Romans: Present Suffering/ Future Glory

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on July 8, 2001

Romans 8:18-25

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Present Sufferings/Future Glory

Romans 8:15-25

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to take them and turn with me to Romans, chapter 8. We've already said that in Romans 6 through 8, God is teaching us how it is that grace reigns in righteousness. In Romans, chapter 6, He teaches us the fountain, the source of all godliness, union with Christ. In Romans, chapter 7, He explains to us that even in believers, believers united to the Lord Jesus Christ, there continues to be a strenuous conflict with sin, for there is a remnant of sin, an indwelling of sin, and thus because of the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit; there is a war engaged that does not end until sin itself is conquered and removed in glorification.

And then in Romans, chapter 8, Paul begins to comfort us, comfort us with powerful truths as he teaches us about life in the Spirit. In fact, the whole of Romans, chapter 8, is really devoted to teaching us about the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. In Romans 8, verses 1 through 17, we have seen a particular Pauline pattern that we have seen elsewhere before. First he tells you what you are, then he calls you to live out what you are in Christ. He tells you what God has done for you, and then he says now live this way, because of what God has done for you and in you. And we have already seen that pattern begin to develop.

But here, beginning in verse 18, Paul is going to turn his attention to the subject of suffering. And in the course of this discussion, he is going to do two things at the same time. On the one hand, he is going to teach you some very important truths about suffering in Christian experience. On the other hand, his goal is going to be to comfort you with very powerful truths as you cope with that suffering. Indeed, the passage that we are going to concentrate on today, verses 18 though 25, is the first of three comforts that Paul gives to believers who are struggling with trials and tribulation and suffering. And so with that having been said, let's turn to God's Word and hear it, beginning in verse 18. This is the Word of God:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it."

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's Holy, inspired and inerrant Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.

Lord God, give us seeing eyes and hearing ears and open hearts to respond to this Your Word of truth. And by the Spirit speak to us right where we are, and make us to be what You intend us to be. In Christ we ask it, Amen.

What do you think about suffering really? What do you think about suffering? When you’re not in Sunday School, when you’re not having to give the right answer, when you’re not having to give the theologically correct answer in a room full of Presbyterians, what do you really think about suffering? Are you a stoic? Do you endure it with grit? Do you sort of grit your teeth and brace your back, and you just make it through. Are you bitter and cynical? Have you been through so much that your heart has become hardened, bitter? You've been run over by disappointment and suffering to the point that you can hardly respond to comfort without a wry, sarcastic smile developing inside and thinking, yeah. Are you angry with God? Have the circumstances in which you have found yourself left you feeling betrayed, deserted, abandoned, let down? Or are you just numb, and you don't know what you think about suffering, because it's been so intense that you don't have any feelings left in your hands or your heart. What do you think about suffering?

For the apostle Paul it's very important that Christians think rightly about suffering. He talks about it a lot, not just in this book, but in all of his writings. He talks about suffering, because he knows that suffering is an attendant reality to human experience in a fallen world. And he knows that the believer's response to suffering will, in large measure, indicate the quality of his joy in the midst of a fallen world. And so he knows that it's vital for Christians to have right views on suffering, to have right views about how we respond in our hearts to trial and tribulation. And that's what he's talking about here.

And I want you to look at these verses with me, and see four things that Paul wants us to learn about suffering. It's not a total theology of suffering; he has more to say elsewhere. But, he's got at least four things that he's got that he wants us to learn. The first thing is this.

I. Life in the Spirit is a life of suffering because we live in a fallen world.

Christians suffer. Christians suffer. If you look at the very first words of verse 18, Paul teaches you that life in the Spirit is a life of suffering, because we live in a fallen world. Just because you are filled with the Holy Spirit, just because you are a child of God, just because you are justified freely by His blood, you are not thereby guaranteed a painless life of bliss. And the apostle Paul wants you to pause and contemplate again that life in the Spirit does not mean an absence from pain and suffering. But life in the Spirit is accompanied by suffering as we live in a fallen world. Even though we have new life in Christ, even though we are new creations, even though we are sons and daughters of the most High, we suffer precisely in fact because we are children of God. And we live in a world that hates God, and we live in a world where the forces of the world itself, the flesh and the devil, conspire against our Lord and our Maker, we suffer. And this is vital for us to understand as Christians in light of the various mistakes that are out there on the Christian market.

On the one hand there are the health and wealth teachers who say that if you do not have health, if you do not have success in all your endeavors of life, if you are not wealthy, if you are not healthy and whole, if you are not experiencing triumph upon triumph, it is clearly a result of a lack of your faith; because God wants you to have an abundance. He wants you to be successful. He wants you to have health. He wants you to have riches. And if you don't, it's clearly because you haven't had the faith. And the apostle Paul wants to pause right here and say, if your understanding of Jesus’ promise of the abundant life is that it means a lack of suffering, you have misunderstood what Jesus said.

And on the other hand, there are others who cope with suffering by saying, well, God just can't help it. God wasn't able to control that. When bad things happen to good people, it's just another sign that though God wishes that He could help us in those circumstances, it's just out of His control. So take comfort. It's out of the control of God.

And the apostle Paul wants to say to both of those solutions, wrong, wrong. Paul is stressing here that it's a huge mistake to miss the point that the believer will suffer, and that God is sovereign in suffering. He makes that clear in verse 20, by the way, that it is God Himself who has subjected this creation to frustration and suffering, in hope. He's still in charge, even in the sphere of suffering and frustration and vanity. God is in control, and suffering is part of His plan for His people. Life in the Spirit is a life of suffering. That's the first thing that Paul wants you to know. And that's so important for you to know, because some of you have been surprised by that suffering.

Now, of course, there's a sense in which all Christians ought to feel a tension about suffering. We know that these things ought not to be. But, at the same time, every Christian must realize that until the consummation, until the glory to come, there will be frustration, there will be vanity, there will be suffering. And that's so important. How many times have you run into a friend who has said this, "You know, with all my heart, with all my might, I have attempted to be faithful to the word of the Lord. I've attempted to follow His will. I've attempted to follow His leading. I've sought wise counsel. I've sought the counsel of His word. I've sought the counsel of godly men and women. And I've followed in the way of faithfulness to the Lord, and I thought as best I can discern, that I was doing exactly what the Lord would have me to do. And I have never been in a place where I am more frustrated. And I have never been in a place where I am more lonely. And I have never been in a place where I'm more despairing than I am now. Surely, this is a sign that I misunderstood."

And here's the apostle Paul saying, no, child, no. Your circumstances do not indicate a failure in your hearing the will of God; your circumstances indicate to you the reality which I am saying to you now, which is in this life believers suffer. It's as if Paul is pointing at you, and he's saying, look at Jesus in that garden. Now what took him to that garden? The will of God. Now what happened when he got to that garden? Pain free, success, triumph, wealth, happiness? No. I see the Savior there. I see Him weeping. I see Him sweating. I see Him trembling. I see Him brokenhearted. I see Him praying, "Father, if it's possible, let this cup pass." And what is it? It's the will of God. And so the apostle is saying, dear Christian, dear Christian, do you think that the Father would have called His only begotten Son that way, and would not have called His adopted sons and daughters that way? He calls us to glory through the way of suffering, and that is always the way it is. Now we are able to rejoice in suffering, we are able to experience abundant life in suffering, but honest to goodness, faithful Christian living always entails trial tribulation and suffering. And if someone tells you otherwise, they have a disagreement with God.

II. Our trials here are real but the glory is beyond compare.

Secondly, look again at verse 18. Paul's main point, of course, is not merely to barely assert that our sufferings continue in this life, his concern is to assert that our sufferings pale in comparison to glory. Paul wants us to learn not only that we continue to suffer, but Paul also wants us to know that life in the Spirit gives us a perspective on suffering that no one else can have. Paul wants us to understand that our trials here are real, and sometimes they seem as they are beyond endurance; but the glory then, he says, is beyond compare. Your suffering now may seem beyond endurance, but the glory then is beyond compare. Paul wants to contrast the suffering of the present with the glory of the future in the most dramatic way and on the grandest scale. And these sufferings which he is speaking of include those inward battles with sin that we continue to have, and the frustration which arises from living in a fallen world, as well as coping with the injustices of this life or dealing with the opposition or persecution that the child of God faces in one shape or form no matter when or where he or she lives. These sufferings attend every believer. And the apostle wants us to appreciate this. That those sufferings of the present time are nothing in comparison with the glory that is to be revealed.

Now I want you to understand that Paul is not saying that, "You’re going through these enormous trials now, but what you see when you get to glory is just going to blow your mind, and it's going to cause what you've gone through to pale in comparison." He's saying something even better. He's not simply saying that the glory to come is going to be revealed to you as if it's the curtains of a theatre being drawn back, and you’re a spectator seeing some incredible theatrical spectacle. Have any one of you ever been in one of those circumstances where you have been a witness to something that takes your breath away because of it's grandeur or magnitude? Maybe you have rounded the corner and some great gallery of the world and seen some piece of art that you have always wanted to see, and it's absolutely staggered you when you finally saw it with your own eyes. Or maybe you've been at some great sporting event, and you've seen feats done that absolutely boggled your mind and you sat there as a spectator of this spectacle of glory. Well, the apostle is not saying, "Look, what you’re going to see then, is going to cause everything that you've experienced to pale in comparison." Paul is saying that his is a glory not simply revealed to you, but upon you and in you. Paul is speaking of your own glorification. And he is saying to you that not only that glory that you see when He comes, but that glory which you yourself will be made to share in when He comes, will cause everything that you have endured now to pale in comparison.

And my friends, it is most unfortunate when we fail to meditate upon that reality, because the very thought of that glory which we are going to be stokes hope now. The apostle Paul is saying to you, I don't care what your bodily maladies have been. There will be a day in the redemption of the sons of God when you are transformed. And he's saying, I don't care what those spiritual and moral deficiencies have been that have so marred and frustrated your assurance and your Christian experience, there's going to be a day when I have worked glory in you in such a way that you have been transformed. And he's saying to you no matter what heartbreak that you have endured, you will come to a day when heartbreak shall end. And I'm always conscious of this when I look upon the lives of other believers. I see believers taking care of family members that suffer from enormous handicaps and physical difficulties, and mental difficulties. And I see them lovingly caring for those family members. And I think of that day, when through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ there's going to be a complete transformation. There's not just glory that is going to be shown to them, it's that the glory is going to be shown in them. Can you imagine that day? And there's going to be a day when every believer who has been frustrated by sin, the believer knows what we ought to be in Christ, and yet we never live up to what we know we ought to be in Christ. And there's this frustration that we live with, and suddenly there's going to be a day where it's there. You know, old athletes sometimes find themselves at a point in their careers where they can't do things that they used to be able to do, and it's enormously frustrating to them. You know, the Christian kind of lives there all of life, because we know if we listen to God's word that says what He has made us to be, and what we ought to be, and then we look at what we do, and we don't measure up, we're frustrated. And the apostle Paul says, when that day comes, the frustration is gone, because the glory has been displayed not only to you, but in you.

III. The who universe waits for the consummation, and groans.

Thirdly, the apostle not only wants us to not only understand that suffering is a continuing reality, he not only wants us to understand that life in the spirit gives us a perspective on that suffering that no one else can have, and it does so be reminding us of the glory to come. But He wants us to know this. We are not alone in this frustration. You are not the only one who must patiently await the consummation. Paul says, in verses 19 through 22, that the whole creation is groaning. You’re not only groaning under this frustration, the creation itself is groaning under this frustration. The whole universe is caught up in the plight of the fall and the hope of future glory.

And the apostle wants us to understand two things in these verses. First of all, he wants us to know that we are not alone in the frustrations of this life. The universe itself has been subjected to these frustrations. Notice what he says, "The creation," verse 20, "was subjected to vanity." In other words, the creation experiences the same frustrations, that result from the fall, as we do. And notice again in verse 20, that the creation was not subjected to this of its own will. God was the one who subjected the creation as a consequence of the fall.

And notice again in verse 20 at the end of the verse, and into verse 21. That this creation was, however, subjected in hope. God has even in the frustration of the universe, he has even in that frustration of the universe a design for its ultimate deliverance. And so the apostle is saying two things for you. He's saying you’re not alone in frustration. The whole created order is frustrated. But you need to understand this as well; God has a good purpose in it. Believers who find themselves in the belly of the beast need to remember those truths. And these believers were in the belly of the beast. Where was Paul writing to? Rome, the center of world authority and power, soon to become the center of opposition to the people of God. And here's the apostle saying, when you are in opposition and persecution, when you endure estrangement, when you are marginalized, when you are trampled under, when you experience suffering, remember you are not alone, for the totality of the created order has been objected to the effects of the fall as part of God's design not simply to bring glory to Himself, but to bring glory to His creatures.

IV. The Christian perseveres in confident anticipation, looking to the future glory.

And then finally in verses 23 through 25, he goes on to say one more thing. We need to know that suffering is a continuing reality of Christian experience. We need to suffer in light of the glory to come. We need to remember that we are not alone in this, that God's pattern of purpose is seen in the creation as well as in us. We also see in verses 23 through 25, that life in the Spirit, though it entails groaning, also entails an inextinguishable hope. The Christian perseveres in confident anticipation, in hope, in confident anticipation looking to the future glory.

You see in verse 23 that alongside this groaning creation, Paul adds, there's a groaning church. There's a groan of Romans 7:24, "A wretched man that I am," characterizes the Christian experience until final salvation. And Paul makes it clear that because of that, and because of what we are through the work of the Holy Spirit, there is always a forward looking to the Christian's life. He's always anticipating the time of his future redemption, his future adoption, his future salvation.

You know all those terms are used both in the present and in the future tense in the New Testament. Isn't it interesting? Paul has already said you are adopted; here he says you’re waiting for your adoption. He's already said you've been redeemed. Here he says you’re waiting for your redemption. That is, though there is a present reality of our redemption, through there is a present reality of our adoption; we are waiting for a full bestowment. We are heirs, but we have not yet received the fullness of the inheritance. We have within us the first fruits of the Spirit, but we have not yet received the fullness of what we will be in the revealing of the sons of God. And so every believer always lives with this forward-looking Spirit, living toward the sunrise, looking for His coming.

Notice that even factors in the words of institution of the Lord's Supper, that "we will show forth the death of Christ" what? "Until He comes." The believer is always looking on the other side until He comes for the consummation of all things. And thus, the believer is always ready to say, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly," because he has an eye on the future.

Now in all these things Paul means to minister to those who are enduring frustration and trial and tribulation and difficulty here. And he means to minister to them in encouragement. You know, many of you have gone to visit perhaps a favorite city with a desire of seeing some great architectural sight. Maybe it's a castle or a cathedral or a great monument. And some of you have had the experience of getting there and finding out that this thing that you wanted to see, that you perhaps had been waiting years to see, is shrouded in scaffolding. And it's frankly the ugliest thing you've ever seen. And you want to go back home and fire your travel agent. And you want to say, why didn't you tell me that this was shrouded in scaffolding? I've waited twenty years to see it with my own eyes, and I couldn't see a thing. And the apostle is saying, you know, there's something like that to the Christian experience. Because we look at our lives, and sometimes they look ugly. They’re shrouded in scaffolding, and we can't see what God is doing in there. But there's going to be a day when He comes, when the scaffolding comes down, and it's not simply that the glory is revealed to us, but the glory that He has worked in us is revealed to the world. And the apostle Paul says, Christian, you've got to live in light of that hope for you, looking forward to His coming.

Now my friends, I want to say one last thing. This hope doesn't come to everyone. This hope is only for those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. We live in a day and age where I think people think that death itself is a vehicle of moral transformation. The most wretched human being and God hater simply because he died, is uniformly and regularly said in our society to be immediately in the arms of God. Timothy McVeigh, not long ago, we were assured had entered into the arms of God. Now friends, I have no problem with death row conversions. They happen. But there's no evidence that there was any conversion to Christ there. And I simply want to say this: The Christian hope is not pie in the sky, bye and bye. It's not some sort of faint, feeble, moral wish that people who die are going to a greater place. It is a sure hope, based upon trust in Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel. And only those who trust in Him, as He is offered in the gospel entertain that reality in their own experience. And it's so important for us to remember that this hope of glory set before us, is one that is grounded squarely in faith in Jesus Christ. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God

, give us hope as we look forward to the glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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