Romans 8:18–23 (ESV) — 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Paul uses verse 18 to outline and frame his thoughts in verses 29-21.
- He does so by presenting yet another now and not yet motif.
- He speaks of the “sufferings of this present time” – the now.
- He speaks of the “the glory that is to be revealed to us” – the not yet.
In verses 19-23, he fills out what he started.
- “Sufferings of this present time” – vs. 18.
- “Creation…subjected to futility” – vs. 20.
- Creation is in a “bondage to corruption” – vs. 21.
- Romans 8:22 (ESV) — 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
- We, “groan inwardly” – vs. 23.
The Not Yet:
- “Glory that is to be revealed in us” – vs. 18.
- “Revealing of the sons of God” – vs. 19.
- Romans 8:21 (ESV) — 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
- We, “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” – vs. 23.
Observing these two distinctions is significant enough.
- The future for those in Christ is going to be pretty awesome.
But Paul didn’t speak of them just to be observed.
- He wants them to be tasted and savored.
- So we need to dive deep into a few of the ideas Paul has raised.
The “Now” Stuff – Suffering, Corruption, Groaning:
Paul makes quite a few allusions to The Fall.
- Three highlights of The Fall ground much of what Paul is saying in Romans 8.
- Genesis 3:17b (ESV) — 17b …cursed is the ground because of you…
- Genesis 3:19b (ESV) — 19b …for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
- Genesis 3:23–24b (ESV) — 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24b He drove out the man…
These three excerpts capture the “now” that Paul is contending with in Romans 8.
- (1) Creation has been corrupted and warped due to sin.
- (2) God’s image bearers will die.
- (3) God’s image bearers have been expelled from the presence, blessing and life of God and have corrupted creation.
He spoke of these things previously in Romans 5.
- Romans 5:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
Adam sinned; Adam was exiled from the Garden; Adam died.
- We, therefore, were born in exile, so we sin and we die.
The fact of our death is why Paul laments in Romans 7 and in Romans 8:
- Romans 7:24 (ESV) — 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
- Romans 8:10 (ESV) — 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
So, lets deal with two questions that pop out.
- To dive deep in God’s word – you have to question it!
- Don’t worry, it can take it; its not going to break.
What does it mean that “creation has been groaning” and that we “groan inwardly”?
The BDAG gives us a couple of ideas:
- “to groan together with, lament, groan”
- “to express oneself involuntarily in the face of an undesirable circumstance, sigh, groan”
The EDNT puts it this way:
- Groaning is “a powerful metaphor for the dejection and powerless yearning of believers in their present suffering”.
Simple enough, but these lead to more questions.
How does creation groan?
- It seems the idea is that its current “cursed” condition is the expression of its groaning.
- And such language points to the cosmic size of The Fall.
- Which would mean the solution has to be cosmic in scope.
Why do we groan “inwardly”?
- Given the fact that inwardly we are indwelled by the Spirit…
- Wouldn’t make more sense to say we groan outwardly, in our bodies?
- This would seem to fit the way that creation groans – outwardly, as a result of The Fall.
Paul helps us out in some other texts (X-Refs).
- 2 Corinthians 5:2 (ESV) — 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
- 2 Corinthians 5:4 (ESV) — 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
So it appears that our inward groaning is…
- Our Spirit filled heart and mind expressing a lament of the “now” because we know there is a glorious “not yet”.
Before we move on to our next question…
- I want to take a short, but important, rabbit trail.
Jesus Rabbit Trail:
When we do a Logos inline search on the Greek word for groan, we find an interesting use of the word.
- Mark 7:33–35 (ESV) — 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
- Sadly, there was only one interpretation I could find that translated it with the more accurate “groaned” – the NAB.
This is actually a beautiful picture of the “now” and “not yet” of which Paul speaks.
- A “now” and a “not yet” that are both wrapped up in Jesus!
Who is it that is also groaning inwardly with us?
- Answer – Jesus.
- The 2nd person of the Trinity.
Over what is Jesus groaning?
- The “now” of creation that Paul has been speaking about.
- A corrupted, cursed, futile creation and a “body of death”.
- In this case has manifested in a deaf and mute man.
What is Jesus’ solution to the corruption of creation found in this man?
- Jesus groans!
- Jesus heals!
This is awesome stuff!
- The incarnation is God groaning with His creation and us!
- The incarnation is God giving us glimpses of new creation.
- A new creation in which all is put right.
So this means that Jesus’ healing miracles are the future breaking into the present (N.T. Wright).
- They demonstrate that Jesus has the power to reverse the effects of The Fall!
Earlier in Romans 8, Paul has been speaking of some splendid things such as…
- Our life in the Spirit.
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
- The believer as sacred space.
Why does Paul turn into such a buzz killer with all this groaning stuff?
- What might be the reason he brings all this bad news up after having pumped us up?
It appears he might be doing a couple of things.
(1) Explaining why those who are in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit still have a “body of death”.
- Michael Bird puts it this way:
- “…if believers have been freed from the ‘law of sin and death,’ why does death still engulf them? If believers have a share in the glory of Christ, where is this glory now?”
Paul certainly has experienced immense physical hardship since he put his believing loyalty in Christ.
- And we certainly know that believers fill our hospitals; they die of cancer; they are murdered; they starve to death, etc.
So how might his description of the “now” address all this?
(2) And he also wants to bring our attention to the fact that God isn’t done.
- Creation groaning and the “body of death” indicate things aren’t right.
But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have secured a resurrection future for us.
- A future in which God will redeem all the suffering and groaning of the believer.
The Christian, then, is awaiting God’s action to put creation right – something that began with Christ.
- And, for Paul, this is understood only against the backdrop of the “now”.
- “…the fact of suffering [is] the dark backdrop against which the glorious future promised to the Christian shines with bright intensity” – Doug Moo.
In other words, to be glorified like Christ, we must suffer like Christ.
- “Paul makes clear that this suffering is the condition for the inheritance; we will be ‘glorified with’ Christ (only) if we ‘suffer with him’’’ – Doug Moo.
So given all this Paul says:
- 2 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV) — 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
- We will deal with this “not yet” future next week.