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Co-Heirs with Christ

This week, the focus reflects an important date in the church calendar: Trinity Sunday. Now, this post will not explore in depth the divine mystery of the Trinity: God, who is three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet who is also perfectly one God. (If you are curious, follow this link to see the doctrinal statement from the Church of the Nazarene, and this link for a video from the Bible Project that explains the concept in depth.) Instead, the topic of this post revolves around our Christian identity in light of the Trinity.

The Trinity, as has been explained many times elsewhere, provides the church with an example of who we should be and how we should live our lives: in perfect love, community, collaboration, and unity with one another. We, as the Church, are claimed as children of God and God's people. The question is, what does that mean for us? Let's take a look at Romans 8:14-17 to get a better idea.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.

Now, the historical context of this chapter related to some serious conflict that was taking place in the church in Rome. In A.D. 49, Emperor Claudius expelled the Jewish people from Rome, including Jewish Christians, who had founded the church in Rome. When they were allowed to return, the Jewish Christians found a very different church than the one they had founded, which led to heavy tension in that church. In response to this conflict and division, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans.

In the first 13 verses of this chapter, Paul highlights a choice between two ways of living: life by the flesh and guided by selfish desires, or life guided by the Spirit. Those who life by the Spirit of God are considered the children of God. Seems pretty simple so far, right? We are even invited to refer to God as Abba, Father. This Aramaic term is not, as is often thought, only used by children; but it is a common and intimate way to refer to one's father, kind of like saying "Dad." Here Paul invites us into intimacy with God as God's children, in the same way that Jesus does in the Lord's Prayer when he prays Our Father.

Paul takes this a step further. Logically, he claims, if we are children, then we are also heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. It seems that Paul wants to remind the church in Rome of their identity as adopted daughters and sons of God. Now, God does not expect us to be perfect when we are adopted; we might feel like we are a mess, but God reminds us that we are his mess. God claims us as children and heirs.

The thing about children is that they tend to imitate their parents. If children see their parents acting selfishly or being passive aggressive, they will probably internalize that this is how adults behave and assimilate this behavior. If they see their parents acting in kindness, patience, and generosity, they will often become more kind, patient, and generous by observing these traits in their parents. So if God invites us into intimate relationship with him, as we spend time with him, we should become more like him. Right?

Earlier we established that the Trinity displays love, kindness, community, unity, mutual submission to one another. As we behold this loving community, we imitate their love. We reflect what we see in the Trinity. And hopefully, this is not confined to an individual transformation, but rather happens within our community and spreads. The good thing about community, too, is that it is diverse! Some of us are naturally more generous, kind, hospitable, wise—and we can learn from one another.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear makes a bold assertion about changing our behavior. He says: "True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity... Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are." If we are truly seeking to follow God, if we are really practicing intimacy with God, we are bound to change because we have a new identity.

Let's look back at our passage. Paul states that we are co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. We are to share in Christ's suffering if we hope to be co-heirs with Christ. How can we do that? Well, the most repeated invitation of Jesus to those who wanted to follow him was to first deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him.

This is an inclusive invitation that still has high standards. It requires self-denial; it is a selfless, sacrificial, loving living. It is denying what we know is wrong, and even sometimes what we think is right. For example, vengeance seems right and natural sometimes; when we are wronged, we want to see justice done and we want to do it. But God says, "Vengeance is mine" (Romans 12:19). Denying ourselves means trusting in God to repay and restore.

As children of God and co-heirs with Christ, we are called to a higher standard. If you needed the reminder today: You are a child of God, and you are empowered by the Spirit to live as God's child.

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