Anticipation

Lesson 28: Romans 8:18-27


Anticipation

by Bob Burridge ©2011

In my study I have an old time-worn teddy bear sitting on a shelf along with my books. When I was little more than a year old I named him “Mike.” We have no idea where I got that name. We didn’t know anyone named Mike. Today he looks a bit thin and limp. I don’t know where the long lost stuffing has ended up, and like his owner — he has a lot of hair missing. I dimly remember clinging to him in those lonely times when children feel alone. In a child’s way, Mike became a symbol of that need we all have for something secure.

Of course it was my family, not Mike, that actually guided me through the difficulties of growing up. As I got older my family expanded to take in my wife and two children. We stood together through those challenges that come along in God’s providence.

Nothing we cling to in this world around us is perfect and infallible. We imperfect people often need to give comfort as well as receive it. Mike was just a stuffed toy. Our family members, friends, and we ourselves are mere humans saved and kept by God’s grace alone. Through these flawed but important earthly channels God displays his care for us, and sees us through. It ought to be to him and to his promises that we look for security and unfailing comfort in times of need.

We live in a world that often makes us very much aware of that deep need for security and comfort. It is a place full of changes. The things we rely upon and take for granted today may be gone tomorrow. Sometimes tragedy seems to close in around us like a dark cloud. We feel empty and isolated. Our plans for our futures may suddenly change taking us down paths we had never imagined. Familiar things are taken away needing to be replaced with new things. As a pastor I stood by many of the people in my congregation through times like those. They stood by my family and I when we faced deep losses too.

Living here means needing to find ways of coping, dealing with changes, handling daily disappointments in ourselves, in our friends, and in our community.

Tough and uncertain times make us aware of how much we need comfort and security based upon something that is certain to always be there reliably. Our Lord has given us a hope that is so great that nothing in this fleetingly short life can dim its promises. If only we could, in those hard times, fix our eyes effectively upon that for which all this is preparing us.


When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians
he directed them to that hope.

Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

What we suffer through in this life is brief compared with eternity. In that day there will be no more losses, no tragedies, no unwelcome changes. Infinite and eternal blessings will dwarf our present struggles.

God encourages us with a glimpse of what lies ahead. He has often done that for his people. Israel was able to see fruit from the land of Canaan which was brought back by the spies. It was to encourage them while they were still in the wilderness with memories of Egyptian slavery. Many missed the message and doubted God’s promise represented by the fruit. Those who believed pressed on until the land became theirs. The Disciples saw the transfiguration of Jesus Christ as a foretaste of glory. That prepared them to face the trying years of ministry ahead.

Paul could say “I consider …” as he began this verse because he had suffered so much personally. The Lord privileged him to see a bit of the glory that lies ahead for us all.

In Christ, and through God’s word, we can see in advance the fruit of the “heavenly Canaan.” It is encouraging to think upon the divine promises when we face times of trouble. If we become so focused on our own sufferings that we hardly see our Lord’s promises, we miss the consolations that outweigh the discomforts of this life.

With our eyes fixed upon this hope, it helps us to keep things in perspective here. It helps us understand that our loving Father is preparing us to live with him forever. The pains we go through help us grow into the image of Christ. They are to discipline us when we get out of line before our foolishness and doubts cause us greater harm that we anticipate.

The hope of glory helps us keep our values straight too. If we treasure these material, temporary things too much we forget the greater value of the treasure laid up for us in heaven forever. We need to remember that this is not our Canaan. It is not our land of rest. Even the best things here are only a foretaste of the glories that will be ours forever. When tempted by the fleeting things of this world, we should remember to say to them, “No. It’s just not worth it.”

Moses gave up the glories of Egypt, the “pleasures of sin for a season”, because he looked at the outcome of all things, the reward that was ahead (Hebrews 11:25-26). Even King David, when he looked to this world as his standard, was confused by the temporal prosperity wicked. But he saw their end and the future glory of God’s people (see for example Psalm 37:9-22).

When we look to God’s promises, we find that consolation that bears us through. Not only will we behold his glory when all things are completed at our final day of reward, we all so will be the redeemed testimonies to all the inteligent creatures of God. In us and unto us God’s wonders and grand attributes will be displayed in richer detail than we can anticipate in this life.


Creation itself longs for the day when it will be set free.

Romans 8:19-22, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

The “creation” Paul speaks of here icludes the material world of things and animals. It is not specifically speaking of men, angels, or a combination of them. We know that rocks, roaches, and rain have no emotions or consciousness of suffering. The expressions here are figurative and poetical. They are a “personification,” a common figure of speech where things are described with human characteristics to help us understand through terms with which we are familiar. God often does this in his word.

Isaiah 55:12, “… The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Jeremiah 12:4, “How long will the land mourn …?”

Isaiah 49:13, “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.”

The mountains cannot literally shout for joy. The trees have no hands to clap. The land does not actually weep in mournful cries. However, there is an anticipation in creation itself related to the hope that awaits us.

When God made all things, he declared them “good” — suited to what he made them to be. When Adam sinned a curse came upon all the earth. It became subjected to “futility” or “vanity.”

When God created Man, he gave him dominion over all that was made. He was to represent the rule of the Creator, the Sovereign King. Man’s job was to subdue all things for God’s glory. When mankind became corrupt, humans abused their dominion. The things God made became tools of sin and self indulgence. Creation was used to serve evil instead of good. Dr. Haldane says about the created things mentioned in this verse, “they have become subservient to the criminal pleasures of man and are the victims of his oppressive cruelty.”

There is a hope of deliverance for creation. The things God made groan anticipating the revealing of the sons of God. The “groaning” should not be thought of as a vocal moaning as we use the word today. The word here has to do with the emotion of agonizing.

The Greek word is stenatzo (στεναζω). It comes from the root word stenos (στενος) which means “something narrow or constricted”. We use “Stenosis” today as a medical term. Stenosis of the heart’s mitral valve is a hardening or narrowing of the opening of a valve in the heart that restricts the flow of blood into the left ventricle.

The word picture Paul uses is of agonizing to squeeze through a narrow opening. Creation groans in its agonizing struggle through these times of sinful abuse by man.

The suffering of the soul as it strains to get through hard times is a spiritual stenosis. It is compared with the straining pains of childbirth in verse 22. The process of child labor is hard and agonizing, but there is a promise that helps the mother endure it — the birth of that baby.

Creation has a promise too. One day its misuse by fallen man will end. Those who are the sons of God will be completed into the likeness of Christ. The heavens and earth will be renewed and set free of that abuse to declare fully the glory of the Creator.


There is a deep longing with in us too
as we look toward that day of promise.

Romans 8:23-25, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

God’s redeemed children also groan toward the promise of full salvation. Salvation includes all the benefits of our redemption in Christ. In one sense all believers in Christ are already saved. They are immediately delivered from their guilt and bondage to corruption. In another sense all believers are being saved. They are being sanctified more and more as they are set free from the ways of sin which remain in this life. In another sense all believers are yet to be saved. When we are raised up at the coming again of Jesus Christ we will be delivered from all the workings of corruption, and transformed into glory. Then we will be free from all sin and suffering. It is in this sense that the Bible says “he that endures to the end shall be saved.”

Hope is at the center of this whole passage. It is the focal point. Hope has to do with things yet future, things net yet seen by us. It is meaningless to speak of hope in things we already have. It points toward wonderful things yet to be enjoyed.

In this way Hope is contrasted with faith. By faith we believe God’s promises. By hope we expect to receive the good things God has promised. The object of faith is the promise that is present with us now. The object of hope is future and unseen, it is the reward yet unrealized.

Therefore faith is the foundation for hope and precedes it. Faith is a convincing certainty. Hope is a comforting expectation.

Paul says, “in hope we have been saved.” Some translations say we are “saved by hope”. That is not as accurate. Hope is not the way of salvation. It is the fruit of it, and the promise of its final results. Faith, not hope, is the means of our laying hold of the promise of Christ. It is by means of this faith that we are justified.

Only those who are redeemed can have this strong expectation of things yet to come. God does not implant true faith in the hearts of the lost. Without that foundation, hope becomes just wishful thinking, a vain vision of possibilities. To the believer, hope is founded upon the word of God himself. This hope is called an “anchor for the soul.” Through storms of doubt and tragedy it keeps us from drifting from the things promised.

Hope also generates patience in us (verse 25). By it we persevere through the trials and the agonies of this present life.

To confirm the promised blessings, he produces in us certain “first fruits”. Paul’s readers would have known the historic meaning of that term. Jews were required to bring the first fruits of harvest to God as a thank offering. It meant several things. On the one hand it was a way of showing faith in God as the giver of all things. On the other hand it was God’s pledge that the rest of the harvest was yet to come. The spiritual fruit produced in us is a pledge of what God promises to complete in us one day.


The Holy Spirit also helps us anticipate
the glory that is ours to come.

Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Spirit helps our weaknesses while we are yet not in full possession of what lies ahead. He intercedes in groanings too deep for words. Groanings, as we have already shown, are not sounds. They are agonizings and longings. Those who look here for support that the Spirit stirs us to pray in special prayer languages, in the tongues of angels, not only misunderstand the passage, they miss the promise given to us here.

It does not mean that the Holy Spirit prays for us as Jesus does. Jesus is our intercessor in heaven. He represents our needs to the Father. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor here, in our hearts. He moves us to pray as we ought. He affirms the truth of God’s promises in us, and causes us to call out to our Heavenly Father.

God searches our hearts. In our fallen condition we do not know what is best for us, or how our needs are best met. David said, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4).

When we are confused about the will of God, the Spirit in us knows. He is God! He is omniscient and alone knows perfectly the decreed outcome of all things, and the holy way to those ends. He brings to pass that for which he leads us to pray. The Holy Spirit always works in perfect harmony with the will of the Father. 1 John 5:14, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

This is our great expectation. While we agonize here through the struggles of life in this world, we have a great hope.

The focus of our heart is Paul’s great concern for us here. If we mind earthly things, what we gain here, what we feel at the moment, then our struggle will be hard, agonizing, uncertain, and unrewarding. If we mind God’s promises when we think about what lies ahead, and live for the things yet to come, when we obey the ways of God, and hope in his certain rewards, then we will have strength to endure all the way to the end.

Turn your eyes to the hope that is yet to be realized in us as the children of God. Hope in the things promised, and think about them a lot. This will carry you through the toughest of times. It will bear you through and ease the burden of what you face in this relatively short and fleeting moment.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
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