Last week we looked at the blessings and benefits of what Paul described in vs 15 as adopted into the family of God, as a child of God. I would remind you that adoption as children of God is not a natural condition. Contrary to popular opinion, we are not naturally children of God, but Jesus said we were naturally children of our father the devil. Consequently we are all sinners and under the condemnation of death by natural birth. But for those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who have trusted in His substitutionary atonement on their behalf by His death and resurrection, then they are born again spiritually, and at that point they are adopted into the family of God.
Now last week we looked at some of the blessings that are promised to the children of God. Not the least of which Paul states that we are now heirs of God. He says in vs17 that we are heirs. “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.” Just think, we are co heirs with Christ. We will share in the glory that is going to be given to Christ. That’s an incredible, incomprehensible blessing that is part of our inheritance as the children of God.
Now verse 17 connects two things that we would normally never put together: sufferings and glory, or what someone has called the hurts and hallelujahs. And you will find that these two things they are almost always connected in the scripture.There is a popular false doctrine that is being taught in some churches today that claim hardship or suffering or illness or lack of anything you desire is contrary to the gospel. But if you read this passage you must conclude that that doctrine is in error. The road of Christianity is one of suffering and glory. But the cross comes before the glory.
Suffering and glory belong together, and you find them together in almost every passage of Scripture that deals with the suffering of the Christian. For instance, the Apostle Paul links them together in 2 Corinthians 4:17 saying: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
John seems to reference that two dimensional experience of a Christian in 1John 3:2 saying, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Again we see these presumably two opposing dimensions of our Christian life connected. There is a present condition that is typified by suffering, and a future dimension in which we will be like Christ in glory. And so in this passage we are looking at today, we see these two dimensions detailed in three arenas; in the arena of the creation, or nature, in the human arena, as in our personal experience as the children of God, and then even in the spiritual arena, as the Holy Spirit suffers with us.
Paul is speaking here of the present sufferings of the children of God, and their future glorification. And I would add that suffering can take many forms. It may involve persecution, though I would say we haven’t seen a lot of that in this country. However, I think we are heading in that direction. But it can also take the form of family reproach. It can come from situations in your career or job as a Christian. It can take the form of isolation, loneliness, as it becomes difficult to have friends or loved ones because of your Christian convictions. Jesus said the world hated Me, so don’t be surprised if it hates you. There are many ways you can suffer as a Christian.
However, the Bible teaches that suffering is used by God for a good purpose. That’s what vs 28 is talking about. Vs 28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose.” Paul issn’t saying that everything in life is going to work out fine. Don’t worry, be happy. But he is saying that God will use everything, even suffering, for His purposes, and His purposes are good. Suffering is used to purify His people, to sanctify us, to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ as we share in His sufferings.
So, our sufferings as believers – physical, emotional, whatever they may be – are directly linked with the glory that is coming. The important thing we need to see is that both the sufferings and the glory are privileges that are given to us. It is easy for Christians reading these passages to get the idea that we earn our glory by the sufferings that we go through. But as this passage makes clear, glory is as part of our inheritance in Christ. And suffering, also, is our inheritance in Christ. Suffering is a privilege committed to us. Paul says this again very plainly in Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”
In the early church, it is recorded in Acts that those Christians actually rejoiced in their sufferings. Peter and John, Paul and Silas and many others rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Lord. And though they may have been beaten and mistreated, they went away rejoicing because God had counted them worthy to bear suffering for his name’s sake. That kind of perspective is what makes it possible for us to endure suffering and, more than that, to actually rise above it with rejoicing. James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have [its] perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We can only consider suffering joy it as a privilege to share in Christ’s sufferings, and a means by which He makes us like Christ.
The blows by the hammer on the steel may be hard, and the fire may be intense, but what is produced on the anvil will be a weapon that will be fit for service to God.
Jesus promised a blessing in Matthew 5:11-12 for those that suffer. He said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for his name’s sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.”
So the theme of this passage is found in vs 18; “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The theme is that incomparable glory lies after a time of suffering – glory beyond description, greater than anything you can compare it with on earth. A glory that will make the present suffering seem but a drop in the bucket of what God has planned for us. We have a tremendous inheritance that awaits us as the children of God after we go through a temporary time of suffering here on earth.
So the apostle says, “Our sufferings are not worthy to be even mentioned in comparison with the glory that is to follow.” Now, that statement could just be written off as hyperbole if it didn’t come from a man like Paul. He was a man who suffered immensely. I’m sure that no one listening today has gone through even a fraction of the suffering that Paul endured.
Paul listed some of his sufferings in 2Co 11:23-28 saying to some who had criticized him, “Are they servants of Christ?–I speak as if insane–I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine [lashes.] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. [I have been] on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from [my] countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; [I have been] in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from [such] external things, there is the daily pressure on me [of] concern for all the churches.”
Even though Paul suffered tremendously, yet he still asserts that the suffering we experience is not even a drop in the bucket compared with the immensity of glory that is coming. This is the incredible glory that God has prepared for those who love him.
We can endure the suffering, and even triumph in it, because we see the glory that is to follow. But the future glory is preceded by three types of suffering, which Paul describes as characterized by groaning. So there are three groanings that he makes mention of in the remainder of this passage, which are but precursors of the glory which is to follow.
The first groaning is that from nature. Paul says that creation is suffering while waiting for the glory that is coming. Verse 19 tells us that nature is waiting for something: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” The word in the Greek language which is translated “anxious longing” is an interesting word. It is a word that pictures a man standing and looking for something to happen, craning his head forward.
Paul goes on to say that the creation was subjected to futility, or frustration. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly (not by original design), but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 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.”
Paul is saying that creation not only is waiting for something, but that it is doing so because it is linked with man. Creation fell when man fell. Not only did our whole race fall into the bondage of sin and death, as the earlier chapters of Romans explain, but the earth fell as well. God said in Genesis 3; “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face. You will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It was man’s sin that caused thorns and bramble to overrun nature. It was man’s sin that made the animals to fear and devour one other. With the fall of man came the curse of death upon the earth. And so the earth was subject to futility. It no longer is what it was intended to be; a paradise which was made for man to enjoy.
But Paul argues that it is also true that when the Christian is delivered from the corruption, nature will be delivered as well. Therefore, when the time comes when the sons of God are going to be revealed – when it shall appear what shall be, as 1 John 3:2 says, when what we have become in our spirits, sons of the living God, shall become evident – in that day, nature will be freed from its bondage as well and reborn as the Paradise of God.
That is the time on earth spoken of in Isaiah 11:6-9 “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea.” That is the renewal that creation looks forward to.
But for now, under the weight of the curse, yet in anticipation of that day, the apostle says, nature groans, but it groans in hope (Verse 22): ”For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” As Paul said earlier, nature groans in the hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. It groans under the suffering of sin that has kept it in bondage to futility. And so Paul likens the suffering of creation as to the groans of a woman in labor, as she bears with the suffering, because she has a hope that something much better will be produced through her present labor and hardship.
A point that should be emphasized perhaps is that this teaches us that nature is made for man. It was to be his domain, under his rule. And when man fell, his domain fell under a similar judgment. God cursed the ground because of man’s sin. So in like respect, when man is regenerated in glory, then nature will be regenerated into glory as well. Peter speaks of the fact that heavens and earth will be burned with a fervent heat, but we look forward to a new heaven and new earth. The end of the earth as we know it will not be by flood, but by fire. A purifying fire from which the earth will produce a new vegetation, a new animal life, in which there is no decay, no effects of sin, which will be compatible to the new glory which man will also enjoy.
The second groaning that Paul describes is that of the children of God in their present condition. Vs23 “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. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he [already] sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
Paul says here that though we ourselves are redeemed in spirit, our bodies are not yet redeemed; and so being in the corrupt flesh, we, too, are groaning. He said as much about his own experience in chapter 7 concluding “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” It was as if Paul is groaning in his spirit because of this great conflict within him between what he wants to do to please God, and what his flesh is found to be doing in spite of his best intentions. Because of his justification he has the first fruits of the Spirit. He is seeing some evidence in terms of the fruit of righteousness because of the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit. But he is frustrated by the lack of perfection that he wants to achieve. And so he groans in his spirit in suffering under the burden of the flesh, and yet anticipating the future glory of the body at the consummation.
All through this passage there is a constant contrast between the groan and the glory; yet there is a link between the two. Nature groans; we groan. And yet the groaning, or suffering, is producing the glory. I remind you again of what Paul said in Second Corinthians 4:17: “For momentary, light affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Suffering is preparing us by sanctifying us, conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ by sufferings.
PhIl. 3:10-11 says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Our sufferings, our groaning, is producing in us a future glorification as we are being made like Christ spiritually, and will one day be like Him in body as well.
But in the meantime we groan because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We groan because of the havoc that sin makes in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. We groan because we see opportunities that are not being taken advantage of. We groan because we waste the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that, as Jesus drew near the tomb of Lazarus, He groaned in His Spirit because he was so burdened by the ravages that sin had made in the lives of those He loved. He groaned, even though he knew that he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. So we groan in our spirits — we groan in disappointment, in bereavement, in sorrow. We groan physically in our pain and our limitation. Life consists of a great deal of groaning. But the apostle immediately adds that this is a groaning which has hope.
The Christian perspective is that, though the body is in pain and suffering and disappointment now, this is an important tool that God uses in our lives. It is something that is part of the purposes and plan of God, part of the privilege committed to us as Christians. We suffer with Christ that we might be like Christ. As he suffered, so do we, that we might also be glorified, even as He is. As vs 17 said, “if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” That is our hope that makes the suffering bearable. We have a hope that is not now realized, it is in the future, but it is nevertheless a sure hope. A hope which the author of Hebrews calls the anchor of the soul. And so again, we are taught that our hope of a life of pleasant living, of everything working out, a life of health, wealth and prosperity is not God’s plan for the life of a Christian. But there will be trials, there will be suffering, their will be groaning, and yet there is a firm conviction which we call the blessed hope, which will make it all worth it all when we see Jesus.
Then there is the final groaning which is found in vs26, “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; 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.”
Paul says the Spirit is groaning. The Spirit is groaning with words which cannot be uttered. This passage helps us in our understanding of prayer. The apostle says that we do not know what to pray as we ought. We lack wisdom. I want to point out that this is not an encouragement not to pray. Some people think this means that since we don’t know how to pray as we ought, and if the Spirit is going to pray for us anyway, then we don’t need to pray. But that would contradict many other passages of Scripture, such as James 4:2, which says. “You have not because you ask not.” God does want us to pray, and we are constantly encouraged to pray. Jesus taught us to pray. He asked His disciples to continue with Him in prayer in the Garden of Gethsamane. In Philippians 4:6, Paul tells us that in everything, with prayer and supplication, we are to let our requests be made known to God.
But the great encouragement should be that the Spirit prays with us, according to the will of God, to help us in our weakness. That weakness is our weakness in temptation, it’s our weakness in steadfastness. It’s the weakness of our body of flesh. And the Spirit who is in us, who understands and emphasizes with us, who also knows the heart of God and the will of God, helps us by praying with us.
This verse is commonly misinterpreted to try to vouch for some kind of ecstatic speech, speaking in tongues, or an unintelligible prayer language of our spirit. But to make such an extrapolation from this verse is very simply bad exegesis. Paul makes it clear that it is the Spirit praying, not us praying. He is praying for us, because we are weak. Because we are prone to sin. Because we live in a fallen world and in fleshly bodies. Because we don’t always know the will of God. And so God has given us a Helper, who prays for us according to the will of God.
I am reminded of Jesus’s admonition to Peter when He said, “Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” So as the Spirit of Christ continues the ministry of Christ as our Helper, as our Comforter, He also prays for us, that our faith will not fail, that we might do the will of God. And that kind of intercession is essential to the process of our sanctification. We would never be able to do the will of God without the Spirit of Christ working in us, and helping us, and praying for us.
Everyone that is living on this earth will suffer from the effects of the fall to some degree or another. No one gets out of here alive. It is appointed for man to die, and after that the judgment. But for those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior, who have repented of their sin and been born again as children of God, there is a hope that this is not all that there is. We have a promise of God, who cannot lie, that we will receive an inheritance that is equal to the inheritance which is Christ’s. That hope gives us assurance and even joy as we live our lives with a view towards the future. If you are here this morning and you don’t have that hope, but have come to the realization that life without the Lord is hopeless, then I urge you to come to Christ today as your Savior and Lord. He who believes in Him will never die. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. And you can know the same hope that we have. Today is the acceptable day of salvation. Don’t waste this opportunity. Call on Him today and He will make you a child of God, an heir of salvation, and give you a future inheritance of glory with Christ.