It is undeniably and unmistakably true that Christians suffer and experience all of the same pains, hardships, and difficulties that non-believers experience. And often, as those who belong to Jesus, we face even greater suffering because of our connection to God through Jesus.
And knowing how to respond to our trials and sufferings is critically important, especially in the days and times we are living in. We live in an increasingly hostile environment toward Christian faith and values. We are painfully reminded it seems about every six months of the awful evil humans can bring upon others when another mass shooting takes place. Recently one person who attends NCC and really struggles with life’s challenges said to me, ‘Somedays I just don’t want to get out of bed.”
Paul wrote in Romans 8:18-21 (Condensed for Clarity) For I am sure that what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory God will reveal to us later. For we wait with eager hope, for that future day when we will join all God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
This text is Paul’s playbook for handling heartbreak, trouble and suffering.
What enables a person in the midst of great suffering and disappointment to say, “I am sure that the suffering and disappointments I am experiencing is not even worth comparing to the glory God will reveal to us later.” What gave Paul his sense of triumph over the heartbreaks of life? What allowed Paul to say later in this great chapter that children of God are more than conquerors?
First, Paul had a correct view of time and of his life in this world.
Notice in verse 18 he says, “what we suffer now- compared to what will be revealed to us.”
For a non-believer, this present life and world is it. “You only go around once.” “You only have one life, make it count.” There is no division of time at all. So when things go wrong in the non-believer’s life there is nothing to fall back on. But this is not the view of a Christian and it is because of this that a Christian is able to put suffering and hardships in perspective. The non-believer has nothing to look forward to. All he can do is hope things get better and improve while he is still here. And if life doesn’t get better the non-believer is entirely without comfort.
In Eph. 2:12, Paul reminds his readers of that letter that previous to their conversion, you were living in this world apart from Christ, without God and without hope.
A mature Christian is very much aware of the division of time. We talk about “this present time” and then something which follows in the future. When Paul wrote, what we suffer now- he isn’t referring to the immediate moment as opposed to a few weeks, months and years. He is talking about the time prior to the end of time, the age we are presently living in between the resurrection of Jesus and His second coming.
So when Paul then refers to the glory God will reveal to us later, he is referring to that which is to come, to that great event that the whole Bible points to. This is the great promise of the Bible, the hope of those who belong to Jesus. We live knowing that this life isn’t where we belong. There is an event out in the future which of course is the second coming of Jesus, which will signal the ultimate restoration of creation and humanity. The groaning, the suffering, the pains of sin, death and decay will instantly be replaced by a glory that will be revealed to us. That is our hope.
This is such an important part of the NT teaching and such a vital, essential part of the comfort that only a Christian can know, experience, and enjoy.
A second reason a Christian is able to deal with his sufferings and be more than a conqueror is:
We look at our present troubles in light of the glory to be revealed to us at the Second Coming of Jesus.
Last summer my wife and I went to Observation Deck of the new Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan. After ascending 101 floors the elevator door opens and you enter a theater room where a video of the development of the NYC skyline is shown. Then without any warning, the screen disappears and you instantly have this uninhibited view of NYC right before you. It’s amazing. It’s like- wow that is so cool. And then you are released to the observation deck where you can walk around to take in the breath taking views of New York City, New Jersey and beyond.
This is the idea behind the glory that he will reveal to us later. One translation phrases it this way: the glory which is in store for us. We are not going to be mere spectators of this glory. We won’t just be ‘on lookers.’ We are going to be participants and involved in it.
Glorification is the ultimate destiny of our salvation. We think salvation is all about being forgiven and saved from hell. I don’t want to minimize the forgiveness aspect of salvation. We can never thank God enough for delivering us from death, hell and eternal punishment. But forgiveness is just the first step, the mere beginning. The destiny is glorification.
Glorification means full and entire deliverance from sin and evil in all of its effects and in every respect- body, soul and mind. All of creation, physical and living, will be completely and entirely delivered from every harmful, tarnishing, polluting effect of sin. We will finally become completely like Jesus Christ.
Our salvation in Christ is not just about getting forgiven from our sins so we don’t spend forever in hell. The destiny of salvation is glorification where all of creation along with those who belong to Jesus will be restored to what we were prior to the Fall, to what it was like the moment after God created Adam and then Eve and said it was very good- it is glorious.
So how do we face the sufferings and troubles of this life so we can be more than conquerors?
Be realistic, face the trouble as it is and at its worst. And when you feel that you are so beat down that you can’t stand it any longer, look at the other side, look at the glory that God will later reveal to you. And if you really look at this glory you will come to one conclusion: that whatever you are suffering now is not worth comparing to the glory that God will reveal to you later.