MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 15, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:18-25
This week, we pick up where we left off last week in Romans 8:18-25. Up to this point in this chapter, Paul has discussed five characteristics of a child of God. The characteristic that he has chosen to zero in on for an extended treatment is that a child of God suffers with Christ. In verse 17, Paul 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.” That truth, that Christians must first share in Christ’s sufferings in order for them to share in his glory leads Paul into a treatment of suffering for Christ. His remedy for suffering, the predominant remedy for much of church history, is all but unheard of today in the church. Paul’s remedy is not to avoid the suffering. It is not to elevate our self esteem so we can handle the suffering. It is not to go into denial, pretending the pain of suffering doesn’t exist by stuffing it away. Paul’s remedy—the biblical remedy for suffering for being obedient to Christ is found in verses 18-25.
Paul’s message is that as we experience the bumpy road of suffering for Christ, we can find shock absorbers for the ride by looking to eternity and to specific, glorious promises made to us about eternity. Meditating upon and claiming these promises will enable us to see that anything painful we experience here is a drop in the bucket in comparison to what we will experience when we share in the glory of Christ at the resurrection. As Paul relates some of the specifics of what we will experience in glory, his primary focus is on the glory that will be revealed in the church of Christ when their salvation process is gloriously completed. What Paul calls “the revealing of the sons of God,” that moment when people who were formerly sin blackened, treasonous rebels stand together before the heavenly host, completely transformed by the blood of Christ, with new Christ-like bodies--that moment will be so glorious that all our suffering will fade into oblivion in its wake. When Jesus Christ, the first born of God, stands with his transformed church, that glory will swallow up the comparatively light and momentary afflictions of living for Christ in this world. The implication for us is that we need to be allowing our minds and hearts to be captivated with this vision of heavenly glory. That will enable us to embrace any suffering for Christ we do in this life.
In addition to the glorious hope conveyed in this vision of the transformed church, Paul also highlights another future, glorious transformation in this text, the anticipation of which should give us strength to endure the sufferings of following Christ. Once again, let’s go to the text asking this question of it—What is so magnificent about the future glory that it would encourage us to endure suffering today? Paul says beginning with verse 18, “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.”
The second glorious promise of our future, which Paul indicates has power to encourage us to willingly endure the suffering of this life is this: The future, glorious revelation of the redeemed non-human creation of God. Not only will humanity be completely redeemed, but the curse will also be removed from this created world. This only makes sense when you think about the curse of sin. The only reason the ground is cursed is because of the sin of Adam. After the Fall of man in Genesis 3:17-19, God tells Adam, “…Cursed in the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread...” Paul reiterates in verse 20 that God subjected this world to the frustration of the curse.
You see, the curse of both Adam and Eve was related to their primary responsibilities in the garden. Eve was given two roles in the garden; to be Adam’s helpmeet and to be the mother of the human race. So her curse effected her marriage “…your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” and her role as a mother, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children.” Do you see the correlation? Adam’s responsibility was to “work [the ground] and take care of it.” So the consequence of his sin was related to his responsibility—the ground he was called to work was defiled and distorted, causing him to have to work much harder. That means, not just the people of this world, but the world itself is under a curse and suffers the effects of it to this day.
Now, as we pointed out last week, the advent of advances in medicine has caused us to fail to appreciate how badly in need these bodies are of redemption. But it is also true that technological advances have reduced the painful effects of the curse in this environmental area as well. We just cannot appreciate the tremendous work involved in, for instance, clearing a piece of ground without chain saws and front end loaders. As hard as that work is with those tools of technology, it doesn’t hold a candle to when that same work is done in a culture using dull axes and shovels. Technology has reduced the practical effects of the curse in this area and we are grateful for that, but there are other areas, even with modern technology, where the curse of sin on this natural world is still powerfully felt.
All the technology in the world cannot stop a flash flood or a tornado or an earthquake or a blizzard. These killers wreck horrendous damage each year and claim thousands of lives. The land is cursed. Some snakes and spiders are lethal if they bite you—that’s a curse. We don’t often think about it, but this is a violent world. And I don’t mean only in the inner city. Go to the “peaceful” wilderness areas where one animal savagely stalks another animal to ingest the protein its flesh will supply to its body. There is a violently adversarial relationship which exists between many species. We call it “the food chain” and Jesus acknowledges its reality when he blessed all foods for consumption, but it’s a result of the fall. We view it as a normal part of reality, but we must never forget that it is part of sinful reality. According to Isaiah 65, after this world is redeemed, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” Predator and prey will be an unknown relationship in the redeemed world.
When Adam sinned, the ground, when it was cursed, was changed in its character in an essential way. Before the curse it was cooperative and compliant to the desires of Adam. After the curse, it was in an essentially opposing position to Adam’s wishes. There was an essential change for the worse. We can’t imagine how the Boundary Waters or the Grand Canyon could be tainted by the fall. They are so pristine and seemingly untainted, but as gorgeous as they are, they are to use Paul’s words in “bondage to decay.” Go to one of your favorite scenic areas and look out over it and say to yourself, “this is in bondage to the decaying effect of sin—sin has defiled this place.” It makes you wonder what God originally intended it to look like! The creation exists in a state of “frustration” or “futility” according to verse 19 and Paul personifies the creation, saying that it waits in eager expectation, it groans like a pregnant woman in labor, awaiting this future transformation. We rightly look at the wonder of nature and give glory to God for its sublime beauty. But according to Paul, if nature were able to express feelings about itself compared to what it was before the talons of sin dug into it, it would say, “We are so dirty, so tainted, so far from being able to fulfill our purpose in bringing maximum glory to God—when will we be restored!?”
The power of sin over this world is seen not only in the essential change which took place in the ground at the Fall. But this world is also grossly effected by the sin of man on it. We see this in the ravages of air and water pollution which can have a devastating effect on the ecosystems. But we also see this in the moral pollution which sinful humanity brings to the earth. We don’t think about the fact that the land can be tainted morally. How can a material thing like the land be tainted by an immaterial thing like sin? But the Bible clearly teaches that, in God’s sight, the land is strongly effected by the sin of man. We see this especially in the case of murder. In Genesis 4:10, Cain murders Abel and God responds by saying, “…Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Numbers 35:33 says, “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land,”
This relationship between the land and sin still exists. It is utterly paralyzing to think about the merciless, piercing, echoing scream which rises to God’s throne from the ground soaked with the blood of nearly 4000 babies who are killed every day in our nation. We see this effect of the sin of humanity on a locality in the book of Revelation. There are two cities spotlighted in the book. One is called Babylon and the other is the New Jerusalem. Babylon, which most commentators identify as Rome is filled with the stench of sin. John says the city is “drunk with the blood of the saints.” The blood of Christian martyrs stains the ground. Babylon is a city—a place, yet it is pictured as defiled with blood and ripe for judgment. The sin of the inhabitants has despoiled the place and it is characterized by the name, “the great prostitute” or “the harlot.” It has been a place thoroughly tainted by the sin of fallen humanity. Like a prostitute, it has a gaudy, counterfeit beauty which is temporary and used for the purpose of seduction. It bears no good fruit and is designed to provide cheap, short term delights after which it is to be discarded. All this because of the sin of its inhabitants.
The other city is the New Jerusalem. It will be the restored world, the dwelling place of God and it is called, not “the harlot,” but is characterized by the term “the bride.” The bride is pure, created for lengthy, satisfying relationship. It is not tawdry, but pristine and elegant. Babylon is emblematic of this world tainted by sin—it’s a harlot, sullying itself as it energetically chases after the gods of this world. The New Jerusalem represents that this new, redeemed world will be as a bride. Think about those two pictures and see the tremendous contrast. By extension, Paul says in Romans eight, we are to think about this world being transformed from a filthy harlot, thanks to sin, to a pristine bride. That is the difference between what we now see and what this place will be like after it is restored.
The best illustration I could think of this glorious work comes from an unlikely source. In the movie, “The Beauty and the Beast” there is a scene where a magic curse is lifted from the prince’s castle and all its furnishings and surroundings. It is a stunning animated scene as you see all the filth of the curse consumed by light. The ugly gargoyles are changed back into elegant figures and the entire place just radiates with light and life. Every time I see that scene, I get shivers down my spine because I think about this final transformation of this sin soaked world. As inspiring as that scene is, Walt Disney is a rank amateur at creating a spectacle of redemption compared to the Lord of glory. This transformation scene in the movie is a faint shadow of what will occur when the curse is lifted and we all look around and see this place without the defiling effects of sin.
It will be glorious and it will be even more glorious when you think about the crowning glory of creation, the glory revealed in the redemption of the church of Christ. The picture of a glorified world under the feet of a glorified, Christ and His glorified church just shreds the imagination. From what we get here in this text, this vision of glory is what enabled Paul to look his tremendous suffering in the face and triumphantly exude, “this pain is NOTHING compared to the glory that will be revealed to us!” By application, we MUST consider this transformation—this should be part of our lives, our consciousness. If this has captured our minds and our hearts, Paul says it will motivate us to endure the suffering we experience in this fallen, tainted world. Do we think about this? Do we spend time meditating on the glories of heaven and the completion of God’s redemptive work? Remember, the “Heaven should be in the saint long before the saint is in heaven.” We should be people with our feet planted squarely on earth, but our heads should be breathing the air of heaven.
Paul concludes his treatment of this truth in verse 23-25 where he says, 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.” In this last section, Paul ties the present suffering to the future glory by the use of this word “hope.” Now, hope in the Bible does not mean what it frequently means in common parlance. To say, “I hope the Twins break 500 this year.” That is a wish (frankly, it’s a pipe dream) but unfortunately that is the way we most often use the word “hope.” Biblically defined, if you are hoping in something, you are certain it will come to pass. It is simply in the future—it hasn’t yet happened, but it WILL happen.
If a daddy tells his two-year old he will be home for dinner in an hour, the two year old doesn’t bite his finger nails off worrying whether dad will get home or not. No, if daddy said it, its true and he will keep pestering mommy about when daddy when the hour will be up. He stands by the door in expectation, in HOPE of daddy’s return. That is hope—there is no doubt, but there IS a standing-on-tiptoe anticipation of this event. Paul is simply stating that part of being a Christian, part of faith is this hope and if you are a Christian you will have this hope. “In this hope we were saved.” Now, we have the Holy Spirit, which is the first fruits guaranteeing that the rest of our salvation will occur as it has been promised. Now, as we look to the future, we hope in the completion of the redemption of the church and the world. If we could see all this stuff physically, it wouldn’t be hope. Hope is an element of faith.
Paul here exposes one of the biggest reason why Christians draw so little comfort in their suffering from the truth in this text. We said last week one reason why we draw so little hope from this text is because, for so many people, this world is their home. Why would they inwardly groan for the redemption of their bodies and the created order when they have sunk their roots down so deep in this fallen world? The wonders of technology have taken the sting out of many of the effects of the curse both in body and in how we relate to this world. So many in the church are warm and cozy here. They don’t groan—they say things like, “I hope Jesus comes back AFTER my kid graduates from high school.” Forget about the Sudanese Christians who are being sold as slaves and for whom the return of Christ would be a heaven sent liberation. Forget about countless other believers on this planet for whom this world is a tortuous, dreadful place—I want to go to junior’s graduation! “I hope the Lord doesn’t return until AFTER I get grandkids.” These people are hoping more in events of this life than events of the life to come. Why on earth would a person who would say something as self centered as that groan inwardly for a new body without sin and a new world? They are having a party here.
Part of the issue is this one of being way too much at home in this world. But another reason why this future glory does so little to motivate Christians to suffer for Christ is because, we have allowed the prevalent, instant gratification of this world to harden us against the practice of hoping in God’s future glory. A person gets impatient when it takes his computer five seconds instead of two to change programs. How can a person like that, so conditioned to the instant gratification of this world, find motivation for suffering by looking to a time, perhaps 70 years in the future and hoping in it? This entire text assumes that something in the future, perhaps distant future has the power to influence us to suffer today. It assumes that this person is motivated by the promise of delayed gratification.
The value system which is motivated by the promise of delayed gratification is constantly being challenged by this world with its stress on instant everything. A person just can’t wait until they have saved enough money to buy the latest gizmo or gadget, but instead puts it on his credit card at 18.5% interest so he can have it in their hands today because they want it today. How can a person like that, who is so permeated with an instant gratification mindset, find much encouragement by hoping in something perhaps decades away? One of the biggest threats to the Christian faith in the West is tragically often overlooked. Its not worldliness or greed or materialism, although those things are venomous, its impatience. The largest curse of easy credit is NOT financial ruin, but the way it feeds and nourishes our impatience which kills our faith.
If you are impatient, you are at best a spiritual infant because the Christian life is all about faith and faith implies waiting and hoping in something in the future you cannot see—like the glories of this future transformation. We must be so careful as we use the time saving, instant gratification tools of the age like email. Once you’ve used email, regular mail becomes “snail mail.” Can you believe it takes four days for a card to get from here to Ohio—that’s so slow! A hundred plus years ago it would have taken four weeks! Now, four days is a lifetime to some people—a horrible inconvenience. We must be so careful as we use these instant gratification tools, that we do not become seduced by the value system behind them which would seek to suck out of us the hope we place in the promised blessings of the future.
We were saved in hope. We have possession of part of our redemption now. The rest waits for us and it is glorious and our hope in it should have a profound effect on us. We are called to be a people who, according to verse 25 “wait patiently,” hoping for the glories to come. We are to be hoping in it so strongly that it provides motivating power for us today to enable us to make the difficult choice to suffer and maybe even die for Christ. Is that where we are? If we are not, we must repent of our idolatry to the things of this fallen world. We must repent of our impatient, instant gratification mindset which chases thoughts of the future out of our minds. And we must allow, not the things of this vile world, but the glories of our eternity with Christ to shape our attitudes about today, especially suffering for Christ. May God give us grace to do that.
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