In Romans 8:23-25 we learn that the Apostle Paul was a restless man
Longing For Home
C.S. Lewis wrote a classic allegory of the battle between good and evil – between Christ’s kingdom and Satan’s rule over mankind. Perhaps you’ve read the first volume entitled, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. If you haven’t, I recommend you begin reading it – no matter what your age happens to be.
In his opening volume, Narnia is under the control of the Wicked Witch and the land is bound to perpetual winter. It’s icicles and freezing temperatures year round. Under her reign, Springtime will never come.
But Aslan, the lion comes forward, offering himself to the witch to be put to death. Her kingdom seems to triumph for a moment and winter is all earth will ever know! However, Aslan rises from the dead and defeats the wicked witch. And the snow and ice begins to melt; the flowers begin to bloom; the trees begin to bud – Spring time suddenly comes to the kingdom of Narnia.
Lewis’ allegory is obvious and somewhat applicable to our session on the groaning of nature..
While earth experiences spring – it is short lived. The hope of spring is replaced with the heat of summer and the announcement of death in autumn comes true in winter, once again.
Nature is unable to hang on Spring. The conditions of Eden’s garden are only temporary.
The Apostle Paul has informed us that nature has a longing for the day when Paradise will return.
John informs us of the coming day when trees bear fruit year round – where plentiful water flows freely year round. Where animals and all of earth enjoy the never ending greenery and beauty of new earth and heaven. Free forever of the wicked Ruler who has been banished to hell forever.
The groaning of nature, Paul tells us, will give way to eternal glory.
Nature is not alone in groaning for that day to come.
If we return to the paragraph of scripture we are inspecting, we discover the second groan.
Romans 8. Let’s begin in verse 22. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
In other words, we’re told that creation is groaning and the Christian is groaning.
Part of living a victorious life as a believer is bound up in an understanding that creation is groaning and why; nature, he explained in verse 20, was affected by the fall of man. It became bound to frustration and corruption or decay.
Genesis 3 spelled it out. Thorns and thistles became part of a cursed earth. The sounds of nature’s groaning began with the evidence of earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes; the fear of animals and the merciless cycles of a violent animal world.
But God remainsd in control by the way. Not man . . . but God.
Genesis 3 informs us that mankind is given the privilege of stewarding nature – making order out of disorder; taming the animals, fighting the elements; mankind is the steward of this planet but he is not the savior of earth.
In fact, earth is not dependent on man for it’s ultimate survival.
While mankind should not pollute the earth but care for her and tend her as good stewards, earth is not going to self-destruct because of something fallen mankind does to her.
Read the Book of Revelation and discover that during the final events of this dispensation, and our planet’s bondage to decay:
- Stars and planets are still in the sky;
- The moon is still reflecting the light of the sun and the sun is still warming the earth.
- Fresh water and salt water are still plentiful;
- Animals and trees are in abundance;
- The earth is covered with people, reflecting their national identities and organized kingdoms;
According to the description of earth in it’s final days before God recreates it, it does not run out of oxygen or water or trees or animals . . . or people. In fact, the earth is covered with all the above.
God is sovereign over His creation . . . we can enjoy it or pollute it – we can tend to it to our benefit or ignore it to our detriment and discomfort; but one day God will make earth and heaven over again (Revelation 21:1).
In Revelation 22:3 John sort of sums it up by saying, “and there will be no more curse.”
And creation is longing for that day.
Paul also tells the believer that we too groan, but then he goes one further in telling us why and even further still in telling us how to groan the right way.
While the world does not understand God’s plan for creation, I fear that the average believer doesn’t understand God’s plan for the Christian.
- When the Christian is faced with difficult times and he will be;
- When the Christian experiences pain and he will;
- When the Christian faces pressure and tribulation and he will;
- When he faces the ridicule of the world and he will;
- When he experiences disease and discomfort and he will;
- When he ultimately dies of something and he will,
The church today has left him without an answer.
He has been led to believe fanciful guarantees and mystical promises the Bible really knows nothing of – even though the Bible has been twisted into proving some sort of pain free, disease free, problem free, trouble free, crisis free life.
Just read the New Testament. Read the 11th chapter of Hebrews where people were persecuted and ridiculed and cut in half and killed in a variety of other ways; destitute, homeless, and God says they were people of great faith of whom the world was not worthy.
The question is, what should we truly be groaning about and longing for and how do we go about it?
Paul states very clearly in the paragraph two key thoughts.
First of all, there is an undeniable presence of groaning in the life of the true Christian.
there is an unmistakable pattern for the groaning of the true Christian.
There is the presence of groaning . . . longing in the life of the believer.
Look again at the middle of verse 23. Even we (that is, even we who are Christians) we ourselves groan within ourselves.
Paul is uniquely and even painfully honest about true Christianity.
He says here in the Word of God, that groaning is a reality for the true believer.
You watch reality T.V.? Well, this is reality K.J.V. or N.I.V. . . . or, for the more spiritual, N.A.S.B.
By the way, to groan comes from the Greek word stenazo – it means to sigh – to inwardly grieve.
It’s a rare word that only appears a half a dozen times in the New Testament, three of them here in Romans 8.
It’s used of Jesus who groaned as he healed a deaf-man; as he approached the tomb of Lazerus He groaned – obviously grieving over the fact of death among fallen humanity.
It’s used of church leaders who, because of disobedient and sinful members of the flock, inwardly groan.
It’s a word that that carries a deep longing for something better.
And Paul says that every Christian in involved!
And he gives three reasons why, and all three of them have to do with the fact that we are waiting for something.
- First, we are waiting for the final compensation of our inheritance.
Notice the first part of verse 23 again, “but also we ourselves have the first fruits of the Spirit.”
In other words, we’re experiencing the first part of our inheritance, the Holy Spirit, but not all of our inheritance.
There is so much more that we long to see and have and experience of God.
Paul tells us here that the Holy Spirit is the firstfruit. What does he mean?
Paul takes from harvest time an illustration that all his readers would have understood. In Leviticus, the believing Jew was to take the first grain of harvest and take it to the priest. It would become a symbol that this farmers entire harvest was consecrated and dedicated to the glory of God. The firstfuit was a gift to God.
But Paul reverses here the Old Testament idea in this New Testament principle.
Here in this text, the firstfruit isn’t something the believer gives to God, the firstfruit is something God has given to the believer. And that something is Someone! The Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, then, is the first payment from God on our incredible, eternal inheritance as the bride of Christ.
The Spirit signifies there is more to come!
The Bible teaches us that the believer’s salvation and future reward is secured by God the Spirit. Paul reassured the Corinthians when he wrote, “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
In other words, the security of the believer is not related to how much you grow, how obedient you are, how sinless you become; how committed you act. Those are all wonderful things and may very well indicate the reality of living faith. But the security of the believer is related to that – and I’m glad it isn’t. Because we can all grow more – become more obedient – less sinful and more passionately committed.
No, the security of the believer is not related to what the believer does for God, but what God has done for the believer. Our security is not found in what we give Him, but what He has given us!
And the Spirit of God has been given, Paul writes, as the seal and pledge to every believer.
We experience something like that in our real-estate dealings. We pay money down on a loan. We put some money down to hold a property for a certain amount of time.
We do something like that in personal relationships.
When we find the girl we want to marry, what do we do? We give them a “downpayment” in the form of a ring we can, in no way, afford. And why did we do that? Because we needed help!
How many men in here proposed to your sweetheart with the engagement ring ready to put on her finger?
Why did you have that beautiful sparkling diamond ring with you when you proposed? Because you needed help, right?
- Because you didn’t deserve her and we needed something to help our cause, right?
- Because you married way above ourselves, amen?
- I’m gonna give you one more chance for a decent lunch . . . “Because you were proposing to a woman so much better than we deserved . . . Amen?!
I certainly needed the help!
I had broken up with my sweetheart, several times. In fact, I had broken up with her just prior to our senior year. She was finished with me. Her dad was finished with me too! I was Mr. Fickle. Mr. Can’t make up his mind. Mr. You hurt my daughter one more time and I’m gonna kill you.
This actually has a lot to do with Romans 8 . . . trust me.
That next fall, I knew coming back to college that I was about to lose the best thing that ever happened to me. Somehow she agreed to go out with me that fall semester – her dad wasn’t happy about it and planned to, quote, “have a word with me.”
But without her knowing, I began saving money for an engagement ring. I took every odd job I could to make extra money. I knew that when I proposed over Thanksgiving holiday, which was my plan, she needed some measure that I was serious. I had never proposed to her before, but she needed more than words anyway. So we went to her home for Thanksgiving break . . . that was where her Dad lived!
For the sake of time, let me just say a miracle occurred – that’s right, her Dad did’nt kill me . . . no, that’s not the miracle. The miracle was, she said “yes.”
And I can tell you that ring helped prove that I meant what I said. From what I remember, when she slipped on that ring on her finger and held out her hand, the heavens parted and the angels began to sing the hallelujah chorus.
My friends, Paul says something here that reveals what God has done for us – the Bride of the coming Bride-Groom.
He gives us more than words . . . He gives us more than a promise – He gives us a pledge – the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
Paul emphasizes this truth to the Ephesian believers; “After listening to the message of truth . . . having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance. (1:13-14)
In other words, The Spirit is the pledge of God which means He is only the beginning of our inheritance. There’s more to come!
Have you ever met a woman who said, “I’m engaged and this ring is all I ever wanted!” “I’ve always wanted a diamond ring and I don’t care if I ever marry him, this ring is enough for me.”
She might wish later she’d stopped with the ring – but not now.
Oh my. There’s gonna be a wedding! There’s gonna to be a home! There’s going to be a Mr. and Mrs. from here on out!
And, if God wills it, there will be a family to grow!
Every fiancé is excited about being a fiancé only because the word fiancé is going to be exchanged for the word ‘wife.’
And she longs for that day! And he longs for that day.
Ask an engaged couple how many days are left and they will probably know how many.
And do you know what they’re doing while they wait? They are groaning. They are sighing. They are sick little puppies. Isn’t it great?! They are groaning for the day when the engagement period ends and marriage begins.
Listen, no true Christian ever says, “Having the Holy Spirit as God’s pledge is enough . . .”
No, the believer is groaning . . . he is sighing . . . he is longing for the marriage supper of the Lamb. He longs for that better day when the church meets the bridegroom face to face. He longs for the day when the church sets up in the Father’s house.
But you know something, don’t you, by the way. An engagement can be broken – a marriage vow can be abandoned – a diamond ring is not enough to make a promise stick – a wedding band is not enough to hold a marriage together – but God’s vow to you will never be broken – for God cannot lie.
That’s why His pledge is not a thing – a house, a car, a child, a job, a piece of land, or a diamond ring – God’s pledge to you is a person.
Whoever is indwelt by the Spirit of God belongs to God; and whoever belongs to God, belongs to God forever!
Adapted from John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1991), p. 460
And now that we have a taste of who God is residing within us we groan for more.
Paul says secondly that we are also:
- groaning for the final consequences of our adoption
He writes in verse 23b. “we are waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons.”
We’ve already studied adoption procedures back in verse 15 and how they related to Biblical theology.
For now let me add that adoption is two-fold:
First, there is the placing of a child within the family of God.
Secondly, there is the bestowing of responsibility on a mature son as they represent the family name and enterprise.
It is this second point that Paul speaks of here. The believer is going to be given the responsibility of representing the family name. The believer will literally reign with Christ.
And Paul says he, and every true believer, longs for the day when he will experience first-hand the glorious reign of Christ.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting that – it’s part of your inheritance. The true believer longs for the day when the righteousness of God will cover the earth – when His holy reign will fill the earth and all there is.
We long for that to happen.
Third, Paul writes that the believer:
- groans for the final consummation of his redemption
Ray Stedman commented on this text by writing,
“Our lives consist of groans. We groan because of the ravages that sin makes in our own lives, and in the lives of those we love. We groan because we see possibilities that are not being [embraced]; we groan because we see gifted people who are wasting their lives and we would love to see something [better] happen. We groan in disappointment, in bereavement, in sorrow. We groan physically in our pain and our limitation. Life consists of a great deal of groaning.”
R. Kent Hughes, Romans; Righteousness From Heaven (Crossway Books, IL; 1991) p. 161
We groan for the redemption of our body!
We groan, like the Apostle Paul, and we long for the day when we will dwell in the new heaven and new earth in our glorified bodies – done with sinful flesh; done with pain and suffering.
If you can even imagine – we’re told in Matthew 13:43 that we will one day shine as the sun (s.u.n.) shine as the brightness of the sun in the kingdom of our Father.
Daniel records that the faithful believer will shine like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and like the stars forever and forever! (Daniel 12:3)
We groan for the final compensation of our inheritance;
We groan for the final consequences of our adoption;
And we groan for the final consummation of our redemption.
That’s what we groan for . . . now how do we groan?
Let me just give you quickly three ways Paul tells us to groan:
1. We groan with the assurance of hope.
Notice verse 24, “For in hope we have been saved.”
Now that doesn’t mean “we hope we’re saved.” It means “because we’re saved, we have hope!”
We were saved from hopelessness into hopefulness!
The word saved is aorist passive – we have been saved – it’s completed action with effects still coming our way!
This isn’t the hope that says, “I hope I get into heaven .” This is the hope that asks, “I wonder how long it will take for me to get there?”
Like a child in the back seat of your car on their way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house – over and over again, “Are we there yet . . . are we there yet . . . are we there yet?”
And you answer, “No, but we’re closer than we were the last time you asked.”
The believer groans with that kind of longing – with that kind of anticipation . . . “Are we there yet?”
2. Secondly, we not only wait with the assurance of hope, we wait without the advantage of sight.
He writes further in verse 24, “but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?”
You could render this phrase, “For who hopes for what he can see?”
In other words, we hope because we can’t see it, not because we don’t believe it exists.
3. We groan with the assurance of hope, without the advantage of sight, and thirdly, with an attitude of expectation and courage.
25. But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Our groaning is not depressed moaning but active, expectant, eagerness. We live life with this kind of attitude – we groan now, but we know our groaning will turn into glory!
Our groaning will one day be exchanged for glory!
I was listening to public radio this week in my pick-up truck – it’s one of the few stations I get on that old radio, for some reason. They were interviewing a well known actress of the mid 1900’s. This particular interview was in the last few years of her life – she died in the late 1980’s. She made the comment, near the end of the interview, “I have lived a fabulous life . . . I just can’t believe it’s over.”
For the believer, it’s exactly the opposite, “I have lived my life – some parts fabulous, some parts failure, some parts mountain top and some parts valley – I have lived my life . . . I just can’t believe it’s really only begun!
I can’t believe the best is about to begin!
This is what we are longing for.
And though we groan – our groaning is filled with expectation.
Our faith in Christ means that we believe what we do not see, and our reward will be to see what we have believed.
And then . . .
It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus;
Life’s trials will seem so small, when we see Him,
One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase,
So . . . bravely run the race, ‘till we see Christ.