Q. I have a question about Romans 8:17. If we do not suffer for Christ or share in his sufferings, does that mean we will not have eternal life at all? I kept struggling with the thought that if I do not suffer for Christ or share in his sufferings, I felt that I do not belong to him at all. If we suffer for Christ, does that result more in eternal rewards or both salvation and eternal rewards?
A. Romans 8:17 says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Jesus said eternal life comes solely because of that we believe (John 3:16, John 6:40). John said the those who believe in Jesus are given the authority to become children of God (John 1:12-13). And In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul wrote that we have been given the full rights of sons, and therefore heirs of God, because Jesus redeemed us.
As Christians most of us have experienced at least a few occasions of ridicule or even persecution because of our beliefs. But very few of us have ever been called on to suffer anything even remotely approaching the suffering the Lord endured for us. For Paul to have said salvation comes only through suffering for Christ would have meant he was denying the very doctrine of grace he himself introduced in places like Ephesians 2:8-9. Therefore sharing in the Lord’s sufferings has to relate to the effect rather than the act of suffering. The effect of His suffering was to make eternal life possible for us, since He suffered on our behalf.
Both James (James 1:12) Jesus (Rev. 2:10) promised the crown of life for those who suffer actual persecution for their faith. This is a reward above and beyond salvation, not a condition for being saved.