MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 8, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:18-25
In Romans eight these past few weeks, we have seen that part of what it means to be a child of God is to suffer with Christ. Verse 17 says, “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.” Being an heir of God and sharing in the glory of Christ are wonderful promises the child of God can claim as his or her own. But, as we’ve seen, those future blessings are conditioned upon our suffering for Christ in this life. Those who, through obedience to Christ, suffer with Christ in the here and now are those who share in his future glory. That does not mean that suffering saves us. We are saved by grace through faith. But we have seen that only children of God will share in the future glory of Christ and part of what authenticates a person as a genuine child of God is that they suffer for Christ. Because suffering is a mark of a child of God and only children of God will share in the future glories of Christ, that means that suffering is a condition of receiving an inheritance from God.
That is a hard truth, especially for a North American church located in a culture which identifies suffering with failure and where the value system screams at us to do whatever is necessary to AVOID suffering. That current runs completely against the flow of New Testament teaching on suffering. To the degree that we have been influenced by the culture (and we all have to some degree) is the degree that we will fail to obey Christ when obedience means suffering in some way. And if a person consistently shuns opportunities to obey God in ways that suffering, they are only giving evidence that they are not a child of God. How?…because God’s children suffer in this life. Now, as we’ve said before, obedience is also the only way for people to know “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” But the suffering is as much a reality in this life for the child of God as the joy is, as much as that cuts across the grain of our self-centered hearts whose fires are stoked by the bellows of a self centered culture.
But Paul doesn’t leave us with just this hard fact about the necessity of suffering for the child of God. He brings balance into the picture by placing suffering in its proper context—a context, that when we understand and believe it, helps alleviate the pain of the suffering. As we said last week, Paul, by helping us see suffering from God’s perspective, gives us a set of shock absorbers which enable us to ride over with much less pain, the bumps which obedience to God bring to our lives as God’s children. Let’s look again at this text which gives us some of the tools we need to be able, by God’s grace, to look suffering for Christ in the face and say, “I will gladly endure this.”
Beginning with verse 18, Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Paul’s point in this text is to say that we can endure the suffering of this life as we keep our focus, not on the suffering itself, but on what is to come—the glory that awaits us. This heaven-informed perspective is crucial if we are to endure the suffering that will come to each of us as we seek to obey Christ. Last week, we painted this message with very broad strokes. We said that the reality of heaven should be constantly intruding into our lives and strengthening us to, for Christ’s sake, make decisions which will bring suffering to us. Heaven should NOT be seen as only a final destination we are headed for someday in the sweet by and by. It should be a huge part of our Christian consciences and world view every day. Borrowing from Jonathan Edwards, we said that as we climb this mountain of the Christian life, we should keep our eyes fixed on the glory that radiates from the top of the mountain, rather than be fixated on the crags and jagged rocks and skinned knees we experience in this life. That will make this difficult climb so much easier.
This week, we look more closely at the text to see what specifically is there about the future that should give us such hope so as to lighten the sufferings of this life. The question we want to ask of this text is just that. What is so magnificent about our future glory that it would motivate us to endure suffering today? Last week, we briefly reflected on the tremendous suffering of the apostle Paul. As he allowed the truth about future glory to invade his life, what was it about the glory of heaven that enabled him to look at his past, present and future sufferings and say, “This is nothing compared to the glory that will come.” When Paul was stuck in those dark, mud filled, bacteria infested local prisons, the flesh on his back hanging from his ribs from a flogging, what was it he thought about to take the sting out and motivate him to keep preaching Christ?
The first and only answer to the question we will see this morning is, The future, glorious revelation of the children of God as their adoption is brought to completion. In verse 18 Paul contrasts “our present sufferings with “the glory that will be revealed in us.” In verse 19 he puts a little flesh on what that means when he says literally “the revealing of the sons of God.” In verse 23, he gives a bit more detail when he describes this as “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” That gives us a more complete picture, although it is not in any way comprehensive. Here’s part of what gave Paul the motivation and what Paul says should give us the motivation to suffer with Christ—the truth that the elect of God will have their adoption as God’s children completed. That spectacle, that reality of God’s children being completely transformed to look like Christ. Now, we look like Christ in Spirit, then we will resemble him in body. Now, we look like Adam bodily, then we will look like Christ. We’ll talk more about what that means, but for now we know this—our physical bodies will be redeemed just as our spirits have been redeemed now. This is promise is inspiringly glorious for Paul.
Now, let me ask you a question. If, tomorrow you were to face a situation where being obedient to Christ meant suffering great affliction and maybe even death and you were struggling with your decision, would this promise of our future, bodily transformation inspire you to obey? Would the prospect of having a new, better body be a great motivating factor to influence you to give up your life for Christ? To be honest, it wouldn’t help me. And my guess is, it wouldn’t do much to help any of us. Why is that? Why is this, which Paul indicates has such motivating power, seem to be largely lost today? Part of the answer is because this physical transformation is only part of what provides motivational power and we will get to the other parts next week, Lord willing. But another reason why the glorification of our bodies—the removal of the curse and the transformation of our bodies to be like the body of the glorified Jesus—has so little power to inspire us has to do with our perception of these current, physical bodies. Our perception of these physical bodies has a profound impact on how we feel about our need for a new body. And our perception of these physical bodies is shaped by factors that people living in the first century did not have. And frankly, people in the first century had, because of their circumstances, a much more biblically accurate understanding of these physical bodies than many of us do.
For instance, many people in this room, if you had lived in the first century, would have died at birth. I would guess that some of the mothers here would have died in childbirth. Many of us would have died from what are today easily curable childhood ailments. Many of us who have had bad infections requiring antibodies would be dead. Almost all of us who have needed major surgery would be dead. And as we died, there would be very little in the way of comfort-giving medications—no aspirin, no morphine, no high powered pain killers. Many of us would have died horrible, early, pain racked deaths--our bodies going to the grave contorted by the anguish of physical pain. There was no oxygen, no hospital beds, no ambulances, no root canals and no effective surgical techniques. In the first century, unlike today, they were under no illusions about just how fallen and frail these bodies of ours are and how desperately they are in need of redemption.
Today, thanks to the wonders of medicine and the age-slowing nutritional and fitness information we have, these bodies live lives that are much longer, much healthier, and much less painful than in the past. One of the few things that reminds us of the frailties of these bodies is the enduring fact that these bodies are no match for speeding vehicles or the force of gravity or other physical traumas. But those don’t happen very often and so it is easy for us to walk around with this exaggerated view of our own physical, bodily prowess. If we lived in any other age, this promise of a new body would hold much more motivating power than it does today.
So what is the answer? Are we, who live in this modern era just out of luck? Is there no way for us to see the wonder and be motivated by the promise of a transformed body in glory? Not at all. It just means that, instead of allowing our medically advanced culture shape our understanding of the frailty of our bodies, we go to Scripture. What does the Scripture have to say about these “magnificent,” physical specimens? There are many lines of evidence, but the one word that pretty much sums it up as far as a biblical appraisal of our physical bodies goes is…dust. Our physical bodies are compared to dust dozens of times in Scripture. As far as I know, it is the most frequently used term to convey the frailty of our bodies.
We see this way back at the creation account in Genesis 3:19 when God curses Adam saying, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." “For dust you are…” That is NOT a compliment! He is pointing out that Adam (and the rest of us) are fashioned from dirt and not just dirt, but dust. You can grow things in the dirt, but dust isn’t good for hardly anything. Try going into Wal-Mart and paying for a candy bar with dust. You can’t eat it, you can’t do hardly anything except let your kids play in it. And then you have to wash it off of them because you don’t want it smudging the sofa. We don’t want it on our furniture, our food or workplaces. Dust is mostly a nuisance. But God says, “DUST You are.”
We see this again and again in Scripture. Psalm 103:14 says, “For He [God] himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” Our physical lives are described in terms of dust. In Psalm 90:3 the author says to God, “You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men." We came from the dust and when we die, we turn back into dust and if you don’t believe that, its because you’ve never seen cremanes. That is, what is left after a body is cremated—dust. In Second Corinthians four, Paul compares these bodies to “earthen vessels”—clay pots. What is clay? Wet dust clumped together. That is how we are to view these bodies, as dust. Now, we are to be good stewards of these bodies and someone may respond, “But doesn’t the Bible say that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made?” Of course it does, but that is not a direct tribute to our bodies, but to the One who made them. No one can do more with dust than God. That’s the whole point. There is real beauty and incredible intricacy in the human form. But what makes these bodies such a profound wonder is that God used dust to put us together. To say that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” draws attention to the glory of our Creator, not these bodies.
If you want to see just how frail these bodies are, simply compare them to angelic bodies. The Bible tells us that angels can fly, they can pass through walls. Just one of them can kill 1000’s of people at once. They can be invisible. They can cross the time/space dimension between heaven and earth. They can change their size. We can’t do any of those things. We laud our physical accomplishments—we can produce a man who can run nearly 30 miles an hour for very short distances. We can long jump nearly 30 feet. We can hit a speeding baseball, we can lift maybe twice our own body weight. Those feats are very impressive to us. How does that compare with flying, passing through walls, dramatically shrinking or moving between heaven and earth? The human body is rendered as helpless as a kitten by things like a tiny speck of dirty in the eye, a tablespoon of water down the lung and a good stub to the little toe. Let’s face it, compared to spiritual beings we are wimps on a cosmic scale.
But for the church, all that will change at the resurrection. Paul, in First Corinthians 15 tells us in more detail what this transformation will look like. Beginning in verse 42 he says, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Paul goes on to say that our present bodies are like Adam’s, “of the dust of the earth.” Our new bodies will be like Christ’s and are from heaven. Not only will the curse be removed so there will be no more sickness or pain, but these bodies will be even better bodies than Adam’s before the Fall. The reason is because they will not be formed of the dust of the earth, but of the stuff of heaven and will be just like Jesus’ glorified body in that sense. This does NOT mean anything heretical like we will be gods or in any way equal to Christ. That is heresy and should be condemned wherever it is taught. But this WILL be a glorious scene that is intended NOT to puff us up, but on the contrary, to motivate us to humble ourselves--to suffer for Christ. THIS glorious reality is awaiting us. We need to be thinking about this glory, allowing it to be fuel for our tanks and shock absorbers for the bumps.
But we have to get the whole part of this glorious picture. What Paul looked forward to was not primarily the transformation of his own, individual body. What motivated Paul was this picture of the entire body of Christ being transformed and displayed as a group for the glory of God before all the heavenly creatures. We cannot possibly imagine the spectacle of this. This group of people who are now perishable, weak, and of the dust of this earth, will be revealed as people who radiate with the glory of God. In the words of verse 17, this group will share His glory. God will be there with all His spiritual offspring and they will all glow with the resplendent radiance of His first born Son, Jesus Christ. Picture that.
They will show forth the glory of God’s redemptive power. Think about this scene in the context of redemptive history. Just who is God making these glorious creatures out of? Dust, we know, but much lower than dust because of the ravages of the Fall and sin. This display of the glorious children of God will be far more than a testimonial to God’s power to physically transform dust to glory. This glorious display will stand as evidence of something of the depths of the redemptive power of God. When we see what God intends us to be, then and only then will we be able to appreciate just how much God has done through his redeeming work at Calvary through Christ.
God can take creatures who, to quote what Paul has said earlier, are in rebellion against Him, who “exchanged the glory of immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” These who would rather worship pictures of lizards, now stand in the glory of Christ. These who “were given over in their sinful desires to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another,” now stand before their Heavenly Father with glorified, purified, unblemished spiritual bodies. These, who were so full of rebellion against God that they “invented ways of doing evil”--they used God’s gift of creative power to fashion weapons against Him. These now are presented as God’s glorified, adopted holy family. These people, “whose throats were open graves, whose tongues practice deceit,” whose lips were full snake poison, whose “mouths were full of cursing and bitterness” now stand as glorified worshippers of God whose lips will always and only give perfect praise and honor to God and to the Lamb.
You see, we will not know the transforming power of the blood of Christ until we see what we will be finally transformed into. Paul tells us that we will gladly suffer for Christ as we think about the extent of His worth in transforming dust into glory, sinners into saints, slaves into sons. In Second Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul describes both this truth as well as what the believer’s response to it should be. As we read it, ask yourself, “Does this describe my response to the promise of the glorification of my body?”
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Paul describes an attitude that he implies should be universal among all believers. That is, a groaning, a longing for the immortal, bodily life that will come at the resurrection when Jesus comes back. Do we long, not only for his appearing, but also for this new set of bodily clothes He has prepared for His bride? We should be and its as we long for this, as we think about this, allow it to capture our minds and our wills that this glorious truth will be able to motivate us to make decisions that bring suffering for Christ. This whole concept is foreign for so much of the church in North America. Not only the necessity of suffering, but also the hope that is provided by the promise of glorified bodies. Paul implies that these truths should be part of our every day life, playing a crucial role in making us willing to suffer for Christ, so that we may be glorified with Him. May God grant us the grace that these truths may play that crucial role in our lives for His glory.
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