Paul has been very busy demonstrating to us the true nature of God’s grace in our lives. He has laid out before us the marvelous wonders of a superabounding grace that even brings us a death to sin so that we might no longer be bound as slaves to it. That same grace brings us also a new beginning of a new life in which the Spirit of God fills us with love and holiness and goodness within. We share in the death of Christ and in the resurrection of Christ unto new life. Now that we have the Spirit and walk according to the Spirit, we are filled with the spiritual power to overcome sin. Moreover, the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives assures us that we truly have been accepted by God as His children. So long as we are walking in the ways of the Spirit and hearing His voice within us, we can rest assured of God’s good pleasure with us.
And though the present life of walking in the Spirit remains a constant battle and struggle, we know that it will not last forever that way. Paul tells us that we now must suffer with Christ in the matter of dying to sin, putting to death the sinful flesh and its ways, but that, if we are faithful to do so, we can have the hope of being glorified together with Christ in the future. Just as Christ first suffered and then, having been raised, was glorified to the right hand of the Father, so we also will be able to share in that glory of Christ if we walk and live faithfully as He did in the Spirit. This was the concluding thought of the last section and will be picked up again as the focus of the section that we are about to study:
But if children, also heirs, heirs indeed of God and fellow-heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we might also be glorified with Him. (8:17)
The whole argument of these last chapters, really starting back as early as the middle of chapter 5 and running up to this point, was encapsulated in the first few verses of that same chapter. We saw there that Paul turned past the concept of justification by faith to look at the experience of the believer that followed naturally as a result of his justification. There was peace with God promised. Having been justified, we also stand now in grace before Him. And, significantly, we saw that we had a new boast, not only of our justification by grace through faith, which was indeed a great boast, but also a boast pertaining to a future hope, the “hope of the glory of God” (5:2). This concept of the glory of God has been in development ever since, leading to the great conclusion of that truth in this last part of chapter 8.
We saw long ago in the argument how Paul described sin as a lack of the glory of God (3:23). Now that we are in a saving relationship with God through Christ, we have hope that His glory would be re-established in our lives anew as He intended for us from the beginning of creation. We have been learning just how that process begins, by a death of the old man of sin that can never attain the glory of God and the beginning of a new life through the Spirit of God. With our new life in Christ, we most certainly must have the glory of God, for it is God Himself who lives in us through His Spirit.
However, that process is not now complete. We still have to work at putting the sinful flesh to death through the Spirit. We are still weak and frail, subject to faltering steps and temptations to sin. And we know that our flesh is still with us in the fallen state until it meets its fate of death and returns to dust of the ground. We have not yet reached the full glory of God. Sometimes, perhaps, we feel like we never will and wonder about how this hope is to be fulfilled.
But this is what Paul now is going to help us understand. He is going to take up the theme of what God yet still has in store for us ahead, for all those who are His children by the Spirit and are awaiting the fullness of their inheritance. Though there is difficulty in our walk at present, there is much glory ahead:
For I reckon that the sufferings of the now time are not worthy towards the glory going to be revealed unto us. For the anxious anticipation of the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. For to vanity the creation was subjected, not willingly, but rather because of the one subjecting, upon hope that the creation itself will be made free from the slavery of corruption unto the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that all the creation groans together and suffers together until now. (8:18-22)
Paul sets in direct contrast our present sufferings with our coming glory. That glory is not yet revealed, but it will be. Right now, it is but a spiritual reality that cannot be plainly seen, born witness to by the testimony of God’s unseen Spirit within us. It is real, and it is discernible in its first stages that we already richly enjoy, but it is not openly manifest to all in the way that it will one day be.
And this glory that is to be revealed unto us is not only a personal and individual reality. Rather, it is a universal and cosmic redemption that will take place. This is so very important to understand if we are rightly to understand Paul’s gospel as preached here in Romans. Though we have indeed been looking at many truths that have much to say about a man’s individual salvation, yet Paul’s whole perspective is always much bigger than this individual view that so often dominates our way of thinking today.
Why has Paul been talking so much about all of these matters that deal with the salvation of a man, whether he be Jew or Gentile? Do you remember from the start, the very introduction of the book, how Paul was emphasizing that the gospel is for all nations? This theme has resounded throughout the book, as we have seen. What is at the heart of this focus? Paul wants us to understand the salvation of God as He intends it and will certainly bring it to pass, a salvation that is the redemption of His whole creation. The whole creation bears witness to God’s glory, we know. And we see now that this whole creation is suffering together the same hardship of corruption that man faces, and on account of the sin of man as well.
God created a perfect world, a paradise. He placed man in that world to reflect the image of His righteousness and glory throughout the whole creation. Instead, man has subjected that creation to futile sufferings through his sin. He has filled the world with wickedness rather than righteousness. What is God’s plan for salvation and redemption? It would be entirely incomplete if it fell anything short of the whole redemption of all creation. But it will not fall short of this. It will be that very act that God will accomplish. He will redeem the whole universe.
This is one of the main reasons that Paul focuses so much upon the concept of the Jew and the Gentile together as one under the same gospel salvation. We must understand that God’s salvation is not about one man or one group or one race; He is working to redeem His whole creation (this is not to say that each and every individual will be saved, of course). This is why the important analogy between Adam and Christ is so fundamental, for God is working a brand new creation of a whole new race of men, so to speak. Just as He once filled the world from one man, Adam, He now is doing so again through the seed of the one man, Christ. He is again giving life to that which is dead, filling it whole with the Spirit of life, just as He once breathed the breath/Spirit of life into a dead body of dust of the ground and made Adam, the first man. He is simply creating man anew. This time, a redeemed mankind will fill a redeemed earth and the glory of God will be spread abroad through all the universe in a true way. The whole creation itself awaits such a glorious redemption, eager to participate in it.
If we understand this universal scope of God’s plan of salvation and redemption, we will understand why it is absolutely necessary to bring Jew and Gentile into one body and one people in one head, Christ. All things are being redeemed through Christ. God’s plan is perfectly wise, the only best way to bring about the universal redemption of all creation that He intends. It will be glorious indeed, and we will inherit much glory as His children when He accomplishes it all.
If the whole created world is awaiting our redemption as God’s children, certainly we also are ourselves, and with good reason:
But not only this, but rather also we ourselves, having the firstfruits of the Spirit, we ourselves also in ourselves groan, eagerly awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (8:23)
The connection here to the redemption of the creation that we just saw is very significant. We must understand the tension of our present condition as redeemed believers in fallen, fleshly bodies. We have been changed and renewed inwardly already, but our material bodies have not yet known the glory of God in redemption. The entire material universe is suffering corruption, including our material bodies. Just as the material world around us will be redeemed in the end and no longer suffer corruption, so also will be the case with our material bodies. At present we must endure many evils from the corruption of our bodies in which we dwell, but one day redemption unto the glory of God will be complete. Remember the promise that we already saw breaking through before in Paul’s language: God will give life even to our mortal bodies (8:11).
The believer who has already received the firstfruits of the Spirit longs for more. He has but the first portion of the redemption. His inner man has been renewed. He has been redeemed within. He longs now for that process to be completed so that he can be whole before God as sharing in and reflecting His true glory. He wants no more to have to deal with the corruption of the flesh. It is for the present necessary, but the very fact of having received the Spirit as the firstfruits is a token of promise that much more will come ahead, the fullness of redemption. It is, then, a sure hope that we have concerning the future. It is yet hope, though, and not yet reality:
For in hope we were saved. But hope being seen is not hope, for that which one sees, who hopes for that? But if that which we do not see, we hope for, through endurance we eagerly await. (8:24-25)
So Paul again emphasizes the fact of hope. It is not hope if we already have it, he explains. We are saved in hope of what is to come, that which we do not yet have. For the present, it is not reality but remains hope. One day, it will be fulfilled. At present, we can only eagerly await it. And we must do so with endurance. There is much that must be endured at present as we wait for that hope to be fulfilled one day, but our hope holds up our spirits and we do not grow discouraged. Thinking about the glories to come gives us strength to endure that which we face here and now.
And for the time being, in the midst of the struggles, the Spirit of God also provides great present help:
But likewise also the Spirit helps together in our weakness. For what we might pray according as is necessary, we do not know, but rather, the Spirit intercedes with groans unspeakable. But the one who searches the hearts knows what is the thought of the spirit, because according to God He intercedes on behalf of the saints. (8:26-27)
The Spirit of God is not without reason called our “Comforter” or “Helper” (John 14-16). We who long for perfect redemption but must struggle in this life against many obstacles and trials have need of spiritual help. We are weak still in the flesh, and were it not for the help of God’s Spirit, we would dismay. But the Spirit who dwells within us knows all that we feel and experience within. Though we at times are left almost in bewilderment, not knowing what to say or do, He knows and is able to intercede on our behalf with God the Father. What a grace to uphold us in our need!
The whole of this section, then, deals with the two-fold reality of our present partial redemption, still struggling with many trials in a corrupt world and corrupt body, and of the promises of hope of future perfect glory. In the midst of it all, there are many things that we do not understand, but the Spirit of God sustains us with hope of what is to come and with present help when we are in need. Ultimately, we are assured that all things are being done according to the perfectly wise plans of God to accomplish His purpose:
But we know that to those who love God, all things work together unto good, to those being called according to His purpose. Because whom He foreknew, He also predetermined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order for Him to be the firstborn among many brethren. But whom He predetermined, these also He called, and whom He called, these also He justified, but whom He justified, these also He glorified. (8:28-30)
How wonderfully assuring it is to know that God has an eternal purpose for us that He is surely working to accomplish and fulfill, even though we often times do not understand His ways in accomplishing it. How do trials and difficulties and the struggles of this present life fit into God’s plan and purpose? God assures us that they do, that all things are working together towards the fulfillment of His purpose. This is what Paul said back at the very beginning of chapter 5, again, where this was laid out in brief form to start with. He stated for us there that even trials are a cause of boasting for us, because those trials result in steadfastness and proof and hope (5:3-4). Even these struggles of life are a part of God’s perfectly wise plan to fulfill His purpose.
And what is that purpose? Paul here describes it as a sequence of steps that culminate in our glorification, when we will share in the perfect image of God’s Son. This has been God’s purpose for us from the start. We were created at the beginning of the world to bear His image. God knew, of course, that His purpose would not ultimately be fulfilled at that point. But His wise plan from eternity included all the many twists and turns of the history of mankind that He foresaw, and He is using all of these events to fulfill His purpose. He has been working ever since the fall of Adam to create man anew in a yet more perfect way of reflection of His perfect image through His Son and His Spirit within us.
And it is important to understand that from the very start of all eternity, God has had this full plan in view. This is vitally important for the man who has not yet been given the final fulfillment of the plan. We all who have received but the firstfruits are given great comfort when assured that this is not the end and culmination of God’s plan. We are only in the middle of it all. He has planned from the start to bring us through the whole sequence of steps, all the way to the end of glorification. Not for any cause or reason would God stop only partway through His plan. He would not abandon His purpose having only brought it to partial fruition. God most certainly does not work that way. We are still awaiting the final portion, the glorification. Not until we perfectly bear the image of Christ will we be able to rest content in glory; but that day will surely come.
Paul is ready now with a few more points of truth to bring us to the greatest place of confidence and assurance in the certainty of the good outcome of these plans on our behalf:
What, then, will we say towards these things? If God is for us, who will be against us? Who indeed His own Son did not spare, but rather gave Him over for us all, how will He not with Him grant all things to us? Who will make an accusation against the chosen ones of God? He who justifies is God. Who is the one who condemns? The one who died is Christ, but more, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Just as it has been written, “For your sake we are put to death the whole day. We are reckoned as sheep of slaughter.” But in all these things, we abundantly overcome through the one who loved us. For I am confident that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor present things nor coming things nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (8:31-39).
This grand conclusion of the basis of our confidence reassures us with various points of argument. First, and most basically here, we should have full confidence because God is seeking our good, and there is none who can overthrow His will. If God determines to bless us and glorify us, then it doesn’t really matter who else might be against us. They can do nothing to us. Who would even dare to oppose God, and if they did, what could they possibly do? God is infinitely greater than all.
But How do we know that God is for us? Well, we already have the witness of the Spirit which we have before seen, but God has done something objective that makes clear His intent to bless us: He has given us His Son. If He was willing to lay down the life of His own Son, then there is nothing else that He would refuse to give us. Nothing is more precious and costly than the life of His Son. This serves as a proof of God’s determination to accomplish our salvation. How foolish to think that God would be willing to suffer the death of His Son and then allow the purpose of that death not to be finally realized. We can rest assured that this will not be the case.
But then some might doubt that they will be worthy to remain the object of God’s love. Perhaps their sin will be brought back before the Lord by some accuser, and this will cause God to turn His favor away from them. Paul urges us to have a deeper and fuller understanding of just how significant is the grace brought to us in Jesus Christ. Christ died to bring us back to God, to bring us to peace with Him. His death has dealt with our sin. There is no need any longer to fear accusation from others. So long as we are in Christ, we are united inseparably to God’s love and favor. Christ Himself is sitting at the right hand of God and by this constant reminder of His sacrifice and His constant intercession on our behalf, we can be sure that God will not turn away His favor from us.
Indeed, if we were resting upon our own goodness as the basis for our confidence before God, we certainly would have great cause to fear that we would soon be found wanting and soon lose God’s favor. But the grace that is found in the true gospel of Jesus Christ is not of this sort. It is far deeper and greater. We have become new men in Christ. Our sin has been atoned for by the sacrifice of Christ. We have become true children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We have died to sin and live with Christ to God. There is nothing, then, that can overthrow our hope of salvation. No power of any creation can oppose God or cause Him to despise the love that we have from Him in Christ. Nothing has ever been nor ever will be greater and more significant than what God has done and will do in Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate word on the matter.