Grace For The Journey
Anticipation. At times this is not such a good word if you waiting for something to happen that you know you will not enjoy, like a trip to the dentist. At other times it is a wonderful word that describes the mixture of hope, joy, and pleasure usually stirred with a bit of anxiety and sometimes even a little frustration as you await some good event to take place. Children anticipate the coming of their birthday and Christmas because of all the special attention they will receive. Teens anticipate becoming adults even though all of its freedoms are also bound by new responsibilities. An engaged couple anticipate the celebration of their wedding day along with the beginning of their married lives together. There is the anticipation of the arrival of a new baby. Young adults anticipate the starting of their careers and middle age folks start dreaming about what it will be like to retire.
There is one more major event that we need to anticipate, though whether that will be considered something to look forward to or something to dread will depend on the individual’s relationship to God.
We all need to anticipate
The passing from
This life into the next.
For the true Christian, that is an event that can be anticipated with joy, as Paul states in our text for study this morning. We can anticipate that with anxious longing as we wait eagerly to pass from this life and be with Jesus. For the person who does not know Jesus Christ as their Savior, death is a dreaded enemy. For those who do dread death, I hope to help you understand today how you can anticipate it positively instead.
We will be studying Romans 8, verse 18-25 this morning. From these verses we learn several important and necessary truths . . .
The Suffering of the Present.
The idea of suffering that Paul presents in verse 18 was introduced in what he had said in verse 17 about being joint heirs with Christ and therefore suffering with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. I gave a brief explanation of this in yesterday’s blog. Today, I want to expand more on both the idea of suffering in the present and the blessing of glory that is to come.
Our being joint heirs is seen in our present reality of suffering with Christ. By that, Paul is referring to the persecution that comes against all who strive to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). The more we become like Jesus, the more the world will hate us because it hates Him (John 15:20). Jesus specifically told us in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” While such suffering of persecution is not something we anticipate with joy, yet is it something that can be positive in our lives, for that very suffering because of our identification with Jesus is assurance of our also being glorified with Him.
That is the great hope of the Christian. It is that hope that drives the Christian on in their battle against their own sin as well as the temptations and persecution of the world. All who have this hope of being glorified with Jesus purify themselves (1 John 3:3).
There is another aspect to this suffering than just direct persecution by the ungodly. There is also the suffering that we endure simply because we continue to live in a sin cursed world after our salvation. The Scriptures tell us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ left the glories of heaven in order to come to earth as a man as part of the plan for our redemption (Philippians 2:5ff). I don’t think there is any way that we can fully comprehend the full extent of what that meant in terms of leaving the glories of heaven in order to dwell with man.
Perhaps the best we can do to get a bit of the idea is for someone who has been living in one of these Christian retirement communities where all the neighbors are mature Christians who love the Lord and each other, and place that person in a federal prison among the general population of inmates – thieves, swindlers, rapists, murderers, etc. I think you can understand that there is a suffering that will take place simply because of the change of environment.
Being justified by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the true Christian is made an alien and stranger to this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) whose citizenship is now in heaven (Philippians 3:20), but we remain here for the present. Like Lot, who felt “his righteous soul tormented day by day by the lawless deeds” of the people of Sodom, so we too feel our souls tormented by the unrighteousness of those around us. Can any of us watch the evening news without feeling disturbed, troubled, and even offended in your soul by the reports of unrighteous acts that come pouring out? Don’t you long for it to be different?
Let’s make this more personal. How do you feel when the guy living next door decides to let the whole neighborhood listen to his favorite music, whether they like it or not? More than a little annoyed, perhaps? How do you feel when not only are you cut off while driving, but the fellow also sideswipes you and speeds off? I would guess you would be a little more than just annoyed. What about when someone publicly lies and slanders someone you know and love? Righteous indignation would be appropriate. Or how about if you came home and not only was your house robbed, but it was trashed as well? Or even worse, what if someone abused a child you knew or even your own? Your soul would be vexed at the sin that is all around and which is personally affecting you and those you love.
You must also add to this your struggle against your own sin. It troubles the Christian deeply to still have to deal with their own sin. It is upsetting enough to have to deal with the effect of our own sin upon our own lives, but it is tormenting to see those we love hurt by our sin. Our souls are vexed and we yearn to be changed. Paul’s expression of this in Romans 7:14-25 matches the heart of every believer. We cry out longing for the day in which we will be free from this body of sin that we are still in. We desire to be in a place where sin no longer exists.
In verse 18 Paul considers all the suffering that we endure in this life with the glory that is to come in the future for the Christian, and concludes that there is no comparison to be made. It is not that Paul is insensitive to suffering, either his own or that of others. Rather, it is that what is to come is so wonderful that what we endure at present, though difficult at the moment, is not to be compared. The sorrow of the present will be turned to great joy in the future.
In John 16:20-22, Jesus comforted His disciples with this same thought as they considered Jesus’ soon departure from them. Jesus said to them, “Verily, verily, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy. Whenever a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.”
When a woman is in labor, the time is filled with anguish. Yet, no matter how difficult and painful it was for her to deliver, when that baby is placed in her arms, her heart is filled with joy. (If that was not true, none of us would have siblings). So, it is with the present sorrows and suffering. They will give way to something better in the future.
Let me add here that the present suffering is not without benefit. Remember what James 1 and Romans 5 says about the trials we have in this life. God uses them to mature us. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond al comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
The suffering we endure here reminds us
That this world is not our final home.
We are awaiting the glory that is
To be revealed to us which is so
Far better than the present
That they cannot be compared.
The Glory to be Revealed.
What is the glory to be revealed to us? It is what we will receive as heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ (8:17). We will be part of God’s eternal kingdom. Remember what Matthew 25:34 tells us that Jesus will say to those that belong to Him, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The glory that belongs to the kingdom of God is the glory that will be revealed to us.
What is that glory? All the glory of both the Millennial Kingdom and heaven. During the Millennial Kingdom, Jesus will reign on the throne of David in Jerusalem (Isaiah 24:23). All the nations will be subject to Him (Zechariah 14). There will be a perfect government. Nature will also be restored and function in a way that we would find unbelievable at present. Amos 9:13 describes that time saying, “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine, and all the hills will be dissolved.” Can you imagine a harvest so plentiful that you can’t finish picking it all before your starting to replant. That also tells us that the seasons will be different from what we experience now. Harvest time will merge with planting time without the harsh deadness of winter in between. The current curse on the earth will also be lifted for Isaiah 55:13 tells us, “Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up; and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up; and it will be a memorial to the Lord, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.” Weeds and thorns will be replaced by good plants during the Millennium.
After the Millennium, the present heavens and earth will be destroyed and a new heaven and earth will be created. It will be even better. We can hardly begin to imagine what that would be like, for there will no longer be any curse and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there. The glory of God will illumine everything, so there will no longer be any night or even the need for a lamp. If that is but a very brief description, what must the splendor of this glory actually be! It is no wonder that both we and creation long for this.
The Longing of Creation.
In verses 19-22, Paul describes the “anxious longing” of the creation which “waits eagerly” for this to occur. “Anxious longing” is a “strained expectancy.” It is the idea of stretching your neck and craning your head as you look eagerly and patiently wait for something to happen. That is the sort of anxious longing while eagerly waiting a groom would have at his wedding while looking for his bride to make her entrance. Paul tells us that creation has that kind of longing for the sons of God to be revealed.
The revelation of the sons of God will occur at the beginning of the Millennium when the judgement of the “sheep and goats” will occur (Matthew 25:32ff). The sheep, which are the people that belong to Him, will be invited into His kingdom. The goats, those people who have not followed Him, will be cast away to eternal damnation. At present, it is not revealed who the sons of God are. There are many people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, but there are tares among the wheat of the church (Matthew 13:38). There are wolves among the sheep (Acts 20:29), and those who are self-deceived about their true relationship to the Lord (Matthew 7:22-23). I think we will be surprised on that day to find who really does belong to the Lord and who does not. Some we did not expect will enter God’s kingdom, and some we expected to enter will be cast away.
Creation here refers to the animals, plants, the earth, and the heavenly bodies. It does not refer to people since believers are mentioned separately and the ungodly would not be anxious to have their judgment come upon them. In that same vein, it does not refer to Satan and the demons because they do not want the sons of God to be revealed; and it does not refer to the good Angels because they are not corrupted. It is an amazing thing to consider that nonrational creation longs for the coming of the Millennial kingdom and the consummation of the ages.
Some might wonder about how nonrational creation could have longings, but the idea of attributing human characteristics to creation occurs commonly in both Biblical and non-biblical literature. While we may not understand how the rocks, plants, seas, and sky that make up creation could have desires, in some way they do.
In verse 20, Paul tells us that the curse that creation is under did not come by its own will, but by was placed upon it. It was subjugated to futility by God. Creation is unable to fulfill its original purposes. Some might object that it is unfair to curse creation when it was Adam that sinned, yet it must be remembered that the earth was placed under Adam’s dominion (Genesis 1;28), so Adam’s sin also affected what he held dominion over. God had used creation as the means to provide for Adam’s physical needs. Prior to his fall into sin, gathering food was not a difficult task. But as a result of his sin, God cursed creation as part of the curse upon Adam. Genesis3:17-19 records, “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you,’ saying, ‘You shall not eat from it;’ cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Many environmentalists become extreme in their position because they forget that the creation is also cursed. It is proper that man takes proper care of our environment, for God has given to man that responsibility, and he will be held accountable for his stewardship. Man has often abused nature instead of taking care of it, and it is good for organizations and government to oppose such abuse and seek to give it reasonable protection and even restore it. That is also a proper Christian response for that is the proper stewardship of the earth that belongs to man.
However, it is sheer foolishness to think that you will restore nature simply by keeping man out. In fact, it often takes man’s intervention to restore an environment. Creation is under the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Things go from a state of high energy to low energy, from order to disorder. Things decay even without man. Natural disasters – earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and fires can quickly devastate even large areas. Man cannot control such disasters, but he can help minimize the damage of some of them and he can help restore devastated areas.
Some environmentalists have gone to the extreme of worshiping nature instead of the God that created it. Some have even become what can only be called anti-human, their own existence excepted of course. Their evolutionary beliefs have led them to think that nature will somehow improve if man is kept from interfering with it. But the actual record of nature is the opposite. It is decaying. It is declining. The fossil record proves that countless species of animals and plants have become extinct without man causing it. Man can strip mine, but only nature can cause the climate changes that have resulted in the desertification of Northern Africa and the basin and range system of the American west.
Nature longs to be restored to what it was in the Garden of Eden, but its hope is not in the plans of environmentalists, no matter how helpful they may want to be. The hope of nature to be free of its current slavery to corruption is the freedom it will receive when the glory of the children of God is revealed. Only then will the curse be lifted and it will be cared for by those who are following God’s original plans to rule over the earth instead of just exploit it.
At the present time the whole of creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth. Paul does not say who or when the world will be made new. He only alludes to the fact that it will be by using the analogy of being in the pains of childbirth. It is painful now, but new life is coming. The Apostle Peter tells us that a day will come when the present heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire which will melt even the elements, but then a new heaven and earth will be created (2 Peter 3:10-13). The Apostle John speaks briefly of the same event in Revelation 21:1 saying, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”
The Longing of Christians.
Christians have a similar longing as creation. Verse 23 tells us that already having the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, we long for the completion of our redemption. We have been redeemed from the curse of sin by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit has already regenerated us to new spiritual life. He now lives within us and is changing us through the process of sanctification. But the more we are changed, the more we long for our final redemption when we will receive the final aspects of our adoption as sons when our bodies are also redeemed. These bodies of sin, not just our unredeemed flesh, but the corruption that remains in our minds and emotions, will one be day done away with and we will receive resurrection bodies and minds and emotions that will no longer have any bent to sin.
Paul also describes this longing in 2 Corinthians 5:4 saying, “For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Creation longs for the complete removal of Adam’s curse, and so do we. That is our great hope.
The Nature of Hope.
In verse 24, Paul explains the nature of hope, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?” Biblical hope is not a wish, but a confident assurance based in God’s promises. We have not experienced the complete fulfilment of these promises yet. That is the simple reality. They are still in the future, which is why they are still a hope, and not something we can presently enjoy. But we are confident that they will be kept. That is the nature of hope because that is the nature of our faith. The definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 explains this, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not
The Perseverance of Hope.
This assurance and conviction causes us to persevere in our hope. Paul explains in verse 25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” If hope was based only on what we can presently experience, then it would have no relationship to the future. It would be the confidence that a skeptic has, which is based only in himself. Our confidence is based in someone far greater than we. Our hope is not irrational, for the evidence of God keeping His many promises is recorded throughout the pages of the Bible. In addition, though we have not yet received the fullness of our redemption, we have experienced many aspects of it. We know that we have already been radically changed by something outside of ourselves. It is reasonable to believe that the one that raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also be able to fulfill His promises of redemption to us. We have been forgiven our sins through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are joint heirs with Christ and we will receive a resurrection body that is like His. Therefore, we persevere in the present life while longing for God’s promises to be fulfilled in the future.
The reality of our hope manifests itself in our present life in how we live, for as 1 John 3:3 states, “And everyone who has this hope [fixed] on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” I pray that the evidence of your hope of final redemption is also being manifested in your present life.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”