever sapping our energy. It’s not so much the presence of horrible anguish as it is the absence of expectancy. Our despair is this – not having a security that Iran cannot destroy, not having a health that cancer cannot destroy, not having a love that divorce cannot destroy. When we know that all our happiness can be ripped from our hands at any moment – that’s despair.
Here is the question of questions for every single one of us: What is my chance at happiness? Real happiness, solid happiness, a happiness so formidable it destroys all its destroyers – what is my chance at getting hold of that happiness? Can you think of any other question more to your advantage? God has an answer to that question of questions. Here it is: God himself. “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24). You can have God forever. You can spend this life and all of eternity exploring, discovering, enjoying, possessing God. For example, the Bible says that God is your Judge. What is it worth to you if God, for the sake of Christ and for no reasons of your own righteousness – what if God your Judge changes his verdict in your case from guilty to righteous? What if God announces to angels and demons and the entire human race on that great Day of Judgment that you are righteous and perfect and awesome in his sight? What if that is the judgment you face from God? What would it be worth to you to have that God for your Judge? You can have him, and freely. You don’t deserve him. But God gives himself to the undeserving through the finished work of Christ on the cross. The Bible says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). God does not withhold himself from sinners; he only withholds himself from unbelievers. Repent of your despair, believe the gospel, and God promises to give himself to you in every wonderful way.
I want to show you from Romans 8:17-18 how rich in God you can be. I want to allure your heart to turn from the weak, dishwater happiness of this world to the industrial strength happiness of Christ. You can have it. You can have it all. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. God wants to give you, the undeserving, his best gift – himself. Are you willing to be made immeasurably rich forever with a treasure nothing in this world can spoil? Let’s think it through.
…and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…. —Romans 8:17
Paul has just told us that the Holy Spirit assures the hearts of God’s children. If you have given yourself to Jesus, there’s a reason. God himself created that willingness in your heart, because he loves you. God has adopted you as his own child. And not only does God love you, he wants you to know that he loves you. He wants you to be deeply settled in his love for you. So he sends the Holy Spirit into your heart to assure you. That’s where we left off last time.
Here’s the next step: “. . . and if children, then heirs.” The Bible does not say, “. . . if good children, then heirs.” How good would we have to be, to make the cut? And we’re not good. We’re naughty children. Sometimes we’re real brats. But God adopts bratty people to be his children and makes them his heirs. It’s as if God our Father has made up a will – not that he’s going to die, but he does provide a future for his children. He thinks ahead.
So, what do we stand to inherit? What do we have to look forward to? If we’re God’s children, then we’re his heirs. Heirs of what? Heirs of God. That means two things. One, God plans for us eternally lasting joys that only God can give. The Bible says that God will wipe all tears from our eyes, as only he can (Revelation 21:4). He will rinse all the evil out of us, finally and forever. We’ll be so set free we’ll never sin again, we’ll never be deceived again, we’ll never be stupid again, but we’ll be spontaneous and noble and intelligent and happy and selfless in a land where nothing is forbidden because Christ is supreme there (1 John 3:1-2). We will live in what the Bible calls an eternal house in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). We will enter into a life so perfect the Bible says it is incorruptible, undefiled, unfading (1 Peter 1:4). All the promises of God will pour into our experience with a potency we have never yet tasted.
Two, God plans to give us himself. Christian faith is not only trusting God but also treasuring God. It changes us. When John Chrysostom, the fourth-century Christian, was brought before the empress Eudoxia, she threatened him with banishment if he kept preaching the gospel. But he told her, “You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.” “But I will kill you,” said the empress. “No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” said John. “I will take away your treasures.” “No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.” “But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.” “No, you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.” We become heroic not by willpower but by fullness of heart, by a sense of God in our hearts, an awareness that nothing anyone can do will rob us of God our Father.
Here’s another way this hope changes us. If we are enriched forever as heirs of God, our values change. There’s a chance in the near future we’ll have an opportunity for significant financial commitments to Immanuel Church. Let’s understand how the heirs of God give. James Montgomery Boice, the Presbyterian pastor who was himself a wealthy man, nailed it:
One of the best things that could happen to many believers would be for them to be led to give away, all at one time, a substantial part of their savings. That is, they should give a substantial part of their capital. Why? Because there is something about giving away a sizable percentage of one’s money – and, of course, the amount would vary entirely from one individual to another – that is spiritually invigorating. And there is seldom a case in which a large gift does not throw the Christian back on the Lord and increase the feeling that he is all-wonderful and that he is more than able to care for the one who trusts him. I have seen this happen in many instances. And I have never known a true Christian to be sorry for even the most sacrificial giving afterward.
If following Christ means we end up inheriting God, the word “sacrifice” starts losing its meaning. If you are an heir of God, giving to him does not increase regret; it increases joy. As heirs of God, we receive more than we give.
Not only are we heirs of God, we are also fellow heirs with Christ, the Bible says here. What does that mean? It’s simple. If God is our Father, then Christ is our brother. And our brother Christ, the Bible says, is “the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). In other words, God the Father has deeded over to Christ the Son all things, literally all things. In the sight of God, Jesus is the legally entitled owner, the true owner, of the Taj Mahal and Apple Computers and my Chevy pickup and absolutely everything. Human ownership at a horizontal level is valid. That’s why the Bible says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). But Christ above owns all things. And he’s not a taker; he’s a giver. Throughout eternity, as his fellow heirs, we will enter into joys and privileges that only Christ deserves: “fellow heirs with Christ.” Someday he will open the door to you and say, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). And nobody can take that away from you.
But this hope God gives he does qualify. Here’s how:
…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. —Romans 8:17
Obviously, the Bible cannot be saying that our sufferings earn our glories. The Bible wouldn’t say that. In fact, the very next verse tells us that our sufferings can’t begin to measure up to heaven. So what is Paul saying here? What do we need to understand? Just this. We don’t just suffer. We suffer “with him.” Not just for him. With him. That means our future too is with him, not just for him. We need to know that, because we’re weak and we might chicken out. We all wonder how much we can take. We all tend to hold back from Jesus – we love him, we want him – but we hold back, because we’re afraid he’ll ask too much of us. So we try to keep control over him. We try to set preconditions: “I’ll go with you up to this point, but beyond that there’s no way.” Right now, some of us are saying in our hearts, “Jesus, I will not give myself to you completely, because I know what you will cost me, and I’m scared. I don’t think I can live without my favorite sins. I don’t even think I can get untangled from them, and I’m so tired of failing.” If I were to ask for a show of hands about that, and if we felt safe enough to be honest, a lot of us would raise our hands. Jesus scares the living daylights out of us, because we know he means suffering. And he’s not denying it. He told us to take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).
Following Christ will get us obeying him in hard ways. But he is worth it. He is a faithful Friend. That’s why the words “with him” are there. So, you might not die a martyr’s death, but you can live with a martyr’s heart. And deep inside, you want to. You know you were born to struggle and strive and fight and win. Don’t run from it. The Bible says of all who end up in heaven, “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4). Follow Christ wherever he takes you, because that hard path is the only happiness that exists. And the soft choice, as we all know, ends up painful and so disappointing. Everything without Christ hurts. Everything with Christ heals. If you will keep saying Yes to him moment by moment, two things are sure to happen. One, you will suffer with Christ. Two, you will be glorified with Christ. Every other glory that might tempt you is a lie, but the glory he promises – here’s what the Bible says:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. —Romans 8:18
Do you see how Paul is admitting something that we might be embarrassed to admit? He’s thinking of our future inheritance in God. But he doesn’t call it our “inheritance.” He calls it “the glory that is to be revealed to us,” because heaven goes so far beyond earthly calculations like inheritances. But Paul admits, “Yes, I thought about it. I asked the question, Is Jesus worth it? I’m having to pay a price to follow him. It isn’t easy. Is he worth it? I’ve asked myself that. I’ve considered it, I’ve calculated, I’ve done the math. And here’s where I’ve come down. My sufferings in this life, compared with the glory to be revealed to me, don’t even register on the scales.” That helps. It helps us get our small thoughts of God out of our heads. We might think, “Well, for a million dollars I might commit sin X. For a promotion at work, I might keep my mouth shut about Jesus.” Where does that come from? Small thoughts of God and exaggerated thoughts of this life.
So let’s go ahead and think about it. Let’s consider it – using Paul’s own word here. And the gospel promises that our present sufferings are achieving for us “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). That’s what “glory” is. It’s weightiness, solidity, density. This life is good, but it’s just not enough. Air is good. It comes in handy, one breath after another. But when I’m hungry, air doesn’t help. I could gulp down breath after breath, but I’d still go hungry. Air has its place in my life. But in the nature of the case, it cannot satisfy my stomach’s hunger for food. Many people treat this airy world as if it could satisfy their hunger for God. Your heart is hungry for God. You are deeply lonely without God. You were made for God. You were made yourself to become by his grace so glorious and solid that you can stand before the living God, before that blast-furnace of white-hot love and only want it to get more intense forever, which it will, and your glorified self will love him more and more forever. Your sufferings in this life are getting you ready for that. God will not trivialize you but glorify you. All he’s asking is that you would so trust him that you put one foot in front of the other and walk with him all the way there.
Peter Kreeft helps us get in touch with what Jesus is worth: “Suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated. Suppose the fight was fixed. Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw that despite everything – your sin, your smallness, your stupidity – you could have free for the asking your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy. Would you not return fearless and singing? What can earth do to you if you are guaranteed heaven? To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny – less, a scratch on a penny.”
Jesus died to make you an heir of God and a fellow heir with himself. Will you make definite that you will trust him for your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire? He wants to give himself to you fully. Will you give yourself to him fully?