Thursday, June 25 –
It is Thursday of this week, and we’re continuing our reading thru the New Testament in a year. As we continue to read the book of Romans we come to Romans 8:17-39. I urge you to read the Scripture as we begin and then invite you to come back to spend some time musing over the Scripture together.
Let’s make sure we have a good sense of the context of Paul’s writing in Romans 8. There is a sober reality coming from Romans 7 and clearly laid out in the beginning of Romans 8 that there is a warfare between our flesh - which is best described as our sinful nature’s tendency towards selfishness and forgetfulness of God – and the Spirit – the new creation work of Christ that has come to us when we turned to believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord.
We began this chapter with the
positive promise that “In Christ, there is no condemnation”. We are delivered from fear as we put our
faith in Christ Jesus’ finished work on our behalf – “For God has done what the
law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order
that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk
not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3-4). We can rest in Christ, even as we continue to
do battle with our flesh. The words Paul
used – “to set our mind on the Spirit is life” – speaks volumes. As Dr. Derek Thomas points out in his
lectures on Romans 8 in asking, “what is it that is on the mind of the Holy
Spirit?”, and therefore, “What is it that is on our minds?” Or another way of
thinking about this is “when we have nothing we’re thinking about and we aren’t
concerned by anything, what is our default for where our mind goes?”
Paul reminds us that Christ Jesus has freed us from any kind of slavery of the flesh: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (8:14-17). Our security does not lie in our efforts, or trying really hard to be spiritual, but in Christ alone. He is our security, our hope, and our lives are safe in Him!
The last part of vs 17 added the words: “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified in him.” Then Paul adds to this: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (8:18). It is true that we are “heirs” in the family of God, with Christ. Yet the inheritance comes with a price – we share in His suffering. How? Where? First, let’s begin by noting the shift of focus from the past, and the present, to the future. In the past, we did not know Christ, but at some point came to faith in Christ. In the present, we live out that faith in the reality of the struggles with our flesh, or our sinful nature. Yet it is not only our personal sin that is part of that struggle, but also the sin of the world around us. Suffering is personal, and corporate, as we realize a fallen world is the environment in which our faith lives in. That is where the future enters in. For in suffering – which almost every human, indeed, every Christian experiences at some time or another – we come to terms with the full effects of the Fall. Here’s the reality – Living for Christ Jesus does not only NOT prevent suffering, it becomes part of that which reminds us of God’s future glory. The writer of Hebrews reminded us that it was even true in Jesus’ life: “Although He was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
All around us is a world suffering. It sometimes seems so perplexing, even senseless – a proverbial, “why?”, “What is this all about?” comes from our mind and lips. Paul’s shift to remind us that suffering is part of our experience is also a reminder that it is not senseless, without purpose. Suffering is part of the world because God “subjected the world to futility” in the Fall of Adam and Eve. The word “futility” comes from a word that means “transient”, or “temporary”. It reminds us of the evaluation of the teacher in Ecclesiastes that summed up life as “vanity of vanity, all is vanity”. The reality is that everything in this life is temporary, transient, soon passing away.
past created the realities of the present and the present reminds us that the
future will be different. In vs 19, Paul
personifies the creation as someone waiting “eagerly longing for the revealing
of the children of God”. Right now we
live in a “creation that is groaning” (vs 22).
What does he mean? The imagery
that comes to mind is a pregnant woman. Eugene
Peterson in his translation “The Message” translate these verses this way:
“ All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. (8:22-24, The Message).
The groaning creation is temporary – it will not last forever. The world fallen because of Sin is soon to be delivered by God. Not only does the Creation groan, but “...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” (8:23). At age 70, I can attest to the groaning of the body! Yet is not just the body that groans, but all of the creation attests to the world’s fallen state – troubles, hardships, pandemics, wars, rumors of wars, hatred, and strife – there is no corner of the world unaffected by Sins natural work. How do we survive it? Hope! “...in this hope, we were saved... (8:24). The creation groans, we groan, and lastly, even the Spirit of God groans. “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...the Spirit intercedes for the Saints according to the will of God” (8:26,27). We often feel it, don’t we? “Words cannot explain it.” “I don’t have words to describe it”. What we feel in the sadness and brokenness of the world is personal and leaves many a Christian to feel abandoned by God. Yet Paul reminds us, and God inspired him to write it, God is alongside of us, groaning with us in our desperate aching.
Is there a purpose in suffering? It is the eternal question of humanity. Job asked it, complained, demanded an explanation! God gave him none. Paul reminds us that being a follower of Jesus, committed by faith to trust in him, will not always lead us down smooth roads. Our suffering is not a punishment of God, nor abandonment by God. It is a reminder that God’s purposes are lived out in a creation that turned away from God, and he intends on getting it back.
shift could not be more dramatic: This
is what we can be assured of God is at work in all things to make them work out
for good! “ And we know that in all
things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called
according to his purpose” (8:28). While
our focus is often on the present, and our minds tell us that the present is
due to our past; God sees the bigger
picture of where it is all headed. What
is our destiny when we have faith in Christ Jesus? It is glorious!
“ 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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (8:29-30). The end of the story is not in the now of our present experiences but is in the whole story – the bigger picture of God’s purposes fulfilled. I ask you to consider – how many of those God calls end up being glorified – conformed to the image of his Son? Answer: all of them! We ask, “How?” and the answer is that God is the one who began the story and God is the one who will finish the story. We were “called” by God – knows your name! We were known by God in eternity past, and he predestined our lives. He called us to himself, justified us through faith in Christ Jesus, and will glorify us in his presence!
Are we sure? Can we believe it to be true? The last part of Romans 8 is structured as a series of rhetorical questions and statements that make one thing perfectly clear – God will not fail to deliver his children – no matter what the life around us happens to be. “Who is against us?” (8:31). “Who can bring a charge against us?” (8:33). “Who can condemn us?” (8:34), and most of all, “Who can separate us from Christ’s love?” (8:35) – Answer: “No one”. The summation of the big picture is completed. God sent his Son to redeem his children, and nothing will stop him from doing so...nothing! Paul says it with confidence – “I am convinced” (8:38). No matter what we face in life, God knows. God not only knows, but God cares, and God also will deliver us both through it, and to Himself.