Towards God's Glorious Good

Reading: Romans 8.18-39
A few years ago I watched as a strong young board-rider walked along the rocks at the end of Point Cartwright. He was sheltered from the strong wind, but big waves were pounding the rocks. He waited, watching the waves.

Could he make it out safely? and if he did, he seemed far past the breaking point of the waves moving to the Mooloolah River mouth.

Still he waited, time seemed no object. And if he caught the "big one" all the way in, it looked a difficult and arduous task to paddle back through the waves to wait for the next one.

He was out there alone. No one else was venturing out in this weather - let alone at this location. He waited, his eyes not seeing the spectacular spray but looking beyond it for the perfect moment.

And it came. Quickly he took the plunge and paddled for all his worth to get well beyond the rocks, well beyond the thrust of the waves to certain disaster.

How patient are you? How good are you at waiting? We live in an instant world. We want it quickly - and even throw it away quickly too. We have instant / throw-away relationships as well!

But you are one who comes to church! Do you come for some kind of instant "God-fix" too? or are you looking for a long-term deep relationship with your Maker with all that may imply?

Creation is Waiting

Last week's reading ended with the words, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Rom. 8.17).

That is where verse 18 continues, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." We may face suffering now, but God's glory is up ahead.

And verses 19 to 21 - "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 glorious freedom of the children of God."

The Biblical view of reality is that all was indeed created 'good', but that something happened which has physical consequences, not only for humanity, but for the natural kingdom as well.

We note the expectation in the Old Testament, for example, of a time when "the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest" (Is. 11.6-8).

It is this same theme in today's reading as Paul writes, "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed" (Rom. 8.19). Paul isn't, of course, suggesting that the natural world has some kind of conscious longing, just that the situation of the natural world calls out for the final resolution of the effects of the Fall. The creation itself needs to be set free from its bondage to decay. We see creation groaning in pain, but it is not a hopeless ultimate pain. There will be an end to it. Like the pain of childbirth it is hopeful and productive (vv. 21-22).

We are Waiting

"Not only so," Paul goes on, "but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (v. 23).

Paul is specifically writing to us as Christians. We have received the good news. We have believed in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. We know that our sins are forgiven, that "we're on our way to heaven" when we die.

We trust the promises of God, yet there is more, so much more still to come. Paul says "for in this hope we were saved" (v. 24a). But, as he writes elsewhere, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2.9).

God has begun his good work in us. Already we "have the firstfruits of the Spirit" (curiously, the Greek word rendered "firstfruits" is also the word for "birth certificate") - the Spirit given to us and for us in our life within this world. Already we are God's children - the Spirit assures us so (v. 16). "Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (v. 17). There's more to come! That is why Paul says that we "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (v. 23).

By faith in Christ we are already children of God - new creatures, yet still showing the marks of our fallenness and immaturity. But, O that we might be fully grown and mature sons and daughters of God, in whom his glory is clearly and perfectly expressed! That doesn't happen overnight, but the Lord is still working on us - hopefully also with us!

The Spirit Pleads...

Paul has said that creation is groaning, and that we are groaning. Now he says that the Spirit is groaning too. "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 with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (vv. 26-27).

This passage is all about bringing us to what we are meant to be as sons and daughters of God. The principal work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to that point where we will fully express the glory of God. We are meant to be reaching toward it, but we won't reach it in this life. Creation waits with eager longing for that time. That is our earnest desire as well. And the Spirit - first of God's gifts - is not only at work in us to bring about this change, but "intercedes for us in groans that words cannot express."

What does that mean? Some have assumed that, if we don't know how we ought to pray and the Spirit is going to pray for us anyway, then we don't need to pray. Paul isn't saying that. The Spirit does his work with our willing co-operation. Jesus taught his disciples "that they should always pray and not give up" (Lk 18.1). James wrote that "You do not have because you do not ask God" (Jas 4.2b). No, the Spirit's intercession isn't a substitute for our praying.

Some within the renewal movement have claimed this text as a reference to praying in tongues - a prayer language in which the Spirit prays through us in words we don't understand. However, whatever the grounds elsewhere in Scripture for this teaching, it is clearly excluded in this passage. Paul is writing about "groans that words cannot express" - no words, not even unintelligible tongues.

Ray Stedman comments, "This describes the groans of the Spirit within, so deep and so impossible to verbalise that we cannot say anything at all. We just feel deeply. The apostle says that when that happens, it is the Spirit of God who is praying. The Spirit is putting our prayer into a form which God the Father, who searches the heart, understands. The Spirit is asking for something concerning the situation that we are trying to pray about" (The Agony and the Ecstasy 1976).

God Works for Good...

Creation groans - looking for God to reveal his sons and daughters, wanting to share the glorious freedom of the children of God. We groan - already God's children, already having received the Spirit, yet longing for the fullness and glory of being God's children and wanting our whole being to be set free. The Spirit groans - with that same earnest desire for the complete expression of God's will in our lives and characters.

But now - "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (v. 28). Do you believe that ? - in all things, in every circumstance, no matter what happens?

God is working for our good. That may not be in ways that we choose, but what he chooses or allows for us! Paul and other early Christians knew better than any of us the experience of "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword" (v. 35).

God is working for our good. But his ultimate purpose for us isn't that we be a millionaire in a luxurious mansion with the latest and best cars and boats, able to jet around the world to our heart's content… There may, of course, be those among God's children for whom he has a special purpose in that kind of luxury. But it is not his ultimate purpose for any of us.

God's purpose is that we know him. Nothing - not anything - can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 39). His purpose is also that we be like him. John wrote, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3.2).

The young board-rider was waiting. There could be no second-best, no approximation, no "hope-so". He was waiting patiently, because he had to get it right. To do otherwise could spell disaster.

And we too are waiting - waiting in hope. We know that there is much more to come. Part of us holds on the old life. Part of us groans inwardly, longing to be complete in Christ - to express fully the will and glory of God. In and through our deepest yearnings the Spirit is interceding for us. And in all the circumstances of our life, God is at work - chipping away at our character to bring about his glorious good in us.

Don't be impatient, but co-operate with the Spirit of God as the Lord works it all for our good - and to his glory!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill Uniting Church, 14 July 2002
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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