If we are truly in Christ, we know the love the Father has for us. “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:16 Often, however, our sense of God’s greater purpose can get lost in the immediacy of our lives in this world.
As heirs of the Father in Christ, together with Christ, we await God’s glory. We may be tempted to assume that we are just biding our time here as God prepares rooms for us in heaven – an escape from the present futility of the world – but there is a catch:
“if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”Romans 8:17
God emptied Himself of His glory to come to us in human form, and he entered into our suffering. This was God’s purpose from before the foundation of the earth. God became human in Christ as part of the fulfillment of that purpose.
Likewise, Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and to follow him, just as He followed the Father in the fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose.
This notion of entering into Christ’s suffering, and even rejoicing in suffering, was central to the message Paul preached. Suffering was also the familiar experience of early Christ followers.
As with Abraham, those early Christian knew they were not at home on this earth. They were waiting for a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God“. Suffering in this life reminds us that we are not home yet. Our home lies beyond.
More importantly, God has a purpose, and His purpose includes us. Just as Abraham lived out his life in seeking to fulfill the purpose for which and to which God called him – by which he was going to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth – we are called to this greater purpose of God.
Most Christians in the western world know practically nothing about suffering for Christ. “Cancel culture” and political disagreements, are not the same as what Christ suffered or even what many Christians in other parts of the world suffer.
Not that we should wish suffering upon ourselves. The reality is, though, that we don’t really have a good personal and intimate sense of what it means to suffer, and to embrace suffering, as Paul and the early Christians experienced it. For that reason, perhaps, these words Paul spoke are not as poignant for us as they should be:
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”Romans 8:18
In the United States, we are tempted to fight back against the insults of the world, to assert our political, social, cultural, and even (sometimes) our physical power – to gain advantage. We do this “for the Church”, we say. We say, “We do it for God”, to put God back in schools, to save the family, to reclaim this nation for Christ, etc.
But is that really God’s greater purpose?
God called Abraham and promised his descendants a land; and God promised to make a name for Abraham and to make him into a great nation. God didn’t do these things for Abraham or even for his descendants. God had a greater purpose – to bless all the people of the earth.
The ultimate point of God’s purposes for Abraham and for Abraham’s descendants was to bless all the nations of the world.
Think about Paul’s audience to whom he shared the verses quoted above: they didn’t have the slightest hope of gaining power or influence in local or national government. Rome’s dominance was fresh in the individual and collective memory of Paul’s audience, many of whom witnessed the crucifixion firsthand.
The Romans exhibited the most brutal display of earthly power and authority in nailing Jesus up on a cross for all the world to see and take notice. That ultimate display of vulnerability was fresh in Paul’s mind and his audience’s mind when Paul spoke these words: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later“.
When Paul talked about God’s glory, no one misunderstood the significance. No initial follower of Jesus had an inkling of a thought that they would storm the Roman capital and take it for themselves. They knew only that they would suffer as Jesus suffered
If we understand Scripture in its full context, we see that God isn’t ultimately interested in a nation (not even the nation of Israel) as an end in itself. God is interested in a people who are wholly devoted to Him and to His purpose for the blessing of all the people of the earth.
We still look forward to the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God“, like Abraham did. That future, which is God’ ultimate purpose, awaits us. But first, we suffer, as Jesus suffered, in this life.
“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.”
Living as God’s children, learning to know God, Our Heavenly Father, tasting the kingdom to come, and participating in God’s greater purposes which we know today as the “Great Commission” is our calling from God. God, emptied Himself to enter His creation as a man at the right time and to invite us into God’s ultimate purpose.
He didn’t enter into His creation in pomp and majesty. He entered into His own narrative as a baby in a remote region in a far corner of the Roman world. He entered into the very world that God subjected from the beginning to futility:
“Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse.”
He entered into a world marked by the fall, the curse, and the futility of existence that weighs on all mankind. He entered into a world of fitful tension between what has been, what is, and what is yet to come. This is still our world.
We are at the center of this drama, and we are the main reason for its condition and circumstance. At the same time, God calls and invites is into His purpose as partners in the redemptive solution He has planned from the beginning.
This world stands witness. The angels wait in silent expectation. God’s creation rumbles in fitful anticipation.
“But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.”
God subjected creation to futility for the working out of His ultimate purpose. He did this in the hope and promise that creation, itself, would be redeemed. He always intended for us to become participants in that redemption.
We are not bystanders in this process; we are called to be partakers in the God’s redemption. And not just partakers, we are called to be players in God’s great redemptive work.
We are the only creatures in the universe, as far as we know, who are conscious of our own place in the universe. The universe groans, waiting for us to be revealed as God’s children. The universe waits for us.
We alone have the ability to grasp God’s ultimate purpose and to participate willingly in it. We are not just saved to bide our time while rooms are prepared for us in heaven. We are called to take our places in God’s kingdom as it is unfolding in this world. We are called to partake in it and to share it with a world that is aching to know its Maker.
We are not saved to escape the suffering in this world. We are called in the midst of the suffering and futility of the world to lead others out of the darkness and into the light and hope and promise of God’s kingdom.
We are not called to establish our own kingdoms over which we might fly the flag of God; we are called to carry the flag of God’s kingdom wherever we go and show people there is an ultimate hope that is not of this world. We share in God’s glory not in worldly triumph, but in heavenly surrender to the same purpose for which Christ died on the cross.