Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 14, 1991
Purpose: To help us live triumphantly in times of trials by understanding the certainty of our future glory.
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 cheaper 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 bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."
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 tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, 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. Paul mentions groaning three times in this passage (verses 22, 23, 26). To groan is to express 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.
There are three groans in this passage, and each of the three is going to be transformed into glory.
The Creation Groans
The passage begins with a general statement about the comparative significance of suffering and glory.
Romans 8:18. "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."
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 affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (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. Romans 8:19. "For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God."
That glory is going to be so great that the whole creation looks forward to it. By "creation" Paul means the sum total of all sub-human nature, both animate and inanimate. "Nature," in other words. He pictures nature as standing on its tip-toes with its head craning forward ("earnest expectation"), eagerly awaiting this remarkable event--"the revealing of the sons of God" (that corresponds to "the glory that shall be revealed in us"). We already are the sons of God, but when Christ returns, that will be manifest openly for all to see.
Unfortunately, not everybody sees it right now. John said that, too: "...it has not yet been revealed what we shall be" (1 John 3:2).
That should help you when some professing Christian gossips behind your back, or criticizes you severely, or speaks to you sharply and unkindly. You can think to yourself, "Well, he may be a child of God, but unfortunately that won't be fully revealed until glory, when he becomes like Christ."
And even nature looks forward to the day when it shall be revealed. Because the deliverance of nature itself is tied to the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Romans 8:20. "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope."
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.
Romans 8:21. "Because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
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." Scientists call it the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is running down. And man is speeding up the process.
In January, 1989, TIME magazine named earth "planet of the year" because of the abuse it has taken from mankind. We have hunted hundreds of animals into extinction. We have nearly destroyed the ozone layer, letting in deadly radiation from the sun. We have dumped tons of pollutants into the atmosphere and the oceans. We have destroyed the forests that cleanse the air, prevent erosion of the soil, and provide a home for millions of species of plants and animals.
There's only one way to describe it. Romans 8:22. "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."
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).
If that is earth's destiny, it would seem sensible for us to begin preparing for that day by being responsible stewards of the earth today--protecting it, preserving it, and treating it with sensitivity and care.
So, creation groans. But someday it will be delivered from its bondage to corruption--the day when the sons of God enter into their glory.
The Believer Groans
Romans 8:23. "Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body."
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).
Many of you have suffered painful and/or terminal illnesses and you can identify with what Paul is saying here. I groaned in my spirit when I learned that I had multiple myeloma. I have groaned in my spirit at the discomfort I have experienced. I have groaned in my spirit over the chemo-therapy the doctors have administered, which at times can be worse than the disease. I have groaned in my spirit when I have talked to other myeloma patients whose disease was more advanced than mine and who were suffering severe pain. I have groaned in my spirit when I have talked with the bereaved survivors of myeloma patients who have passed away. I understand a little of what Paul was saying.
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!
Romans 8:24-25. "For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."
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.
We've seen that the creation groans, but someday will experience glory. And the believer groans, but someday will experience glory. There is one more mention of groaning in the passage.
The Spirit Groans
Romans 8:26. "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
We've been talking about our weaknesses. We have lots of them. And one of them is our ignorance about prayer. In fact we don't even know what to pray for in our times of trial. We may think we know what we need, but we often discover that we really don't. We may ask to be spared from things that we think are unpleasant when they actually turn out to be good for us. And we may ask for things that we think will be good for us when they actually turn out to be harmful. We're like little children in that regard.
When we were in Ethiopia with our grandchildren, David wanted to use a big butcher knife to cut his passion fruit. But he was only three years old and couldn't handle a knife that big and that sharp without cutting off a finger. So as much as he screamed for it, we wouldn't give it to him. We would have been crazy to give it to him. He didn't know the proper thing to ask for.
And neither do we. But we have a friend who knows exactly what we need. And He lives in our hearts. He's with us all the time. And since He is the Spirit of God, He is omniscient. He knows everything; He knows the future; He knows what will turn out to be best for us. So He prays for exactly the right thing. It may be different from what we are praying for. But it is the prayer that will be answered, because it is what is best.
Romans 8:27. "Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God."
What the Spirit requests is "according to the will of God." How could He not answer it?
William Hendriksen, in his commentary on Romans, tells a story that illustrates this great truth. It has no relevance to my situation, but I find it extremely interesting. It's about a pastor who was loved by his people, but who became grievously ill. The congregation prayed, "Lord, please restore him to health." But he didn't get well. He died. At the funeral a visiting minister who had been a lifelong friend of the pastor made this remark to the grieving congregation: "Perhaps some of you are in danger of arriving at the conclusion that the heavenly Father does not hear prayer. He does indeed hear prayer, however. But in this particular case two prayers were probably opposing each other. You were praying, 'O God, spare his life, for we need him so badly.' The Spirit's unspoken prayer was, 'Take him away, for the congregation is leaning altogether too heavily upon him, not upon Thee.' And the Father heard that prayer" (p. 274).
It's possible that you've been praying for something you thought was best, but God has done the very opposite. Maybe it was taking a loved one from you. Maybe it was allowing to lose an investment or something else that you were praying very diligently about and had asked for. It could be because the Spirit knows better your need than you do, and the Father is answering His prayer rather than yours.
Maybe you're thinking, "Well, if I don't know what to pray for, and the Spirit does, why should I pray at all? Why not just let Him do my praying for me?"
Why not? Simply because God commands us to pray. He wants to do great things for us, and He wants to do them in answer to prayer. So we do our best, even though there are times when we don't know what to pray for as we ought. And when we don't, the Spirit is right there making intercession for us, according to the will of God.
Did you realize that we have two divine intercessors? The Lord Jesus is praying for us in heaven (refer to Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25). And the Holy Spirit is praying for us on earth; He lives within us. I'm grateful for everyone who prays for me. I have no doubt that everything worthwhile that has ever been accomplished through my life and ministry has been in answer to somebody's prayer. But I am most grateful of all for these two divine prayer warriors: the Spirit and the Son. They know what I need better than anybody else. They are praying for exactly what I need.
Did you notice that the Spirit's petitions are made with unutterable groanings? Some have suggested that this refers to praying in tongues, but that hardly fits the context. For one thing, it is the Spirit who is praying here, not people. And for another, this prayer is not expressed in words. Prayers in tongues are obviously expressed in words; whether they be human languages or ecstatic speech. This is the Spirit praying without words. It is obviously not tongues; it has nothing to do with tongues.
But it is the third groan in the passage, and this time it is the Spirit who groans. He grieves with us over our problems, over our trials, over our pain, over our weaknesses and over our sins. And He longs for the day when we will be delivered from every trace of sin, and will glorify God forever and ever in the perfection of holiness and joy (Hendriksen, 276). He looks forward to the day when we shall enter into our glory. His groaning will result in our glory.
It's a sure thing! The Father hears and answers His prayers even though not a word is uttered. Isn't that incredible? Paul teaches us that the Father and the Spirit know one another's minds so completely, and they are in such perfect touch with each another, that the Spirit doesn't even need to speak a word. The Father understands His unspoken groanings, and He will answer them. And ultimately those groanings will bring us to glory. The next three verses assure us of that. We'll talk about them in the next message.
But for right now, consider this: Christian, you are destined for glory. Indescribable brilliance and beauty! Perfect holiness and sinlessness! Exalted position and power! Unlimited joy and happiness! Christlikeness! Destined for glory.
1 John 3:2. "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Why not begin to live right now in the light of what we shall be, maybe soon? Maybe very soon.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you have never trusted Christ as Savior, there is no hope that your groaning will ever turn to glory. The Bible makes that very clear. In fact, your groaning will only intensify. Jesus spoke of a place where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for eternity. That's a description of incredible pain and suffering, and it's for those who spurn His gracious offer of salvation. Won't you trust Him? Please don't ignore Him any longer.
He sent His Son to die in your place on Calvary's cross and now He offers you forgiveness and everlasting life if you will acknowledge your sin and trust in Him. If you've not done that, we plead with you to do it today. Let's bow our heads and hearts prayerfully in His presence.
With our heads bowed, let's talk about that issue. Do you know Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior from sin? Do you have the assurance--the hope, as the Bible calls it--of eternity in God's presence in His glorious heaven. If not, will you take Him at His word today? That's what faith is. It's taking Him at His word. Will you turn from your sin to Him in faith? Will you settle it in prayer right now, just in the quiet of your own soul.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus paid for my sin at Calvary. Lord Jesus, I'm trusting You right now. Come into my heart and save me from sin."
Christian, does this future glory ever enter your mind? Does it have any impact on the way you're living today? Will you covenant with God that you're going to live in the light of eternity, with eternity's values in view? Make that commitment to Him right now, will you?
Father, I pray that those who have never come to know the Savior will trust Him today and receive Him. And that those who have, will renew that commitment to live with eternity's values in view. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 15: From Groaning to Glory (Part 2)