We live among people who want so much, who want it all now. In addition, it should come with minimal effort and little or no discomfort. God forbid I should have to experience pain or hardship, I deserve to be free of those things, it’s my right! Hospitals, doctors’ offices and courtrooms are overflowing with those who seek immediate relief from suffering of one sort or another primarily because they can see no purpose in their less than perfect circumstances.
Yet God’s Word speaks of pain (42), sorrow (102), suffering (106) as an expected part of human experience and as something the believer should anticipate (250x from Gen to Rev). But God doesn’t speak flippantly about this part of life, rather He makes it plain that whether in happiness or sorrow, joy or suffering, He has a purpose, a goal. Everything in Scripture from the Creation story onward points to the Consummation of all things when redemption will be complete.
As Paul fleshes out the answer to his wrenching question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death”, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit he outlines the process by which God delivers his children from the tyranny of sin, transferring them into the Kingdom of Christ and ultimately bringing them, us, safely home to glory. In the first portion of our text, Paul looks at the “already but not yet” aspect of our salvation; he then assures us God has not left us alone in our sanctification; finally, Paul takes us up the steps God has ordained and is actively accomplishing to bring us to heaven and our final glorification.
A. Salvation – already but not yet v. 18-25
1. we are saved and we are being saved
Not only does God’s promise of salvation serve as an ironclad guarantee, allowing us to speak of it as if it were completely accomplished, salvation is something the child of God actually possesses from the moment of his regeneration. John told the readers of his first epistle (1 John 5:13) that he wrote it to them so they might know that they have eternal life and that they might continue to believe.
1 Peter 1:9 speaks explicitly of our faith having a goal, a termination point at which it will have accomplished its purpose and be necessary no longer – the goal is the salvation of our souls. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that of the three graces: faith, hope and love, that only love will endure; the time is coming for all true believers when faith will become sight and hope realized.
Hope is a hallmark of our faith – confidence in the future, that God will accomplish that which he has promised. But as Paul says in verse 24, hope that is realized is no longer hope; it is illogical to hope for what is already within sight. Since we don’t see it, we are waiting for it eagerly, that is, our full and complete redemption which still lies in the future. God in his sovereign wisdom and providence has given us the Holy Spirit as a foretaste, the firstfruits (verse 23) of what is yet to come; in the meantime the Spirit is one of the means God is using to move us toward the final goal, to carry out the process of our salvation.
2. we do experience real suffering in the Christian life
a. see 1 Peter 1:6-10; to test the genuineness of our faith – not so that God knows, but that we may know; think Abraham and Isaac (v. 7)
b. to increase our trust in God, the one whom we love and believe without having seen ( v.8 ) Especially during those times when we are unable to understand why God is doing what he is, we are driven to those objective truths revealed in Scripture about God and his character, causing us to remember that just as He has been faithful to bring us through everything up to this point, we can and must trust him the rest of the way.
c. see Philippians 3:8-10; to enable us to better identify with Christ, having fellowship in his sufferings; Peter tells us to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4:13
d. to correct us from error when necessary; when we get caught up in doing those things which displease God or break his laws, He will use suffering to show us our need to change. When we get focused on self and our own abilities, God uses difficulties to put us in circumstances where we have rely on his strength instead of our own.
3. our best life is not now, it is yet to come
Although we possess real salvation now, our salvation is incomplete until that time when we are finally and fully redeemed from sin – that is, when we are eternally freed from the corruption of sin and confirmed in holiness. John tells us in 1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is.“
The day is coming when we will be like Christ to the fullest extent we as creatures are able, displaying and revealing his glory as those whom he has bought with an incomparable price, suffering the consequences of our sin in our place. That will be our best life, one enjoyed in the immediate presence of God without the distortions of sin to hinder our view and comprehension of him. In comparison to that, whatever we might suffer in this life doesn’t begin to compare; life then will be so much different, better, glorious, it isn’t even on the same scale as this life.
B. Sanctification – we’re not in it alone v. 26-27
1. we need help in our weakness
God in his loving mercy helps us in our weaknesses; he knows our frame, he remembers we are but dust Psalm 103:14 and thus in need of help. God is the best of Masters – he not only gives us tasks to do, he also provides clear instructions and all the resources we need to accomplish what he expects of us. God has not only provided all the resources, he gives us the best resource, himself, to help bring us safely home.
Our weakness is evident in numerous ways: we still live in a sin-tainted body, subject to temptation and weak faith. We view the world, ourselves, and our circumstances through eyes that need corrective lenses; the remains of sin in our lives distorts our vision so we cannot see clearly as God sees. We are plagued with discouragement, at times with good intentions but weak follow-through. Our loving Creator-Father knows all this and condescends to help us on our way.
2. we have an omniscient intercessor in the Holy Spirit
One major weakness we have is the lack of perfect and complete knowledge. Consequently, we do not always know what we should ask for God to give us. Often we ask for the right thing but at the wrong time or in the wrong amount; at other times we truly don’t know what would be best for us to have because we don’t have all the facts. God not only knows all the facts, he knows specifically what it is that he is working to accomplish in us through our present circumstances. Because of that, God can intercede with God – Spirit with Father – on our behalf, on the basis of perfect knowledge.
3. the Spirit’s prayers are always answered affirmatively
Since the Spirit knows not only our circumstances but also the mind of God 1 Corinthians 2:11, his prayers on our behalf will be answered affirmatively since he always prays in the will of God. There is only one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus but there are two divine intercessors on our behalf. John tells us in 1 John 2:1 that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”; here we see in verses 26 and 27 that the Holy Sprit fills a similar and complementary office. It is absolutely certain that when God intercedes with God, God says “Yes”.
C. Glorification – sovereignly ordered steps to heaven v. 28-30
1. we have nothing to fear; it’s as good as done
There are two things to note here: the tense of each verb in the progression, and the subject of every verb. Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified – the simple past tense, referring to God’s decrees by which he ordained all that comes to pass. In each case, God is the subject, the one who is doing the action. Nothing could be more certain: the Sovereign Ruler of the universe has declared through his written Word that He has a plan and a purpose for his people, decreed at the beginning, and being carried out through time and history until its completion in glory. For God’s plan to fail, God must fail, a true impossibility.
2. our destiny is certain – conformity with Christ
“Holy practice is the aim of that eternal election which is the first ground of the bestowment of all true grace. — Holy practice is not the ground and reason of election, as is supposed by the Arminians, who imagine that God elects men to everlasting life upon a foresight of their good works; but it is the aim and end of election. God does not elect men because he foresees they will be holy, but that he may make them, and that they may be holy.” Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits
To be made holy is to be made like Christ, as completely like him as is possible for creatures to become; that is the goal and purpose of every grace God bestows on us, whether the grace of redemption or suffering or spiritual knowledge and understanding. Yes, we live in the here and now and we have a purpose to fulfill in this life; but the big goal in the big picture is in the next life, living life eternally as we were designed to do from the start. All of this life is preparation for the next life and God intends that we will look like and be a proper member of the family, His family, when we arrive.
3. every step in our progress has our glorification as its ultimate end
Given the context here in Romans 8, it is not just God’s calling, election, and justification which have our glorification in view; it is the troubles and suffering he brings into our life. Each and every detail of our lives are sovereignly ordained to make us holy, to make us like Christ, to fit us for heaven and God’s presence. When we remember that the end of our faith is complete redemption in glory, when we recognize that all of our circumstances are God-ordained to bring us safely to that redemption, our attention will be focused on the face of Christ and our desire to be like him.
To be done with the labors and trials of this life, to be safe in heaven and near the God we love, experiencing in its fulness the gift of his grace, that truly will be glory for us.