In a world of sin, suffering, and death, Paul seeks to encourage us by the glory which shall be revealed (Romans 8:18-25). Notice:
1. It is incomparable.
Romans 8:18 "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Though our sufferings may be extremely difficult, our glory will be eternally better than what we now experience in this world. We will have a new body and live in a new world.
No one has yet seen the glory which shall be revealed in us, but we shall see it when we see Jesus come in His glory (1 John 3:2). Our bodies will be changed to conform with His glorious body (Phi. 3:20-21).
The apostle Paul gives more detail about this in 1 Corinthians 15, where he describes the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:35-57). We will not be raised to live in this earthly body of flesh and blood, but we will be raised with a heavenly body. This is why Paul says we do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16-5:1).
What an encouragement for us in the sufferings of this present time!
2. The creation eagerly waits for it.
Romans 8:19-22 "For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits 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; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."
There is much dispute about what Paul means in these verses. I don’t care to get into all of that in this lesson, but I will try to give you my best understanding in hopes of bringing some encouragement to us all.
It most naturally appears that Paul is using a figure of speech known as personification, by giving the nonhuman part of our created world human characteristics. There are many examples of this throughout the Bible (Isa. 35:1-10; 65:17; 66:22).
Wayne Jackson writes, “In Psalm 114, the inspired writer describes the deliverance of Jehovah’s people from Egyptian bondage. In conjunction with that glorious event, various elements of the creation are depicted as cooperating with, and rejoicing at, Israel’s freedom. The sea saw it and fled, the mountains skipped as rams, the hills frolicked like little lambs, and the earth trembled. The Old Testament is replete with this type of symbolism (cf. Psalms 96:12; 98:8; Isaiah 35:1; 55:12)” (Christian Courier, “Will Heaven Be On Earth”).
So here in Romans 8, Paul speaks of the creation as though it has a soul that is constantly absorbed in waiting, longing for, and anticipating the glory which shall be revealed in us.
This imaginary soul of creation is further said to have been subjected to futility, which is described as a bondage of corruption, under which it is now groaning and laboring with pain. This no doubt refers to the curse of God suffered by creation because of man’s sin from the beginning (Gen. 3:14-24).
Yet, Paul says the creation was not left by God with no hope, but that “itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). The deliverance of the creation is not to be taken literally as though it had a soul which could be set free from this world and go share in the freedom that we will share with Christ in glory. No, according to 1 Peter 3, this world will be destroyed by fire, but we do “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:10-13; cf. Mat. 25:35).
Christ has already prepared this place for us in His Father’s house (John 14:1-3). It is “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us]” (1 Pet. 1:4). When Jesus comes for us, we will all go home to be with Him forever (2 The. 4:13-17).
We should not think of the new world as we do the present world. The present world is a mere type or figure of the world to come. The physical points to the spiritual. For example, in the last two chapters of Revelation John is given a vision of the church in its triumphant and eternal state after the day of judgment (Revelation 21-22). It is described as a new heaven and a new earth (21:1).
John explicitly says that the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (cf. Rev. 20:11). He also adds that the sea is no more. The sea stood between God and His people in chapter four (4:6). In chapter fifteen (15:2) the faithful are seen after death standing on the sea. They had moved closer to God. But in the new world there will be no separation between God and His people. “God Himself will be with them” (21:3).
In John’s vision, the new world is pictured as a new Jerusalem (21:2). It is not the old physical city of the earth but as other visions in Revelation this one comes from heaven. John goes on to describe this city in much detail comparing it to a bride adorned for her husband and speaking of its foundations, walls, gates, a street, the kings of the earth, a river, a throne, and a tree. These things are not meant to be taken literally but symbolically (Rev. 1:1; e.g., v. 20). They are but figures in an apocalyptic book to help us understand what it will be like in eternity for the people of God. It will be beautiful and wonderful. There will be room for all. We will never be moved but will be fully protected from sin and forever provided spiritual health and life. It will be glorious because we are there with God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. God could only relate the new world to us by using familiar figures from our present world, but the two are completely different worlds.
3. We eagerly wait for it.
Romans 8:23-25 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
In our decaying body of flesh and blood we suffer anguish and pain in this world and can hardly wait to be in our incorruptible, immortal, heavenly body in the next world. We have already seen from 1 Corinthians 15 how that we will all be changed at the coming of Christ in the resurrection. Jesus said this of the resurrection of the dead: “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). That is the complete and final adoption (sonship), the redemption of the body that Paul speaks of here in Romans 8.
Paul assures us of this reward by reminding us that we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. In the OT, the firstfruits served as a pledge of the harvest to follow. The firstfruits of the Spirit refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which serves as a pledge, earnest, or guarantee of our future inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:22). I like to think of it as a down payment on our heavenly reward.
Though we have not yet seen it, it is not just wishful thinking (2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1). It is sure and certain (Heb. 6:13-20). We have been delivered by the gospel from the condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:1-4). The Spirit of God dwells in us by faith in the word of God; this is our guarantee (vv. 5-13). We are the children of God; it has been established in heaven. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (vv. 14-16). And so, we are heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ of the glory which shall be revealed (vv. 17-18).
It is because of this hope that we were saved (“the end of your salvation” 1 Pet. 1:3-9). We still hope because it is not yet realized and it continues to sustain us in every temptation and trial of this present time so that we do not give up but are ready, willing, and able to patiently endure, persevere, keep on keeping on to the end, which really is just the beginning of the eternal victory we have in Jesus.
Colossians 1:5 “because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven”
Titus 1:2 “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began”
Titus 3:7 “that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life”
2 Corinthians 5:7 "For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Colossians 3:1-4 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
Psalm 73 is a wisdom psalm. The psalmist struggled to understand why the wicked prosper, and he was envious of them (vv. 2-3). They were saying that God didn’t even take knowledge of him; that He didn’t care about him (v. 11). His efforts to live a pure life seemed futile because all the while he himself was suffering (vv. 13-14). It was not until he finally sought God for answers that he came to understand the fearful destiny of the wicked in complete destruction (vv. 17-19). With a convicted and penitent heart, he then realized that he should never have complained and questioned God (vv. 21-22). He knew that God had always been there for him and would ultimately bring him to glory (vv. 23-24).
It is here that the psalmist exclaimed: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 25-26).
The coronavirus pandemic has brought a great hardship to many people around the world. It has caused a great problem for the church because most have not been able to assemble as a congregation. If I tell you all today to look with me in God’s word, the Bible, some might respond, “I don’t even know if there is a God. Where is He? What is He doing? Why doesn’t He take this all away? And, what does a book written thousand of years ago have to do with us today?” My answer is, “Yes, there is a God, He will take this all away and everything else in this world; and the Bible has everything to do with us.” All of this is not much different from the persecution endured by the church in Jerusalem when they were scattered from their homes, their jobs and separated from family and friends (Acts 8:1-4). It is to these Christians and others like them that Peter writes his first epistle. He gives them a message of hope that is just as relevant and powerful as it was when it was first written.
There are a lot of things we do not understand about suffering. Many of our questions go unanswered but there are some things we can know.
We can know that God knows all about our suffering (Psalms 56:8).
We can know that God understands everything we are going through (Hebrews 4:15).
We can know that God truly cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Suffering hurts. We don’t want to suffer. But it will help us to know that there are at least five benefits of suffering for the Christian.
1. It tests our faith (Jam. 1:2-4). If we meet our trials with faith, we will develop the patience needed to mature spiritually. It is when our faith is tested that we grow and become strong. So, we can rejoice even in our trials. Do you remember how God tested Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22, commanding him to sacrifice his son? Can you imagine a greater test of faith? Hebrews 11:17-19 explains what Abraham was thinking. He believed God would raise his son from the dead. That is a great faith. Do we have the faith of Abraham? Will we trust God enough to do what He has asks of us? God wants to know if you will keep faith even in the greatest tests of life.
Some don’t understand how God could allow the suffering in this world, nor how He could ever send anyone to hell.
Let me say, I don’t understand it all either. No one does. Our finite minds cannot completely comprehend the infinite God!
The Bible says, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34).
According to statistics, places of worship are the safest places in the world. Yet, we all are very aware of church buildings that have been devastated by weather, blown up by bombs and attacked by gunmen. This past Sunday, a gunman attacked a Baptist church in Texas, killing and injuring most of the worshipers. This came just weeks after another gunman entered a church of Christ in Tennessee, killing one and injuring several others. While our hearts go out to these victims and their families, all of this has caused some to mock our faith in God and to ridicule the power of prayer.
Tragic storms hit east Texas. People died. Many were injured. Homes and businesses were destroyed.
We ask, “Where was God?”
Some say that He doesn’t exist, but what happened in east Texas does not change the fact that there is a God. God is the only logical, reasonable explanation for the existence of our universe.
Robert Dodson is the Preaching Minister for the Northwest Church of Christ.
6059 Azle Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76135