Romans 8:18-23
Moaning & Groaning for Glory

Truth Contenders Sunday School Class
Two Rivers Baptist Church
Nashville, TN, USA

For Sunday, 22 June 2003


Up to this point in chapter 8, Paul has been explaining the benefits of our justification:

  • The cancelation of our sin debt to God, and the replacement of that debt with a debt of gratitude and service to God
  • Release from the bondage to sin in the flesh, and freedom to be righteous in the Spirit
  • Freedom from the spirit of fear because we have received the spirit of adoption as sons
  • Consequent inheritance, shaing in Christ's own glory!

As wonderful as all that is for us, even in this present age, our salvation is not yet complete. We are not so much saved as we are being saved. We are in the process of obtaining our salvation by faith. Paul hints at this in verse 11 when he says that our mortal bodies are dead due to sin, but that God will give them life. The completion of our salvation does not happen in this life, nor even upon our death, but awaits a future resurrection of our physical bodies. Despite the wait for that, so far, it sounds like it's all good.

This may hurt a little bit...

But then in verse 17, he introduced the idea that our future glorification has a prerequisite: suffering with Christ in this present age. Bummer, huh? Well, yes and no. Maybe not so bad as it seems at first. It hurts, but it's pain with a purpose. I love the way commentators John Murray and John Calvin put it:

"These groans and travails are not death pangs but birth pangs. In the words of Calvin, ... 'they groan like a woman in travail until they shall be delivered. But it is a most suitable similitude; it shows that the groaning of which he speaks will not be in vain and without effect; for it will at length bring forth a joyful and blessed fruit.'"1

Isn't wonderful how our whole world is designed by God to show us what He is like and what our salvation is like?! It's no mistake that we use the word delivered to describe both birth and salvation. We carry the gospel in our bodies, so to speak, and see it all around us with our eyes.

But our bodies, and the material world we inhabit through them, are more than just illustrative. They are part of us. And Paul assures us, back in verse 8 and here in verse 23, that our salvation ultimately includes the salvation of our bodies. Commentator William Newell put it well:

"The Christian's hope is not disembodiment, or mere 'going to heaven.' For, knowing that 'our citizenship is in heaven; we patiently wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.'"2 [Philipians 3:20-21 - not sure which version he was quoting]

Yet, it includes even more than just our embodied selves. In verses 19-21, Paul lets us know that the plan of redemption includes the whole of the Creation in which has graciously God placed us, and of which we are an intrinsic part. Our personal salvation from sin and death is only a part of the grand and glorious redemption of the fallen and cursed Creation. Ken Myers, host of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, put it well when commenting on David Naugle's Worldview: History of a Concept:

"The religion of the Bible does not represent salvation as a blessing from a God who is interested only in imparting inner peace or spiritual wholeness, and indifferent to the activities of body and mind that constitute human culture... The Biblical account is not one that portrays human life as self-created and self-defining, to which the blessings of salvation are arbitrarilly added... Sin is not an isolated spiritual ailment, but a force ... resulting in cosmic disorder. The redemption that God provides is described as providing a new heavens and a new earth, not just a bunch of saved souls."3

(I highly recommend the Mars Hill Audio Journal to anyone interested in learning to better see the world through Christian eyes. Myers and his guests deal profoundly with issues pertaining to all facets of culture and the Christian's relationship to it. Your mind will grow.)

Pain with a Promise

In this passage, Paul gives us the whole scope of salvation - past, present, and future.

Past Age

v. 20 - In the past age, the whole of Creation, including mankind, was subjected to futility. But in hope! In Genesis 3:17-19 we hear God's curse on the ground for Adam's sake, because of his disobedience. However, in speaking to the Serpent, God had already, in v. 15 of Genesis 3, promised Man a Redeemer - one who would someday crush the head of the Serpent and set things to rights.

As bad as this damned world can seem at times, it is not an inherently bad world; that is, evil is not intrinsic to its nature by design. It is an inherently good world that is under a temporary curse. It's true that the effects of the curse are endemic - that is, found throughout it in every part. But it is not hopelessly corrupted. There's nothing wrong with it that God can't fix.

Present Age

vv. 18-23 - Since Adam's Fall, all Creation continues to display the effects of the Curse through suffering, longing, slavery, corruption, and groaning. In our bodies, we groan with the Creation, awaiting together the fulfillment of our salvation from the Curse, waiting to be revealed as the sons of God. It's been a long wait. It may well be a good deal longer yet.

Future Age

vv. 18-23 - However, as Paul mentions each effect of the Curse, he gives its future counterpart:

Present AgePast Age
Anxious longingRevelation of the sons of God
Slavery to corruptionGlorious freedom
GroaningRedeemed body
First fruits of the SpiritAdoption as God's children

I think it's interesting that Paul gives five pairs of descriptors of Creation's present/future state in that passage, since the number 5 is traditionally considered the number of fleshiness or of embodiment, the number corresponding to the essence of material-world-ness, so to speak. The reasons for that association are difficult to explain in a few words, but they have been known at least as far back as Pythagoras, and have to do with a mathematical constant known today as phi, which seems to lie at the foundation of our three-dimesional cosmos.

Everyone together, now: "Grooooaaan!"

There's nothing wrong with groaning, in itself. As Christians, we must never be the sort of people who paste a smile on our faces and pretend that everything is OK. Everything is not OK, and it is disingenuous to pretend that it is. If you are suffering, go ahead and groan! It's appropriate to express what you feel, even if your feelings would be described as "negative" by modern psychology or by New Age gurus (or even by well-meaning but mistaken Christians).

Life in a fallen world is stressful. Even Jesus himself felt stress and expressed it bodily. When he chased the money-changers out of the temple with a whip, he wasn't whistling or gently smiling. His face must have been red, and his teeth clenched with rage. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he was so stressed that he sweat blood! On the cross, he cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?," even though he knew the answer perfectly well. There are sources of stress that are sinful, but stress itself is not. We are told not to worry and not to be fearful of man or of our circumstances. But often you will be legitimately under stress, and when you are, join your mournful song with the rest of Creation. It's OK to moan and groan about it!

Recommended reading:

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL