If you knew that something wonderful was going to happen to you tomorrow, do you think it would make a difference in the way you lived today? Just suppose you knew you were going to inherit a large sum of money, or move into a luxurious new home, or be promoted to president of the company, or lose all of your physical blemishes and weaknesses (like 100 unwanted pounds), or acquire some amazing new skills or abilities. If you knew for sure that one of those things were going to happen, don’t you think it would affect how you live today? I would certainly think so. It would probably put you in a good frame of mind. Things wouldn’t bother you quite so much. People wouldn’t get under your skin quite so easily. And you would probably start to live in the light of who you are going to be tomorrow.
That idea was probably in the back of Paul’s mind as he wrote the eighth chapter of Romans. The underlying theme is triumphant living. It’s both desirable and possible! First, because we have the Spirit dwelling in us (Romans 8:1-13). Second, because we have an honored position in God’s family (Romans 8:14-17). And now because, in spite of our present suffering, we have a glorious future to look forward to (Romans 8:18-30). Something wonderful is going to happen. And that can make a difference in the way we live our lives right now.
Paul has been talking about the wonderful position we have as sons of God. But that doesn’t change the fact that we live in a world of sorrow and suffering. And it’s impossible to live in this world and escape that suffering. Let’s review Romans 8:16-17. “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.“
And suddenly we are introduced to the subject of suffering. He’s talking primarily about suffering persecution for our faith in Christ, but he doesn’t eliminate any kind of suffering from his thinking, as we learn in Romans 8:35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
We may be suffering because of sickness or pain (either physical or emotional). We may be suffering because we’ve lost a loved one to death. We may be suffering because a business has declined, or because we’re out of work and struggling to make ends meet, not sure where our next meal is coming from. We may be suffering because somebody has hurt us deeply, or because our children have disappointed us, or because our marriage is shaky, or because our neighbors are antagonistic.
And we groan under the weight of our suffering, which expresses deep grief and sorrow over the pain of our circumstances. There’s a lot of groaning in this world, most of it as a direct result of Adam’s sin. You would think that when God saves us from sin He would deliver us from the groans of suffering. The good news is that He will–not necessarily in this life, but in the glorious future that He has prepared for us. He is going to turn our groaning into glory! And to know that can help us live triumphantly in spite of this present groaning.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) It’s almost as though Paul were standing there holding a balance scale in his hand. On one side he places all the suffering he has experienced, and for him that was a lot: beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, sick, hungry, thirsty, cold, exhausted, maligned and ridiculed, to name just a little of what he suffered. On the other side of the scale he places the glory he anticipates in the future. And immediately that side of the scale drops down under the greater weight. There’s no comparison. He said much the same thing to the Corinthians: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Now he goes on to elaborate on that “glory which shall be revealed in us,” and that’s where the creation come in. “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19) That glory is going to be so great that the whole creation (“nature”) looks forward to it. He pictures nature as standing on its tip-toes with its head craning forward (“eager expectation”), earnestly awaiting this remarkable event.
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20) It is as though all nature is frustrated because, as a result of Adam’s sin, it was cursed and cannot properly fulfill the purpose for its existence, which is to glorify God. “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) The whole creation looks forward to the liberty it will enjoy when believers enter into their glory–liberty to glorify God. Right now creation is in “bondage to decay.”
There’s only one way to describe it. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22) Creation is groaning under the pain. But it is not just pain; it is pain with a purpose, like the pain of childbirth. As John Calvin put it, not death pangs, but birth pangs. The pain will have worthwhile end–it is going to culminate in glory. As the Old Testament prophets declared, the desert will blossom like a rose, the wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, and nothing will hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 65:25). The rivers will flow free and clear again (Stedman, 239).
“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) We have the first fruits of the Spirit, the present ministry of the Spirit in our lives which is the pledge and foretaste of the magnificent blessings that shall be ours in the future, just as the first fruits of the harvest in the Old Testament were the pledge and foretaste of more to come in the future for them (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 18:4).
But that joyous prospect doesn’t eliminate the present groans. Our spirits have been saved, but we still live in dying bodies. We still suffer the ravages of disease in our human bodies. We still grieve as we watch friends and loved ones die. And we long for the culmination of our adoption as God’s sons–the day when our bodies themselves will be raised immortal and incorruptible, delivered from all pain and death–what Paul calls here “the redemption of our body” (that answers to “the glory which shall be revealed in us” in verse 18, and “the revealing of the sons of God” in verse 19).
I’m thankful that there is more to my adoption into God’s family than I have already experienced. And I am eagerly anticipating the day when my adoption will be culminated, when by body will be completely and finally liberated from the effects of sin and death. I will free from pain. I will have a perfect body, with no weaknesses, blemishes or defects. I will have an exalted position in my heavenly home near my precious Lord. All the riches of heaven will be mine to enjoy for eternity. That will be glory! My groaning will turn to glory! What a wonderful hope!
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25) When we are saved, we find ourselves in a condition of hope, indicating that there is more in store for us than we have already experienced. And hope for the Christian is not just a wish that something nice will happen. It is a sure thing, a firm assurance, an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it (Hebrews 6:19-20). And with this hope, we can keep on keeping on, with courage and endurance, triumphant in the times of trial. This assurance of future glory is a powerful motivation to live triumphantly in Christ.
- Life Application Study Bible (NIV)
- From Groaning to Glory (Part 1)