February 18. Romans 8:28-29 Part 1: Jesus, the Firstborn Among Many Brothers.

Romans 8:28-29. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

We come now to what William Newell calls “The Great Marvel,” Romans 28-29. Of course, everything we write about here at To Live is Christ is about our union with Christ. But every once in a while we come to a scripture that is so clearly descriptive of this union that we must take time to mine the depths of the truths contained therein. Therefore, we will spend the next few days exploring these two glorious verses from back to front.
in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Let’s remember where we’ve been in Romans so far.

  • Ch. 5 -Our justification through Christ’s blood, forgiveness of our sins.
  • Ch.6 – Our union with Christ in his death to sin.
  • Ch. 7 – Our union with Christ in his death to law and our struggle to fight against sin and law due to remaining indwelling sin (the flesh).
  • Ch. 8:1-27 – Our position in the Spirit and our condition of walking in the Spirit in the midst of great suffering.

And now Romans 8:28-29 – God’s victorious saving work in our lives. A work that is already done and that nothing in the universe can stop. All things lead to his glorious end.

But what is that end?

What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? Why are we saved? Why did Jesus come? Why the cross? Why the resurrection?

The final answer – so that God can have a family. So that Jesus can have brothers and sisters. So that God can glorify Jesus as the firstborn.

This is the great purpose of all of redemptive history. It’s why Adam and Eve were created. It’s what God predicted in Genesis 3:15. It’s why Noah survived the flood. It’s why God called Abraham out of Ur. It’s why the Red Sea was split open. It’s why David was crowned king. It’s why Jesus was born. Why he lived. Why he died. Why he rose again. Why he indwells us. It’s everything.

God wants to be our God, and he wants us to be his people, his family.

Genesis 17:8. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Exodus 6:7. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God,

Leviticus 26:12. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

2 Samuel 7:14. I will be to [David’s son] a father, and he shall be to me a son.

Hebrews 8:10. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

We will live forever as the brothers and sisters of Jesus. The adopted siblings, yes. But also the born siblings, complete with his DNA. His attributes. His character. His likeness (but now we’re getting ahead of ourselves).

Christ will live forever as the preeminent oldest brother of a whole new race. A resurrected race. And, if we are in Christ, we are part of that race. The family of God. A family tree that God is grafting together. A family of forgiven sinners. A family of believers. A heritage of misfits and outcasts, of failures and addicts, and of recovering Pharisees. All heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ to the glory of God our Father.

Are you part of this family tree? Is Jesus your big brother? Is God your Abba Father?

Just for fun…imagine drawing out Jesus’ spiritual family tree.

February 16-17. Romans 4:23-5:11. Imputation and Self Love.

Romans 4:23-25. But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Romans 5:8-11. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

If you’re tracking with this blog everyday (or most days) you know that we’ve been in Romans 8. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to the “Moms of Grace” group at my church and so today I wanted to pause from Romans 8 and share some of the thoughts I shared with them. They asked me to talk about “self-love.”

Self-love v self-esteem.

The first thing we want to do when talking about self-love is distinguish it from the self-esteem movement. Now that we can see the results of the last 20-30 years of the self-esteem movement, we can tell that it’s done more harm than good. Self-esteem is the idea that you are good enough. That you can reach your full potential. But what the research has shown is that when we have to rely on constant self-approval, or even the approval of others, we actually become more discouraged. Why? Because it creates something that we warn against here all the time – a law.

Self-esteem leaves us having to live up to a “potential” that others are setting for us or that we set for ourselves. It soon becomes rooted in comparison. The gap between where I want to be and where I actually am grows larger and larger. Self-esteem is contingent upon outcomes. If you do well you will feel good. If you don’t do well, then “you can do better.” But can I? Self-esteem actually doesn’t encourage self-love at all, it impedes it.

Self-compassion is better.

A newer movement in psychology today is the self-compassion movement. Dr. Kristin Neff out of the University of Texas is doing a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. “Self-Compassion is not judging ourselves positively, it is relating to ourselves kindly.” It teaches us to be kind to ourselves, to forgive ourselves, to accept that everyone is failing and falling short, so stop comparing. It advocates embracing community and using mindfulness to be in the moment while not letting our successes or failures become our identity.

Self-compassion is way closer to the gospel than self-esteem. It is rooted in the idea of a self-love that is actually honest with yourself. Self-compassion actually begins to remove the fear of failure and thus increases motivation, forgiveness, and responsibility for wrong actions.

The problem is still the “self.”

The big problem with self-compassion and self-love is that it is still something that we must self-create? Do I have the ability to summon self-compassion? What if the thing I need compassion about is my inability to show myself compassion? What if my self-love is rooted in a false version of myself? What if my “self” changes over time?

Our worth, value, and meaning must come from an unchanging outside source. Preferably an honest, true, righteous, loving, supreme outside source. Obviously we are talking about God here.

First, our self-love must be rooted in the reality that we are made in the image of God. We bear his likeness. He made us with purpose and pours grace upon us (even before we are Christians). Of course, our sin destroys this image. We fall short of the glory of God.

Imputation and self-love.

Go back up to the top and read Romans 4:23-25 and 5:8-11.

By faith in Christ, we are counted as righteous. We are counted as lovable. We are counted as reconciled. This is called imputation. God declares over us what actually isn’t true (we’re not righteous, lovable, or reconcilable), and in declaring it, God makes it true.

Do you see it?

Now we have the ability for self-love and self-compassion that no longer is rooted in my own subjective and ever changing mindset alone. Rather it is rooted in the objective reality of the cross and my union with Christ. If God actually loves me, can I love myself? I should. I must. Self-love is required for love of others – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Imputation (ie: the gospel) allows us to live within the dual reality of “I am wicked” and yet “I am loved.” This is “to live is Christ.” This merging of grace and truth is what allows for real self-love. An embracing of ourselves that’s rooted in God’s loving embrace of us, even when we were still sinners.

February 15. Romans 8:24-25. Suffering Part 5: Suffering and Hope.

Romans 8:24-25. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Hope is confident expectation. It’s not a pipe dream or mere optimism. It’s not a slogan or a cliche. It is waiting within a reality.

We were created to hope. We were born into suffering and hope was born into us. We know there’s something more out there for us. More than just this life. We know it because we long for it. If it didn’t exist why would we want it so badly?

We were saved into hope. In this hope we were saved. Our salvation is “already but not yet.” It is not complete. Our total liberation has not yet occurred. It is therefore full of hope.

We live in a state of hope. The indwelling life of Christ by the Spirit guarantees for us that there is something better coming. The indwelling life of Christ gives us the expectation of something better. The indwelling life of Christ grows the longing in us for something better.

Often, we feel inoculated against hope. Life is so often full of disappointments that hope is a heartache just waiting to happen. We either give in to the despair of abandoning all hope, or we presume upon hope and take matters into our own hands.

Often, we place our hope in lesser things. Our hope finds its way on to the trillion lesser things in life that were not designed to bear the weight of our longings. Even Jesus never used the word hope or called himself the hope of the world. Why? Because he knew that the people at that time and in that place would place their hope in him in all the wrong ways.

Our hope is Christ. Our hope is not the teaching of Christ, or the example of Christ. It is Christ. His life. Our transformation into his likeness by his indwelling life. Our union with him. “To live is Christ” is our hope.

Hope gives us sight in the darkness of suffering. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? Hope will not be limited to what we can see. Hope will not call what is visible the final word. Hope will hold God’s hand in the dark. There is a reality in Christ beyond the visible suffering, the felt suffering, the rational suffering of this life. There is faith beyond sight.

Hope produces active waiting with patience. If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Patience is “steadfast endurance.” Our hope is not passive. It is active. Our passive justification produces an active sanctification. Hope leads to rebellion. The rebellion against evil, sin and the dark forces that seek to destroy mankind. To hope is to fight. To hope is to strive. To hope is to endure. Until our Hope returns.

Suffering has meaning because of hope. Our suffering won’t produce shame. Our suffering drives our survival. How do we survive? Hope. We live or die where we hope. And, as those that are in Christ, we live? Why? Because our hope is not in hope. It is in the objective reality of Christ. A person. A life. A death. A resurrection. An imputed righteousness. Because our hope is in the most meaningful of all things – the life of Christ – our suffering, which forces us toward hope, will never be meaningless.
Romans 5:3-5. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

February 14. Romans 8:23-26. Suffering Part 4: Groaning.

Romans 8:23-26. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Most of us aren’t very good at groaning. Whining, yes. Groaning, no. Of course I mean spiritual groaning. I find myself groaning a lot physically (sitting, standing, lying down, getting up, you get the idea). But spiritual groaning is a different matter.

Creation groans. We groan. The Spirit groans.

We groan in solidarity with creation. We are part of nature. We groan only because the natural part of us is yet unredeemed – we … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for … the redemption of our bodies. Our Spirit is heaven ready, glorified, a new creation. Our bodies however, are fleshly, full of sin, and corrupt. The reason we still sin today is because we are still stuck in these bodies.
2 Corinthians 5:2,5. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling … He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

The Spirit groans in solidarity with us. He intercedes for us by groaning. The Spirit of Christ has experienced the same groaning in his own life. Christ in you groans with words that are inexpressible. Words you will never hear or understand. The longings of Christ for your glory are in you and are being expressed to God by the Spirit.

Yes, the Spirit groans because we groan, but also we groan because Christ groaned. It’s not just that our longings have become his longings. First, his longings have become our longings. We groan because we have been given the life of Christ, and with that life comes his desires, sorrows, and thirsts. We want what he wants – justice, love, the end of suffering and pain. We long for everything to be made right, just like he does.

This is why it is so important that we learn to groan. To groan is to hope in Christ. This is not the groaning of wretchedness like in Romans 7. It’s the Spirit filled groaning of Romans 8. This is the groaning of our unmet longing. The pain that we feel because we know there is more for us out there, but we just can’t reach it yet. It’s the groaning of real hope.

There’s no better day to groan over unmet longings than Valentine’s Day. Just asking Charlie Brown.

What have you seen lately that makes you groan? Natural disasters? Another friend’s terrible diagnosis? Divorce? The kids going nuts? Your addiction? War? Conflict with friends? Political turmoil? Work place drama? What makes you say “Oh Lord Jesus how long?”

Do you groan for the coming of Christ? Do you groan for Christ-likeness?

Or do you groan for a change in your earthly situation?

Do you groan for death – simple freedom from the pain in your body or mind?

Do you groan for sin to be eradicated from your life apart from an experience of knowing Christ?

Or maybe you reject groaning as weakness. You numb or suppress your desires. You stoically face trials and just keep plugging away one day at a time.

“To live is Christ” means learning to groan. Like the Spirit. Like Christ. Like a person who knows they are missing something, that all’s not right with the world… But it will be someday. It means groaning for Christ himself. Not for mere change, or the absence of pain and suffering, or even the absence of sin. Those things only come when Christ comes. So long for him. For his Second Coming. For a deeper experience of his First Coming.

If you’re thinking “I don’t know how to groan,” take heart. The Spirit is doing it for you. It is happening. That’s what Christ in you means. Ask God to open your heart to the groanings of the Spirit in you. Ask him to refocus your longings toward Christ.

Bonus video: Snoopy!

February 13. Romans 8:19-23. Suffering part 3: Meaningless Suffering, Creation, and Hope.

Romans 8:19-23. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Suffering isn’t limited to us as Sons of God. No, the whole of creation is suffering. We live in a suffering world. It’s all around us. Live on earth long enough and eventually you will fall into suffering. It’s bad. I mean really, really bad. Paul’s language is strong. It’s Ecclesiastes strong.

The creation is subjected to futility. This is the word from Ecclesiastes – “vanity.” It’s meaningless. It’s random. It’s chaos. What’s the point?

The creation is in bondage to corruption. It’s the slave of decay. Everything and everyone dies. Nature is a killer. Sure it lets you be born, but only to immediately start killing you the very next second.

The creation is groaning in the pains of childbirth. It’s perpetually in labor. Screaming for relief.

This is the mess we’ve all been born into.

I’m currently (and slowly) reading Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s her personal story of her on-going battle with Stage IV colon cancer. Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School. The irony of Bowler’s book is that she is a researcher and expert on the prosperity gospel, a movement that says with confidence that everything DOES happen for a reason. That there are principles at work in creation that lead to either success or failure. Spiritual laws. Cause and Effect. If this is true, then Stage IV colon cancer has a cause that was avoidable, or has an effect that we have to somehow figure out.

BTW- Bowler’s book is honest, deeply moving, and even funny. It’s definitely worth reading even if only for the appendices that teach what not to say, and what to say instead to those that are suffering.

What Bowler’s book wrestles with, and what we all wrestle with, is finding meaning in the tragic circumstances of life. Does terminal cancer, or any other trial, come for “a reason?” Or is it all just the futility of life? Is there a plan behind our suffering? Or is it all just part of being a “vapor” like in Ecclesiastes?

The answer is yes.

Both are true. Yes, creation has been subjected to futility. Therefore, not everything in itself happens for some “bigger” reason. There’s no grand cause and effect at work. The evil prosper and the righteous suffer. Everyone dies. Everything is in entropy. Life is groaning.

But don’t give up hope.

The futility of life was determined by God himself. This is the great paradox: “the pointlessness has a purpose” (used with permission from my son Alex). The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it. God ordained the futility. He allowed the meaninglessness. He declared the chaos. He is not allowing creation to reach its full potential, its full glory…yet.

But there is freedom coming. The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Creation has to wait for us. We have the first fruits of the Spirit. We must blossom first. The sons of God must be revealed first. Until then we keep groaning together alongside nature with eager longing.

Why? Why must we be changed first before nature can be changed? Wouldn’t our lives be better if God just fixed the creation around us? Nope. Until SIN is eradicated in us any fixing of the world around us would just be more futility. We would destroy it again. If God brought back Eden, we would just crash the Garden all over. We did it once, we would do it again.

But also, maybe there’s a purpose to the pointlessness. What if God uses the futility, the corruption, the groaning to reveal our sin to us? What if he uses it to declare his glory somehow? What if he uses it for our good to transform us into the image of Christ (8:28). What if the reality of “meaningless suffering” reveals our pure neediness, our pure dependency? What if it destroys our self righteousness, and actually draws us to the grace of God like nothing else could? What if that’s what “to live is Christ” means. Not that there is a purpose to all of my suffering in itself, but that my suffering gains purpose in Christ. He alone adds the meaning. The hope. The redemption.

How do you perceive your suffering? Is it meaningless? How can your union with Christ provide hopeful meaning to all of your life, including the sorrowful parts? Do you groan? Do you long for freedom from bondage? How can you express this to God today?

February 12. Romans 8:18. Suffering part 2: Suffering and Glory.

Romans 8:18. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

The “problem of suffering” has plagued mankind almost since the beginning. How can God be good and powerful and yet allow evil to exist? Is our suffering all just random? Time + Chance = Suffering? Is God a moral monster? Is evil even real? Is there hope?

Christianity and union with Christ do not avoid these questions. In fact, here in Romans 8 Paul is tackling suffering head on. Yes, there is suffering. It comes with sonship. But there is also hope. The hope of glory. For those that are in Christ suffering doesn’t invalidate God, it proves God. It proves the center of all we believe – the cross.

You see Christianity doesn’t just admit suffering. It makes suffering the center of the glorified life. To be a Christian is to be crucified.

Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ.

It is to boast in the cross.

Galatians 6:14. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

It is to live from death with Christ.

Romans 6:11. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Is this sadistic? No. It’s reality. There is no resurrection without death. There is no glory without suffering. This is what sin has brought upon this world. This is the formula. The gospel formula. The way up is down. The way to life is death. The way to glory is suffering.

Lincoln (today’s his birthday) knew this in principle if not in his own spiritual life. He knew that a “new birth of freedom” could only come through the death of the old systems of slavery. He even knew that he himself would most likely need to die in order for the nation to heal.

So for us, suffering isn’t something we seek to “get over” or “move past.” It is our fellowship with our God. It is our path to glory. The glory that he created us for in the first place. Humanity was made to be glorious and to reflect the glory of God. But sin stole that glory from us and veiled the glory of God upon us. Union with Christ returns that glory to us. How? By grace through faith. But how do we know we have received grace through faith? By how we suffer.

Many “Christians” have suffered and walked away from Christ. Or the suffering kept them from even getting started in the first place (“let the dead bury their dead”). But the true son will suffer for the true Father. In the suffering of this present time, he or she will look to their past (their cross) and look toward their future (their resurrection).

This is what the gospel teaches us. We can endure present suffering because of the coming glory. But beyond this, the present suffering PRODUCES the coming glory.
2 Corinthians 4:17. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

This is why there is no meaningless suffering. There is a direct connection between our suffering and our future glory. We know this because our God has suffered, and he has experienced glory. He gave up glory to suffer. He suffered to regain glory. Your glory. My glory. Humanity’s glory. The glory he crowned us with at the beginning (Psalm 8).

Suffering is our sanctification. Our transformation. It is how faith is produced. Paul tells us in Romans 8:18 to consider – one of his favorite words in this letter. In Romans 6:11 we are told to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. We also must consider that the glory to come will far outweigh the pain and suffering of this life. We must believe it. Stake our lives on it. Make it our driving reality.

Sin is suffering. And sin is only overcome by suffering. “To live is Christ” requires that suffering in order to destroy that sin in your life. It required Christ’s suffering. Your suffering. A fellowship of suffering. And then a future of glory face to face.

February 11. Romans 8:17. Suffering part 1: Suffering and Sonship.

Romans 8:17. 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.

The next part of Romans 8 deals with suffering, and so we will spend the next few days looking at suffering here at To Live is Christ. The past few days we have looked at our sonship. Today we will see how Paul moves his readers from sonship to suffering. Yes, these are connected.

If we are sons of God, we WILL suffer. If we are to be heirs with Christ, we MUST suffer.

Suffering is not a new topic for Paul, nor is it for us here at this blog. 2 Corinthians was a letter that dealt quite deeply with the suffering that we experience being united to Christ. There Paul began to work out his theology of suffering and glory. Here in Romans 8 he will masterfully (and more succinctly) connect our suffering to the glory of the indwelling Christ.

Some have seen Romans 8:17 as teaching that only those Christians who choose the path of suffering will reign in the next life. But the scriptures teach that ALL Christians will experience the glory of Christ at his return.

2 Thessalonians 2:10. when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed

Colossians 3:4. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

1 John 3:2. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

If all Christians will experience the glory of Christ at his return, and (according to Romans 8:17) suffering is what produces this glory, then it means that all Christians must suffer. Suffering is what we are called to. It’s what it means to be a Christian.

There are three ways that all Christians suffer sbecause we are sons of God.

First, as sons, we experience the discipline of God our Father when we sin. This is one of the most important proofs of our sonship. God, our father, will discipline us because that is what good dads do. God’s discipline is always for our good, but it is also never pleasant. It is suffering. But it is also the privilege of sonship – knowing that our Dad loves us too much to let us spiral downward. This is the suffering of sin.

Second, as sons, we all suffer as we long for the day when we are with our Brother and our Father. I won’t linger here because this is where Paul will go next, but every Christian suffers simply by continuing to live this earthly life apart from the physical presence of God. This is the suffering of sorrow.

Third, as sons, we suffer righteously for the cause and kingdom of our Brother and Father. All Christians suffer in this way. We all choose to love. We all serve. We all live beyond the self. The Spirit compels us to this. The indwelling Christ produces this self-sacrifice and thus this suffering. Suffering occurs as we fight evil in this world as we await the next. This is the suffering of service.

“To live is Christ” offers us the glories of sonship, but also the sufferings of sonship. These two realities cannot be separated. There is not one without the other. And both prove God’s fatherly love and mercy in our lives.

Have you connected your sufferings to your sonship? How does union with Christ guarantee both our suffering and our salvation?

As we focus on suffering this week the music of Derek Webb just seems appropriate.