Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Suffering with Jesus

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us.

What does it mean that we are joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him? I had this conversation with a few people over the past couple days. What is the function of that suffering? Is it something we seek out, in order that we can be like Christ and become closer to him? If we live pretty easy lives without a lot of suffering, in which self-denial also doesn't play that big a part, does this mean that we won't be glorified with him and aren't joint heirs? And what does it mean to "suffer with Christ"? Is it to undergo the same sort of suffering he went through (ie, being despised and rejected while loving the world) for his sake? If we want to be glorified with him, is this passage a mandate to seek out that kind of suffering? Or, is it bringing him into the fairly pointless sufferings that we have already? If I stub my toe but praise Jesus anyhow and ask him to help me bear the pain, am I suffering with Jesus?

I feel like both are true. One thing that I'm pretty sure of (mostly because Bonhoeffer says so, but I think it's warranted by the text) is that the suffering itself isn't of any intrinsic value. Paul says that "our current sufferings aren't worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us." I don't think he would have phrased it like this if it was; I think he would have said, "our present sufferings are actually very precious because they make us more like Jesus" or something like that. The phrasing indicates that they have value and weight but it's all on the negative side. Also, say Paul was talking about his own suffering. That was done all for the sake of Jesus and was undertaken willingly. But he didn't undertake or try to suffer, he undertook to follow Jesus' great commission and to bring Gentiles into the kingdom. Suffering happened along the way.

So, I think that the important thing here is Jesus. We are mandated to follow him, and this probably automatically means that we won't have terribly easy lives. (Does it? In America right now?) If we follow him, it means following him into suffering, and the more that we rely on him, the more that he is our only hope and all we have, the more we identify ourselves in him and can die to our old selves and be glorified with Jesus. My personal opinion, which I'm not sure is in the Bible anywhere, is trusting in and loving Jesus through our own pointless suffering is redemptive in that it is good practice in clinging to Jesus and following him into suffering for his sake.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Heirs of God.. another view

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who has a completely different idea about what 'heirs of God' means, so I thought I should come back to it. In his view,"heirs of God" means, "heirs of the promise," as in, the covenant that God made with Abraham, that they would be his people and he would be their God. The fact that for an heir to come into his inheritance someone has to die is no issue here, because in fact we came into our inheritance (the possibility of eternal life and relationship with God)when Christ died on the cross.

I like this, but I like my first idea too, and I can't figure out which makes more sense. If Christ died, and so we came into our inheritance, how are we joint heirs with him? Because he rose again and in him we are raised, and so became the first born of many brothers. That actually makes a lot of sense. Such an interesting thing that God, wishing to adopt his creations as children, took the form of one of them to participate in their lives, so that they could, by following him, participate in his life. Something pleases me very much about the idea that he is both the ...uhhh...testator?... and the heir, and that he died so that the inheritance might be given, and raised to life so he might inherit it and that through identifying themselves with him, everyone else can inherit it! I love that in every way the story is hemmed in by love and goodness; nothing bad is accepted. The inheritance is given and received, death isn't permanent, the family is together and even more family is brought in.

This leads nicely to the "if indeed we suffer with him, that we might also be glorified together." I connect this completely to the idea of following Jesus. He died to bring us into our inheritance and was raised to life to show us how to receive it. Not sure how this makes sense with the rest of Romans 8, but I'll follow through on the idea. We want to be glorified together, to become joint heirs with him. There's a lot of stuff that has to go on, that we don't really know about, can't effect and can't understand. But that's all right because he knows and we just need to follow him. This following involves suffering, and we need to follow him into it-- ie, we need to be with him, even when to do so involves suffering.

This isn't, of course, the only way that that could be read. One thing that I don't understand very well... is it suffering that Jesus is undergoing or underwent (ie, semi-homeless, despised, rejected, death on the cross, heart breaks for the lost etc) that we should seek out and embrace and try to share, in order to be more like him? Do we seek out suffering for the sake of Jesus? Or is it our own suffering, that we will undergo regardless because of our own sin and a fallen world,that we need to invite him into. Ie, when I suffer, I will suffer with Jesus rather than without him.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Heirs of God

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him that we may also be glorified together.

I keep coming back to this idea of, what does it mean that we are children of God? Paul goes into three parts of it. First, anyone who is led by the spirit of God is called a son of God (so strange to write that; it's easier to think of us being co-heirs with Jesus than to think of us sharing his title!) But, being led by the Spirit suggests a little bit both of obedience (compliance to external motivation) and maybe inward likeness (response to internal motivation). Second, we feel to God not fear, but trust and love, like a son for a father. Our relationship is defined now in terms of being as well as doing.

But this third part is strange. After having established that we are children of God and what that means, he brings in two legal forms-- there are two witnesses that know that we are children, and if we are children, we are heirs. What does it mean-- in the order of the universe, I guess, for what other law could he be appealing to?-- that we are children? Children inherit their fathers' property. If the father is God, what does this even mean? My understanding of "inherit" is that after a father dies, his property rightfully belongs to his children (or whomever his heirs are). I guess the implication is, someone to take care of the father's property, in whom the life of the father is somehow present. This makes more sense-- because why would you use the word "heir" in connection with God, who cannot die? And that is pretty incredible... the idea that as God's children we will be taking care of his property jointly with Jesus, the one who created and sustains everything (!)

One thing occurs to me now though. How is this different from the situation now? God gave his creation to people to take care of; people who were "made in his own image." It sounds like from the beginning, God intended everyone to be his children in the sense I've been talking about. But later on, especially in Jesus' parables, the role of people to creation is more of servants taking care of the master's property while he is away on a long trip but will come back. There's no question at all of ownership. Even in the parable of the talents, when he gives the servant ten more talents at the end, the servant's still a servant and the ten talents are still "given" to the servant as capital, the master's property and intended to make more money for the master. But the whole point of being an heir is to become an owner.

We, along with Jesus, will become the legitimate authority! As servants and stewards, we could protect and take care of. As heirs and owners, we can, perhaps, design and create and order. Perhaps it is this that the long, painful process of glorification is preparing us for... to become like Jesus, and to become good owners, to direct and design and order things well. That is why we need to become like God in wisdom, character and perfect goodness, so that we can create good things.

But then, joining in the suffering of Jesus is also necessary....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spirit of Adoption

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, by which we cry out "Abba, Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together

So our relationship with God has been defined as the intimate, loving and friendly one of a parent and a young child. And I tend to think of it in a bit of a physical way too-- as his Spirit lives in us and it is his life we are participating in, then we're also children in the sense of sharing something of the same life, and in resembling. But how on earth does this translate into our real, experiential life?

From what Paul is saying, and I think that experience bears it out, it's something that just happens. We don't have to and can't convince ourselves that we are God's children and should love Him; rather, the Spirit that we receive is the spirit of adoption, and the more he works in our minds and hearts the more naturally we turn to God crying out "abba!" Even though from this passage right here it sounds like sort of an all-or-nothing one-time thing, I think that it is a process. I think that its opposite, the spirit of bondage again to fear, is a sort of new legalism. Having introduced us to the idea of new life in Christ (by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body and be resurrected into Christ's life) it's necessary for him to describe that life a little bit. No, this new life isn't like the old where there's a set of rules you need to be afraid of breaking-- that's just more slavery. No, when you are in the new life, it is like a parent-child relationship. And the more the Spirit works in you and changes you, the more you will know God as a child knows his father (rather than like a slave knows his master). But I think that it takes a lot of time and learning and the Spirit working in us for us to really believe that.

And the interesting thing is how it says, the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Because I tend to think of the Spirit and our spirits sort of being at war, and that the process of glorification or whatever it's called is our spirit slowly being squashed. But that is not true. Anyhow, more on that later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sons of God, not slaves of fear

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry out Abba, Father! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.

I like the very elaborate phrasing of the first sentence, which isn’t it all translations (some say “as many,” but some say “all”). Anyhow, the point is clear; it is referring to every single person, to every individual who is led by the Spirit of God. And what does it mean to be led by the Spirit? I’m assuming it refers to all his readers, all who are referred to when he says, “but you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit,” and again at the beginning with “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” This seems like kind of an obvious point; why does Paul go to the trouble to say, no more, no less, but as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God?

I’m extrapolating a little here, but I think it’s justified by the next sentence… because it’s rather a staggering thing to be called “sons of God,” and probably most of Paul’s readers, like us, don’t feel like we resemble him much. We know that we fail every day to be like Him, we know our flesh is really strong. It doesn’t seem very likely that we are children of God, and unless Paul made sure it was clear that the passage really did apply to all believers I don’t think we would apply it to ourselves. But if we’ve followed him so far, we know that if we are in Christ and if the Spirit of God dwells in us, yes, this does really mean US. Some implications…each person, myself included, who has the Spirit also doesn’t owe anything to the flesh, is empowered by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body, and is being brought to complete and perfect life by the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead giving life to our mortal bodies.

At first, I was thinking that the whole “sons of God” thing is actually just a natural progression from the previous couple verses; “father” referring to your source of life, and so naturally, since the Spirit is now our source of life because our flesh has been displaced and is being put to death, we are children of God because our source of life proceeds from Him, we resemble Him because our, uh, spiritual genetic makeup is His… similar to saying branches on the plum tree are sort of like children of the plum tree, not that you would. But I think the next sentence deepens it a lot beyond that.

Paul says that you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship, by whom we cry out, Abba! Father! This goes way beyond describing physical relationship, which would be incredible enough, into describing interpersonal relationship. I love that he mentions fear. It seems such a random thing—where does fear come into things? Who was even talking about fear? Why does Paul suddenly need to mention that we’re not in bondage to fear anymore? I think for the exact same reason that he also said “as many as are led ….are sons”; because we know we fail all the time. The new life could be a horrible thing, way worse than the old law. With the old law there was a book of rules to follow, but at least it was a book and you knew what the rules were. But with the new life… the rules aren’t clear, somehow you should just know them, and when you fail now, you betray God, defy his Spirit who is working in you and Christ who died to bring you into the new life, and also yourself, if you are indeed some sort of new creation. The law of the Spirit of Life, as a law to be followed, is a really terrifying thing when I think about it. Which is why Paul has to explicitly define the nature of our new relationship to God. Fine, we aren’t living according to the flesh anymore. But, if we are living in a certain way because we have to; because if we don’t God will beat us up and our main business in life is to not step off the path so as not to incur wrath, then fear is our guiding force, not the Spirit, and we are its slaves. But our guiding force is a relationship, and its nature is perfectly expressed by the first word of a baby for its father.

Much more about this later.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Debtors to the Spirit

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die. But if, by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live!

What does the “therefore” here indicate? Because our mortal bodies, which would otherwise be dead, are given life by the Spirit, we owe them to him. Our lives were saved and redeemed by God’s grace, and now they are his. This idea of being a “debtor to the flesh” is so interesting, because I feel instinctively that there is a big reason why Paul had to say we’re actually not debtors to the flesh. What would that mean, in the sense he’s talking about here?

I’m thinking in terms of rightful ownership and legitimate authority, in how something is supposed to be used. Do we feel like we “owe it to our flesh” to act in a certain way? I’m picturing Agatha-Christie era Britain, where people would talk about sex in terms of it being a healthy activity, that the body needed, and as if it was to be engaged in because that’s just how we were wired and it was somewhat immoral to deny it. I suppose we still do talk a bit like that... if there was something in your character that is “natural” or “you were born with”, it can become a legitimate authority. “I’m just an aggressive person, I always have been,” could conceivably be used as an excuse for pushing someone out of the way, but it’s not likely it would be universally accepted. On the other hand, I think it’s a way more powerful excuse when we use it on ourselves. I’m just a shy person, I couldn’t speak up... I just need my sleep, I couldn’t help her...etc. It definitely can be used as a trump card. And in society at large, it’s the big trump card in the homosexuality question... if that’s how you are naturally, you owe it to yourself to act accordingly. It is kind of a moral question... you should be true to yourself; to deny yourself is bad.

But if we’re in the Spirit, we actually don’t owe the flesh anything. Instead, we owe him everything, because he is killing the old life inside us and giving us real, eternal life. So we don’t have to act according to our nature any more. But I think it’s a slow process. First Paul says, if Christ is in you the body is dead because of sin but the Spirit/spirit? is life because of righteousness. But this says, if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. I think that that’s the process by which the Spirit is life because of righteousness...he fights with us, enabling us to put to death the deeds of the body.