I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait 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.
We answered, first of all, that we are hoping for "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).
This week we answer by saying, "Our hope is the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:23—"We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
The Context of Romans 8:23
Let's look at the context of this verse.
Present Suffering Compared to Future Glory
The first thing Paul says in this paragraph (8:18ff.) is that whatever suffering or pain or frustration or disappointment a child of God endures now in this present age, it will seem as nothing when compared with the glory that the child of God will experience in the age to come. "The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
If we did not know the sufferings of Paul, we might think that was a cheap consolation—a kind of ivory tower effort to comfort the saints. But we do know Paul's sufferings:
Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24–28)
It doesn't take much imagination to know what tremendous toll that kind of life would take on Paul's body. We hear an echo of his misery when he says, "Our outer nature is wasting away." He means his body is wasting away. The word for "wasting away" is used for rust eating through iron, of moths eating through cloth, of starvation emaciating the body. "Our outer nature is wasting away."
But in this very context (2 Corinthians 4:16–18) he makes the same point as here in our text (Romans 8:18): "This slight, momentary affliction [an incredible understatement!] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." A weight of glory beyond all comparison is what Paul means in Romans 8:18 when he says that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
Why Paul Is So Confident Such Glory Is Coming
Then from this initial point that the hope of glory makes suffering tolerable, he goes backward to explain why he is so sure that such a glory is really on the way.
Verse 19: "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God." Notice two things in this verse.
The Sons of God Have Not Yet Been Revealed
One is that the sons of God have not yet been revealed. Creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God. I think this means that what we shall be when we share the glory of God is now hidden. We look weak and imperfect like all the rest of humanity. We suffer like the rest. The day of glory has not yet come.
Creation Eagerly Awaits the Day
The other thing to notice in verse 19 is that creation—trees and grass and clouds and lakes and sheep and cows and horses and lions and monkeys and the moon and stars—all creation is eagerly awaiting the day when the children of God will appear for what they really are in glory. Creation is like a little child sitting in the audience before the play begins and asking again and again, "When is going to start, mommy? Is it starting now?"
Why does Paul have the right to speak of creation as though it could feel a longing, or an eager expectation, like that? He gives the answer in verse 20: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope."
Creation's Futility and Hope
Two things have been built into creation.
One is futility. "The whole creation was subjected to futility." There is frustration and pain and imperfection all through creation.
The other thing is hope. The futility is there "by the will of him who subjected it in hope." The frustration and pain and imperfection were not intended to be the last word. They are temporary.
God subjected creation to futility, but he did it "in hope"! That is, God brought creation under the curse of futility with a hopeful purpose. So Paul can speak of creation as having an eager longing, in the sense that its futility contains the purpose of God which is full of hope.
It's as though I looked out my kitchen window a few weeks ago onto the bare branches of the catalpa tree and said, "That poor, bare catalpa tree waits with eager longing for the warmth and brightness of spring." God subjected it to the futility of gnarled, naked leaflessness, but he did it in hope, the hope of spring. And I believe springtime is a yearly reminder not to lose heart, because an eternal spring will come some day.
What the Creation Hopes For
Then verse 21 tells us what the hope of creation is: "The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God [or, literally: 'the liberty of the glory of the children of God']." In other words, the hope that God has in store for the creation is to let creation participate or share in the freedom of the glory of the children of God. When the children inherit their glory, the whole creation will inherit its glory.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." And God intends that the inheritance of his children be a glorious inheritance, not a futile one. Therefore the whole earth will be glorified when the day comes for the children of God to receive their inheritance.
Tracing the Thought of These Verses
Now let's sum up verses 18–21 by tracing the thought backward. Verse 21: All creation is going to share in the glory of the children of God some day. Therefore, verse 20: The futility we see in creation is not a dead end street; it is full of hope. Therefore, verse 19: Creation is like a little child standing on tiptoe beside the street leaning over the rope eagerly waiting for the parade to start. Therefore, verse 18: We can take heart that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory coming.
The Sober Truth About the Present Age
Now with this knowledge we are prepared to hear the sober truth about the present age in which we live. In verses 22–23 Paul says,
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The sober truth about this age is that as long as it lasts, all creation including Christians will be groaning under the burden of unredeemed bodies. Let's say it again: the redemption of our bodies (v. 23) is not yet a present reality. We must WAIT for it. Until then we groan. We get tired and sick and discouraged.
All the futility of creation attacks not only the unbelieving world, but us too who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. "We ourselves who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." This means that the Holy Spirit in this age does not completely take away the groaning of unredeemed bodies. He is the first fruits, the seal, and the down-payment of redemption. But he does not in this age take away all pain and suffering and frustration.
On the contrary, he is the Spirit of hope. Verse 24: "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."
We know that patience is the fruit of the Spirit. And we know that patience is the fruit of hope. Therefore we know that the work of the Spirit is to inspire us with hope again and again IN our groaning. He gives us the patience to endure to the end by reminding us and causing us to feel that the suffering of this present time is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to the children of God.
The Hope of Redeemed Bodies
So today I want us to think about this one aspect of our hope—namely, that there is coming a day when our bodies are going to be redeemed and there will be no more groaning.
An Immediate Danger
When I began to meditate on this aspect of our hope as Christians, I saw very quickly that a danger lurked in the bushes. If we set our hope on our own redeemed bodies that will be free from pain and suffering and disability and groaning, do we not run the risk of making ourselves the center of our hope? Are we not in danger of exalting physical comfort as the center of our hope when God himself should be our hope?
The danger is very real. For there are many people who embrace the Christian religion (at least in its externals) because they are afraid of the physical pain of hell and want the physical comforts of heaven, but who do not have a heart for God. If God were not there in heaven, that would be all right, as long as they were physically fit and could have fun. God is not the center of their hope. And they are deceiving themselves that they will ever see the kingdom.
Should we then set our hope on a redeemed body, or is that too physical? Can you hope for a redeemed body and still be God-centered in your hope?
Why Do We Have Bodies?
As I pondered this question a more basic one occurred to me, namely, Why do we have bodies in the first place? Why didn't God just create spirits? Why did he create a physical, material world, and then create humans with physical bodies to live in it? If we can answer this question, then we may be able to know why he intends to redeem these bodies, and in turn, why we should hope that he do so.
So let's ask, Is there New Testament teaching that answers the question why we have bodies? What was God's purpose in creating us with physical bodies? Consider several texts and see if you don't think that the New Testament does indeed give an answer.
1 Corinthians 6:13b,
The body is not meant for immorality but for the Lord.
We may begin, then, by saying that, whatever the reason is that we have been given bodies, it is FOR THE LORD! We exist not only in our souls but also in our bodies FOR GOD. In what sense?
1 Corinthians 6:19–20,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
How, then, is the body "for the Lord"? In this sense: our bodies were created in the beginning, and have now been bought back from sin in order to be a unique habitation of the Spirit and in order to display the glory of God?
Paul gives us a specific illustration of this from his own experience in Philippians 1:20. He faces the prospect of torture and death and says,
It is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
So the reason we have bodies is that Christ might be magnified and God might be glorified in them. In a sense our bodies are like musical instruments intended to play songs of worship for God. Or like tools intended to work for God's purposes. Or like weapons intended to fight for God's cause.
Consider the familiar text of Romans 12:1.
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Here our bodies are pictured as sacrifices which we offer to God in an act of worship. So the reason we have bodies is that we might have a way to worship God that we would not have if we were disembodied spirits.
Or consider Romans 6:13.
Do not yield your members [i.e., the parts of your body] to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
Here the reason we have bodies is to provide ways to engage in obedience to God which we would not have if we were disembodied spirits. Our bodies create the possibility of making obedience and worship visible and touchable.
If we were only spirits without bodies, we could still worship and we could obey like the angels do in heaven. But God is so zealous for the display of his glory that he conceived of a dimension of reality that didn't exist before, namely, the physical, material universe; and he created it and put humans in it with physical bodies in order to create added possibilities for the ways in which the inexhaustible wealth of his glory could be shown forth and enjoyed by his creatures.
So he says that our bodies give us ways to magnify him in worship and obedience that we would not have had if we had no bodies.
This is the answer, therefore, to the question we raised earlier, namely, Why do we have bodies in the first place? Why didn't God just create spirits? The answer is that we have bodies for the Lord's sake. "The body is for the Lord!" We have bodies because God is passionately and creatively committed to displaying the glory of his righteousness in as many ways as possible.
Should We Set Our Hope on Redeemed Bodies?
Now we return to our text in Romans 8:23 and to our original question, whether we should set our hope on redeemed bodies.
We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
Paul teaches us to hope for the redemption of our bodies. He says that it is all right not to want to hurt. It is all right to want to be out of the wheelchair and off the crutches and cortisone and Tylenol. It's all right to want to see and hear like you could when you were twenty. It's all right to want to be pretty and handsome and energetic and strong.
This is the promise of a redeemed body when glory replaces groaning. The promise has at least three parts:
- All pain and disease and deformity and disability will be gone.
- All sin, which so often takes the body for its base of operations, will be gone.
- And this is not because we will be rid of our bodies but because in a mysterious and wonderfully spiritual way we will have new and glorious bodies which are capable of touch and smell and taste and hearing and seeing.
Should we, then, set our hope on a redeemed body, or is that too physical? Can you hope for a redeemed body and still be God-centered in your hope?
The biblical answer is: Yes, we should set our hope on a redeemed body. "In this hope we were saved." Let us wait for it with patience.
And: Yes, we can hope for a redeemed body and still be God-centered; because we have seen that the reason God created us with bodies is to provide us with new and unexpected sacrifices of worship and instruments of obedience.
What to Expect in the Resurrection
Let me close by speaking to the children, and those who still feel like children. When I was a child, I had a hard time getting excited about heaven. It seemed to me that heaven meant leaving a wonderful world of excitement and entering a drab world of boredom.
I'm sure that this was largely my fault. I probably didn't love Jesus enough to want to be with him at any cost. But it would have helped me to know better what the Bible says about the resurrection. So let me make sure you all know what to expect.
God's final purpose for you is not to have your soul or your spirit floating around without your body in some ghost-like mansion in the sky. His purpose for you is to raise your body from the dead, make it new and beautiful and healthy and strong. His final purpose is not to take you away from the earth to spend eternity in heaven, but to make a new heaven and a new earth where you will live in happiness forever and ever.
And if this new earth where we will live forever and ever were going to be completely different from our present earth, then why would God bother to raise our bodies from the dead? Why not just start over with completely different bodies if he were going to start over with a completely different world? Well the answer is that the world will not be completely different. It is our old bodies that will be made new in the resurrection, and it is our old earth that will be made new when Jesus comes.
Therefore, I can say with great confidence that if you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and follow him as your Lord, there is nothing good and happy in your life on this earth that will ever be lost. Whatever is bad will be taken away, but all the good and happy experiences will be kept in the new earth forever.
You will have the best body imaginable, and there will be playing and climbing and swimming and running and jumping and swinging and skiing and roller-skating and skate-boarding and biking and hiking and bouncing and tumbling and hopping—and whatever else you do when your are very, very happy.
So whenever you think about the future and what you will be doing forever and ever after you die and after Jesus comes back, think about these things. But just remember this: the reason these things are going to make you really happy, and the reason you will never be sad again, is that in all your playing and climbing and swimming and running and jumping and biking and hiking and bouncing and tumbling and hopping, you are going to be using your bodies to obey God and praise his great and wonderful name. God will be at the center of your life, and that is why you will never be sad again.
And doesn't it make sense, then, that even now we should start getting ready for that great time by using our bodies as living sacrifices of worship and instruments of righteousness for the glory of God?