Lesson 15: Suffering Put Into Perspective (Romans 8.18-39)

In our study of Romans 8.1-17 we focused on the fact that in Christ, everything has changed. Whereas our lives were once typified by sin and condemnation (see 5.18), “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (8.1). Yet, Paul concluded this thought with a word about suffering, that we are heirs “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (8.17). For many, suffering is associated with condemnation, but Paul has associated it with sonship. How can that be? How could God’s sons, His heirs ,be made to suffer? Paul puts this into perspective in the following verses.

Our current sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits (vss. 18-25)

  1. Suffering causes us to focus on the now. When we are in pain (whether physical or emotional) we have a hard time looking past the moment, seeing that something better is on the horizon. Paul knew that to be true, so if suffering is a part of sonship that could pose problems for weak brethren. But, if they would only look beyond the moment, then their present suffering wouldn’t seem so bad. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (vs. 18)
  2. The next few verses detail what Paul meant by the “glory that is to be revealed to us.” Interestingly, Paul begins this discussion by talking about the future glory of the creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” There is much debate over what is meant by “creation”, but the most natural reading is that Paul means this world. Once again, Paul harkens back to the Creation account. God described everything He created as “very good,” (Gen 1.31), yet on account of Adam’s sin the creation was cursed (Gen 3.17). Note: I take the cursing of creation to be the consequence of the creation being separated from it’s Creator, which was necessitated by man’s sin. So, God didn’t change or corrupt the earth as punishment, rather since man’s punishment was separation from God, the earth suffered as well. So, Paul says “the creation was subjected to futility,” (vs. 20) that is it could not serve it’s intended purpose. But, it awaits “the revealing of the sons of God,” (vs. 19), the time when it “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” (vs. 21).
  3. What the creation is waiting for is “the revealing of the sons of God,” (vs. 19). What this means is further explained in vs. 23, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The point is this: we are now the sons of God (8.16-17), but there is still a way in which we must be revealed, that our adoption is made complete. This occurs when our body is redeemed, that is when the resurrection occurs. We are saved now, but not yet completely. We are His children now, but not fully. The completion of those things occurs when this body is changed (1Cor. 15.49-57). John speaks in the same way in 1John 3.2, “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.” His children now, but we are still waiting for our true revelation, when we will be just like Him!
  4. Summing up, Paul is setting our minds on the time when everything is glorified. The sons of God will be glorified, and so will the creation. I admit that this poses some difficulty, especially when viewed in light of 2Peter 3.10-13. However, even that text speaks of our looking for “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” I confess that I do not know exactly what this means or this will all work out. But Paul’s point seems to be pretty clear: we await glory, the creation awaits glory. Glory is coming.
  5. And that is the essence of hope (vss. 24-25). We do not have it yet, but we expect it. And since we expect it, we can patiently endure the suffering of now. After all, today’s suffering isn’t worth comparing to the glory that awaits! “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The Spirit intercedes for us (vss. 26-27)

  1. But we have more than hope, that is the expectation of good in the future. We have the promise that God is aiding us now! “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness…” (vs. 26). While “weakness” is not defined, given the context it is likely referring to our current state, a state of suffering even though we are children of God. Compounding this weakness is the fact that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought,” that is we do not know how to fully address our Father when our need is so great. But the Spirit helps in our weakness!
  2. Paul doesn’t fully explain this, other than to say that “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” (vs. 26). Some say that the Spirit here is not the Holy Spirit, but our spirit. That may be the case, however it seems that the Holy Spirit is in view. Why does He groan? Some conclude that the groanings here are our groanings (vs. 23), others that the term groan conveys feeling and not just the words. Perhaps.
  3. This short passage produces many questions, questions that don’t have easy answers, but don’t miss the forest for the trees! The point is pretty simple: we may suffer now, we may not know how to seek God’s aid when we are under such trial, but do not fear! Since we are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us (the molding of our spirit, see discussion on 8.5-11), we have the assurance that God knows what is on our hearts! The Spirit conveys it to Him!

All things work out for our good (vss. 28-30)

  1. What does it mean that “for those who love God all things work together for good”? Some conclude that this means there’s a hidden message in every life event, that every conversation or encounter is part of God’s special and specific plan for them. While not diminishing God’s providential power, I do not think that is what is under consideration.
  2. The theme has been overcoming suffering, specifically the suffering we can expect in Christ. The promise is that those who suffer with Him, will be glorified with Him (vs. 17). This passage seems to expound on that basic idea. Those who love God, are called according to His purpose. This text has no place for fanciful Calvinistic concepts regarding irresistible grace, etc. The point is plain: those who would love God will accept His call, the very gospel that Paul proclaimed (1.16-17). God has predestined that it is these that would be conformed to the image of His Son (of course it is! Who else but those who love God and accept His call could be conformed to His image?). But as we’ve seen, being conformed to His image involves suffering. But don’t worry, it works out for our good, because those who are conformed to His image are justified, and ultimately glorified!

We overwhelmingly conquer (vss. 31-39)

  1. In truth, this section needs little comment. The beauty of the passage should wash over us, strengthen us, cause us to fall to our knees in appreciation for the victory that God assures is ours.
  2. Suffering makes us think that everyone is against us. That may be true, but the Christian’s perspective goes beyond the moment to eternity. The Christian can truthfully say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (vs. 31). Need further proof of this, then look no further than what God has already done for His elect: He gave His Son! (vs. 32).
  3. So, we can face every trial with the utmost confidence. We may well experience the ordeal that the Psalmist described in Psalm 44.22, being put to death for His sake, but that suffering will yield to ultimate glory. “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (vs. 37). And if that is the case, nothing can separate us from His love! No wonder that Paul considered that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (vs. 18).
  4. NOTE: we should observe that all of the things mentioned in vss. 35, 38-39 are external factors. None of these things can cause us to be separated from the Love of God in Christ. However, he does not address the inward factors, our own attitude and disposition. Truly, we are the only factor that could cause us to depart from so great a love!

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