Romans 8:16–30 (ESV):
“15 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Suffering + Hope
Three weeks ago, we were in Romans 8 and we discussed that the spirit's desire for you is that you would know that you are a child of God. You are in fact a coheir with Jesus Christ, and we experience the reality of being a child of God in what? It was the moments where we cry out "Abba, Father." That week, we didn't have enough time to cover the rest of this passage, and it's the last part of verse 17 which adds another layer. It's the necessity of suffering. It reads, "If children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with Him."
Paul is constantly talking about suffering. To him, if you want to experience the power that's actually at work within you, then suffering must be factored in to how you live because it's necessary and it's also unavoidable. He says in Timothy, "Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus must suffer."
Let's be honest. We don't like verses like that because so much of our lives are really actually just built around the avoidance of suffering at all costs. We don't like suffering, and I think a big reason why is because it pulls the rug out from underneath our illusions of control, security, the ways that we try to escape, and it shows us that they don't actually work the way we thought they did. Suffering reminds us that there are problems that can't be fixed with money no matter how much you have. Suffering can't be avoided just because you plan ahead and you make the right decisions in life. Suffering reminds you that no matter how hard you try, you cannot insulate yourself from the reality of the fall, that you were born into a broken world that was subjected to death and to decay. It's a world that's fading. The clock is ticking on this world.
In light of all of those things, suffering of course makes us feel what? Hopeless. Makes us feel hopeless because it brings us to the end of ourselves. I know some of you are suffering this morning. Some of you are suffering through challenges with your family, your kids, your job, your finances, trying to make changes in your life, your health, and you feel a little bit of that hopelessness this morning. So what is it that Paul actually offers to you? Is there any good news?
Well, verse 18, he says, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Now, at first glance, that may seem like cold comfort to you, as though Paul is simply disregarding and minimizing the suffering that you're actually going through as though he doesn't really want you to think about suffering but instead focus on something else. Suffering isn't really that bad. That's not what he's saying. Yet, there's a part of us that says "You know, Paul? That's fine for a coffee mug, but those words don't actually bring me the hope that I desire in the present situation that I'm in. Where's the hope?"
Well let's start with by remembering who it is that's actually writing this in the first place. This is Paul. Five separate times, he received 39 lashes. He was beaten with rods three times, stoned one time, shipwrecked three times. He was robbed multiple times, chased by his own people, chased by the gentiles, was betrayed by those who were closest to him, suffered insomnia, hunger, starvation, and more often than not he was left out in the cold with no place to rest his head. On top of that, he's writing all of these words to you while he's sitting in death row. He's in prison.
So that verse is not a tweet. That verse is not a pithy little Facebook post because he's trying to get a bunch of likes and launch a career as a motivational speaker. This is Paul, once again, telling you what's available to you, that there is a way of viewing the world in which you have a hope that could make you say, "For I consider the present sufferings of this time not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us."
Yet, therein lies our tension because when we think about suffering, we see hopeless desperation. When Paul thinks about suffering, he comes to a completely different conclusion because it's actually through what he suffered that he found an otherworldly kind of hope to where he could say that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that awaits.
That is a profound statement of hope coming from a man who suffered so much, which brings us to a question this morning. What keeps us from experiencing that kind of hope in suffering? What gets in the way?
I think this passage gives us three answers. The first is that we have a small view of our future. The second is that we have a small view of our desires. The third is that we have a small view of our God. Small view of our future, desires, and our God.
A Small View of Our Future
So how do we have a small view of our future that keeps us from experiencing hope in suffering? Well in verse 18, Paul transitions in the book of Romans. He says, "For I consider," and when he says consider, that word is actually a bookkeeping term. So essentially what he's doing is he's taking everything he said in the book of Romans thus far and now he's putting all of it together. Now, he's starting to do the math and beginning to draw conclusions as to what all of this means for you as a believer.
One of the biggest conclusions he comes to is the glorious future that awaits those who are willing to suffer with Christ. It's not just in Romans. If you look at essentially any letter that Paul writes, he's constantly talking about this glorious future in some form or fashion. God is working an eternal weight of glory within us. No eye has seen, nor ear heard what God has in store for those who love Him. He's constantly asking you to consider the future that awaits you in Christ because evidently for him, his understanding of the future impacted how he lived in the present. So this morning when you try and understand Paul's line of thinking, what math is he putting together to come to these conclusions?
If we look at verse 19, he immediately starts talking about creation, so mountains, rivers, animals, rivers, trees. He's talking about the natural world. That might seem like an odd place to start coming off of verse 18, but creation very much has a lot to do with the future. Essentially, he's already discussed Adam in Romans 5, but as he begins to talk here in Romans 8 about creation, in the back of his mind when he talks about creation, is the very purpose for which God made it – its creation itself. It's Genesis 1, all the way back in the beginning. So as he's beginning to do the math of what this means for the believer, he's allowing the past to shape his understanding of what lies in store for us in the future in Christ.
So he's thinking of Adam and how God originally made mankind in the garden. What was creation? Creation was a gift from God to Adam and Eve, and He gave them incredible power and authority and dominion over everything, over the earth. They had unbelievable authority to subdue all things and creation bowed in subjection to them. I mean it's almost incredible to think about that kind of life, to be at complete peace with your entire environment and complete control over it, to have a lion as a pet or a velociraptor that would just do whatever you wanted to do. Nothing could say no to them. Why? Because they're like God on the earth because they are clothed in His power, His authority, and His blessing. That was God's original design for creation, it was God's original design for Adam and Eve, and it was God's original design for you.
So if we think about now what we have in Christ, Paul's now asking, maybe the logical question, of how is the Gospel then good news, if what we have in Christ in the future isn't as good as that? If Adam had it better than what we are going to have in Christ, how is that good news? How is that good news at all? So he comes to this place where he begins to use this language of co-heirs. That's not just fluffy language. That is you reigning and ruling with Christ because what you have in Him is far better than anything Adam ever had. So you won't just take control of the earth; you will one day be glorified and you will take control of the cosmos. You won't just walk and talk with God in a certain part of the day; you will be seated at his right hand in immortal glory, ruling with Christ.
You ever think that one day you will clothed in an absolutely, unfathomable power? Paul says that our bodies are sewn in corruption in this world, but they will be resurrected in extraordinary power. You won't have any fear, any anxiety, any worry because there's no snake in the garden, there's no possibility that any of that would be taken away. So there's a future that you have that is secure and is set as concrete. In verse 18, Paul is asking you, "Do you ever just let your thoughts drift to eternity? You ever even just think about that? Do you ever think about the future glory that's in store for you?"
Now, our problem is that our view of the future is far too small. By that, I mean that when we think about the future, we place our hopes in what? In things like, "Well I can't wait until I get out of this season. I can't wait until I make partner. I can't wait until I can finally move into that forever home so I have more storage in my kitchen. Or I can't wait until I finally retire." What are we really doing when we place our hopes in those things? We're looking forward to those things because we really want to believe that one day we can get to a place where all of our anxiety and toil and worry will be a thing of the past.
Paul would say that that is a pipe dream because you live in a world that was subjected to futility. If you put your hope in those things, you're going to be disappointed because what happens if you never get out of this season? What happens if you lose your job? You never get into that forever home? What happens when retirement is cut short because you get terminal illness or retirement is a lot lonelier than you thought it ever would because your spouse got a terminal illness? Paul would say that our desires are too small if we put our hopes in the things that are on this side of death because all of those things, you can list them out, are all things that you feel like you have to achieve for yourself. It just creates more anxiety and more toil.
Instead, Paul would urge you to place your hope in a future that is certain and one that you never did a thing to obtain or deserve. It is a future that is set in Jesus Christ. It's a future that no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor heart of man imagined what God has in store for those who love Him. That's a big future. Paul would say that when you recognize that future, it changes how you live in the present.
How? Well imagine two women with two purses. Both of them don't own very much. Essentially, everything they own is in the purse. A few hundred bucks, a pack of gum. One woman knows that tomorrow $100 million is going to be put into her bank account. The other woman has no idea where her daily bread is going to come from. She's afraid. Both of these women go out about their day and both of them have their purses stolen. Now, the woman that knows that tomorrow $100 million is going to be wired into her bank account, how does she respond? She'll say "Well that's annoying" and then she goes on about her day, but the woman who knows that nothing is coming tomorrow, she's a mess. Life is utterly fallen apart and her life is thrown in to chaos.
What you know to be true of the future changes how you live in the present. Do you really believe that a glorious future awaits you.
A Small View of Our Desires
Secondly, is we don't experience hope in suffering is because we have a small view of our desires. Now, it'll take a little bit of legwork to understand what that means, but we'll start in verse 19. Paul says that, “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” So why is creation groaning and longing? Verse 20, “because creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of He who subjected it.” Now, here, Paul is referencing the Fall and its consequences where all of creation was cursed and subjected to death and to decay and to that bondage as a result in consequence of Adam's sin. Creation had peace, but it was then thrown into chaos. Creation, in some mysterious way, has a life of its own and it groans to be set free from that corruption.
So if creation longs to be set free, then what does that creation actually look like? Well, verse 21, it longs to “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” So what that means is that creation longs to return to the created order that God had originally intended, where God sits enthroned above all and just below Him is you, seated at the right hand, reigning and ruling over all that He has made in unbelievable eternal glory. He gives you the power to do that which you feel free to do. That's what creation longs for. So perhaps a picture of what creation is like, is it's like a dog that's anxiously waiting for its master to come home. Creation waits for you to once again take your rightful place so that what? It might bow before you, not in worship, but in subjection because why was creation made? It was made as an expression of God's goodness, power, and grace as a gift to you.
So what does all of that have to do with our desires? Verse 23, "Not only the creation but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." So Paul says that we too as the children of God, we groan as well, but why? What does this groaning look like? Well what happened after the Fall? Creation is cursed and wages war, pushes back like a rapid dog against man, turned against its owner, but mankind was also cursed. What did that curse actually look like? Well, yes, they were kicked out of the garden. God removed them from the paradise of the Garden of Eden, but what did God not remove? God never took away mankind's desire for the power, glory, and immortality of the garden. They still craved it because it was buried deep within the fabric of their humanity in their purpose, in the very reason they existed.
So perhaps the curse of mankind can be seen in this way, that they're banished into a world where they still crave the power and immortality and glory of the garden, but they're banished to a world where they will never ever find it. Yet, they are deceived into thinking that they still can. That's the story of Babel, is it not? The desire for eternal glory and the immortality that we crave was still buried in the heart of man. They thought that they could avoid, they could escape the suffering of this world and grasp at that glory and immortality that they wanted for themselves apart from God. Whenever they did, all it did was bring more destruction and more suffering.
So let's bring this a little bit closer to home as you think about yourself. Why do you struggle with materialism, greed, or vanity? It's because you were made for endless wealth, riches, and beauty. It's just that you try to find it in this world. Why do you struggle with control and trying to overpower all of the circumstances in your life? It's because you were made for incredible control over your environment. It's just that you try to have control over this world. When we seek to satisfy those desires apart from God, we go the way of Babel and we become consumed with a hunger that can't be satisfied. In that, you really experience how deep your desires go within you and how there's truly nothing in this world that can satisfy.
I saw an article this week about Lamar Odom who's a famous LA Laker, played essentially over the last 20 years. He was in the news a few years ago because he had overdosed at a Las Vegas establishment where they sell kisses. Whenever he got out of the hospital after a long ordeal to recover, he went into a longterm rehabilitation clinic and he said "It wasn't actually the drugs I was addicted to. It was actually finding those kisses. I would do anything and I was addicted to them."
As he's starting to write his memoirs and tell his story, he said that "As I look back over my career, everything I did was built to find that. Everything I did was propped up so that I could find that and feed that hunger." He said "If I had to start with how many kisses I've had, I'd start with the number 2000." What really struck me is he said, "I got to a place in my life where whenever I came to my computer, I realized that I'd seen everything that I possibly could. There was nothing left to watch. All I had was this unbelievably consuming hunger to be satisfied. It was so hopeless because I knew there was nothing." He said, "I don't ever ever want to go back into that kind of darkness again."
Are you aware of the desires within you? Of how deep they go? Of how consuming they can become? If not, then we eventually go the way of Babel because we do what? We try to escape the suffering of this world and we say, "My house is going to be my tower. I'm going to try and build this so I can experience the glory that I desire. My job's going to be my tower so that I can grasp at the power and prestige that I crave. My children will be my tower and I will grasp at the control and the connection that I long for. My body will be my tower and I will escape death and achieve immortality through dieting."
What are all of these things? They're all just ways of saying, "I'm going to figure out how to make this world work for me. I'm going to figure out how to make this world satisfy me." Yet instead of being satisfied, it consumes.
So this is why we, as the children of God, groan. It's why we wait eagerly for the glorification that lies ahead, for the redemption of our bodies. Why? Because we know the story. We know our desires within us can only be satisfied in a world to come, not this one. We don't belong here. Your house is not your forever home. It's wood and it's drywall. Your job is but a breath. Whenever we realize that and recognize that those desires we have can't be satisfied in this world, it brings us to a place where we're not consumed, but we actually begin to have a patience towards life that brings a peace and contentedness instead of that chaotic scramble for satisfaction.
Paul seems to say that when we choose to live looking to that world to come, the reward that God gives is hope because you recognize there is nothing in this world that can satisfy. The reward is hope because now you're choosing to be satisfied on God's terms and not your own. God delights when you look to Him to be satisfied. Will you go the way of Lamar Odom and try to satisfy your desires and be consumed? Or are you willing to live with a hunger that leads to true hope?
A Small View of our God
Lastly, we don't experience hope in suffering is because we have a small view of our God. By that, I mean that we have a small view of the Father, a small view of the Son, and a small view of the Holy Spirit. All three. Because according to this passage, the Trinity is very much involved in your suffering.
So how do we have a small view of the Father? Well when suffering happens, what thoughts and feelings start to rise to the surface in your heart and in your mind? Well you think, "Why is this happening? Where did this come from? How do I fix it? What's going on? How do I make this go away?" You're confused, you feel blindsided, and you start to try and move toward the avenue of fixing it, remedying it so life can get back to how you want it.
But then we realize in true suffering, there's problems that can't be fixed. You start to feel that frailty. You start to feel that inability and then your thoughts start to change to, "You know, God? Where are you at? Where are you at in all of this? This is how you show your love for me?" 99.9% of the time how does God answer you? With complete silence. He says nothing. When God is silent and we just want life to change in the midst of suffering, that is an incredibly lonely place. It's hard to continue to live in that frustration of the silence of God because it makes life feel meaningless and purposeless.
Paul would urge you to come to another conclusion because he tells you the complete opposite is true. He says that the Father is the one who's had a plan for your life from start to finish. It's a plan that stretches from eternity past to eternity future. “Those whom He foreknew, He predestined. Those whom He predestined, He called. Those whom He called, He justified. Those who He justified, He glorified.” That is a plan where you were in the heart of the Father before He ever began to create anything, that He chose you and called you according to his purpose, that He justified you by offering the means for your justification in the death of his own Son. Then He gives you the Spirit to lead you safely home into glory.
Now, how could a God of that kind of purpose all of a sudden not know what to do with your suffering? Because a God that isn't in control of suffering and sovereign over it is not a God worth believing in. A God that's powerless to do anything about the brokenness of the world and not in control over it, is petty. It's not worth your time. We have names for gods like that: Kali, Shiva, Vishnu. We go into places of suffering and we say there is a God that has written a fuller story from beginning to end, and that's the hard thing about Christianity. If you want to believe this story, then you inevitably come to this place that suffering brings you to where you have to say, by faith, "I believe that God has written my hurt and He's written my hopes. He's the God of my suffering, He's the God of my pain, and He's the God of my pleasures."
That's hard, because one of the hardest things to do is to believe that your entire story is written in the ink of love, that nothing could possibly separate us from the love of God. One of the hardest verses to believe in is, "For we know all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose." That's a big God. That's a big Father.
Yet when we suffer, we don't experience that hope because we really don't believe in it. We say things like, "There's no plan here. There could possibly be no plan. There could not be any good that could come from this. This isn't going away fast enough. This isn't going the way that I want so I'm going to go my own way." Instead of trusting in the Father and moving to a God of eternal purpose and power, we go our own way and we take life into our own hands.
If we have a small view of the Father, we inevitably have a small view of the Son, because if God has a plan from eternity past to eternity future, well, then what is the purpose of that plan in the here and now? Well it's verse 29. It says, "He chose you to be conformed to the image of the Son.” To become like Jesus by sharing in his sufferings, by loving what He loved, by picking up your cross and following after Him. The problem is that when we suffer and we try to go our own way and just try to fix it and get out of it as soon as possible and hit the eject button, in then end what are you saying? "I don't want to be like Jesus. I don't want a cross to bear. I'm not interested in his type of life. I'm not interested in living with something that requires me to be dependent upon the Spirit for help. I want a life that's over here, that looks easy and is though I can control and handle everything."
So we really have to ask ourselves the question in suffering. Do we really ... Perhaps we don't really experience hope because we're really not interested in the life that the Father wants to give us. We are so stuck and committed to the version of life that we think is best.
If we have a small view of the Son, then we'll inevitably have a small view of the Spirit. One of the reasons suffering is so hard is because eventually it will bring you to the end of your words. True suffering will exhaust your vocabulary. It will bring you to a place where you don't even know what to say to God anymore. That's what Paul says that's why we groan, just this soul-stirring groan towards God where you can't even put into words how you feel, yet alone even know what to ask for. There's parts of us that think, "If I could just say the right prayer, if I could just find the right words, then maybe God would move, maybe God would act," and the problem is it just doesn't work that way.
In that frustration, it's hard to live in that frustration and so we give up, but Paul would say, "Would you look beneath the surface of your life?" Because there are, in fact, perfect prayers offered on your behalf because the Spirit suffers with you. The Spirit prays perfect prayers on your behalf. It intercedes knowing the will of God for you and it ensures that that will of God is being taken, is being carried out in your life. That's kind of nice to say, but what does that actually mean and look like?
Well what it means is that if when we suffer, if all we try to do is to make it go away, I just try to fix it, just try to remove myself from the situation I don't like, then all that we're really doing is pushing ourselves away from the work of the Spirit because we cling to this belief that the life, hope, joy, and goodness that I desire is found in a different version of life other than the one that I am living. So I will find all of those things whenever my circumstances change. I'll find all of those things whenever my situation is different.
Then there's this reality of the Spirit, who actually intercedes for you as you try to escape, intercedes for you to the Father perfectly and says "You know, no. Don't take that suffering away. It's not time yet. Don't make it go away. They're not ready. Bring them this person instead. Surround them with this community. Don't take it away. They have not yet given their heart to you." That, my friends, is the invitation to the deep end of our faith where we recognize that, as children of God, in some mysterious way your suffering is an answer to the Spirit's prayer for you. Perhaps that suffering is an opportunity to experience a life that you would never have chosen for yourself, but it's a life that's far better than any one that you hoped for.
Laying Hold of Hope
I was with my dad last weekend visiting family and we were up late one night just talking, chatting away. He told me a story about whenever he graduated high school, he went to work at a natural gas pumping plant called Panhandle Eastern. He started working there in this really small town of about 400 where he lived because my grandfather, his dad, was a master mechanic. So when he got back from the war, he became the foreman of this natural gas pumping plant, working on these engines the size of this room, pulling natural gas out of the ground. So my dad started working that summer and a few weeks in, my dad goes to my grandfather on a Friday at lunch one day and he says "You know what, dad?" He says "I think I want to be just like you. I think I'm just going to keep working here at Panhandle Eastern. I'm making good money and I'm not going to go to college." My grandfather just looked at him and nodded his head, didn't say a word.
Weekend goes by. My dad gets there on Monday morning and looks up what his job assignment was for the week, and over the next two weeks, he was assigned the filthiest, nastiest, worst jobs that Panhandle Eastern had to offer. He had to clean out these sulfur pits that were 120 degrees. He would vomit from the sulfur smell being so overwhelming. They'd take these multiple breaks and they'd keep having to put salt tablets in their mouth because they would get so dehydrated. He said it was awful. Two weeks went by and he finally got to a place on a Friday afternoon where he walked into my grandfather's office and he said "Dad, I'm going to go enroll in college." My grandfather just looked at him and just nodded and didn't say a word.
My dad went through the weekend and showed up on Monday, was tired, got there, looked up what his job assignment was, and for the rest of the summer, he had the easiest jobs that Panhandle Eastern could possibly provide, sitting in the AC. As my dad laughed about it, he kind of got serious afterwards and he said, "You know what? The funny thing is, my dad did all of that and he never once said a single word. It changed my life."
Is God silent in your suffering or is he really at work in ways you couldn't possibly imagine? Maybe the way that you lay hold of that new life and hope is when you stop trying to pursue that life you want for yourself and you finally just yield.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for your goodness to us. Holy Spirit, we thank you that you guide us and lead us. Father, we thank you for your plan. We thank you for your power over all things and that that power is always exercised for our good even though we can't see it. Would you help us to be people that look to that which can't be seen instead of looking for comfort and hope in the things that can be seen? We come to your table this morning knowing that we need to be fed. We need to feast upon the life of Christ, and it's the Spirit that would feed us at this table. Would you meet us here knowing that we are desperate for the strength that only you can offer? We ask that you keep us faithful unto the end so we will eat and drink this meal at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We ask all this in the precious name of Jesus, and everybody said, “amen.”