I know it’s been two months since we’ve been in Romans so allow me to briefly remind you where we left off. In Romans 8:1-17 Paul has been beautifully unfolding the great assurance we now enjoy in Christ. He begins this with the most famous verse in 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why is this true? Because of v2-4. By sending His own Son for us, God did what the law could never do. Meaning through Christ, God fully and finally dealt with sin, while at the same time bringing forgiveness and righteousness to sinners through faith. So, all who trust in Jesus, Paul says in v4, now walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. He then tells us what that means, what that looks like, and what happens to us when we walk by the Spirit. That’s what Paul leans into in v1-17.
Look how v16-17 end, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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.” After so many wonders have been stated in v1-17 the mention of suffering might give us a bit of whiplash. Suffering? Wait a minute. I thought we enjoyed a great assurance? I thought we were now the children of God? I thought the Spirit is bringing life to us here and now? Why would Paul bring suffering into this? Doesn’t this contradict, or at least bring into question the reality that there’s no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? What do we make of this? Well, I think this whole chapter (especially our text today, v18-27) shows us an apostle who’s eager to remind us that in this life the Christian goes the way of our Lord. Jesus went up into glory, but what road did He take? The Father’s will that led Him to a death on a cross. Suffering was a true part of His life. Which means, suffering will also be a true part of our life as well. But, though suffering’s real for us, it’s not the final word for us. Paul says as much as our text begins in v18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” What’s he mean by this? It’s as if a man is sitting before a scale. And on one side of it the man puts all his sufferings. He looks at it and sees how very heavy his sufferings have been. But then on the other side of the scale he puts the weight of glory yet to come, and his sufferings that seemed so heavy before now seem to be light as a feather. It’s not that his suffering is light, but that it becomes light when compared to the glory that will one day be revealed.
Hear it Church, the big idea today is this: so vastly different is our future glory from our present sufferings that it’s not even worth comparing. So, all that’s present and visible for us must be understood in light of what is future and invisible. This is what Paul’s up to in this passage before us. And the vehicle he uses to drive it home to us is the experience of groaning. In v19-22 we see the creation groaning, in v23-25 we see the Christian groaning, and in v26-27 we see the Spirit groaning. Let’s take these as they come to us in the text. See first…
The Creation Groaning (v19-22)
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
During these past two months on sabbatical our family took lots of trips. One trip I took was a climbing trip with my brothers in law to Mt. Rainier in Washington state. Rainier is one of many volcanoes in the northwest, but what marks it out from the rest is that it’s covered by a glacier and is the tallest volcano standing at 14,500 ft. As we were slowly heading up the mountain, I was struck afresh by the beauty of creation. I kept bouncing back and forth between two desires. One moment I wanted to sing loudly and praise God for the world He’s made. The hymns How Great Thou Art and This Is My Father’s World were rolling through my mind (mind, not mouth I had to make oxygen decisions). But the next moment I didn’t want to speak at all, because in comparison to the grandeur of the mountain I was reminded how unbelievably tiny I am. It was humbling. Many of you have felt this too by looking out at creation. Whether it’s a mountain, a sunset at the beach, or a breezy field of green of gold…creation is simply stunning to behold.
Now remember what v19 said, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” What? All of creation in all its glory, is in a state of waiting? Yes. Not only waiting but waiting with an eager longing. And not only waiting with eager longing but waiting eagerly for “…the revealing of the sons of God.” Is that referring to us? Yes it is. So, all creation is longing for, and yearning for, the last Day when the Church will finally be revealed to be what the Church truly is! Paul’s not saying creation has a soul or is god or is part of god like pantheism teaches but he is saying our redemption from sin is of cosmic significance. Now, we Christians don’t look much like sons and daughters of God here in this life, if we’re honest we look rather ordinary. But on that last Day when God’s work is complete our true state will be revealed for all creation to see. This is what creation is longing for.
Paul expands on this in v20-21 telling us why creation is longing in the first place. He says creation was “subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope…” Remember Genesis 3. Man’s fall into sin marred everything. One of the consequences of the fall is given to us in Gen. 3:17b when God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” In this moment God’s good creation entered into a state of frustration and as soon as that happened a longing to be made whole once again began. This theme continues further on into the OT. God often speaks of the consequences of the fall in cosmic terms. So the prophets will sometimes say to Israel ‘The land itself mourns over you!’ But all along there is a yearning mentioned. So, the prophets also say, “The mountains and the hills…shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).
But notice more in v20. Creation didn’t choose to enter into frustration. It was subjected to it, meaning someone else did this. Who was it? Look in v20, the one who subjected creation to futility did so “…in hope.” Did Adam have hope in mind when he ate the fruit? Did Eve? Did the serpent when he tempted them? Not at all! Who then subjected creation to frustration? There’s only one answer: God did. What did He intend by all this? Look at v21, “…that the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” It all follows together, you see it? Since man’s fall into sin marred all things, creation included, what will the redemption of man bring but the restoration all things? All of creation then, looks ahead with hope to what will occur on that last Day, when sin’s very presence will be eradicated and everything will be set free from the bondage of sin.
What does that mean for creation right now? How should we view the world God has made based on v19-21? Should we view it as a dumpster fire that’s just gonna keep burning? No. Look at v22. Paul says the whole creation is pregnant. And with labor comes labor pains. Paul uses this image of pregnancy because we know labor pains aren’t in vain, that the pains of labor aren’t worth comparing with the joy that follows when a child is born. So it is with creation. The groaning is real, but the groaning will one day break with the dawn of the final Day.
So creation is groaning, but not only so, Paul continues in v23-25 describing…
The Christian Groaning (v23-25)
“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. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
It isn’t just creation that’s in a state of waiting and groaning, we’re waiting and groaning and longing as well. Of course, as with creation this isn’t a groaning you can hear, it’s an inward groaning, a steady longing, a kind of posture of the heart that feels like a constant homesickness for heaven. And as creation groans for the revealing of the sons of God, we too groan for our adoption and the redemption of our bodies. But wait, isn’t adoption and redemption things we’ve already received from God? In one sense this is right. The moment we put our faith in Christ we received these things from God. But look closely at v23, it says we only have the firstfruits of the Spirit. Meaning, while we truly have been adopted by God through the gospel (see v14-15), and while the Spirit is now truly in us and is giving life to our mortal bodies here and now (see v11), there’s much more to come in the end. When our adoption in glory is final and these bodies are no longer plagued with the effects of sin and decay, we won’t just have firstfruits then, we’ll have the fullness. We won’t just be nibbling on the appetizer we’ll be digging in at the feast!
So, as Christians we should not merely consider what we used to be as lost sinners, and what we are now as redeemed saints. We should also consider what we will be in the end in as we enter glory to be with the Lord forever.
See what Paul says next in v25? “For in this hope we were saved.” It’s just like what he said in the first section with creation. As creation groans it’s pregnant with hope. Now we see that we ourselves also groan in a robust hope, as we wait for the final Day.
Back to our climbing trip. Going up Mt. Rainier is no small task. As we drew near our final camp at 10,000 ft. I was exhausted. My heart rate had been around 140-160 for four straight hours, my legs were cramping, I was hungry, I was thirsty, and all I wanted to do was sit down and rest. But our guides told us the best way to tackle the climb is to keep going, slow and steady, so on we went. Nonetheless, to say I was groaning to rest would be an understatement. Isn’t this so like the Christian life? We often say the Christian life isn’t a sprint but a marathon, yet when it begins to feel like a marathon we get frustrated and wonder if God has abandoned us! Church, the Christian life feels like v18 at times, suffering sometimes abounds. But do we read the whole verse? When compared to what’s coming, when we’re finally at rest, the glory to come far surpasses all we’ve endured in this life. Until then, we groan along with all creation.
But, it’s not only all creation and all Christians who groan for glory, it’s the Holy Spirit too.
The Spirit Groaning (v26-27)
“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. 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.”
v26 is honest to mention that in this life we’ll face much weakness, both in us and around us due to the fall. But notice the kind of weakness Paul mentions is struggle in prayer. Because of our weakness (sinful condition) there will be times when we won’t know how to pray. I’m encouraged at the honesty here, are you? This is one of those verses that we get to and say, ‘Thank God! I thought I was a defective Christian, cause I’ve had many times of prayer when words just wouldn’t come. I’m sure glad I’m not the only one.’ Well, in this weakness we have a great Helper. The Spirit of God, in the midst of this weakness, helps abundantly. How? v26b says when words fail us, “…the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” It’s not surprising that this is a very debated passage. There are all kinds of opinions about what exactly it means. I’d encourage you to be ok with some mystery here, for this is mysterious. It does really seem to mean that the Spirit prays for us, in our hearts, in a way that is imperceptible to us. v27 adds to this clarifying that both the Father and the Spirit are involved. The Father being the One who knows the mind of the Spirit and the Spirit being the One doing the praying in line with the will of God.
We often talk of Jesus praying for us in heaven, and rightly so! But how great is it to know we’ve got another intercessor in the Spirit within us? Seems that God has us covered.
So, there seems to be a kind of ‘symphony of sighs’ happening all around us in this life. Yet v18 remains true. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Do you consider this? I think we get what v18-27 is teaching us. I think we understand our suffering due to sin, and I think we understand the groaning this leads to.
But do we really? Is there really a point to examining these verses if we don’t allow them to examine us, and reshape how we live and believe?
The big question that comes from this passage is this: do you groan for glory? Do you groan to be home with the Lord with Him forever? If you do, you’ve got everything in this passage to look forward to, rejoice in this! If not, if you don’t groan to be with Jesus while you’re here in this life, what makes you think you’ll actually be with Him in the next?
Ironically the absence or presence of this groaning for glory tells us a lot about ourselves. If you don’t groan for glory that might prove that you’re not in the faith or it might prove you’re far too in love with this world, while the presence of this ‘eager groaning’ proves your faith is true.
Church, if all creation groans, shouldn’t we who experience so great a salvation groan even more so? We have been saved and we are being saved, let’s eagerly look forward to the day when we will be saved!
So vastly different is our future glory from our present sufferings that it’s not even worth comparing. So, all that’s present and visible for us must be understood in light of what is future and invisible.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 531.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – The Perseverance of the Saints (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 45.
 Moo, Romans, 533.
 Ibid., 537.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 269.
 Ibid., 273.
 Moo, Romans, 547.
 Perhaps the will of God is mentioned here in v27 because that is the very weakness (v26) we so often experience in prayer.
 Ibid., 533.