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Groaning and Gospel Hope
A message for the New Year - being an exposition of Romans 8.18-30
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
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.
19 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.
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.
27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
We will look at this passage under 3 headings:
- Consider the Comparison (vss.18-22)
- Conformed to Christ (vss. 23-28)
- Consummation Complete (vss. 29-30)
Our Father, we are here today as your sons and daughters, clothed in the righteousness of our elder brother, Jesus Christ. Please hear us for His sake. He is the vine and we are the branches – apart from Him we can do nothing. And so we beseech you, send out your Light and your Truth – let them lead us. Send your Word to heal us, for we are poor and needy. Enable me to speak your Word. Enable us all to hear it, and receive it in a good heart. Sanctify us in your Truth. Your Word is Truth. In the blessed and mighty name of Jesus we ask this. Amen.
Following the historical church calendar, today is the 10th day of Christmas, and also for some, the Feast of Epiphany. But whether or not you observe these particular days, another year has gone by. In the circling of the years, we have left one behind, and entered into another. We did the same thing last year, and most of us will do the same thing again next year. And so we will repeat a few more times until our life is done.
So says the Preacher in the 1st chapter of Ecclesiastes:
2 Vanity of vanities
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
~ Ecclesiastes 1:2–9 NASB
Concerning this life of ours under this sun, William Shakespeare, that keen observer of the human condition, wrote this. This is a longer quote – here it is.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.
Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
All of you are in this play. And all of you are moving inexorably toward that last scene, when that puff of mist, your life in this world, is blown away on the wind. Every infant born yesterday is destined to die in some tomorrow – the candle of life soon sputters out. And so it goes… on and on. Vanity of vanities.
But there is a message of Hope for this New Year.
As this same poet Shakespeare also wrote:
What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty!
in form, in moving, how express and admirable!
in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god!
And, the same Preacher of Ecclesiastes, testified:
…he has put eternity into man’s heart… ( ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11 NASB )
We appear to be no better than the beasts who live today and die tomorrow, and yet we are godlike in nature: we reason, we speak, we love, we are self-aware. We ponder things eternal, though we are but dust.
How then shall we unravel this paradox?
King David said:
“he unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Ps.119.130 NASB)
This text in Romans 8 is one of those magnificent passages of Scripture which span for us the entire scope of human history. From God’s creation of the world, and mankind in His image, male and female, in Genesis 1; to the Horrible Disaster of man’s fall into sin and misery, and the corollary curse of creation in Genesis 3; through all the tale of our short lives in this world of suffering and groaning – and yet with that Gospel Hope – looking forward to the restoration of all things, and the final Glory in Revelation 22 when “no longer will there be anything accursed.”
Consider the Comparison
In the preceding verses, Romans 8.14-17 we see our privileged position as sons of God.
- We are led by the Spirit in putting the death the deeds of the body.
- We are encouraged by the inner witness of the that we are God’s children
- We are fellow-heirs with Christ of all His glory
- We share in Christ’s sufferings now, as we will share in His glory to come
The 3rd and the 4th promises – the Present Suffering and the Coming Glory – are inseparably bound together. We see in vs.17 the contingency, that we are truly fellow-heirs with Christ, if we also share in His suffering.
This is because our union with Christ is complete and comprehensive – we are united to Him in both in His death, and in His resurrection. It has been granted to us not only to believe in Him, says Paul in Philippians 1, but also to suffer for His sake. Later in the same letter (3.10), Paul expresses this desire of his heart that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings…
The apostle Peter says exactly the same thing in 1st Peter 1,
that you have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, …. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
~ 1 Peter 1:3–7
Paul goes about here to put our sufferings in perspective. He says in vs. 18 that our present sufferings, are not worth comparing to that coming glory which will be revealed in us.
We are all acquainted with suffering or soon shall be. Grief of loss, sorrow over loved ones, agony over our own sin and its effects, anxiety, fear, depression. Jesus said that in this world we would have tribulation… These things are real and painful. But “not worthy to be compared.”
By “not worthy to be compared” is Paul saying that our sufferings are not really that substantial, and that we should just “toughen up” and quit our whining? Is he taking a Stoic approach?
No. Remember who is speaking. This is Paul, who described some of his own life experiences in 2 Corinthians 11, including
23 countless beatings, often near death.
24 Five times I received forty lashes less one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
~ 2 Corinthians 11:23–27
Paul is certainly not telling us that our sufferings are not real. Nor is he saying that they are not painful. What he is doing is what he always does: pointing us to the truth in Jesus, and telling us how to think and live accordingly. He is telling us that we must consciously and actively put our present pains in perspective, comparing them with the glory that is to be revealed in us.
He gives us a picture: the scale with 2 pans in balance: in the one pan is our suffering. When by itself with nothing in the other pan, it can feel very heavy indeed. But, as soon as we put the Glory to Come in the other pan, our sufferings fly up as though lighter than air. They are weighed in the balance and found wanting.
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are “seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Cor 4:17–18)
The suffering of “the now” is temporary – it will not last. The glory we will have forever, for all the ages of eternity! Not only this, but our sufferings are working for our good. They are actually “preparing us” for that eternal weight of glory. God is using them to fit us for Heaven. Paul spells this out clearly in chapter 5:
…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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.
~ Romans 5:2–5
Our troubles in this life should not discourage us. Rather they are actually intended to strengthen our hope, if we rightly consider the comparison between them and the glory to come. What then is this coming glory that makes all our troubles seem of no account in comparison?
the glory that is to be revealed “into” us (verse 18)
- “in” – KVJ, NKJV, NIV,
- “to” – ESV, NASB
Both of these translations are correct, but neither fully conveys the meaning of the Greek εἰς ἡμᾶς – literally, revealed into us. Paul says elsewhere that we behold His glory now, in part, as we are being transformed into His image:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
~ 2 Corinthians 3:18
Certainly we will see the glory of Jesus Christ, as He prayed in John 17:24
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me…
But this is far more than just observing something from the outside.
Concerning this beholding of Jesus, John says in 1 John 3:2
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.
Seeing Jesus AS HE IS! When the apostle John saw Jesus as He is on the island of Patmos, he saw Him as the sun shining in full strength. John fell at His feet as a dead man. Jesus, quoting the prophet Daniel in Matthew 13 says “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says concerning this, that “…the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…” This eternal glory is what Paul sets in the balance against our present troubles, which we endure only for a brief time.
But we must understand that the Comparing is something that WE MUST DO. It is done by us, not to us. Though as in all the work of God in us, the Holy Spirit enables and helps us. But we work it out, as God is at work in us.
Paul uses the same word, λογίζομαι, “I consider” as he does in Romans 6.11 where he tells us to “consider (or reckon) ourselves dead to sin.” In both cases, we only benefit from the reality if we actively apprehend it. We must “consider” the comparison between our present sufferings, and the coming glory. And we cannot do this unless our minds are renewed in the Word of God.
Jesus said in John 14:
the Holy Spirit … will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
For the Spirit to bring a word to our remembrance, we must have that word in us already. This is why it is essential for Christians to feed upon the Word of God day by day. It is that by which we live – every word of God. By this spiritual discipline, we build up a reservoir of Scripture Truth in our hearts and minds, so that the Holy Spirit can bring them to our remembrance in due season for our help and strength. We must be like the wise virgins in the parable who stored up their oil so that they did not run out. And that blessed man of Psalm 1 who meditates in His Word day and night, and thus flourishes like a tree by the river.
It is the Scripture which births in us the Gospel Hope, and which sustains it and fortifies it:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
~ Romans 15:4
With that GOSPEL HOPE in us, we are able to encourage others. We are “so heavenly-minded” that we actually are some earthly good.
Creation groans and waits
Now in vss. 19-22 and following Paul says that the entire Creation is eagerly longing for this hope of the revealing of the sons of God – when Christ appears, and we appear with Him in glory. All creation is groaning in anticipation. Why?
Paul explains in vs. 20:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it”
What does Paul mean here by “futility”? “Futility” is in fact the same word translated in Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanities.” But this word is often misunderstood as signifying “meaninglessness.” Qohelet (the Preacher) is not saying that everything is meaningless or pointless, but rather that all is vapor-like.
Nothing is God’s creation is meaningless. And indeed for the believer all things work together for good. The “futility” to which Creation is subject is lack of permanence. Nothing lasts. Each spring the flowers bloom in beauty, only to wither and die shortly thereafter. Animals kill each other. Trees fall and rot. Mountains wear away. Creation groans. As the hymn writer says: “Change and decay in all around I see”
But God did not create the world this way! How did this happen? In chapter 5, Paul discusses at length the 2 heads of humanity: Adam and Christ. By Adam’s sin, death came into the world and reigned supreme – all creation became subject to Adam’s curse. But, by the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ, comes life. By Him, the curse is being reversed and all things are being restored. Paradise Lost. And Paradise Regained.
“creation was subjected to futility … because of him who subjected it”
Adam was the one “who subjected it” – he was her lord. Under his curse was all creation subjected to the same futility. Lack of permanence. Death. In the same way, Creation “will be set free from its bondage to corruption” under the lordship of the 2nd Adam, the head of the new redeemed humanity, Jesus the Son of God. This is why all creation groans and waits for the revealing of the sons of God – it longs to be set free from the futility to which it is now subject under Adam’s curse.
And so we actively consider the comparison: setting our temporary present pains against these incomparable eternal glories to come.
Conformed to Christ
In vs. 23 and following Paul says that along with the Creation we also groan and wait. We share in the futility: we get sick. we get old. we die. Our lives in this world are but a vapor, says James, which appear for a little time, and then vanish away.
But though we share in the futility with creation, it is different for us. We, the redeemed, are what creation is longing for. We have the first fruits of the Spirit. We are being transformed into the very likeness of Jesus Christ. This is the hope into which we have been saved, and for which we patiently wait.
And our hope is not a blind or gullible hope, based upon wishful thinking. The world offers us hope like: “Cheer up, things will get better!” But things may not get better. The hope of the Christian is based on reality, not on wishful thinking. It is sure and steadfast, it is an anchor to our souls, because the Spirit works in us, and bears witness in our hearts that we are truly God’s children!
Creation is groaning and waiting. We, the adopted children of God, are groaning and waiting also, but we are also being changed from glory to glory by the Spirit. We are being conformed to Christ. Here in vs. 26 and following is one of the most wonderful, powerful and encouraging ways He works with us and in us, changing us into the His likeness.
Jesus said in John 14:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…
The Spirit dwells in us, He is the Helper, the one who comes along aside. When Paul says here that we are weak and that we don’t know how to pray, do you say, “yes, that’s me?” But then comes this amazing help from the indwelling Spirit:
- We are pitifully weak but He is infinitely strong
- We do not know how to pray but He intercedes for us perfectly
The indwelling Spirit joins us in our groaning, and our yearning in Hope. But unlike our groanings, his groanings, too deep for words, are completely effectual, unlimited in scope and power.
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
~ Romans 8.27–28
See what is happening here! These are not 2 disconnected verses. The second logically follows from the first. It is as a result of the Spirit’s intercession, that all things are appointed to us, and work together for our good. God searches our hearts, and knows perfectly the mind of the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit is the agent of our sanctification. He is constantly at work to conform us to the image of Christ. He knows exactly where we are in that process and intercedes for us accordingly. So you see, the specific trials we experience are the direct result of the Spirit’s intercession for us.
Remember this when you’re in the middle of it. Nothing is “bad luck” or accidental. Rather it is the sovereign work of God within you for your good and for the coming glory.
Meaning simply that this process is not an iffy proposition. It is certain, and we can have that blessed comfort of assurance in Him. All of the verbs in vss. 29-30 are Greek Aorists, that is, simple past tense.
- we are foreknown
- we are predestined to be conformed to Christ
- we are called
- we are justified
- we are glorified
From God’s perspective, the work is done. His purposes never fail. What the Spirit is working in us, will be brought to perfection.
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
~ Philippians 1:6 ESV
Persevere in Gospel Hope this year
- Consider the comparison between your present suffering and future glory
- your light momentary affliction is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison
- Your trials are purposeful: God sovereignly uses them to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ
- Regularly renew your mind in the Word. Build up a reservoir of truth in your mind and heart. Your heart will follow your habits.
- Remember that the Spirit Helper joins your groaning, and prays for you perfectly, and that all His prayers will be answered.
- Overflow with gratitude to God for His marvelous work of salvation!
We thank you dear Lord for the days of this new year which you have given us. Teach us to number our days, however many, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom. We know that in this new year we will groan, and we will grieve, but not like those who have no hope, for you are risen, you reign and you make all things new. You are working all things together for our good, preparing us to see and to share your glory forever.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen