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Last week we talked about the fact that there is no condemnation in Jesus. The reason for that is this: we have been joined to the perfect righteous one, Christ, who paid the penalty for sin, and he alone is righteous before the Father. Because we’re joined to him and share in his righteousness we, therefore, have no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And we have hope because Jesus was raised from the dead and we share in that resurrection. These are fun things to talk about, but there’s also that line in Romans 6:6
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
So if we are joined to Christ, we are also joined to his death, and that means we are not free from suffering, and may perhaps experience it more intensely than if we weren’t joined with him. In Chapter 8 of Romans, we read in verse 17 that we are “heirs with Christ”–that sounds fabulous! But wait–“provided we suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him.” Paul cannot talk about hope and glory without talking about suffering. These two are inseparable. And that brings us to our focus passage this morning as we look at verses 18-25.
Recognize that Paul is offering encouragement in the midst of suffering. He sees that we are in a period of waiting where Christ has come, but we’ve not yet been fully glorified. All of creation is groaning in suffering, longing for the day when it is finally freed, and in the meantime, we hope for the Glory of God. For Paul, in fact, it is the Hope of God’s Glory that brings us through the suffering of the present age.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
In this passage, God gives us a true account of suffering, and a vision of hope. He shows us three things: you are not alone in your suffering; God reigns, even over our suffering; and suffering does not indicate a lack of faith.
You are not alone in your suffering
The first thing I want us to observe about suffering is that we do not suffer alone. Now, on one level, we all know this. We look around and see plenty of other people suffering, so when we are suffering we have plenty of others at our disposal experiencing the same suffering or worse. But one of the things we like to convince ourselves when we are suffering is that we are the only ones who have been through this. We are the only ones suffering. We isolate ourselves and then we suffer all the more. Understand, you are not alone. Isolation and loneliness make us doubt, and doubt can turn us from God. Satan absolutely loves it when you sit in your room and throw yourself a pity party. He loves it.
There is also a practical reason why we isolate in the midst of suffering, as well. In our individualized, western culture, we have learned to put distance between others and our true selves so that we and they may not have to face the shame that we are not perfect, that we don’t have it all together, and if my facade is a lie, then yours probably is too. The result is that when we need people the most, instead we isolate ourselves the most.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
Paul wants us to know that we do not suffer alone. He writes “the creation waits with eager longing…the creation was subjected…the creation will be set free…the whole creation has been groaning.” He is quite clear here. You are not alone! Not only are you not alone, but every blade of grass, every speck of sand, every living creature is groaning for the redemption of the world. They are walking down this road with you. We often think of sin in terms of our relationship with God, but we see here that the consequences are far greater–all of creation has been distorted by our sin. All of creation is groaning, straining, longing for redemption. I say this not to trivialize your suffering, but instead to validate it. I invite you to walk alongside a community within a world that, to one degree or another, is walking through suffering with you. This is the first truth about suffering: you are not alone.
God reigns, even over suffering
The second truth about suffering that we need to recognize is that God is sovereign, even over suffering.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.
It is important to note here that creation was subjected to suffering, which is our present state, by God. He did not set the world going and step back. He is the one who subjected it. He is active in his creation. But what does this mean? We have to be careful here. To say that God subjected creation to futility means 4 things:
- God actively allows suffering, though he does not cause it. We see this play out in the book of Job.
- Suffering is a consequence of sin. It is a choice that we have made and continue to make.
- God weeps with us in suffering. Think of Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus.
- God is in the process of redeeming suffering. We read in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” One day, there will be no more tears.
We know these four things, and that’s about all we can say definitively. There are other questions we want to know: why? Why God? Why me? Good God, why evil? These are real questions, and we want real answers to them–and yet, at some point, we have to exercise some restrain and just say we don’t know. But God loves us. He is in charge, and he is redeeming it. God is sovereign over suffering, and we can trust him both with what he has revealed, and with what he has not. Here is a place where theological restraint and trust in God’s sovereignty means we can only say what we know. God, because he subjected creation to suffering, is sovereign over it, and he will one day conquer it.
Suffering does not indicate a lack of faith
The third truth about suffering: it is not an indicator that you lack faith. Your faith is not deficient.
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…
We have the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us, and Paul is saying you still are going to suffer. It’s not because you lack in anything–believing in Jesus just doesn’t give you a get-out-of-suffering-free card. A prominent theology of our day ties our worldly success to the strength of our faith. The logic goes, if we suffer, if we lack, if we don’t receive healing, if God doesn’t give us the deepest desires of our hearts, then it is not his fault, but ours, because we lack faith. That is utterly and completely false, and that is not what Paul says here. Jesus heals the blind man in John’s gospel, and the disciples say ” what did this man do? Or was it his parents who sinned?” Jesus said no–he’s blind so that the glory of God may shine through him. Hear this clearly: suffering is not the result of a deficient faith. Frankly, you might be suffering because you have so much of it. Even the faithful who received the Holy Spirit groan with all the rest of creation. Instead, we are allowed to suffer with hope, so that our suffering is a sign of our faith and increases our faith.
Here is a take home about suffering, if these three things are true: too often, we feel the need to be strong, and to put on a good face. “I need to be strong for…” and you fill in the rest. I understand that. But if we’re not alone, if God is in charge, if suffering is not a consequence of faithlessness, rather than turning into ourselves for strength, what if we turn outwards and cry out to God, “Lord have mercy!” What if we say “Lord, I am angry right now!” Or “Lord, I am so sad.” What if we turn to our friends who share our hope and say “help me.” What if we turn to the Psalms and walk through these verses which praise God, and show anger at him in the same stanza. What if you allow these words to speak for you? If these three things are true about suffering, then we need to change the way we suffer.
So Paul gives us these three truths about suffering: we are not alone, God is in charge, and its not due to a lack of faith. The other thing he does is to point us beyond our suffering to the glory that awaits us. We can’t escape suffering. We are going to encounter it, but Paul refuses to let us wallow in it.
The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
There is also the poignant analogy in the middle of this section, when Paul writes in verse 22 “the whole creation is groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” Women, what brings you through that kind of pain? It is the hope and the joy of the baby that is on the other side. You suffer and go through that for the glory of this sweet child. To hold that child in your arms; what an amazing thing. That’s what this life is like. We suffer in it, but we have a vision for something more, something so glorious we can’t even imagine. Our suffering must be rooted in the glory that is to come.
Ultimately, though we’ve spent some time there, this passage is not about our suffering. Its about the hope of our glory. Verse 19 is the key here. The whole of creation is waiting, eagerly anticipating with baited breath, one particular moment.
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
God is in the midst of restoring things and the key to that is our restoration. It’s the fact that Jesus Christ died for us on the cross, and it’s the fact that he was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, and we’ve been sent the Holy Spirit so that we might be redeemed and share in Christ’s resurrection. That is the key to the restoration of the whole world! this creation was subjected to sin and suffering because of our fault, and it is our redemption that is going to restore it. Paul is giving us this great vision that the moment when the children of God are, finally and fully, revealed, raised from the dead and brought into their glory, the creation will come back into perfect order. That is our hope. What happens at that moment? We see two things specifically in this passage:
Creation is set free. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 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.” (8:20-21) So one day, when the kingdom is here in its fullness, the whole world will be at rights. Will natural disasters exist? I don’t know, but they won’t cause the pain and destruction that they cause now. Isaiah has a great vision of a lion and lamb lying down together. Who has heard of such a thing? This world will be free to be what God created it to be. The vision of the future is that this creation will be set free.
We will be adopted as sons, for the redemption of our bodies. “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.” (8:23) To be adopted means to be chosen. God has done that for you. He has looked at you personally and individually, in your sinfulness, and he said I want you to be my child and share in the full inheritance. Everything Jesus has received, you will receive.” Glory. Resurrection. New life. That’s for us. What that means is these old, decayed bodies will be redeemed. They will be raised from the dead, perfect and holy and gloriously in the image of God. That’s the hope.
I ask you this morning: does your suffering have a hope? We are all going to suffer; but are you suffering without hope? Or do you have something gnawing within you that something is not right here, something’s not right about this world or my heart. See here in the pages of scripture that there is a hope, where one day, every knee bows, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, that one day, God will wipe away every tear and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor any more pain, for the forming things will pass away. And Jesus Christ, who sits on the thrown of glory will look at you and say behold–I make all things new. Suffer with that in front of you, and be assured to come out on the other side.