As I am getting older I find myself groaning much more. I grown when I stand up after sitting for awhile. I groan when I sit after I’ve been standing for awhile. I groan in the morning, groan at night, and groan after I’ve eaten too much. I groan when I see certain things on television, I groan when I get another bill in the mail, and when I don’t feel I have enough time to get everything finished.
In verses 18-27 of the Romans chapter eight the word groan is used three times. We are told the creation groans, we groan, and the Holy Spirit within us groans. We want to explore this groaning this morning.
Let’s put our passage in its proper context,
17 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. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Paul has been talking to us about the rich privilege that is ours in Christ to be children of God. However, in the midst of these blessing there is also the reality of suffering. Not only is there the natural human suffering of getting older and going through the difficult transitions of life, there is also the suffering that comes from being a child of God. There is a cost that comes with following Jesus.
It is important that we face these times squarely. Make no mistake, the Bible never tells us that if we come to Jesus all our problems will go away. We will be set free from the condemnation of sin and made new in Christ but we will also be people who are going against the culture of our world. We may not be imprisoned or executed like believers in other countries, but we will face ridicule and rejection from many.
How do we stand in times such as this? Paul tells us that we need to look to the future. He doesn’t tell us that for everything you suffer there will be an equal blessing in Heaven. Paul tells us that the blessings are so much greater than the suffering that it is not even worth trying to compare the two. Our suffering is minute, virtually insignificant in comparison to the glory that is established for us in Heaven. Paul wants us to understand that it is a good trade to surrender what you cannot keep in order to keep what you cannot lose. It is better to give up the trinkets of the world than the treasures of Heaven. It is this thought of Heaven that gets Paul thinking about groaning.
THE GROANING OF CREATION
19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:19-22)
Paul tells us nature, the created world, is groaning for the day of salvation. Why? Verse 20 tells us that creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it. . . . “ In other words, when sin entered the world it has a “cosmic” effect. The entire creation was thrown “out of balance” when mankind sinned. Do you remember back in the book of Genesis?
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. (Genesis 3:17-18)
Because of Adam’s sin the ground was cursed, thorns came upon the earth and the harmony, beauty and splendor of God’s perfect creation was tarnished. As God looked at His creation after the fall of man, God no longer could say, “It is good.”
Do you ever wonder about things like Hurricanes, Tornados, Earthquakes and the like? Do you wonder why God created such things? I believe we are taught that God didn’t make these things. It was not part of His perfect plan. These things are the result of the imbalance of nature that came about as a result of sin.
Do you wonder why even the animal world seems so vicious? Have you watched the Discovery Channel and seen the predatory nature of the animals? Why did God make the world this way? I believe the Bible tells us that He didn’t make it this way. It is the result of sin. Over in Isaiah 11 we read,
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
When the effects of sin are removed from our world, the animal world will not longer be predatory. I think this shows us what the world was like before sin entered it. This is what the world was meant to be. Sin has disrupted this world that God has created.
We have a tendency to view sin with tunnel vision. The Bible teaches that there is a ripple effect from sin that extends into the creation itself. I think it is this ripple effect that explains why some people are born blind, some deaf, some with mental abnormalities? It is not that these people are being punished or cursed by God . . . they are victims of an imbalanced creation that is the result of sin.
But notice that the groaning of nature is like that of labor. It is painful, it is difficult, but it is also expectant. Why does a mother ever have a second child? It is because of the pay off. A mother will endure the labor of delivery in exchange for the joy they anticipate from the child they will hold in their arms.
In the same way the creation endures the present subjection in the confidence and hope of a glorious rebirth of God’s creation. The Bible tells us that the earth will be purified through fire (1 Peter 3: 7,11,12); there will be a new Heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1-15) and then there will be a great harmony or harmonization of nature.
THE GROANING OF CHRISTIANS
Creation is not the only thing that is groaning. The believer groans as well.
23 Not 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. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
There is a sense in which we should say, we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Those who have received Christ have been declared “not guilty” because Christ has died for us. In that sense we are already saved. The penalty for sin has been paid in full. We stand “not guilty” before the throne of God. However, as we have been reading in Romans 6-8, though we have been declared not guilty, there is still a battle going on inside of us. We are still in the process of gaining victory over sin in our daily living. In this sense we are in the process of being saved. We are still learning to live by faith and not by sight. We are learning (the hard way) that the way of God is always superior to the ways of men. The Christian life is one of continual need for growth.
There is a third sense in which we will not be truly saved, will not have the full benefits of our adoption as a child of God, until we get to Heaven. On that day our sinful nature will be exchanged for the redemption of our bodies. The effects of sin will be fully and finally purged from us. Then and only then will have the fullness of new life that we are promised in Christ.
Paul tells us that right now we only have a taste of what is to come. Paul said God has given us the firstfruits of his Spirit. This is a phrase that seems rather odd to us. The firstfruit would be like the hired man bringing that first ear of corn in to show to the farmer. This ear is evidence that the corn is ready. It is the assurance that there is a good harvest to come. In Ephesians we are told that the Spirit is given as a deposit that guarantees our inheritance. What we sense, taste and know now is only a foretaste of what is to come. This taste makes us yearn and groan for more.
Paul tells us that we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons. Admittedly that seems confusing because we just saw in the paragraphs before this that we have already, through faith in Christ, been adopted as sons of God.
The word adoption in the Roman world was used in two senses. In one sense we are moved from one family to another. We have already been adopted in this sense. But there is a second Roman sense of adoption. The son of a leading Roman family would be acknowledged publicly as the son and the heir. It corresponded somewhat to the Jewish idea of bar mitzvah. It is this public acknowledgement of our sonship that is still ahead. This will be the time when we stand with the Lord in Heaven and God announces, “I want to introduce you to my child”. This is what we wait for.
Paul says we are waiting for the resurrection of the body. The Bible tells us that as Jesus was resurrected in a real body, likewise we will have a real resurrected body as well. We will not be a disembodied spirit floating around but we will have new, perfect, healthy bodies that will not decay and through which we can honor the Lord throughout all eternity. It is hard to imagine this kind of body. We have lots of questions? How old will I be? Will I be 18 or 80? Our heavenly body will not be a body that decays so it will be ageless. But, we ask, “If that’s the case will we be able to recognize each other?” I think the answer to that is yes but we will recognize each other not so much by our appearance as by our soul. The blinders of this world will be gone and we will see people for who they are and not for what they look like. Just as our present body is suited to our present existence, so our new body will be perfectly suited to our heavenly existence.
We have aches and pains now. Our hearts flutter, our organs fail, our muscles atrophy. At times our earthly bodies rebel and maverick cells attack healthy cells resulting in various forms of cancer and acquired immune diseases. But there is coming a day when we will be set free. There is coming a day when we will be set free from sin, from it’s effects, and from the limitations of our earthly bodies.
THE GROANING OF GOD’S SPIRIT
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
We are going to look at this passage in greater detail next week, but we must touch on it today. Just as the creation longs for the new creation and we long for the redemption of our bodies, so the Holy Spirit is within us also yearning for God’s will to be done in our life. The Spirit prays for us. When we are without words, the Spirit is not. When we are confused, the Spirit sees clearly.
Let me suggest two things we should take away from this passage. First, we need to understand that groaning is natural. Life hurts. The seeming arbitrary nature of life sometimes doesn’t make sense.
Imagine how difficult it would be right now to be in Florida in an area that has been hit again and again by hurricanes. It is natural to feel weary. It is normal to wish for it all to stop. It is natural to say, “God, why are you doing this?”
When you stand at the gravesite of a child or watch someone suffer from a devastating disease we can’t help but cry out, “God this is not the way it is supposed to be!” And in those times, God say, “You’re right. This is not the way it was supposed to be.” When we cry out, “God, then do something.” He says, “I will.”
Sin has devastating effects. Am I saying the people in the southeastern United States are bad and that is why this is happening? No, that’s not what I’m saying. There are as many Christian people who have been victimized as non-Christians. It is not the sin of the people of Florida that have brought these things about; it is the collective sin of mankind.
Is God powerless to stop these things? No. God could stop these things any time He wants. However, in His Sovereignty, God has chosen to allow us to live with the consequences of the world as it is impacted by sin. He wants us to see the destruction that sin has caused so that we might learn to hunger for the holiness of the life of God. He wants us to stop clinging to this life and start reaching for the life that is to come.
When you see the horrible things of life rather than despair, groan. Yearn for the better day. Look beyond the suffering to the day when that suffering will end forever.
Second, we must not give up. The thing that sustains the creation and other human beings is hope. In the Bible, hope is not a wish; it is a confidence that is anchored in a certainty. It not like hoping for a pony at Christmas it is a confident expectation. It is out of sight, it is out of grasp for now but our hope is sure because the one who promised is faithful. Our hope of eternal life is sure because Jesus has risen from the grave and has told us that those who believe in Him will live even though we die.
We must not forget where we are headed. We must never forget that this life is not our home. In the labor room a woman is told to focus. If she keeps her focus she will better be able to endure the labor. In much the same way, we must keep our focus. It is good to read about, think about, and learn to hunger for Heaven.
What if we deliberately thought more about Heaven? What if we imagined the new body that will someday be ours? What if we imagined looking in a mirror and seeing nothing we wanted to change? What will it be like to have the aches and pains replaced by the joy of life? What will it be like to be able to live and enjoy without the fear of disease, death and decay?
What if we thought more about what this redeemed creation would be like? Imagine a world where there was no dread of natural disasters and where the lion and lamb were able to play together. What if we put our focus on the reunion with those we love? What if we spent more time thinking about experiencing that love with others we always wished we could have?
What if we dreamt more about the future day when we will step through the door of death into eternity to meet the smile of Jesus and hear his words, “Welcome home!” What if we thought more about being in the arms of Jesus? What would happen if we spent more time imagining that time when our Lord will introduce us to the heavenly host with the words, “I want you to meet my child.”
I’ll tell you what would happen. Our life would be transformed. We would groan for the future. We would have a new perspective, a new joy, and the troubles of this world would no longer seem mountainous instead they would merely be annoying speed bumps on the road to Heaven.