Romans chapter 8 is a marvellous chapter. It’s been described as the highest peak in a mountain range, because it’s so grand and magnificent and wonderful. It’s been described as the Tree of Life, because it so refreshes the weary soul. It’s like a jewellery shop, because it’s filled with all these precious promises, one after another after another. In verses 1 to 4, Paul tells us there’s no condemnation, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because of what God the Father has done for us by his Son.
And then in verses 5 to 13, he explained how we’re no longer in the flesh, but we’re in the Spirit. The flesh is the realm of the human only, which is now characterised by sin and death. But the realm of the Spirit is characterised by righteousness and life.
And then in verses 14 to 17, Paul tells us how God the Father gave us his Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption, to persuade us of the wonderful truth that, through faith in Christ, we’ve become God’s children. His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we’re his sons and daughters who will inherit everlasting life in God’s heavenly kingdom. And though we may have to suffer so very much in this troubled life, nevertheless we have the Spirit of Adoption to re-assure us of the Father’s love; and the Spirit enables us to cry out to our loving, heavenly Father for the help we need.
This is a marvellous chapter. And there’s still more to come. And in the verses we’re looking at today, Paul refers again to our present suffering and to our inward groaning. And he also refers to the groaning of the creation. And while we groan now, we’re waiting for something wonderful to happen: we’re waiting for the glory to be revealed whenever Christ our Saviour returns.
Look with me at verse 18. Paul says:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in us.
Last time I said that when Paul refers to ‘our present sufferings’ he’s referring to all the ways we suffer in his life. For many believers around the world, the suffering comes in the form of physical persecution. And here in Northern Ireland, there’s the sorrow and frustration because though we want to tell our neighbours the good news of the gospel so that they might be saved, they will not listen to us. And they think we’re fools for believing what we believe and they despise us for what we believe. And so, we suffer their contempt. And then there’s also all the other sorrow and sadness of this troubled life. All the things we must put up with: the disappointments; and frustrations; and heartaches; and the illnesses; and the frailty; and, of course, we can now add the coronavirus crisis to the list of troubles which we suffer in this life; and then, there are all the times when the people we love die and we’re bereaved. And, finally, there’s our own death too.
And, of course, the Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about suffering. Do you remember that passage in 2 Corinthians 11 where he describes his own experiences. He wrote:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 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; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Paul knew what it was like to suffer in this life. But here, in verse 18 of Romans 8, he says that the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. All the suffering we experience now in this life are nothing compared with the glory which God has in store for us. Again, the Lord Jesus is our pattern, because after his suffering and humiliation, he entered his glory. And that’s the path his people follow too: suffering and humiliation now, but glory to come.
And, of course, remember what we learned last time. While we suffer all these things, we have the Spirit of Adoption to comfort and to re-assure us and to help us to cry out to God our Father for the help we need.
But the point Paul is going on to make in this section, is that the suffering we experience now makes us long for the glory to be revealed. It makes us long for it with eager expectation. And, in fact, it’s not only we ourselves who long for it, because the whole of creation longs for it too.
Verses 19 to 22
Look with me now at verse 19:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
Remember that I explained last time why Paul refers to believers as ‘sons’. In those days, daughters could not receive an inheritance. So, he calls us ‘sons’ here to teach us that every believer — men and women — will receive the inheritance which God has in store for us, which is, of course, eternal life.
So, the creation is waiting in eager expectation for God’s children to be revealed. Now, you know what Paul’s doing here, don’t you? When I was at school, we learned in English about all the different figures of speech an author might use. So, an author might use hyperbole, which means they deliberately exaggerated what they were saying for effect. And there are similes, when an author would describe something by comparing it to something else. And then there was personification, when the author treated an inanimate object or an animal as if it were a person. And that’s what Paul is doing here. He’s personifying the creation, describing the creation as if it were a person who is waiting for something to happen. And we see this elsewhere in the Bible where we’re told that mountains and valleys shout for joy.
And the word translated ‘eager expectation’ is a marvellous picture word, because we’re to imagine someone, craning their neck in order to see something in the distance. So, imagine you’re at the back of a crowd, and you’re standing on tip toes, and you’re stretching your neck as far as it will go, trying to see. That’s what the creation is doing, says Paul. And what’s it waiting for? It’s waiting for the sons of God — the sons and daughters of God — to be revealed.
Why do we need to be revealed? Because the world doesn’t realise yet who or what we are. People look at us and wonder about us:
Who are these ejits who believe all this nonsense about Jesus rising from the dead? And why are they wasting their time, going to church on Sundays? They even go to a prayer meeting on Wednesdays. Can you believe it?
They’re think we’re fools, but they don’t realis that we are, in fact, the sons and daughters of God Almighty.
Or think about it this way. There was a man I used to visit who lived alone, and who had to wait for care workers to come and put him to bed because he was too frail to do it himself. He could barely move from one room to another on his own. And then he had a bad eye. And I remember how one day he pointed to one ear and said it was his bad ear. It was his bad ear. Well, the other ear wasn’t much better, because he needed a hearing aid in it. And these care workers used to come in, and he only seemed to them to be an old man who had lots of problems. But they didn’t realise that this old man they were caring for was a son of God who was bound for glory. In fact, that man is now dead, but while his body is in the ground, his soul is with the Lord in heaven. And the day is coming, when his body and soul will be re-united and he’ll be glorified in the presence of his heavenly Father and will live with him for ever and ever in glory. For the time being, the world doesn’t know who we are. And the creation, says Paul, is waiting for the day when our true identity will be revealed.
One of the commentators describes verses 20 to 22 as Paul’s commentary on Genesis 3:17+18. After Adam sinned, God said to him:
cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.
And so, says Paul in verse 20, the creation was subjected to frustration. Because of Adam’s sin, the creation is not the way it’s supposed to be. But look at the end of verse 20 and the words ‘in hope’. Yes, there’s frustration now for creation, but there’s hope too. And ‘hope’ in the Bible is not a vague wish; ‘hope’ in the Bible refers to something that is definite. And so, the creation will definitely — there’s no doubt about it — the creation will definitlely be liberated one day from its bondage to decay — which we see all around us at present — and it will be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Right now, according to verse 22, the whole creation has been groaning. And you wonder whether Paul is thinking about all the natural disasters that occur, and the storms and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the things that have been happening since Adam’s fall. Perhaps that’s what he’s thinking about when he mentions the groaning of creation. Well, the whole creation has been groaning. But it’s not a groaning that’s going nowhere, because it’s like the pains of childbirth which the mother must suffer before something wonderful happens. In the case of a woman in childbirth, a child is born. In the case of the creation, all the groaning and pain leads up to the renewal of all things when Jesus Christ returns in glory to make all things new.
Verses 23 to 25
The creation is groaning and longing for this to happen. And in verse 23, Paul says that we ourselves — believers — groan inwardly as well. And just as the creation was waiting with eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, so we wait eagerly for the same thing. But Paul refers to it in a different way here. Look what he says:
Not only so, but we ourselves … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
What does he mean? Aren’t we already adopted? Haven’t we already been redeemed? Yes, we have. Through faith in Christ, we’re redeemed, or delivered, from the penalty and power of sin; and we’re adopted into God’s family. But Paul is now referring to the consummation of our redemption. To its completion. And our redemption will only be consummated and completed whenever Christ returns and the bodies of believers who have died — but which are now lying in the grave, as though sleeping — will be raised from the dead. And all of God’s people — those who died before his coming, those still alive at his coming — will be glorified and will come into his presence to be with him in body and soul for ever.
And remember the end of chapter 7? After describing his struggle with sin and his frustration because of it, he cried out:
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
That’s what we’re waiting for. That’s what we’re longing for. This wretched body in which I sin everyday will be transformed when Christ returns. In my inward being, I love the Lord and his law and want to serve him, because I’ve been made new by the Spirit of God. But with my body I keep sinning. And I’m longing for the day when even my body is transformed.
And look: Paul mentions the Spirit again. He says we have the first fruits of the Spirit. And it’s because we have the Holy Spirit in us that we groan inwardly. You see, he’s the first fruits, the first instalment of the completion of our salvation; and he makes us long for the rest of it. Already our citizenship is in heaven. Already we’ve been raised with Christ by faith and we’ve been seated with him in the heavenly realms. That’s where we belong now. But we’re still down here; and so we groan and long for the day when our salvation will be complete and we’ll be glorified in Christ’s presence.
This is our hope. We haven’t seen it yet, says Paul in verses 24 and 25. We haven’t seen it yet. But this is the sure and certain hope which God has given to us. And so, we wait for it.
And we’re to wait for it patiently. In other words, we’re to put up with and we’re to endure all the sorrows and trials of this troubled life. And we’re able to put up with it all, because we believe that God is able to work out all of these troubles for our ultimate good. And we’re able to put up with it all, because we’ve got the Spirit of Adoption to comfort and re-assure us. And we’re able to put up with it all, because we believe that we’re not under condemnation. Even though we might suffer, God doesn’t hate us, because he’s become our loving heavenly Father who has pardoned us; and nothing, nothing will ever separate us from his love for us in Christ Jesus. And so, believing all these things, we’re able to be patient and to endure all things as we wait for the fullness of our redemption which Christ has won for us.