16. From Groaning to Glory (Romans 8:18-27)
My wife and I have been thinking a great deal this week about our daughter Amy. In part we are thinking of her because she has just left us to attend college some distance away. But primarily we are thinking of Amy because she is presently in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin on the high road program.
One of this country’s finest, the high road program is a part of the curriculum of Wheaton College. It is designed to place students in circumstances where they must do those things which seem completely beyond them. Dividing into small groups, each student is given a pack containing wilderness living essentials. Under the watchful eye of trained leaders, they are then sent out to trek through the wilderness. They are instructed how to use their compass before being given a destination at which they should arrive within a certain number of days. Cooking their own food over an open fire, they wear the same clothes day after day and brush their teeth with nature’s toothbrush. Traveling by canoe more miles than one can imagine, they portage over land carrying the canoe over their heads189 and rappelling from wilderness cliffs.
Amy’s venture marks the second time my wife and I have attended the wilderness orientation session for participants and their parents. This second time was much more fun as we knew what to expect from our first daughter and another friend’s experience. First-time uneasy parents expressed concern with the safety and well-being of their children while others were curious about how good the food would be and the height of the cliffs their child would rappel. One young girl wondered where she would plug in her hair dryer! How I would love to observe some of the primpy, preppy youngsters come to grips with the grimy realities of wilderness living!
But the intent of the high road program is not to make students suffer. It is a purposeful, constructive program with demands and hardships designed to strip away the superficialities of life and bring the individual down to the basics. Hopefully it will press the person beyond his or her own abilities and help them to trust in God. Two weeks of wilderness adversity reveal a great deal about one’s true character and ability to relate to others. While the program may seem unnatural and unreal, it is just the opposite. Superficiality is pushed aside, and reality is vividly exposed. Amy will remember for a lifetime the experiences of this week at high road.
High road scrapes off the barnacles on the boat of one’s life, forcing the individual to face reality and to deal with it. For many Christians, there are more barnacles than boat. Our life easily becomes so cluttered with characterizations, platitudes, and formulas that we can hardly identify the core of Christianity. What does it mean to be a Christian—to think like a Christian—to act like a Christian? What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit”?
Like high road, Paul’s words recorded in Romans 8:18-27 strip away the artificial and superficial views of the Christian life, leaving us with the core of what it means to live in this present world as a Christian. His words will not conform to much, if not most, of Christian thinking and teaching. His words will not be those we would naturally be inclined to welcome as God’s truth. But they are God’s truth. If we are to live our lives as those who are and will be the “sons of God,” we must live in accordance with reality. The reality of Christian living is exposed and explored in our text. Let us hold very loosely to our preconceived ideas and hold fast to the inspired and inerrant Word of God as we consider this text.
The Context of Our Text
Paul has written in chapters 1-4 of man’s great need for righteousness and justification and of God’s provision of it through Jesus Christ. What sinful men cannot do for themselves, God has done for them in Christ. We are forgiven of our sins and declared righteous, not by striving to please God by our good works, but by trusting in Jesus Christ, by faith.
In chapters 5-8 Paul speaks to those who have been justified by faith concerning their walk as believers in Jesus Christ. The general subject is sanctification—that process by which sinners who have been justified by faith are being transformed into saints so that their lives reflect the righteousness of God. That righteousness which all men lack, and which some have been granted by faith in Jesus Christ, is now to be lived out in the daily walk of the believer. The first half of chapter 5 (verses 1-11) is a description of the benefits of justification by faith. The second half (verses 12-21) is an explanation of the basis of justification and sanctification. Chapter 6 is a compelling explanation of the need for a dramatic change in the lifestyle of the Christian, of death to sin and living out God’s righteousness before men. Chapter 7 reveals the weakness of the Law and ultimately of our own flesh, making it humanly impossible to live righteously in and of ourselves.
So far as the spiritual walk of the Christian is concerned, Romans 8 is the high water mark of Romans. For those who have been justified by faith, the condemnation for sin has been borne by our Lord Jesus in His death on the cross. The powerlessness of the flesh to obey God’s Law and to live righteously has been overcome by the Holy Spirit, who not only raised the dead body of our Lord to life but who will also raise our own dead bodies to life so that we may live in a way that pleases God.
The Holy Spirit is God’s provision for godly living. Not only does the Spirit empower the Christian, He also assures the Christian of his position in Christ as a son of God. While our sonship is the assurance of sharing in the glory of God in His coming kingdom, it also requires present suffering for Christ’s sake. This suffering is not divorced from our sonship but a prerequisite to the glory which is to come. In Romans 8:14-17, Paul introduces the subjects of sonship and suffering. Romans 8:18-27 explains in greater detail the ministry of the Holy Spirit to suffering saints. This present life inescapably involves suffering and groaning as we look forward to the glory of God and the full benefits of our sonship at the return of our Lord. During our days of groaning, the Holy Spirit ministers to us so that we may endure our present afflictions. The subject of our text is the certainty of suffering and of God’s sustaining ministry through His Spirit.
The Structure of the Text
While the focus of this lesson is on Romans 8:18-27, a broader portion of the text must be considered in analyzing the structure of our passage. We will consider the structure of verses 14-30, outlining our text in this way:
(1) Transition—The sons of God will suffer (verses 14-17)
(2) Truths which sustain the suffering sons of God (verses 18-27)
(3) The benefits of sonship outweigh its sufferings (verse 18)
(4) Suffering is the experience of all creation (verses 19-22)
(5) Suffering is a prerequisite to sonship (verses 23-25)
(6) The Holy Spirit ministers to us in our suffering (verses 26-27)
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
Paul explains in Romans 8 the provisions which God has made for the Christian to live righteously, as both the Law and our conversion require. The deadness of our bodies with regard to deeds of righteousness, vividly described in chapter 7, is solved by the Holy Spirit who indwells the Christian and who raises our dead bodies to life just as He raised the dead body of our Lord Jesus to life (8:11). The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit “of adoption.” Through His ministry we become God’s sons. Furthermore, He bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God (8:15-16). He is also the Spirit who sustains and strengthens us in our sufferings.
While verses 14-17 teach many important truths, two truths in these verses lay the foundation for what Paul will teach in verses 18-27. Let me underscore these two foundational truths Paul emphasizes:
(1) The Spirit of God is the Spirit of sonship. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are joined with Christ so that we become the sons of God. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are also assured of our sonship as He witnesses to our spirit concerning this relationship. This relationship of sonship is the opposite of slavery. Rather than being subject to sin and to death, we will reign with Christ,190 in life.
(2) Suffering is a necessary prerequisite for entering into the full benefits of sonship. While we become the children of God the moment we believe in Jesus Christ (see John 1:12), our full and final sonship awaits us when the Lord returns and when our bodies are fully redeemed (Romans 8:23). Paul tells us in verse 17 that “we are fellow-heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him.” He says also that we must suffer “in order that we may also reign with Him.” Suffering is seen as the experience of every son of God.191 It is this suffering—and the sustaining ministry of the Holy Spirit during our suffering—of which Paul writes in Romans 8:18-27. The final words of verse 17 turn our attention to the suffering which our sonship requires and to the ministry which the Holy Spirit provides for every son of God.
The Superiority of Sonship
and Its Glory Over Present Suffering
18 For I consider192 that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Verses 18-27 all deal with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the context of suffering and sonship. In verse 18, Paul supplies his reader with the first word of encouragement: our sufferings in preparation for our sonship do not compare with the glory we will share as sons. In simple terms, the benefits of sonship far outweigh the price we are called upon to pay as sons of God. Paul reflects his deep, personal conviction of this in his words to the Corinthians:
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light afflict is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Paul’s words in verse 18 are consistent with this biblical principle: First suffering, then glory. It was true of our Lord Jesus. He was first to suffer and then to enter into His glory. This puzzled the prophets of old who did not know that this principle would require two “comings” of the Messiah:
As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).
One phrase in verse 18 is of particular interest. Paul speaks of the future glory we will enter into as God’s sons as that which “is to be revealed to us.” Surely this glory is still future while our sufferings are in the present. But the glory in verse 18 is that which God will reveal, meaning that this glory is not presently seen (see also verses 24-25). It also strongly suggests that this glory is not brought to pass by men. We do not bring in the kingdom of God as some Christians think. God brings about His kingdom. God will reveal it to us in His time and in His way.
The Groaning of Creation
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
Paul introduces in this paragraph the concept of “groaning” (verse 22). Here Paul refers to the “groaning” of the creation. In verse 23 he speaks of the “groaning” of the Christian. And finally in verse 26 he speaks of the intercessory “groanings” of the Holy Spirit. Groaning is the glue which gives unity to our entire section of verses 18-27.
What is groaning? Groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering. It is both personal and intense, an agony so deep it cannot be put into words. Groaning is a universal language. Groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God which is yet to come. For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen.
In verse 17 Paul links groaning with sonship, for suffering is a part of God’s preparation for those who will reign as sons of God. But suffering and groaning are not just the experiences of Christians alone. Groaning is the universal experience of all of God’s creation. It cannot be avoided. In verses 19-22 Paul therefore informs us that our groaning is part a part of the bigger whole—the groaning of all of creation. Several important truths are taught here for us to consider:
(1) The groaning of creation is universal. All creation groans. It is a universal expression of agony (verse 22).
(2) The groaning of creation is the result of man’s sin. Adam did not consult with the animal world nor did he involve the rest of creation in his decision to disobey God. Innocent though it was, all creation suffers the backwash of Adam’s sin. Creation suffers not only due to the initial sin of Adam, but creation also sufferings from the on-going sin of mankind. Pollution is but one evidence of man’s sin which causes the suffering and groaning of creation.
(3) The groaning of the creation is due to a divine sentence of corruption and futility. Creation has been in the process of deterioration193 since the fall of man. Our own bodies bear testimony to the process of corruption. My body is on the downhill slope of its existence—my hair falls out—my stomach sticks out—my brain blanks out more of the time. Creation groans because of the irreversible process of deterioration and decay. In essence, like men, the earth is dying.
Corruption and deterioration results in a life characterized by futility. Futility is the opposite of hope. Futility means that no matter how hard we try to resist or reverse the process of corruption, it is inevitable. We may buy a new house, but soon termites find it and begin the process of decay. If not, mildew or dry rot begins to appear. Then there are earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. Our new car soon begins to leak oil. The transmission starts to slip. The seat covers become soiled. Rust begins to work away at the metal. Sooner or later, the car will find its way to the wrecking yard and then to the crusher. The work of our hands, in the long run, is futile.
The sentence of creation to the principles of corruption and futility is a divinely imposed condition. Creation did not bring suffering upon itself. Man’s sin is the immediate cause, and God’s sovereign subjection of creation to suffering and groaning is the ultimate cause. Just as creation’s splendor and majesty display the splendor and majesty of God (see Psalm 19), so creation’s corruption and futility bear witness to man’s sin. God decreed that it would be so. Creation did not get in this condition because things got out of hand—out of God’s hand. Creation is the way it is because God subjected it to futility and corruption. Even in its suffering, creation is subject to God and to His purposes.
(4) Creation, though now subjected to corruption and futility, has a sure and certain hope. Creation’s present subjection to corruption and futility is the result of a divine decree by God. But Paul pointedly writes that God subjected creation to corruption and futility “in hope” (verse 20). Just as the Christian’s present condition of suffering and groaning is temporary so is the suffering and groaning of creation. Creation awaits the day of its own redemption from the chaotic consequences of sin when its present condition will be set aside. Just as Adam’s sin subjected creation to corruption, death, and futility, so the righteousness of Jesus Christ will redeem it. There is hope for creation. God’s purpose for subjecting creation to corruption and futility was not to destroy it but to deliver it.
Groaning is not a response of despair but a response to pain and suffering. Paul writes not of a groaning over what will be but over what now is. If creation’s groaning is present, its hope of glory is focused on the future. Hope is a prominent theme in our text with six references—one in verse 20 and five references in verses 24-25. The pangs which creation presently suffers are like birth-pangs for they promise a glorious delivery. These pangs lead not to death but to deliverance, life, and liberty. There is hope for creation.
(5) Just as creation’s downfall came through man, so its deliverance will come through man. Creation, Paul tells us, “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (verse 19). The Lord Jesus took on human flesh, not only to take man’s place on the cross of Calvary but to take man’s place as the Son of God ruling over God’s creation. All who are justified by faith in Christ become sons of God and look forward to a share in our Lord’s inheritance. The “revealing of the sons of God” in my understanding is that time when our Lord returns to the earth with the saints to subdue His enemies, to establish His throne, and to rule over God’s creation. At that time, creation will glory in the rule of the sons of God. When redeemed and perfected men rule with Christ, the earth will not suffer; it will prosper. The creation awaits its own day of redemption in hope, for God will bless the earth through the rule of men just as He presently causes the creation to share in the curse as the result of sin. Just as men, once enslaved by sin, are set free by the work of our Lord, so the earth, once enslaved due to sin, will be set free.
The Groaning of the Christian
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
The condition of the Christian in these verses is very similar to that of creation. Like the creation, we who have been justified by faith suffer and groan. Our groaning is due to the present corruption and futility we see both within us and without. Sin, dwelling in our flesh and in this fallen world, causes us to groan. The contrast between what we presently are and what we shall be someday as adopted sons intensifies our groaning. At this future time, our bodies will be redeemed. Our earthly bodies, subject to corruption and to sin, will be put away, and we will be given redeemed bodies free from sin, corruption, and death (verse 24, see also 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4). At this time we will receive our full adoption as sons and reign with Christ over all creation.
Those who believe the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit brings only ecstasy, jubilance, and rejoicing194 need to consider more carefully Paul’s words in verse 23. The suffering and groaning the Christian is said to experience in verse 23 is linked to the believer’s possession of the Holy Spirit. This groaning is not the full manifestation of the fruit which the Spirit produces, but it is a part of the first fruits. Apart from God’s Spirit, the groaning of which Paul speaks would be impossible for any man. This groaning is due to sin and its consequences. The Spirit within us bears witness that we are sons of God. He also bears witness that the world in which we now live is surely not the kingdom of God. The Spirit’s presence and power produce groaning in the Christian because we understand not only what we now are, but what we will someday be. Presently we are aware that something is very wrong with the way we are and the way our world is. The Spirit testifies to this, producing groaning from deep within us.
Does the creation presently groan in hope of its future deliverance? So does the Christian (verses 24-25). Here the veil is lifted slightly for the Christian to see one of the purposes for our present suffering and groaning. God causes us to groan over the present conditions under which we now live so that our hope will be directed toward God’s coming kingdom. Our present suffering and groaning is based upon our own experience, upon our own condition. Our future glory is based upon the work of Christ at Calvary and causes us to eagerly anticipate His return to rule over creation.
Because he is a Christian, one is not exempt from suffering and groaning. Indeed, the Christian’s suffering and groaning is intensified because he is a Christian and because the Spirit of God dwells within. The presence of the Holy Spirit in each believer is the source not just of groaning but the source also of great comfort. This ministry of the Spirit Paul explains in verses 26 and 27.
The Spirit’s Ministry in Our Groaning
26 And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Some use verses 26 and 27 as a proof text for speaking in tongues. But this text can hardly be understood to refer to speaking in tongues whether as a prayer language or not. Consider the following observations:
(1) These verses are found in the context of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the glory of our future adoption as sons and of our present suffering and groaning.
(2) The ministry of the Spirit is to us in our weakness. Our weakness lies in our complete inability to verbalize our groanings—or to know what to ask in prayer. Our groanings are beyond the ability of words to communicate—any words. If the gift of tongues is the ability to speak in some language, then even speaking in tongues could not convey our groanings. With respect to tongues, it is not the Spirit who puts words in our mouths. The Spirit intercedes for us, communicating our groanings to God. He conveys to God what we cannot put into words, and He also intercedes with requests which are consistent with the will of God. When we cannot speak, the Spirit speaks for us, to God. The Holy Spirit is the communicative link between our own heart and the heart of God. He ministers to us in our present weakness.
As strange as it may sound, groaning characterizes the life of the Spirit-filled Christian. All creation presently groans. Every Christian should be groaning. Even the Spirit groans on our behalf. This is because our redemption, while certain, is not yet complete. We are living in a world subject to corruption and futility. We are living in bodies subject to corruption and futility. We should be struggling with our own sin and imperfection. We know that what we are presently falls far short of what God yet intends to make of us when He completes His redemptive work in us.
Do not misunderstand; it should not be said that our lives as Christians are characterized only by suffering and groaning. We have peace with God, presently. We have joy in the midst of sorrow. We have the benefit of many blessings which come from the hand of a gracious and loving God, now, as well as those yet to come in the future. But when all is said and done, God does not intend for us to be content with what we are. Our present imperfection and groanings are designed to prepare us for our future sonship. We must first be tested and proven character must be developed in us before He gives us the privilege of reigning with Christ. Suffering is preparatory to sonship. Groaning is a prerequisite to glory. We must place our hope in things to come, those things which God has promised. Because this hope is not presently seen, we must fix our hope by means of faith and not by sight. God intends for those things we see as wrong within us and in the world in which we live to create in us a hunger for heaven.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light afflict is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:5).
Some hold a view of the Christian life and walking in the Spirit which finds groaning inappropriate. Being Spirit-filled is synonymous with constant effervescence and an almost giddy happiness all of the time. Suffering and groaning are thought to be the experience only of the lost or of the unspiritual. Sad though it may be, only the lost can expect life to be lived without sadness and suffering and groaning. When those who are successful and comfortable in this life see life as a bowl of cherries, they are not looking at life as it really is. They are looking through eyes which are blinded to the imperfection of this world due to man’s sin.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reversed the views of the unsaved world and of lost men. He did not say, as many of the scribes and Pharisees believed, that the rich, the successful, and the happy are those who are blessed. Instead, Jesus taught that those who suffered and groaned were blessed:
And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:2-6).
Why are those who suffer blessed? Why, by inference, are those whose life seems to be smooth sailing not blessed? It is because we tend to trust in ourselves when we are doing too well. Prosperity and ease does not tend to turn us to God but away from Him. This is why God warned Israel concerning the dangers of the prosperity into which they were about to enter (see Deuteronomy 8:11-20). Israel cried out to God in their sufferings. God heard their groanings (see Exodus 2:24; 6:5; Judges 2:18). When men prosper, they tend to trust in earthly things and not in God (see 1 Timothy 6:17). Suffering and groaning tests us and turns our heart toward God.195
Asaph, the ancient choir director, needed to learn to thank God for his groanings. In Psalm 73 we see Asaph agonizing over the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. He was bitter and angry toward God. He was acting like a beast, he tells us. It was only when he saw life from a broader perspective that he came to his senses and gave thanks to God for His goodness. He saw that earthly prosperity is temporary and that it tempts men to turn from God. He also saw that his own suffering turned him toward God and that the nearness of God in his affliction was good.
Has suffering and groaning found its way into your life? Are there deep inner agonies you cannot even verbalize? Your experience is not unique. It is that of all creation. It is that which should be happening to every Christian at various times and with various levels of intensity. You should not feel guilt-ridden or unspiritual over your groanings. If you have come to recognize your own fallenness and that of the world in which you live, you have come to see life as it really is. You are sharing in that same kind of suffering and groaning which our Lord experienced as the Son of God.
The question is not whether you are groaning, but what good this suffering and groaning is producing in you. Does your groaning give you a hunger for heaven? Does it make you discontent with this life and the way things are? Does it focus your hope on the things of God which are presently unseen? Good! That is the work of the Holy Spirit in you, producing in you a heart for God. That is the Spirit’s work in you preparing you for the glory of your full adoption as a son of God to reign with Christ when He returns to the earth in glory and power.
In the day of the revelation of the sons of God, all creation will cease its sighing and experience that to which it has been looking forward. All creation will enter into the praise and worship of God. I do not know precisely how creation will enter into the praise of God, but I do believe it will happen.196 What a day that will be!
In this life, we are not what we wish to be or what we ultimately will be nor is creation. This produces in creation and in the Christian suffering and groaning as well the hope of that future redemption which God has promised. This is what Paul is teaching in our text. Consider these very important implications of this truth:
(1) The suffering of God’s children is a dominant theme in the teaching of Scripture. Why then is it not more prominent in the teaching of many preachers and churches? Why are people invited to come to faith in Jesus Christ to escape suffering and to enter into peace and prosperity? Why do we seek to persuade men to trust in Christ by offering them the good life? Neither Jesus nor the apostles offered men peace and prosperity in this life. They warned men of the suffering and persecution which would result from turning to Christ in faith and following Him. They urged men to “count the cost” of following Christ (see Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 9:23-25, 57-62; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 1:3-9; 2:20-25; 3:14-18; 4:12-19; 5:10-11). Our Lord graciously brings adversity to us in this life to turn our hearts toward Him. He graciously continues to bring adversity into our lives as Christians to prepare us for our adoption as the sons of God, to keep us looking to Him and to His promised kingdom (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Hebrews 12:1-13).
(2) How does one explain the current emphasis on positive thinking, on man’s great potential, and on victorious living? We need to be very careful not only about what we teach but about the teaching of those to whom we listen and believe. Many are those who offer victorious living but carefully avoid the subject of suffering and groaning so prominent in Paul’s teaching in Romans and elsewhere. Paul does not wish us to become cynical or skeptical about this life, but he does wish us to be realistic.
Christian living must be based upon reality. The reality is that we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world. As such, creation is subject, by divine decree, to corruption and futility. Those who would serve God by walking in the Spirit must come to grips with this matter of our corruption and the futility of life. This is precisely why the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary to live as God requires. But the Spirit does not magically remove all of our suffering and groaning; He undertakes in such a way as to communicate our groanings to God. Walking in the Spirit does not eliminate the fallenness of this world or even of our own flesh. This will be eliminated when Jesus comes again and the sons of God are revealed.
(3) If God graciously sends suffering and groaning into our lives, why in our prayers do we ask God to remove our suffering and pain? Why do we not pray for strength and endurance and for our hope to be set on heaven? Why do we not pray, “Thy kingdom come”? Our prayers are often inconsistent with the purposes of God. When our suffering is the greatest, we cannot even articulate the problem or a solution. In these times we must depend upon the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, to communicate to God on our behalf the things of our spirit which are consistent with God’s will.
(4) The so-called “mid-life crisis” is that time when men come to grips with the reality of the futility and corruption of fallen creation. In reflecting on this text it occurred to me that the “mid-life crisis” is simply men coming to a realization of what Paul is teaching here. It is possible for us to deceive ourselves about life for a number of years. In our youth, we are full of strength and optimism. We believe we can change the world. And then somewhere in mid-life or at a point of crisis we come face to face with stark reality. We see our bodies beginning to succumb to corruption. We see that our efforts are ultimately futile—unable to permanently change us or the world. Some cannot handle this reality and try to suppress it by having an affair, by turning to various sins, or by dulling their senses with alcohol or drugs. They live in a false world, denying the reality of sin and its devastating consequences. They do not turn to God in faith. They do not set their hope on those things which God has promised but which are not seen.
If we would live life to the full, we must come to grips with the reality of sin and its devastation on us and on our world. We must cease trusting in ourselves and turn to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Moses learned this lesson:
For we have been consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence. For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. Do return, O LORD; how long will it be? And be sorry for Thy servants. O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil, Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, And Thy majesty to their children. And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands (Psalm 90:7-17).
Asaph also learned this lesson:
When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:21-28).
King Solomon, the richest and most successful man who ever lived, concluded that life is futile and that only seeking and serving God makes sense:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun, the light, the moon, and the starts are darkened, and clouds return after the rain; in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim; and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly. Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, 13-14).
May the reality of sin and its consequences cause you suffering and groaning. And may this turn your heart to God and your hope toward heaven. May you know as the psalmist that “the nearness of God is my good” and the sufferings of this life but a small thing in light of the blessings awaiting you in that day of the revelation of the Son of God and the sons of God.
189 Our older daughter Beth tells how she and her partner in this venture got their canoe lodged between two trees. She and the other girl had a good cry and then went on.
190 As pointed out in our last lesson, sonship involves reigning over God’s creation. For the Christian, this means sharing in the reign of Christ over all creation when He returns in power and glory.
191 Let us not forget that suffering was also a necessary part of the preparation of the Son of God (see Hebrews 5:5-10).
192 The same term is employed here by Paul as is found in Romans 6:11, numerous times in chapter 4, and elsewhere in Romans.
193 The carbon dating process, for example, is one which measures time according to the rate of deterioration of the materials being dated.
194 The Holy Spirit does, of course, produce these happy and upbeat experiences. But this is not the only evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power. The Holy Spirit can also produce groaning, as Paul teaches us here.
195 Prosperity should turn our hearts to God as well, in grateful thanksgiving and praise.
196 There are a number of biblical texts which speak of creation’s role in praising God. See, for example, Psalm 96:11-13; 97:1; 98:8; Isaiah 44:23; 49:13; 55:12; 1 Chronicles 16:30-34. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem as the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the people praised Him. And when the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples and to stop them from their praise, He responded, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:4). I wonder if in the revelation of the sons of God, the rocks will actually cry out. Somehow, I believe, all creation will enter into the praise of God.
Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution