In the Meantime, We Hope

Title: In the Meantime, We Hope

Text: Romans 8:18-27

Time: October 21st, 2006

Paul gives us a picture or vision of the new life in Jesus Christ, but what about the opposition we face to living this new life? Paul has just explained to us that Christ has freed us from the law of sin and death, yet we still face the temptations of sin and we still face the prospect of physical death. Paul has explained that Christ has forgiven us of all our sins, has given us his perfect righteousness, and has reserved for us a place in eternal life, but what about the meantime, our present life? Even though we experience some of the full blessings of Christ, we still wait for the fullness of life, which will only come when we are present with the Lord in heaven. Until then, we need encouragement. That’s why Paul writes Romans 8:18-27, to encourage us in our Christian lives here in this life until we receive the fullness of the promises of Christ in heaven. Paul is acting as sort of an encourager running alongside a marathon runner who has only a few more miles to go until he reaches the finish line. We are the runners and Paul is encouraging us in our final miles in the marathon race. We know we win, we know we get the prize, we know we will be welcomed into the stadium, we know we’ll experience the thrill of crossing the line, we know we’ll stand on the podium and receive our medals, but we are still tired, we are exhausted, and we need encouragement in order to finish. That’s what Paul does in this section, gives us all encouragement. What does he say? First, he reminds us of the prize that lies before us even as we go through the hardships and sufferings now. Second, he reminds us that it is not only us, but all of creation groans for the completion of the race and the victory celebration. Third, he reminds us that we are not alone as we push ourselves to finish our course because the Holy Spirit is with us, in us, to help us along. Have you ever run a distance race before? In high school, did you ever have to run a mile around a track in physical education class? Or maybe you’ve even run a longer distance, 5 miles, or even a cross-country course, or even a marathon. If you’ve ever run any of these distances, you know that it becomes very, very hard. You become very, very tired of running and feel like quitting. Usually there are coaches or instructors encouraging the runners to keep going, splash water on runners, or run alongside to keep them going. That’s what Paul does in writing this section, and that’s what the Holy Spirit does in respect to our Christian lives as we run the race of life for Christ. Are you running the Christian race today? How are you doing? Are you getting tired or have you found your pace? Maybe you are just starting out on the Christian race and so you need all the encouragement you can get. Maybe you’ve been running a number of years but you are getting discouraged or tired; you need the encouragement Paul is giving in this section. Or maybe you’ve been running the Christian race all your life and you’ve learned to pace yourself and run fairly well, but still, you too need encouragement. If so, everyone can benefit from what Paul explains here in Romans 8 18-27 (read). Let’s look at three things Paul reminds us of.

First, the glory we will have later is much more than the suffering we have now. Romans 8:18-21, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 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.” We must honestly acknowledge that we will go through pain, suffering and difficulties in this life on the way to heaven; that’s obvious. Yet there are some Christians who are living under the false impression that becoming a Christian exempts them from suffering. They are then constantly disappointed and dismayed to find themselves facing difficulties. They wonder what is wrong. Nothing is wrong because we aren’t yet in heaven. We will face difficulties in this life as Christians. Some Christians in the United States think that because they have a right to happiness that they should be happy all the time, that there is something wrong when they aren’t happy, that something must be wrong with their faith, or their church, or maybe even God. But that just isn’t realistic. There’s a song that goes, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.” That’s what God could say to Christians who think that this life should be a rose garden; that’s not what He has promised. He has promised that heaven shall be everything and more than anything we could ever imagine, but as for this life, there will be pain, there will be suffering, there will be difficulties. The point is that all of our problems here in this life won’t even compare to the blessings of the eternal life ahead with God. It is not only us, but also the natural order that is waiting in anticipation for the future glory. Now here Paul employs a little figurative or non-literal language to communicate a point. Nature doesn’t really wait or anticipate the future because it doesn’t have a mind, a conscious existence, so it can’t hope or dream of a better life than it now experiences. But if it could, if we could animate nature like certain fairy tales and cartoons and movies do – like the movie The Lord of the Rings does, especially with the talking trees – then nature would be waiting for that future day when this present age is over and the eternal age will start. Why would it eagerly hope for that day? Because all of nature got caught up, innocently, in the Fall of Adam and Eve. When God punished Adam and Eve for sinning in the Garden of Eden, he cursed nature as well. Ever since the Fall, all of nature, including our natural bodies, has been cursed and put in a state of deadly decay. Remember when God warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed him that they would die? Well, natural decay is part of the death process. Our bodies are in a state of natural decay; if nature takes its course, our bodies will wear out and die, as everything in nature does. In our present state of decay, we experience pain and suffering, but we put our hope to the future when God will deliver us to a glorious eternal home. But that’s not all.

Second, even in our present state of suffering we have hope that comes by faith. Romans 8:22-25, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, 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. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Again Paul uses figurative language in talking about nature “groaning” as in childbirth. The way a woman cries out with labor pains, so too all of nature cries out in pain presently until it is delivered from decay and death by God at the end of time. Now we know nature itself doesn’t have conscious suffering, except for living things like animals that can experience pain; but the material world itself has no feelings. Yet we can imagine nature groaning in its present state of decay and death, like trees I’ve heard creak and crack under strong wind. But it isn’t just the natural world that is under decay and death, our own bodies are part of the natural world that was cursed during the Fall, so we too have bodies that suffer as part of fallen nature, even while we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! Now this is part of the mystery of salvation: why didn’t we get totally saved bodies when our soul was saved at conversion? Our physical body was saved, as well as our mind, and soul, but only our soul has the full benefits of it, our mind a little more of the benefits, and our bodies lagging behind with the least of the full benefits of salvation. That is why, just like nature, our bodies groan in pain and suffering in this present life, waiting for the full deliverance of eternal life. We wait by faith patiently living the Christian life set before us in the power of the Holy Spirit. But suffering will be our lot until we get to heaven. Now some Christian try to escape pain and suffering in this life by refusing to testify of Christ in a hostile world. Like Peter, they deny the Lord, not three times, but many times during their daily activities. They think this is a safe strategy to avoid difficulties, but it’s betrayal of the Lord. The fact is, if we truly live the Christian life we will suffer because our lives will be different than the way of the world. We will suffer misunderstanding, opposition, rejection, and possibly persecution. Some Christians might even face violence against them, maybe even death because of their faith in Christ. Suffering can come in many forms, natural or man-made, but in whatever form it comes, and it will come, we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to keep the faith, to put our hope in God. Are you suffering in some way today? Realize that it won’t last forever; God has a day of deliverance for you, as he does everyone who trusts in him. But there’s more.

Third, we are not alone in our suffering; the Spirit helps us pull through. Romans 8:26-27, “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.” Since Paul talks openly and honestly about the fact that if we are living the Christian life we will experience suffering, if not natural, then definitely man-made difficulties, then it’s obvious that we need fellow Christians to gather with us for support and encouragement, because after all, they too are going through the same things. But what about times when we are alone? What about those times when we do not have the support and help of fellow Christians? What about those kinds of sufferings that our brothers and sisters in Christ can’t help us? No matter what, we always have the help of the Holy Spirit to help and encourage us. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Romans 8:26. We may not even know where to begin to pray for a problem we are facing, but the Holy Spirit will even help us in that by inspiring us to pray in the right way, even if that means simply groaning out loud. Is this a reference to speaking in tongues — that practice Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians? It might be, because Paul says when we don’t know how to pray as we should the Spirit prays for us in groans that words can’t express. That sounds like speaking in tongues. If it isn’t, it may be referring to sighs and groans that we sometimes make when we are exhausted or frustrated or in pain; these too can be made into prayers by the Holy Spirit. As we live the Christian life, as we live out the truths of God in a world of lies, as we stand for right in a world of wrong, we will suffer. We need God’s help to get through each day, so we must depend on the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit to get us through our problems. The solution to suffering is not to back down from bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus, although that may make life easier, it’s not an option for a real Christian. No. We are called to follow in the footsteps of those early Christians who suffered and some even died for the faith. Speaking up on behalf of truth is always risky, especially in a world that prefers its own lies to God’s truth. It might get us into trouble, but the Holy Spirit will be our comforter and guide. Seriously living out the teachings of Jesus isn’t always popular; in fact, in some instances it will make us downright unpopular in the eyes of the world. We might be rejected, and that hurts. But again, the Spirit or “Comforter” as the Gospel of John calls him, will encourage us.

Are you suffering today? Is the natural part of you suffering, your body? Are you facing physical problems? Just as all of nature, our bodies decay and eventually die. Is yours giving you trouble today, with pain, disease, injury, sickness? If so, put your hope in God and know that a better life is coming where you’ll have no pain or sickness or injury, even if the doctors and medicine don’t seem to help much now. Pray for healing, but if it doesn’t happen, keep your hope in your future glorious life with God. Are you suffering persecution today? Is your faith opposed by people, at work, in the neighborhood, in your own family? Are you facing rejection because you are a serious Christian trying to seriously follow the teachings of Jesus? If so, remember what the Apostle Paul, a man who went through tremendous suffering and pain and even death for the Lord Jesus, remember what Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” Romans 8:18. When you face hard times, difficulties, problems of all types, especially on account of your Christian faith, think of the future glory awaiting you with Jesus, take hope in that. This is the essence of faith, as Hebrews 11:1 describes it, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” By faith we can look forward to a better future and that helps us endure the suffering of the present. So whenever you face a difficult situation in life, whenever you suffer pain in any way, whenever you encounter a problem that makes life hard for you, especially if it comes directly because of your Christian faith, think of that glorious time coming soon when you’ll stand with Jesus in perfect glory. See if that doesn’t encourage you. Know that the temporary problems and pains we must go through in this life are just that – temporary, and that the eternal, never-ending part of life will be only good. And it’s not just a dream, not just a wish, but it’s a promise from the one who cannot lie or fail to fulfill anything he promises, God himself. He has promised that the little suffering we must go through now is nothing compared to the great blessings we will receive later in the life to come. I don’t know about you but I can live with that, knowing that the little amount of hard times I experience here in this short, temporary life is nothing compared to the good times I will experience in the perfect, eternal life I will one day live.

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