Throughout this chapter Paul has been establishing that as followers of Christ we live a new life of liberty from the law of sin and death. He then went to tell us that this new life is a life of glorious hope, that we started to see yesterday. This glorious hope is the hope of the resurrection, the hope of joint-heirship (both of which we saw yesterday) and the hope of final redemption, which we will be dealing with today. Paul then goes on to tell us that this new life is a life of glorious power. And this power comes through spirit-led prayer and the providence of God.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.—8:18-25
The sufferings mentioned in verse 17 are not accidental but are part of God’s purpose (Romans 5:3-4). But Paul explains that these sufferings are vastly outweighed by future glory (Romans 8:18). The whole creation is looking forward to the end of suffering. Creation groans because God himself has set the whole world on the same course as Christ and believers: suffering before glorification (Romans 8:17). This is the meaning of God subjecting creation “in hope” (Romand 8:20). Hope is not an expectation of something that might or might not happen; it is certain. Both creation and believers groan together. Creation is pictured as looking forward to being freed from its bondage to decay, but creation is not liberated by being destroyed. God will bring creation into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21). Because we have the Holy Spirit, we look forward specifically to our full adoption (partially with us already) and the resurrection of the body (Romans 8:23). This end is what God has saved us for (Romans 8:24)—not to look forward to escaping the body and going to heaven but to look forward to resurrection and living in a renewed creation. Or, as Revelation pictures it, we do not go to heaven forever; rather, heaven comes down to earth when the world is renewed (Revelation 21:10). In light of this glorious future, we should wait both eagerly and patiently (Romans 8:23 and 25).
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.—8:26-27
The word translated “helps” is a complex word (“sunantilambantai” in Greek) that means the Holy Spirit “takes hold of” (“lambane tai”) our weakness (1) together with us (“sun”) and (2) instead of us (“anti”) as our intercessor or one who pleads our case on our behalf. This means the Spirit joins with us to help and empower us to be victors—not victims— in our circumstances. But the Spirit also works apart from us to take action on our behalf. When we are helpless, the Holy Spirit is truly our “helper.”
Concerning the Holy Spirit’s activity in helping us pray, three observations are important:
- As children of God, we have two main intercessors: Christ, who intercedes for us in heaven (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25 and 1 John 2:1), and the Holy Spirit, who intercedes from within us on earth.
- “With groans” probably indicates that the Spirit communicates with God the Father through our desperate inner cries and the longing of our hearts when we do not have words adequate to express our needs and desires to God.
- The desires of our hearts must come from the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. He appeals to the Father for our needs “in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:27). When his desires become our desires, our prayers will be effective.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.—8:28-30
These verses have sometimes been called “the golden chain,” a chain because once one fact is true of the Christian, the others automatically (in God’s part) are true as well. After a summary stating that God works in all things for our good, Paul states five truths about the Christian, all of which are God’s actions toward us.
- “Foreknew” (Romans 8:29) refers to God setting his love on believers. Paul does not say that God foreknew something about us (such as our response to the Gospel) but that he foreknew us. Paul uses the same language of Israel in Romans 11:2.
- “Predestined” (Romans 8:29) is not just being chosen for salvation but is being chosen to bear the image of Christ, which is the final goal of God’s salvation.
- “Called” (Romans 8:30) refers to conversion, not just to a Gospel invitation (Matthew 22:14). The Corinthians, for example, are called to be God’s holy people (1 Corinthians 1:2) and called into the fellowship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), or simply “called” (1 Corinthians 1:26), because Paul uses the word on its own to mean “brought to know God” (1 Corinthians 7:18-24; 1 Thessalonians 5:24).
- “Justified” (Romans 8:30) is the resulting sate of those whom God calls. God counts them righteous, thus ending the hostility of the legal contention between God and believers and drawing them to his side.
- “Glorified” (Romans 8:30) is in the past tense either because God has already determined it or because it is certain to happen. Glorification refers to the future events of verses 18-25: our liberation from sin and decay and our sharing in the glory of Christ. The Christ who indwells us now will in the future shine out from us so that we display his glory (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as we finish Romans 8, when we will see that this new life of glorious power will enable us to face the future without fear.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Isaiah 41:17-43:13, Ephesians 2, Psalm 67:1-7, Proverbs 23:29-35
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