OPENING QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- What words would you use to describe what life is like?
- What keeps you going as a Christian?
- What is your ultimate hope in life? ie, what do you really want to get out of life?
Romans 8 began with the wonderful declaration that all who are in Christ Jesus are free from condemnation – 100%. This is achieved by the work of the Son of God who conquered sin in the flesh (vv1-4) and through the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead and will raise us also (vv9-11). Our job description in this life is to work alongside the Holy Spirit (v13). The carrot to pursue this is the impossible but true promise that we, redeemed sinners, have been adopted by God to be co-heirs with Christ and to share in his glory (vv14-17)!!! It is the power of God that brings salvation (1:16) and our duty is to walk by faith (1:17).
8:17 gives us the intro to our study this week: although we are promised to share in the glory of Christ – we will also share in his sufferings. Verses 18-30 delve into some details about what this means and how God continues to be our life support through this life.
There are a couple of quotable verses in this section:
“We do not know what we pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” v26
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” v28
Both quotes are indeed worth storing into our memories and help us in the context of praying and suffering. But all quotes need to be meditated on in the context they are given. Taken out of context, fuller and richer meanings can be missed. The bible is a great source for inspirational quotes but the scriptures are always better understood in context.
Verse 18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” How true! The sufferings mentioned in verse 17 appear to be a broad category that describes everything related to living on earth this side of eternity. Everything from stubbing your toe to being out of work, isolated from friends, chronically ill, and weighed down with responsibility. This life brings with it many concerns and they aren’t all physical – there are certainly spiritual sufferings too. The world, the flesh and the devil are the three areas of attack that we are up against every day. Many of us live as though we are at peace when actually we are at war! But praise God that this life is not where true happiness, joy and peace will be experienced – there is a great future for those who are in Christ Jesus. The challenge is for us to keep this hope in our minds and seek first the kingdom of heaven – living with God – and not to invest our hopes into this world.
Verse 19-21 describes the world we currently live in – the physical creation – as imperfect. It suffers because of the fall of man (Gen 3). The environment that we have all grown up in as our home is not the good creation that God made in the garden of Eden – it is less than very good! What we regard as normal is not how it will always be. We ought to regard hard work, labour pains and death as a problem – not just the way of life!
Paul describes all of creation as if it were a life form of it’s own and the history of this character is as a suffering creature that looks forward to better times ahead. It is not striving itself for improvement but waiting for a special day to come when it can finally breath a breath of fresh air: the day when God’s children – those who are in Christ Jesus – will be glorified, ie, made known. Currently, we look no different to everyone else on the planet – but there will come a day when what we are in the Spirit (children of God) will be made known and clear to see – we will be glorified. (I’m taking the word ‘glorfied’ to mean something like being displayed for what something is. God’s glory is the advertising of everything that we know God to be – his character and name and his goodness and holiness. When we share in Christ’s glory (v17) we will also be recognised for who we are in Christ Jesus.) This puts us, the children of God, right in the middle of the action of all history! The greatest names in our history will be overshadowed by the greatness of the work that God has done in those who has saved.
Just notice the language of how creation is enslaved to the effects of sin like Paul has been teaching about people – ‘bondage to decay’ v21 recalls the same language as ‘slaves to sin which leads to death’ 6:16.
Verse 22 What does it mean for creation to be groaning? Does it mean earthquakes and volcanoes and temperatures from zero degrees to fourties? Does it mean global warming? Does all of this describe imperfection? The illustration Paul gives is to compare it with the pains of childbirth. I take it that it is describing a beautiful thing which is damaged by imperfection. Childbirth is wonderful but it is damaged by the pain. This is the curse on the daughters of Eve (Gen 3:16). The world we live in is also struggling under the curse of sin.
Verse 23-25 We too, who have received the Spirit, are to groan just like the creation does. This challenges us again to think about the struggles of this life as abnormal. Our hopes are for a better existance – where there will be no more pain (Rev 22). When we know that deliverance is coming, it can make our current struggles all the more real – no longer just part of life but something that we groan internally about. Is this you? Do you live with expectation of better things to come?
It is like we are going through the pains of labour ourselves. But the pains and struggles of life and the hard work of ‘putting to death the misdeeds of the body’ (v13) are all part of the process of waiting for our full redemption (v23). We know that we are children of God by faith – but one day we will see it! It will no longer be our hope – it will be a reality!
Verses 26-27 – These verses don’t give us open ended licence to not spend time in prayer to God because the Spirit does it all for us. It is certainly a help to know that we have the Spirit helping us even when we pray. But meditate on these two verses to see the great connection that the Spirit makes between us and God. Consider how John Chapman taught these verses: “When you don’t know how and what to pray, know this, that the Spirit speaks to the Father and says “Father, if [Simon Twist] knew himself like I know him, this is what he’d want to say (v26). And Father, if [Simon Twist] knew you like I know you, this is HOW he’d want to say it.”
Verses 28-30 The path to glorification is the path of being conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is true that mankind was made in the image of God in the beginning. But Jesus Christ is the true image – the perfect image. We are being transformed from the inside out to be like Christ. This is Christian progress that is God’s work from first to last. He is working all things out for this end. The good, the bad and the ugly of life is, for the Christian, aimed at revealing our adoption as sons and daughters of God. This is the destiny for the human race – to know who are those who God has freed from the slavery of sin. It is God who knew us before we knew him. It is God who determined in his own mind and plans to set us free from sin. It is God who reached into our lives and grabbed us from the flames of hell. It is God who gave us full freedom from condemnation through Christ Jesus our LORD. And it is God who is and will bring the reality of all this into full view by all. He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.
See below for a little reminder of how to think about predestination…
- What does this passage have to say on the topic of global warming?
- Verse 20 talks of creation being subjected to frustration by the will of the one who subjected it. Who is the ‘one’ that this verse talks about?
- What are the kind of weakness that we have that verse 26 talks about? Has Paul used the word ‘weakness’ before in Romans? How was it used then?
- We are bound for glory and that is what our dreams ought to be filled with. Settling for happiness in this life is to reject the good plans that God has prepared for us.
- Likewise, viewing all kinds of suffering as God at work in us is the only way to be free from whingeing and complaining. This certainly doesn’t make suffering easy to swallow or to go through! Suffering is hard to cope with at all levels – but what hope can we have if it is not in the promises of God that he is working to redeem all things in the new creation.
- Pray for the world that we live in, that many more people who God has predestined will meet someone who can introduce them to Jesus.
- Pray for the world that we live in, so that God is the solution to the problems we see and not scientists or charity workers.
- Praise God that from the beginning of the world, he has had his plan to take us from this broken creation into the new creation.
- Meditate on how much God is working in your life. Do you view your sufferings as his way of perfecting us? He is committed to our redemption. How committed are you to it?
**Little reminder about predestination
The topic of predestination comes up often in bible studies and seems to have no real solution. The problem is that we get fixated on the topic at a different perspective to what the bible uses it for. Our logic says that if God only saves those he has predestined then it is not fair that he doesn’t predestine everyone and so some people are just bound for destruction and that is not their fault. Then this logic gets balanced with the resolve that it is only by grace that anyone is saved and so we need to focus on the fact that it’s not that God is leaving anybody out, rather it is gracious that he calls anybody in!
Now, I want to remove this circular and less-than-satisfactory discussion with this idea: that the purpose of the word ‘predestined’ is to give comfort and assurance to all who call on the name of Jesus to be saved. That is, Christians can rest assured that they will be safe and secure in their salvation because God has predestined them. The word is NOT used in scripture as an excuse for those who do not turn to Christ, as if it is God’s fault that they have not been saved. It is God’s desire that all men would be saved. We can simply be thankful that when we turn to Christ we know that this is the Spirit at work in us and no mistakes that we make can separate us from the love of God.
Does that help?