Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Inheritance

In the section of Paul's letter to the church at Rome that we'll be looking at today, Paul continues to apply his teaching about how we've been adopted as sons by God. This is what he wrote.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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. 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 8.16-18

What Paul wrote is not complicated. Paul takes an element of certain human relationships and relates it to our relationship with God. Since we are God's sons we are also His heirs. It's not a complicated thought, but it is an amazing thought. Consider. Heirs of God. And that means that there is an inheritance awaiting us.

This isn't the first time in the Scriptures that the idea of an inheritance for the saints comes up. Let me read to you just a few places where the Bible talks about it.

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. Matthew 19.29

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? Hebrews 1.14

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…  Ephesians 1.11

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1.3-4

The point here is clear. One of the blessings of being adopted into God's family is that our Father has decided to grant to us some things that are His. We are going to inherit some really good gifts.

Now, there is more to be said about this inheritance. But before I get to that, I want you to see something that Paul tied to our inheritance. Listen again.

We are … heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him.

I find that 'provided…' really quite interesting. Let's spend a little time on this.

Paul is teaching that you need to meet a condition if you are going to gain this inheritance. You must suffer as a Christian. No suffering means no inheritance.

I realize that the idea of suffering is not exactly popular these days. So, there will be those Christians who will think that they will avoid the suffering and be satisfied with a salvation that doesn't include any inheritance. Plain vanilla eternal life will be good enough for them. But that thinking would be faulty.

Listen again to one of the verses that I quoted earlier.

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? Hebrews 1.14

Salvation is the inheritance, and the inheritance is salvation.

So, let me repeat what I said just a moment ago, replacing the word 'inheritance' with the word 'salvation'.

Paul is teaching that you need to meet a condition if you are going to gain this salvation. You must suffer as a Christian. No suffering means no salvation.

Or let me say that using something from last week: no one coasts into heaven.

Obviously, we need to do some work to be clear about what Paul is getting at here.

The first thing we need is a definition. What is suffering as a Christian? Too many define this merely in terms of something like persecution. That certainly can be an aspect of our suffering, but there is more to it than that. Christian suffering includes every aspect of our battle with sin. Wherever you fight against sin you're going to experience Christian suffering.

A good way to see this is to use this familiar trio: the world, the flesh and the devil.

When the Bible uses the word 'world' it can refer to everyone alive, or to the globe that we live on or other similar meanings. But it also means the way of going about life that is in rebellion against God. That's how John was using it when he wrote,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2.15

It is this world that confronts us as we work at living according to God's Law. That wasn't seen very clearly in the days of my youth, but I think that it is becoming all too obvious in our days. And don't quickly jump to the hot issues of our day, things related to the sexual revolution. The issues in question include things like being honest on the job, refusing to get caught up in the anxiety of the crowd, saying good things about your spouse instead of complaining to your co-workers, how you use your money, how you discipline your children. It is as we pursue these sorts of things that we feel the pressure of the world trying to mold us according to its rebellious ways. Suffering begins as we push back against that pressure. So, here’s the issue we are confronted with each day. Will we live as Christians, or will we give in to the sinful ways of so many around us? Christian suffering includes fighting against the world.

Then, there's the flesh, our sinful nature. Here, let me remind you of something we looked at a few sermons ago.

I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7.19

We all have this internal battle, the struggle to do what is right and to refuse to do what is wrong. It really is a battle. And sometimes it gets very confusing. Wrestling with our sinful nature so that we would do what is good is also included in Christian suffering.

And then, there's our ancient foe, the devil. We do not understand well enough how much he hates us. Listen to what John wrote.

Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12.17

The devil is furious with us. It's all-out war. This is just another expression of that basic theme of the Bible, the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. We are in the midst of that conflict. Christian suffering.

So, the world, the flesh and the devil. We face these three every single day of our lives. And our wrestling match against them is Christian suffering.

Is it possible to live as a faithful disciple and avoid this battle? Certainly not! Suffering is a requirement for salvation. Is it any wonder that Jesus said,
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24.13

There will be those who will not endure, not keep at it, not continue to fight against those three. According to Jesus, these will not be saved.

But that leaves us with an important question. How is this not salvation by works? It sounds like we save ourselves by fighting these battles and enduring the suffering. Well, that would be saving ourselves, except for this. We fight these battles by faith. That is the only way we can conquer these three. Does anyone here actually think that he could beat even one of them on his own?

The way we endure this suffering, the way that we remain faithful to Jesus and not capitulate, is by crying out, 'Abba! Father!' We fight these battles by depending on Him. He must win the battle. And that is the only way that we shall endure.

So, it's not that by our suffering we earn anything. Rather, it's by our suffering -
our wrestling with our enemies while depending on our Father - that the authenticity of our faith is proven. A real faith in the Gospel is a lively faith, one that is willing to suffer for the honor of Jesus, our Lord.

But that leaves this. Suffering is hard. It confuses and frustrates. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts physically. But it hurts in other ways, too. And this is especially true when we see people around us, people who have absolutely no devotion to Jesus, enjoying wonderful lives. And that prompts a question. Is this suffering worth it? Listen to this from a Psalm.

For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. … Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. Psalms 73.3-9, 12-14

Living faithfully is hard. So, why put up with it?

Paul, someone who suffered greatly, anticipates that thought. And this is what he thinks about it.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

What is this glory? It's the inheritance. And while we will inherit things like eternal life, a kingdom, the promises and so much more, here is the best of them all. We get to inherit God. Of all the good gifts that He will give us, the best is that He gives us Himself.

Let's go back to that Psalm about how well the wicked seem to be doing. The psalmist, who is almost swept away by his envy, comes to his senses when he is reminded of something.

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Psalms 73.16-17

It was that thought, where they will end up in contrast with where he will end up, that rescued our fellow-sufferer, who then wrote this.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. ​Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. ​My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalms 73.23-26

The psalmist came to understand that while the saints suffer now, later is simply glorious. Later we get God. He is our portion, our inheritance, forever.

So, try, if you can, to imagine what that will be like. To be sure, our battles with the world, the flesh and the devil will be over. But let's go further. Think about this past week. Think about the frustrations that at times overwhelmed you. Or those moments when you weren't getting along with someone you love. Think about your fears, the things that made you anxious, caused you to worry, caused you to get stressed out. Think about those times when it would have been so much better to have someone near to talk to, to really connect with, someone who would understand what you were dealing with, but there was no one. Think about how scary it feels, at times, when you consider the future.

Now, think about all of that gone, completely gone, forever gone. No frustrations. No barriers in any of your relationships. No being afraid of anything and so, no anxiety, no worry, no stress. No loneliness. No fear about what might be around the next corner. None of any of this, and all the rest that goes with it.

And in its place, you get to enjoy someone who is so very for you, someone who is always right there with you, someone who is a real father to you, someone who will make you happier than you can imagine so that every day is blue skies and sunshine. And all of that forever and ever and ever.

So, here's the question. Is getting to enjoy that worth a little suffering? I am convinced that it is.

Let me close with this from the end of the story.

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this inheritance, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21.6-7

By the grace of God, though we suffer, we will conquer, and as a result we will drink the water of life, of real life. We will experience to the full what it means to be God’s son. And we will do that having paid nothing and having done nothing to deserve it. The glorious inheritance of the age to come will be ours because we have suffered by faith in Jesus who showed us how to do it.