Dan Popp
Groans, then glory
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
March 11, 2011

This one's dedicated to my sister, Jean.

For all who are led by God's Spirit, and they alone, are the sons of God. [Romans 8:14 Con]

That nuclear statement is where we left off last time at the Romans Book Club. Jesus taught that a son is someone who does what his father does, because the two share the same nature — the same spirit.

For you did not receive the spirit of a slave, to fill you once more with fear... [TCNT]

Bondage and fear describe our former condition under sin and the Law (Chapters 6 and 7). Have you ever met a legalist with a confident, relaxed, gracious spirit?

but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" [NASB]

"Slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this title," according to Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.

In that cry the Spirit of God joins with our spirit in testifying that we are God's children. [NEB]

One caution here about any subjective test of God's paternity: Jesus warned many times that people will be shocked to hear Him say, "Depart from Me; I never knew you." Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith." Our potential for self-deception is dangerous.

Nevertheless, the child of Adam hides from God; the child of Satan fights Him; the child of God innocently seeks his Father's embrace.

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. [KJV]

Then we kids are mega-super-rich, because Jesus is the heir of everything! (Heb. 1:2)

...provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [ESV]

Does it seem to you that Paul's train of thought has fallen off a cliff? Children of God...fellow heirs with Christ...suffering? In the first part of the chapter he has been exhorting us to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And one thing the flesh will not do is suffer. Peter wrote, "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." (1 Peter 4:1 RSV, ESV)

By the way, this is another reason I believe that Paul is not speaking of his rescued self in Romans 7. Anyone who would submit to stoning, beatings and countless other hardships for Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-27) has pretty much subdued his flesh!

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. [NIV]

As John Darby wrote, we are "united to [creation] by the body, to heaven by the Spirit." And creation is still operating under the curse of the Fall (Gen. 3:17-19). Paul reassures us that all of the madness, pain and injustice has a purpose. God sentenced both humans and our habitat to futility so that He could bring the opposite of futility — hope.

Contrary to what you may have heard from the prophet of that other religion, the earth is not "dying." It is giving birth.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now: and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. [RSV]

The first fruits are a down payment assuring us that the balance of the promise is on the way. Notice in the above that creation groans, and we groan. If we skip down to verse 26, we'll hear the Spirit groaning.

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. [NKJV] ...with inexpressible yearnings. [Gspd] ...with sighs too deep for words. [Ber]

What are these groanings of the Spirit? We know that they are intercessions — prayers prayed for the benefit of someone else. Some have said that these are our groans, shaped by the Spirit. If sometimes you feel like groaning when you pray, go right ahead. Maybe not at mealtime. Use discretion.

What I'd like to point out is that groaning is a sign of hope. I've read that neglected babies don't cry. They don't expect anyone to respond to their wails, so they don't expend the energy. If any human being — Christian, religious person, atheist — sees that "things are not as they are supposed to be" and yearns for a more just world, I would say that he's revealing an inner hope. As C.S. Lewis said, "If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world."

We groan not just because we suffer, but because we believe that our suffering can be relieved.

And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. [KJV]

As we said at the beginning, saints are ordinary Christians — not Super-Believers. The very encouraging thing we find here is that, like Jesus (8:34), the Holy Spirit is praying for us.

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. [NASB]

The Son and the Spirit are praying for us, and the Father's plan is being implemented — to our benefit! This may challenge our faith at times, but it's true.

Now, I can't read Romans 8:28 to mean that whatever I do, I can never miss God's best for me. There's more than enough scripture admonishing us do X and stop doing Y (including the current chapter!) to convince us that our actions carry eternal consequences.

But while we can cheat ourselves out of better rewards, this verse says that there is nothing Satan can do that will harm us, ultimately. And there is nothing the world can do. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do," Jesus said. (Luke 12:4) It's like the devil steals a nickel from us, and God gives us a thousand dollars. And that analogy is understating the situation, if anything. All the suffering that God allows will greatly profit us — if we don't cave in to the flesh. Some people will have glory now and groans later. We want that to be reversed.

The word together in verse 28 is interesting because we may have a role to play in this redemption of all things.

We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with...

...with whom? With all? No, with all those who love him, with all those that he has called according to his purpose. [Jerus] Now Paul has opened up a jumbo can of night crawlers labeled, "Predestination." This will be the foundation for the next few chapters about Christians and Jews. I hope you can join us for those discussions.

© Dan Popp


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