We're halfway through Romans 8, as the layers are peeled away one by one, we begin to uncover more of the wonderful riches in these verses. Today we read these verses which talk about things at a cosmic scale. From Rom 8:1-18 thus far, Paul has been speaking to and about "those who are in Christ Jesus" (c.f. Rom 8:1). Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome to help them to see who they are. They have their past dealt with ("now no condemnation", Rom 8:1) and have been set free from sin and death. The law of sin and death no longer has any hold on them because of the work of Christ. Those who are in Christ now have the Spirt and now live lives not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit (Rom 8:5-15). The Spirit transforms all who believe (i.e. us), and they are also God's children by adoption (Rom 8:15). A promise awaits the children of God, the promise of resurrection.
In Luke 24:36-49, we read of Jesus' encounter with the disciples after His resurrection. Luke wrote honestly and clearly, and showed us how people then, just like today, did not trust and believe in Jesus easily. They had knew enough to know that dead people don't always come back to life and have doubts too, just as we do. We are all living in a world of much difficulty, doubt, pain and heartache, strangers in exile in a foreign land. This is the world that is presented for us in these coming verses in Romans 8. Not only that, in Luke 24:41, we are told that the disciples "disbelieved for joy". We also struggle because the promises are too good to be true. Sarah struggled with this, and so did Mary. Let us bear these in mind as we read Rom 8:18-22!
(A) Creation’s Futility (Rom 8:18-20)
While the first 18 verses spoke about us, in verse 19, Paul begins to speak about "the creation", simply, all that God has created. But notice how Paul describes the "present time" in verse 18. He attaches the word "sufferings" to the present time. Furthermore, in Rom 8:18-22, he continues to describe this experience with words like "bondage", "corruption", "groaning", "pains of childbirth". Paul expands the idea of suffering, where it's not just a person's personal struggle. He is speaking about a cosmic level of decay and deterioration, where our entire reality is under a curse. As young people especially, these words may be jarring because we are so inclined to run away from suffering and avoid inconveniences. But Paul is dealing with it head-on and forces us to see that not only our lives are problematic, but this entire world we live in is under decay. What does this mean practically for us? We need to look at the pains of our friends and ourselves through the lens of Romans 8. We need to learn to read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.
What else do we know about this cursed world? Paul tells us that God "subjected it (in futility)". Paul does not whitewash anything and acknolwedges the barrenness of creation. This was a result of the fall in Gen 3:17-19 where the entire created world was cursed because of Man's sin. Man was originally designed for God and creation was for man. However, in sin, this order and hierarchy was overturned. Man and woman sought to made creation the Creator, and as a result, creation, and man are all in rebellion against God. Sin affected all created reality and its effects can be felt throughout the pages of the Bible and all time.
Paul also tells us that creation is waiting with eager longing for the revealing, or uncovering, of the sons of God. The sons of God are revealed (or uncovered) at the end of all things, and proven to be true sons and finally receive their inheritance then. Why would all creation under a curse be waiting for us to be proven as the sons of God? When God's children is finally revealed, all things will be made right.
(B) Creation’s Freedom (Rom 8:21-22)
Paul uses a metaphor to describe this experience of waiting (Rom 8:22). He uses the pains of childbirth as the metaphor. Like the woman looking forward to the birth of the child, so too does creation look forward to the revealing of the sons of God. Yes, it is borne in pain, but there is also great joy and excitement. Do you see what this means? The whole world cannot wait for our faith to be proven and for us to be shown as God's own sons. Trees, flowers, sun, stars, the moon, animals in the sea, land and air are eagerly waiting for that day. Yet, sometimes, it does seem that creation could be more excited for our final glorification than we are.
These verses in Romans 8 also have several mindblowing implications. Firstly, we see that spiritual and moral things are connected to the physical realm, and form our reality. This is what the Bible is telling us now, because we are so prone to separate these dimensions. Luke 24 shows us that the resurrected Jesus ate broiled fish. Our spiritual and physical states are corrupted here, but they will all be restored and made new. Secondly, we realise that Paul is not presenting a religion with a simple technique to make our lives better. The truths of the gospel -- our faith and our hope -- has a cosmic element to it.
Thirdly, and quite importantly, it challenges us to rethink our impressions and ideas about the hope that is to come. What does heaven look like to you? Do you immediately think of clouds and people floating around playing harps? This may be a caricature, but if we press it in and ask ourselves honestly, what informs our vision of heaven ? Romans 8 actually teaches us God is not interested in just "getting us into heaven", and heaven is not just a way of escape for us. We are often taught that heaven awaits the Christian, but if we don't understand how the Bible presents it, it wouldn't be desirable or our hope. Perhaps this is why parts of our faith is cold, or we are not motivated to share the gospel, fight for holiness? Dear friends, Romans 8 also has an implication for how we live today. Yes, we "only live once", as society tells us, but the Bible reminds us that we are merely living in the shadowlands. The life we live here is a pale, pale shadow of how it is meant to be, nad how it will be. So, we wait and in the meantime, our sufferings, our fight against sin, our QT and bible studies are ways we exercise faith as we wait with hope. As the hymn goes, we are "watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love". We wait with creation, with eager longing.
(C) Creation’s Future (c.f. Rev 21:1-5)
So, what does the Bible say about creation's future? God showed John a vision of what is to come, and it has been recorded for us in Rev 21:1-5.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5 ESV)
These lovely verses can be explained and talked about endlessly, but in brief, we read that John sees:
- a new heaven,
- new earth,
- no sea (symbolising the end of chaos and evil) and
- the holy city (the church, perfected in all her glory).
God also promises that there will be no more:
- separation and alienation from God
- crying, tears and mourning
- old things/former things
This is what awaits us at the end. What is your hope today? How are you waiting? We'll leave you with a final quote from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible:
“Glory awaits the believer in Christ, but “this present time” brings “sufferings” in abundance (v. 18). All creation is “groaning” in anticipation of the “freedom” from “bondage” and “corruption” that God promises (8:19–23; see Gen. 3:16–19). Believers groan, too, as their full salvation lies in the future, which calls for patience (Rom. 8:24–25), a fruit the Spirit gives (see Gal. 5:22–23)… We see in these verses that one day God is going to renovate and restore not only our souls, and not only our physical bodies, but the entire cosmos. All will be put right. Eden will be restored. This globe will become what it was always meant to be.”