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More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #9 From Groaning to Glory – Romans 8:18-27

04 Oct

More Than Conquerors (Romans 8)

(Romans 8:18-27 NIV)  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. {19} The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. {20} For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope {21} that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. {22} We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. {23} 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. {24} For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? {25} But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. {26} 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. {27} 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.

 Romans 8:18-27 (ESV)
18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
20  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
21  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
23  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
27  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

(Romans 8:18-27 NASV)  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. {19} For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. {20} For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope {21} that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. {22} For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. {23} 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. {24} 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? {25} But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. {26} And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; {27} and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

What does it mean to be a Christian—to think like a Christian—to act like a Christian? What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit”?

Like high road, Paul’s words recorded in Romans 8:18-27 strip away the artificial and superficial views of the Christian life, leaving us with the core of what it means to live in this present world as a Christian.  His words will not conform to much, if not most, of Christian thinking and teaching. His words will not be those we would naturally be inclined to welcome as God’s truth. But they are God’s truth. If we are to live our lives as those who are and will be the “sons of God,” we must live in accordance with reality.

The reality of Christian living is exposed and explored in our text. Let us hold very loosely to our preconceived ideas and hold fast to the inspired and inerrant Word of God as we consider this text.

The Context of Our Text

Paul has written in chapters 1-4 of man’s great need for righteousness and justification and of God’s provision of it through Jesus Christ. What sinful men cannot do for themselves, God has done for them in Christ. We are forgiven of our sins and declared righteous, not by striving to please God by our good works, but by trusting in Jesus Christ, by faith.

In chapters 5-8 Paul speaks to those who have been justified by faith concerning their walk as believers in Jesus Christ. The general subject is sanctification—that process by which sinners who have been justified by faith are being transformed into saints so that their lives reflect the righteousness of God. That righteousness which all men lack, and which some have been granted by faith in Jesus Christ, is now to be lived out in the daily walk of the believer.

The first half of chapter 5 (verses 1-11) is a description of the benefits of justification by faith. The second half (verses 12-21) is an explanation of the basis of justification and sanctification. Chapter 6 is a compelling explanation of the need for a dramatic change in the lifestyle of the Christian, of death to sin and living out God’s righteousness before men. Chapter 7 reveals the weakness of the Law and ultimately of our own flesh, making it humanly impossible to live righteously in and of ourselves.

So far as the spiritual walk of the Christian is concerned, Romans 8 is the high water mark of Romans. For those who have been justified by faith, the condemnation for sin has been borne by our Lord Jesus in His death on the cross. The powerlessness of the flesh to obey God’s Law and to live righteously has been overcome by the Holy Spirit, who not only raised the dead body of our Lord to life but who will also raise our own dead bodies to life so that we may live in a way that pleases God.

The Holy Spirit is God’s provision for godly living. Not only does the Spirit empower the Christian, He also assures the Christian of his position in Christ as a son of God. While our sonship is the assurance of sharing in the glory of God in His coming kingdom, it also requires present suffering for Christ’s sake.

This suffering is not divorced from our sonship but a prerequisite to the glory which is to come. In Romans 8:14-17, Paul introduces the subjects of sonship and suffering. Romans 8:18-27 explains in greater detail the ministry of the Holy Spirit to suffering saints.

This present life inescapably involves suffering and groaning as we look forward to the glory of God and the full benefits of our sonship at the return of our Lord. During our days of groaning, the Holy Spirit ministers to us so that we may endure our present afflictions. The subject of our text is the certainty of suffering and of God’s sustaining ministry through His Spirit.

The Structure of the Text

While the focus of this lesson is on Romans 8:18-27, a broader portion of the text must be considered in analyzing the structure of our passage. We will consider the structure of verses 14-30, outlining our text in this way:

(1) Transition—The sons of God will suffer (verses 14-17)

(2) Truths which sustain the suffering sons of God (verses 18-27)

(3) The benefits of sonship outweigh its sufferings (verse 18)

(4) Suffering is the experience of all creation (verses 19-22)

(5) Suffering is a prerequisite to sonship (verses 23-25)

(6) The Holy Spirit ministers to us in our suffering (verses 26-27)

Transition (8:14-17)

14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Paul explains in Romans 8 the provisions which God has made for the Christian to live righteously, as both the Law and our conversion require. The deadness of our bodies with regard to deeds of righteousness, vividly described in chapter 7, is solved by the Holy Spirit who indwells the Christian and who raises our dead bodies to life just as He raised the dead body of our Lord Jesus to life (8:11).

The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit “of adoption.” Through His ministry we become God’s sons. Furthermore, He bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God (8:15-16). He is also the Spirit who sustains and strengthens us in our sufferings.

While verses 14-17 teach many important truths, two truths in these verses lay the foundation for what Paul will teach in verses 18-27. Let me underscore these two foundational truths Paul emphasizes:

(1) The Spirit of God is the Spirit of sonship. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are joined with Christ so that we become the sons of God. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are also assured of our sonship as He witnesses to our spirit concerning this relationship. This relationship of sonship is the opposite of slavery. Rather than being subject to sin and to death, we will reign with Christ,190 in life.

(2) Suffering is a necessary prerequisite for entering into the full benefits of sonship. While we become the children of God the moment we believe in Jesus Christ (see John 1:12), our full and final sonship awaits us when the Lord returns and when our bodies are fully redeemed (Romans 8:23). Paul tells us in verse 17 that “we are fellow-heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him.” He says also that we must suffer “in order that we may also reign with Him.” Suffering is seen as the experience of every son of God.191 It is this suffering—and the sustaining ministry of the Holy Spirit during our suffering—of which Paul writes in Romans 8:18-27. The final words of verse 17 turn our attention to the suffering which our sonship requires and to the ministry which the Holy Spirit provides for every son of God.

The Superiority of Sonship  and Its Glory Over Present Suffering (8:18)

18 For I consider192 that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 8:18

 The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.NKJV In verse 17, Paul stated that believers will share in Christ’s sufferings. He completes that thought with this verse, concluding that the sufferings we now face are completely overshadowed by the glory that awaits those who trust in Christ. The present suffering is temporary, while the future glory is eternal. Paul had written to the Corinthians, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 niv). Suffering is part of the process of sharing in Christ’s death; it will culminate in sharing his glory. If glory is the majesty of God, his character seen for all that it truly is, then his glory . . . revealed in us will occur when we suddenly become exactly what God has intended us to be. God will allow us to share in the glory that belonged to Christ alone. We will share with Christ in the glory of sonship. In that day we will fully reflect God’s image.

Verses 18-27 all deal with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the context of suffering and sonship. In verse 18, Paul supplies his reader with the first word of encouragement: our sufferings in preparation for our sonship do not compare with the glory we will share as sons. In simple terms, the benefits of sonship far outweigh the price we are called upon to pay as sons of God. Paul reflects his deep, personal conviction of this in his words to the Corinthians:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light afflict is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Paul’s words in verse 18 are consistent with this biblical principle: First suffering, then glory. It was true of our Lord Jesus. He was first to suffer and then to enter into His glory. This puzzled the prophets of old who did not know that this principle would require two “comings” of the Messiah:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).

One phrase in verse 18 is of particular interest. Paul speaks of the future glory we will enter into as God’s sons as that which “is to be revealed to us.” Surely this glory is still future while our sufferings are in the present. But the glory in verse 18 is that which God will reveal, meaning that this glory is not presently seen (see also verses 24-25).

The Groaning of Creation (8:19-22)

19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

8:19 The creation. Human beings and the rest of creation presently face suffering, and both will be glorified in the future. When Adam sinned, God sentenced all of creation: “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17 nrsv). Since then, the world has suffered decay and pollution, largely because people have forgotten or ignored their responsibilities as stewards of the earth.

Waits with eager longing.NRSV This form of the Greek verb (apekdexetai) for this phrase is used seven times in the New Testament. Each time it is used in connection with the believers’ anticipation of Christ’s return (see Romans 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 5:5; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 9:28). Here it is used in connection with creation awaiting that day. In the meantime, the created order functions in spite of its flaws. But diseases, deformities, and suffering constantly remind us that all is not right with us or with the world. When people treat nature with care, the environment displays a remarkable willingness to cooperate. All creation looks forward to its liberation from the effects of the Fall.

For the revealing of the sons of God.NKJV This will occur at the second coming of Christ when he returns for his people. We will share in his glory (8:18) and receive our complete redemption (8:23). The entire universe is looking forward to the conclusion of God’s plan. People are the largest group of holdouts in anticipating that time. It is humbling to realize that as creatures developing an eager expectation for Christ’s return, we humans are the last to respond.

8:20-21 The creation was subjected to frustration . . . by the will of the one who subjected it.NIV When Adam sinned, God decreed that all of creation would be subjected to frustration; that is, to futility, change, and decay. Creation is frustrated because it is unable to attain the purposes for which it was made. When Solomon was seeking for wisdom and meaning within the limits of the world, his conclusion was “Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 niv). The word translated “meaningless” in the Greek Old Testament is the same

word that Paul uses here for frustration. The original sense of perfect order in the world was marred by sin; therefore, fallen people had to live in a fallen world. This was not by its own choice because it was God’s doing and part of his plan of salvation. I beg of you for the love and reverence of God our Lord to remember the past, and reflect not lightly but seriously that the earth is only the earth.

Ignatius Loyola

Translating Paul’s complex thought here into English is not easy. Paraphrasing has been the most helpful. For example, Phillips has, “The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”

In hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.NIV The word for hope indicates anticipating a future event. Eventually this frustration will end and creation will be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of GodNIV—freedom from sin, evil, decay, and death. Revelation 22 describes the future removal of the curse from the earth.

Adam and Eve were the first polluters of the environment when they sinned. Their act of rebellion affected the entire world. It has taken many centuries to realize the inter-relatedness of this global village, but the Bible begins with that assumption. Having the same Creator links us with the rest of the created order. But as much as we do personally and corporately to clean up and care for the environment, we must realize that the creation will require the same kind of transformation that we require in order to be set straight again. The world is wearing down, and God has a recycling plan in mind. One of the psalmists contemplated creation’s future in this way: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:25-27 niv). Making creation a god is only worshiping a power that is finite and destructible. We have been charged to care for the world, and to worship her Creator.

The ultimate answers about the meaning to life cannot be found among the wonders of earth, nor in the far reaches of the universe. For those, we must turn to God.

8:22 The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.NRSV Paul pictures the fallen earth in pain. Consider earthquakes, floods, fire, drought, famine—these are surely not what creation was meant to be, but sin and evil now rule. Just as the pains of childbirth end at the birth of the child, so the groaning and pain of the creation will end at the birth of the new earth. This groaning is not impatient, but “eager” (8:23). It is not the groaning of hopelessness, but the sound of total concentration on a painful, but hopeful conclusion. It is not the despairing cry of the hopeless, but the eager longing of the hopeful. Before the glory is revealed there is a time of groaning. Creation groans and longs for its release and transformation into the new heaven and new earth. We groan, longing for our own release from the cycle of sin and decay (8:23). We long for the full redemption of our bodies in the resurrection. In this process we are not alone, for the Holy Spirit groans with us, expressing our unutterable longing to God. But until the time of our release and redemption, we must groan, wait and hope.

THE REAL WORLD
Christians see the world as it is—physically decaying and spiritually infected with sin. But Christians do not need to be pessimistic, because they have hope for future glory. They look forward to the new heaven and new earth that God has promised, and they wait for God’s new order that will free the world of sin, sickness, and evil. In the meantime, Christians go with Christ into the world, where they heal people’s bodies and souls and fight the evil effects of sin.

Paul introduces in this paragraph the concept of “groaning” (verse 22). Here Paul refers to the “groaning” of the creation. In verse 23 he speaks of the “groaning” of the Christian. And finally in verse 26 he speaks of the intercessory “groanings” of the Holy Spirit. Groaning is the glue which gives unity to our entire section of verses 18-27.

What is groaning? Groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering. It is both personal and intense, an agony so deep it cannot be put into words. Groaning is a universal language. Groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God which is yet to come. For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen.

In verse 17 Paul links groaning with sonship, for suffering is a part of God’s preparation for those who will reign as sons of God. But suffering and groaning are not just the experiences of Christians alone. Groaning is the universal experience of all of God’s creation. It cannot be avoided. In verses 19-22 Paul therefore informs us that our groaning is part a part of the bigger whole—the groaning of all of creation. Several important truths are taught here for us to consider:

(1) The groaning of creation is universal. All creation groans. It is a universal expression of agony (verse 22).

(2) The groaning of creation is the result of man’s sin. Adam did not consult with the animal world nor did he involve the rest of creation in his decision to disobey God. Innocent though it was, all creation suffers the backwash of Adam’s sin. Creation suffers not only due to the initial sin of Adam, but creation also sufferings from the on-going sin of mankind.

(3) The groaning of the creation is due to a divine sentence of corruption and futility. Creation has been in the process of deterioration193 since the fall of man. Our own bodies bear testimony to the process of corruption.

Corruption and deterioration results in a life characterized by futility. Futility is the opposite of hope. Futility means that no matter how hard we try to resist or reverse the process of corruption, it is inevitable. We may buy a new house, but soon termites find it and begin the process of decay. If not, mildew or dry rot begins to appear. Then there are earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. Our new car soon begins to leak oil. The transmission starts to slip. The seat covers become soiled. Rust begins to work away at the metal. Sooner or later, the car will find its way to the wrecking yard and then to the crusher. The work of our hands, in the long run, is futile.

The sentence of creation to the principles of corruption and futility is a divinely imposed condition. Creation did not bring suffering upon itself. Man’s sin is the immediate cause, and God’s sovereign subjection of creation to suffering and groaning is the ultimate cause. Just as creation’s splendor and majesty display the splendor and majesty of God (see Psalm 19), so creation’s corruption and futility bear witness to man’s sin. God decreed that it would be so. Creation did not get in this condition because things got out of hand—out of God’s hand. Creation is the way it is because God subjected it to futility and corruption. Even in its suffering, creation is subject to God and to His purposes.

(4) Creation, though now subjected to corruption and futility, has a sure and certain hope. Creation’s present subjection to corruption and futility is the result of a divine decree by God. But Paul pointedly writes that God subjected creation to corruption and futility “in hope” (verse 20). Just as the Christian’s present condition of suffering and groaning is temporary so is the suffering and groaning of creation. Creation awaits the day of its own redemption from the chaotic consequences of sin when its present condition will be set aside. Just as Adam’s sin subjected creation to corruption, death, and futility, so the righteousness of Jesus Christ will redeem it. There is hope for creation. God’s purpose for subjecting creation to corruption and futility was not to destroy it but to deliver it.

Groaning is not a response of despair but a response to pain and suffering. Paul writes not of a groaning over what will be but over what now is. If creation’s groaning is present, its hope of glory is focused on the future. Hope is a prominent theme in our text with six references—one in verse 20 and five references in verses 24-25. The pangs which creation presently suffers are like birth-pangs for they promise a glorious delivery. These pangs lead not to death but to deliverance, life, and liberty. There is hope for creation.

(5) Just as creation’s downfall came through man, so its deliverance will come through man. Creation, Paul tells us, “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (verse 19). The Lord Jesus took on human flesh, not only to take man’s place on the cross of Calvary but to take man’s place as the Son of God ruling over God’s creation. All who are justified by faith in Christ become sons of God and look forward to a share in our Lord’s inheritance. When redeemed and perfected men rule with Christ, the earth will not suffer; it will prosper. The creation awaits its own day of redemption in hope, for God will bless the earth through the rule of men just as He presently causes the creation to share in the curse as the result of sin. Just as men, once enslaved by sin, are set free by the work of our Lord, so the earth, once enslaved due to sin, will be set free.

The Groaning of the Christian (8:23-25)

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. 24 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? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

8:23 We also who have the first fruits, of the Spirit.NKJV This verse returns to the train of thought Paul began in verse 18, the present sufferings of believers. We know that God will fulfill his promises of future glory because of the witness of the Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit is like the first fruits of a farmer’s harvest—a guarantee of more to come. To the Ephesians, Paul described the Holy Spirit as “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Ephesians 1:14 niv).

Groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.NIV To creation’s groaning is now added ours. Like creation, we have the promises but lack the final realization of glory. Our sufferings cause us to groan inwardly; God’s promises cause us to wait eagerly. Although we have already received adoption into God’s family (8:15), we are still awaiting our completed adoption, identified here as redemption (see also 8:19, 21). Paul discusses this principle of adoption at length in Galatians 3:26-4:7. This will occur when Christ returns, when our bodies will be transformed, and we will live with him forever (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-54; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). In the meantime, our groans are not imaginary. We see, touch, hear, and smell the destruction of our environment; we watch our aging bodies decay and fail; we see the destructive elements in nature. They remind us of Jesus’ words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31 niv).

8:24 In this hope we were saved.NIV When we put our faith in Christ as Savior, we receive this hope: that we will be redeemed. Paul wrote of this assurance in other letters: “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (Galatians 5:5 niv); and “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). We already have the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is unseen, but we must eagerly wait for our new bodies, that are also unseen.

The redemption of our bodies.NRSV Our bodies will be redeemed in the resurrection (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10). In Ephesians 4:30 Paul calls it the day of our redemption. When that day comes, we will fully realize all that our sonship guarantees.

Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?NIV Our full redemption has not yet happened; it will happen when Christ returns. That is why it is still a hope for believers.

 

CAN’T WAIT!
We keep looking in confidence for what we cannot see. Our eager anticipation is like that of the person who drives all night and eagerly looks forward to the sunrise, when the mist and darkness will be driven away. He knows it will happen and can’t wait. His assurance of it carries him on. We look forward to:
l Our new bodies.
l The new heaven and the new earth. Rest and the rewards of service.
l Our eternal family and home.
l The absence of sin and suffering.
l Being face to face with Jesus Christ.

8:25 If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.NIV Our salvation is both present and future. It is present because the moment we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior we are saved (3:21-26; 5:1-11; 6:1-11, 22-23); our new life (eternal life) begins. But at the same time, we have not fully received all the benefits and blessings of salvation that will be ours when Christ’s new kingdom is completely established. While we can be confident of our salvation, we still look ahead with hope and trust toward that complete change of body and personality that lies beyond this life.

Waiting for things patiently is a quality that must be developed in us (see Romans 5:3-4; James 1:3-4; 5:11; Revelation 13:10; 14:12). Patience is one of the Spirit’s fruit borne in our lives. It includes fortitude, endurance, and the ability to bear up under pressure in order to attain a desired goal.

 

BE PATIENT
It is natural for children to trust their parents, even though parents sometimes fail to keep their promises. Our heavenly Father, however, never makes promises he won’t keep. Nevertheless, his plan may take more time than we expect. Rather than acting like impatient children as we wait for God’s will to unfold, we should place our confidence in God’s goodness and wisdom. Yet even the most patient children will groan in anticipation when what they are waiting for is wonderful.

The condition of the Christian in these verses is very similar to that of creation. Like the creation, we who have been justified by faith suffer and groan. Our groaning is due to the present corruption and futility we see both within us and without. Sin, dwelling in our flesh and in this fallen world, causes us to groan. The contrast between what we presently are and what we shall be someday as adopted sons intensifies our groaning. At this future time, our bodies will be redeemed. Our earthly bodies, subject to corruption and to sin, will be put away, and we will be given redeemed bodies free from sin, corruption, and death (verse 24, see also 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4). At this time we will receive our full adoption as sons and reign with Christ over all creation.

Those who believe the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit brings only ecstasy, jubilance, and rejoicing194 need to consider more carefully Paul’s words in verse 23. The suffering and groaning the Christian is said to experience in verse 23 is linked to the believer’s possession of the Holy Spirit. This groaning is not the full manifestation of the fruit which the Spirit produces, but it is a part of the first fruits. Apart from God’s Spirit, the groaning of which Paul speaks would be impossible for any man.

This groaning is due to sin and its consequences. The Spirit within us bears witness that we are sons of God. The Spirit’s presence and power produce groaning in the Christian because we understand not only what we now are, but what we will someday be. Presently we are aware that something is very wrong with the way we are and the way our world is. The Spirit testifies to this, producing groaning from deep within us.

Does the creation presently groan in hope of its future deliverance? So does the Christian (verses 24-25). Here the veil is lifted slightly for the Christian to see one of the purposes for our present suffering and groaning. God causes us to groan over the present conditions under which we now live so that our hope will be directed toward God’s coming kingdom. Our present suffering and groaning is based upon our own experience, upon our own condition. Our future glory is based upon the work of Christ at Calvary and causes us to eagerly anticipate His return.

Because he is a Christian, one is not exempt from suffering and groaning. Indeed, the Christian’s suffering and groaning is intensified because he is a Christian and because the Spirit of God dwells within. The presence of the Holy Spirit in each believer is the source not just of groaning but the source also of great comfort. This ministry of the Spirit Paul explains in verses 26 and 27.

The Spirit’s Ministry in Our Groaning  (8:26-27)

26 And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

8:26 Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weakness.NKJV In the same way that our “hope” gives us fortitude, the Holy Spirit strengthens us and sustains us through times of trial. Our weakness (evidenced by our “groaning,” 8:23) may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. While we were yet sinners, Christ interceded for our sins; as believers, the Spirit intercedes for our weakness. At times, our weakness is so intense that we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.NIV At those times when we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray

because we don’t know what God’s will for us is, the Spirit voices our requests for us. He intercedes by appealing to the only one who can help us, God himself. We may not know the right words to say, but the Holy Spirit does. His groanings to God become effective intercession on our behalf. The Holy Spirit lays hold of our weaknesses along with us and carries his pail of the burden facing us as if we were carrying a log, one, at each end.

A. T. Robinson

The companionship of the Spirit in prayer is one of the themes of this chapter. It is the Spirit who urges us to call “Abba, Father” (8:15). Here, the Spirit literally “joins in to help” us, expressing for us what we can’t fully express for ourselves. How should we pray?

  • Utilize all the forms prayer takes: adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving, and meditation. As we pray, we should trust the Spirit to make perfect what is imperfect.
  • Listen during prayer. We should ask the Spirit to search our hearts and minds, and then we should be silent.
  • Practice prayer as a habit.
  • Combine prayer with other regular spiritual disciplines (see Philippians 4:4-8).
  • Confess sins that the Spirit points out.

8:27 He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.NIV The One who searches our hearts is God, and he also knows what the Spirit is requesting (see 8:26). God can look deep, past our inarticulate groanings, to understand the need we face, our hidden feelings.

The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.NIV This is a beautiful picture of the Trinity. The Father knows what is being requested because he knows the Holy Spirit; elsewhere we read that Jesus Christ also intercedes for us (8:34).

HELP IN PRAYING
As believers, we are not left to our own resources to cope with problems. Even when we don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for us, and God answers. With God helping us pray, we don’t need to be afraid to come before him. We simply ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for us “in accordance with God’s will.” Then, when we bring our requests to God, we trust that he will always do what is best.

Some use verses 26 and 27 as a proof text for speaking in tongues. But this text can hardly be understood to refer to speaking in tongues whether as a prayer language or not. Consider the following observations:

(1) These verses are found in the context of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the glory of our future adoption as sons and of our present suffering and groaning.

(2) The ministry of the Spirit is to us in our weakness. Our weakness lies in our complete inability to verbalize our groanings—or to know what to ask in prayer. Our groanings are beyond the ability of words to communicate—any words. If the gift of tongues is the ability to speak in some language, then even speaking in tongues could not convey our groanings. With respect to tongues, it is not the Spirit who puts words in our mouths. The Spirit intercedes for us, communicating our groanings to God. He conveys to God what we cannot put into words, and He also intercedes with requests which are consistent with the will of God. When we cannot speak, the Spirit speaks for us, to God. The Holy Spirit is the communicative link between our own heart and the heart of God. He ministers to us in our present weakness.

Conclusion

As strange as it may sound, groaning characterizes the life of the Spirit-filled Christian. All creation presently groans. Every Christian should be groaning. Even the Spirit groans on our behalf. This is because our redemption, while certain, is not yet complete. We are living in a world subject to corruption and futility. We are living in bodies subject to corruption and futility. We should be struggling with our own sin and imperfection. We know that what we are presently falls far short of what God yet intends to make of us when He completes His redemptive work in us.

Do not misunderstand; it should not be said that our lives as Christians are characterized only by suffering and groaning. We have peace with God, presently. We have joy in the midst of sorrow. We have the benefit of many blessings which come from the hand of a gracious and loving God, now, as well as those yet to come in the future. But when all is said and done, God does not intend for us to be content with what we are. Our present imperfection and groanings are designed to prepare us for our future sonship. We must first be tested and proven character must be developed in us before He gives us the privilege of reigning with Christ.

Suffering is preparatory to sonship. Groaning is a prerequisite to glory. We must place our hope in things to come, those things which God has promised. Because this hope is not presently seen, we must fix our hope by means of faith and not by sight. God intends for those things we see as wrong within us and in the world in which we live to create in us a hunger for heaven.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light afflict is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:5).

Some hold a view of the Christian life and walking in the Spirit which finds groaning inappropriate. Being Spirit-filled is synonymous with constant effervescence and an almost giddy happiness all of the time. Suffering and groaning are thought to be the experience only of the lost or of the unspiritual. Sad though it may be, only the lost can expect life to be lived without sadness and suffering and groaning.

When those who are successful and comfortable in this life see life as a bowl of cherries, they are not looking at life as it really is. They are looking through eyes which are blinded to the imperfection of this world due to man’s sin.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reversed the views of the unsaved world and of lost men. He did not say, as many of the scribes and Pharisees believed, that the rich, the successful, and the happy are those who are blessed. Instead, Jesus taught that those who suffered and groaned were blessed:

And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:2-6).

Why are those who suffer blessed? Why, by inference, are those whose life seems to be smooth sailing not blessed? It is because we tend to trust in ourselves when we are doing too well. Prosperity and ease does not tend to turn us to God but away from Him. This is why God warned Israel concerning the dangers of the prosperity into which they were about to enter (see Deuteronomy 8:11-20). Israel cried out to God in their sufferings. God heard their groanings (see Exodus 2:24; 6:5; Judges 2:18). When men prosper, they tend to trust in earthly things and not in God (see 1 Timothy 6:17). Suffering and groaning tests us and turns our heart toward God.195

Asaph, the ancient choir director, needed to learn to thank God for his groanings. In Psalm 73 we see Asaph agonizing over the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. He was bitter and angry toward God. He was acting like a beast, he tells us. It was only when he saw life from a broader perspective that he came to his senses and gave thanks to God for His goodness. He saw that earthly prosperity is temporary and that it tempts men to turn from God. He also saw that his own suffering turned him toward God and that the nearness of God in his affliction was good.

Has suffering and groaning found its way into your life? Are there deep inner agonies you cannot even verbalize? Your experience is not unique. It is that of all creation. It is that which should be happening to every Christian at various times and with various levels of intensity. You should not feel guilt-ridden or unspiritual over your groanings. If you have come to recognize your own fallenness and that of the world in which you live, you have come to see life as it really is. You are sharing in that same kind of suffering and groaning which our Lord experienced as the Son of God.

The question is not whether you are groaning, but what good this suffering and groaning is producing in you. Does your groaning give you a hunger for heaven? Does it make you discontent with this life and the way things are? Does it focus your hope on the things of God which are presently unseen? Good! That is the work of the Holy Spirit in you, producing in you a heart for God. That is the Spirit’s work in you preparing you for the glory of your full adoption as a son of God to reign with Christ when He returns to the earth in glory and power.

In the day of the revelation of the sons of God, all creation will cease its sighing and experience that to which it has been looking forward. All creation will enter into the praise and worship of God. I do not know precisely how creation will enter into the praise of God, but I do believe it will happen.196 What a day that will be!

In this life, we are not what we wish to be or what we ultimately will be nor is creation. This produces in creation and in the Christian suffering and groaning as well the hope of that future redemption which God has promised. This is what Paul is teaching in our text. Consider these very important implications of this truth:

(1) The suffering of God’s children is a dominant theme in the teaching of Scripture. Why then is it not more prominent in the teaching of many preachers and churches? Why are people invited to come to faith in Jesus Christ to escape suffering and to enter into peace and prosperity? Why do we seek to persuade men to trust in Christ by offering them the good life? Neither Jesus nor the apostles offered men peace and prosperity in this life. They warned men of the suffering and persecution which would result from turning to Christ in faith and following Him. They urged men to “count the cost” of following Christ (see Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 9:23-25, 57-62; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 1:3-9; 2:20-25; 3:14-18; 4:12-19; 5:10-11). Our Lord graciously brings adversity to us in this life to turn our hearts toward Him. He graciously continues to bring adversity into our lives as Christians to prepare us for our adoption as the sons of God, to keep us looking to Him and to His promised kingdom (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Hebrews 12:1-13).

(2) How does one explain the current emphasis on positive thinking, on man’s great potential, and on victorious living? We need to be very careful not only about what we teach but about the teaching of those to whom we listen and believe. Many are those who offer victorious living but carefully avoid the subject of suffering and groaning so prominent in Paul’s teaching in Romans and elsewhere. Paul does not wish us to become cynical or skeptical about this life, but he does wish us to be realistic.

Christian living must be based upon reality. The reality is that we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world. As such, creation is subject, by divine decree, to corruption and futility. Those who would serve God by walking in the Spirit must come to grips with this matter of our corruption and the futility of life. This is precisely why the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary to live as God requires. But the Spirit does not magically remove all of our suffering and groaning; He undertakes in such a way as to communicate our groanings to God. Walking in the Spirit does not eliminate the fallenness of this world or even of our own flesh. This will be eliminated when Jesus comes again and the sons of God are revealed.

(3) If God graciously sends suffering and groaning into our lives, why in our prayers do we ask God to remove our suffering and pain? Why do we not pray for strength and endurance and for our hope to be set on heaven? Why do we not pray, “Thy kingdom come”? Our prayers are often inconsistent with the purposes of God. When our suffering is the greatest, we cannot even articulate the problem or a solution. In these times we must depend upon the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, to communicate to God on our behalf the things of our spirit which are consistent with God’s will.

(4) The so-called “mid-life crisis” is that time when men come to grips with the reality of the futility and corruption of fallen creation. In reflecting on this text it occurred to me that the “mid-life crisis” is simply men coming to a realization of what Paul is teaching here. It is possible for us to deceive ourselves about life for a number of years. In our youth, we are full of strength and optimism. We believe we can change the world. And then somewhere in mid-life or at a point of crisis we come face to face with stark reality. We see our bodies beginning to succumb to corruption. We see that our efforts are ultimately futile—unable to permanently change us or the world. Some cannot handle this reality and try to suppress it by having an affair, by turning to various sins, or by dulling their senses with alcohol or drugs. They live in a false world, denying the reality of sin and its devastating consequences. They do not turn to God in faith. They do not set their hope on those things which God has promised but which are not seen.

If we would live life to the full, we must come to grips with the reality of sin and its devastation on us and on our world. We must cease trusting in ourselves and turn to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Moses learned this lesson:

For we have been consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence. For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. Do return, O LORD; how long will it be? And be sorry for Thy servants. O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil, Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, And Thy majesty to their children. And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands (Psalm 90:7-17).

Asaph also learned this lesson:

When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:21-28).

King Solomon, the richest and most successful man who ever lived, concluded that life is futile and that only seeking and serving God makes sense:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun, the light, the moon, and the starts are darkened, and clouds return after the rain; in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim; and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly. Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, 13-14).

May the reality of sin and its consequences cause you suffering and groaning. And may this turn your heart to God and your hope toward heaven. May you know as the psalmist that “the nearness of God is my good” and the sufferings of this life but a small thing in light of the blessings awaiting you in that day of the revelation of the Son of God and the sons of God.

190 As pointed out in our last lesson, sonship involves reigning over God’s creation. For the Christian, this means sharing in the reign of Christ over all creation when He returns in power and glory.

191 Let us not forget that suffering was also a necessary part of the preparation of the Son of God (see Hebrews 5:5-10).

192 The same term is employed here by Paul as is found in Romans 6:11, numerous times in chapter 4, and elsewhere in Romans.

193 The carbon dating process, for example, is one which measures time according to the rate of deterioration of the materials being dated.

194 The Holy Spirit does, of course, produce these happy and upbeat experiences. But this is not the only evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power. The Holy Spirit can also produce groaning, as Paul teaches us here.

195 Prosperity should turn our hearts to God as well, in grateful thanksgiving and praise.

196 There are a number of biblical texts which speak of creation’s role in praising God. See, for example, Psalm 96:11-13; 97:1; 98:8; Isaiah 44:23; 49:13; 55:12; 1 Chronicles 16:30-34. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem as the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the people praised Him. And when the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples and to stop them from their praise, He responded, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:4). I wonder if in the revelation of the sons of God, the rocks will actually cry out. Somehow, I believe, all creation will enter into the praise of God.

(8:18-27) Introduction: this is one of the most glorious promises in all of Scripture. God is going to free all creation from struggling and suffering.

  1. In this life (v.18).
  2. The believer suffers and struggles.
  3. The future glory will be worth the agony.
  4. The creation suffers and struggles for deliverance from corruption (v.19-22).
  5. The believer suffers and struggles for deliverance from corruption (v.23-27).

(8:18) Suffering—Spiritual Warfare, Struggle: in this life the believer suffers and struggles. The word “suffering” means all the forms of suffering which the believer experiences throughout life. It means…

  • the suffering that comes from persecution.
  • the suffering that comes from the struggle of his spirit to overcome the flesh and the world.

Very simply, suffering means the struggle waged by our spirits to overcome all that is experienced in this life, all that is involved in the flesh and the world.

The genuine believer struggles against everything that keeps him from living abundantly and eternally. His sole passion is to bring everything under the control of Christ and to be conformed to the image of Christ. Therefore, he struggles to overcome the flesh and the world with their aging and corruption, sin and death. No matter what suffering is required, the believer bears it in order to overcome and gain the victory of eternal life and its glory.

Note that the believer is to suffer with Christ “in order that” (ina—Greek) he may be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17). Suffering prepares the believer to participate in the glory of Christ. It is the necessary condition for exaltation. Suffering and struggling are a refining process through which the believer must pass (1 Peter 1:6-7). It refines the believer by forcing him to expand his trust in God more and more. Suffering drives a believer to cast himself more and more upon the care of God; therefore, the believer moves closer and closer to that perfect trust and care in God. He will never achieve the perfect trust and care in God, but he will come to know it when God transports him into the very Kingdom of Heaven itself. Suffering enlarges, purifies, expands, and ennobles the believer. It makes him more and more like what he will be when he actually lives face to face with God. This future glory transcends immeasurably the suffering and struggling of this present world.

  1. The future glory shall be revealed “in” us; it shall become part of our very nature and being. Glory shall radiate and shine forth from our resurrected bodies.
  2. The future glory shall be an eternal weight of glory (just imagine such a weight, a weight beyond all measure, surpassing all measurements and calculations).
  3. The future glory shall far exceed anything we have seen or heard or longed for in our hearts.
  4. The future glory shall be so glorious it will reflect through us to others, making us ministers of glory.
  5. The future glory shall make us just like Jesus in all that He is.

 

(8:19-22) Creation: the creation suffers and struggles for deliverance from corruption. The word “creation” refers to everything under man: animal, plant, and mineral. All creation is pictured as living and waiting expectantly for the day when the sons of God shall be glorified. The words “earnest expectation” (apokaradokia) mean to watch with the neck outstretched and the head erect. It is a persistent, unswerving expectation, an expectation that does not give up but keeps looking until the event happens. Note three facts revealed about the universe in which man lives.

  1. Creation is subject to corruption. This is clearly seen by men; and what men see is constantly confirmed by such authorities as the botanist, zoologist, geologist, and astronomers of the world. All of creation, whether mineral, plant, or animal, suffers just as men do. All creation suffers hurt, damage, loss, deterioration, erosion, death, and decay—all creation struggles for life. It is full of “vanity” (mataios), that is, condemned to futility and frustration, unable to realize its purpose, subject to corruption. Note the two things said about creation in this verse (Romans 8:20).
  2. Creation was condemned to vanity—futility and frustration—by God. Creation did not willingly choose to be condemned to corruption. The world was made to be the home of man, the place where he lived. Therefore, when man sinned, his world was doomed to suffer the consequences of sin with him. Man’s world was cursed right along with him.

Think about the earthquakes, tornados, storms, diseases, starvation, attacks, and struggles for survival that take place. And these are only a few of the myriad happenings that show the corruption of the world.

 

  1. Creation has been subjected to corruption “in hope.” The news of Scripture is glorious: the situation of the world is neither hopeless nor final. Creation has the same hope of redemption and of renovation as man. The world was made for man, therefore all creation shall be ultimately delivered from corruption just as man shall be delivered from corruption.
  2. Creation shall be delivered from corruption. This is the wonderful news of the glorious gospel. Note a most significant point: whatever happens to man is bound to happen to his world. Man is the summit of God’s creation; therefore, all that is under man is intertwined, interwoven, and interrelated to him. Man and his world are one and the same; they are dependent upon each other. This is enormously significant: since man and his world are interrelated, it means that the world will experience whatever man experiences. When man fell, his world was bound to fall with him. But this is the glorious news as well. When man is liberated from corruption, his world shall be liberated as well. God had to subject man’s world to man’s fate, but God also had to subject man’s world “in” hope.
  3. Creation groans in labor for deliverance. Note that all creation suffers together: all creation is interrelated, intertwined, and interconnected. The whole universe is dependent upon its various parts for survival. The earth could not survive without the heavens, and the heavens would have no purpose apart from God’s creation of man and his earth. This does not mean that man is to be egocentric or egotistical. It simply means that man and his earth are the focal point of God’s unbelievable creation, of His eternal plan and purpose. Being the center of creation before God is not a truth to make man proud, but to make him humble—a truth to cause him to bow in worship and praise, appreciation and thankfulness. Being the summit of God’s creation is not a gift of privilege, not presently, but of enormous responsibility.

Note the word “groaneth and travaileth.” The picture is that of a woman giving birth. Creation experiences “birth pangs” under its struggle to survive. And note: it has been experiencing the “birth pangs” until now, that is, from the fall of man up until this present moment.

In conclusion, the whole scene of these four verses is that creation awaits a renovated world. Creation resents evil and struggles against decay and death. It fights for survival. It struggles against the bondage of being slaughtered or changed.

The idea expressed is that creation awaits the Day of Redemption: anxiously, expectantly, longingly, and eagerly awaits for its deliverance from corruption. Creation moans and groans and cries for the unveiling of the Son of God.

(8:23-27) Corruption, Deliverance from: the believer suffers and struggles for deliverance from corruption. Note four facts.

  1. It is the first-fruit of the Holy Spirit that delivers and saves man. The term first-fruit means either the presence of the Holy Spirit or the fruit of the Holy Spirit: life, love, joy, peace (Galatians 5:22-23). When a believer is truly saved, he possesses the Holy Spirit and bears the fruit of the Spirit. He actually begins to live abundantly and eternally, and he experiences the fulness of God’s Spirit: His love, joy, and peace. Experiencing these causes the believer to groan and ache…
  • for the perfection of the Spirit’s presence and fruit.
  • for the day of adoption, the day when he will actually move into the perfect presence of God.
  • for the redemption of his body.

The believer is stirred by the taste of the Spirit and of His first-fruits, stirred to groan for their perfection. He groans and aches to be delivered from the sufferings of this world and released into the glorious liberty of perfection with God.

  1. It is hope that delivers and saves man. Hope saves us, for it is hope that keeps us seeking after God and His redemption. We hope for redemption; therefore, “with patience we wait for it”
  2. It is prayer and the Holy Spirit that delivers and saves a man. As the believer faces the sufferings of this life he has the greatest resource imaginable: prayer. He has the right to approach God whenever needed, and to ask God for the strength to walk through and to conquer the suffering. That is what prayer is all about.

Two significant things are said about prayer.

  1. Believers do not know how to pray as they should. Note the word “we.” Paul includes himself in this, which is to say no believer knows how to pray.
  2. The Holy Spirit helps our infirmities. It is true that He helps us in all our infirmities, but the point of the present passage deals only with prayer. Note: it is assumed that we are praying in this verse. The Spirit is not going to force us to pray. It is our responsibility to pray: to take the time to get alone and pray. When we do this the Spirit begins to act both upon and for us.

Note this also: the Spirit “helpeth our infirmities.” Whatever our particular weakness is, it is that weakness which He helps. If we are truly sincere and are wrestling to pray, then the Spirit helps us to control concentration, distractions, wandering thoughts, emotional changes, and affections. How? As we struggle to pray by controlling our flesh and its weakness, the Holy Spirit takes our mind and emotions and…

  • quiets and silences them.
  • stirs and excites them.
  • draws and pulls them.
  • directs and guides them.

He leads us to pray as we should, controlling and subjecting the flesh and concentrating upon the prayer.

Note another fact: the Holy Spirit makes “intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Sometimes the struggles and sufferings of life become so heavy we just cannot bear them. At other times, matters of such importance grip our hearts to such an extent that words are impossible. Emotions become too much for words. We become lost in the presence of God. Every genuine believer knows what it is to be speechless before God and left groaning in the Spirit. Every believer has experienced…

  • God’s unspeakable gift.
  • joy unspeakable.
  • words which are unspeakable.

The point to note is that the Holy Spirit takes these great moments of prayer and helps us in our “groanings” before the Lord. We are not able to utter words; therefore, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.

  1. It is God who delivers and saves a man. Note the three things said in this verse.
  2. God searches the heart of us all. There is no exception. He knows exactly what is within our hearts. He can read and understand what our groanings and needs are. Not a need will be missed.
  3. God knows the mind of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit prays for us according to the will of God; therefore, God knows exactly what the Spirit is requesting for us. There is perfect agreement between the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
  4. God will answer our prayer and meet our need. He will deliver and save us, causing the very best thing to happen.

 

The Intercession of the Spirit

“Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmity: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. “And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).

Much controversy surrounds this passage as to its particulars. In this essay, we will set forth the view that we feel best conforms to the overall context of Romans 8, together with the grammatical particulars that are employed in these two verses.

Romans 8 is a chapter that rings with Christian assurance. One can be confident of his salvation in Christ, provided he does not pursue the life of the “flesh;” rather, he walks after the leading of the Spirit (vv. 1-4), Whose guidance is effected through the Scriptures He inspired (Eph. 5:18; cf. Col. 3:16; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 6:17).

The leading of that holy revelation generates “life and peace” (vs. 6). Our confidence is grounded in the fact that the indwelling Spirit eventually will be instrumental in effecting life for our mortal bodies by means of the bodily resurrection from the dead (vv. 11, 23). By the leading of the Spirit we may be assured of our status as “sons of God” (vs. 14).

Moreover, the Spirit Himself bears witness with the Christian’s personal spirit, confirming our child-father relationship with God (vs. 16). Our knowledge of the indwelling Spirit, which relationship is a “first-fruits” of that yet promised, enables us to cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” and so to live in hope of the glory that is to come (vv. 18-25).

A cursory reading of the first twenty-five verses of this remarkable chapter clearly reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in this marvelous reliance the child of God may entertain relative to his future destiny. In this section alone, the third Person of the Godhead is alluded to no less than fourteen times. This emphasis, we believe, contributes to our understanding of verses 26-27. We now direct our attention to a consideration of the precise language of these two passages.

In like manner

The couplet begins with the phrase, “In like manner the Spirit also helps our infirmity . . . .” The phrase, “in like manner,” directs the student’s attention back into the previous context. The allusion most likely is to the “hope” just mentioned (vv. 24-25).

Just as our awareness of the Holy Spirit, as a presence in our lives (vv. 9, 11, 23), provides us with “hope” for the future, “in like manner,” we may take consolation in the fact that the Spirit is an abiding companion, assisting with our present infirmity.

J.B. Phillips paraphrases as follows: “The Spirit of God not only maintains this hope within us, but helps us in our present limitations.”

The Spirit

To what does the expression “the Spirit” refer in this passage? While a few sincere students have alleged that this is an allusion to the human spirit, the overwhelming majority of competent Bible scholars are confident that it refers to the third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. The following points, we believe, are worthy of serious thought.

  1. All of the major Bible translations reflect this persuasion (e.g., the King James Version, the English Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version, The Twentieth Century New Testament, the New International Version, etc.). All have the term pneuma set in type as “Spirit.”

While this procedure is a translating judgment, it does indicate the prevailing view of these renown scholars. In addition to these, there are numerous one-person versions that join the chorus (e.g., Phillips, Weymouth, Bruce, Goodspeed, Verkuyl (Berkeley), Williams, Wuest, Beck, McCord, etc.).

  1. Numerous other scholarly authorities of New Testament Greek identify “the Spirit” of Romans 8:26-27 as the Holy Spirit. Among these are: Arndt & Gingrich, Thayer, Robinson, Green, Chamberlain, Vine, Robertson, etc.

We mention these to emphasize the fact that the unusual view, which alleges that the term “Spirit” in Romans 8:26-27 is the human spirit, does not have the support of the respectable scholarship of the biblical world.

  1. As noted above, the expression “in like manner” ties this context to the apostle’s previous discussion of “the Spirit” (vs. 23), which, unquestionably, is the Holy Spirit.
  2. The term “helps” (see below) suggests an assistance from someone other than the person being helped, i.e., beyond the resources of the Christian himself. So, similarly, with reference to the term “intercession” (27); the Spirit makes intercession for the saints.

The “Spirit” here is not a component of the saint himself. One does not intercede for himself (see below).

  1. The grammar more readily lends itself to the concept that the Holy Spirit is in view. For example, the verb “helps” is a third person form, while the pronoun “our” (“our infirmity”) is a first person term.

Similarly, “we know not how to pray as we ought” reflects first person emphasis, yet the phrase “the Spirit itself [himself ASV] makes intercession” manifests a third person structure.

Moreover, if the human spirit were in view, one would think that pneuma would take a plural form (spirits) to conform to the plurals “our” and “we know not,” i.e., the sense would be “our spirits help our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but our spirits themselves make intercession for us . . . .”

Quite obviously this does not conform to what the original text actually says, and, frankly, doesn’t express a sensible thought.

  1. There is a contrast in the text between what the “Spirit” is able to do on our behalf, and what we are not able to do for ourselves, because we do not know how. “. . . [W]e know not how . . . but the Spirit . . . .”

The “but” (de) functions as an adversative particle here. Note the contrast in verses 22-23. “. . . [T]he whole world groans . . . . And not only so, but (de) ourselves also….” Clearly the “Spirit” is an entity separate from the “we.”

Let us say the same thing, but in a slightly different way. There is the affirmation that “we know not.” Since it is the “spirit” within man that is capable of either “knowing” or “not knowing” (1 Cor. 2:11), and, as this passage asserts that “we know not,” that is the equivalent of saying that our spirit does not know. But the implication of this passage is that the Spirit (under consideration here) does know. Thus the Spirit, here in view, is not the human spirit.

  1. The Spirit is said to “make intercession for us.” The Greek verb for “intercession” (vs. 27) is entunchano, meaning: “A pleading with one party on behalf of another, usually with a view to obtaining help for that other” (Bromiley, 2.858).

But in verse 26, there is a compound term, huperentunchano, which signifies “to make a petition or intercede on behalf of another” (Vine, 424). The word is multifaceted: the main stem is tugchano, “to happen,” together with en, “in,” and huper, “on behalf of.” The addition of huper onto the front of the word merely intensifies the force of the base word (cf. Chamberlain, 147); it does not imply another intecessor, in addition to the Holy Spirit.

Guy Woods observed that the word suggests “to happen just in the nick of time, for our assistance.” He adds:

“How comforting it is, when exhausted and weary from heavy burdens, to have a friend or brother come along, and lend a willing hand until the task is done. Such is the picture presented us in this verb of the Holy Spirit’s aid” (72).

Note how the term entunchano is elsewhere used. Christ, at the right hand of God, “makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). Again, the Lord “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). In addition, a noun form of the word (in the plural) is used in 1 Timothy 2:1, to describe the petitions we make on behalf others (e.g., rulers).

Here is the point: one does not intercede on his own behalf. The fact that the Spirit intercedes for us is evidence that “the Spirit” is someone other than ourselves.

It is sometimes objected that the Holy Spirit cannot be the One interceding for us, because Christ is said to accomplish that task. What is the problem in having more than one intercessor on my behalf? If hundreds of Christians can intercede for me (1 Tim. 2:1), why cannot both Christ and the Spirit intercede on my behalf? The objection is not logical.

Roy Lanier, Sr. observed that all three Persons of the Godhead are said to “sanctify” us (1 Thes. 5:23; Heb. 2:11; Rom. 15:16) (60). No one, so far as we can determine, sees any conflict in this. Neither are two intercessors problematic in Romans 8.

For these reasons, at the very least, it is almost incomprehensible to this writer that anyone should take the position that the “Spirit” in this context is anything other than the Holy Spirit of God.

Also helps our infirmity

The verb “helps” is most fascinating. In the Greek Testament, it is a present tense form, suggesting sustained activity. The original word is sunantilambano, consisting of these elements – sun (with), anti (over against, facing), lambano (to take up).

The picture conveyed is that of two persons sharing a load. The term is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Luke 10:40, where Martha implores Jesus to bid Mary, her sister, to “help” her. One can almost imagine a heavy piece of furniture that needs moving.

In his massive grammar of the Greek New Testament, A.T. Robertson provides the sense in our present context:

“The Holy Spirit lays hold of our weakness along with (sun) us and carries his part of the burden facing us (anti) as if two men were carrying a log, one at each end” (573).

Samuel Green noted that the expression signifies “to help by coming into association with” (152). It certainly suggests an assistance, other than one’s self, in dealing with our limitations in communicating adequately with God.

The Greek word for “infirmity” is astheneia, a compound term signifying “without strength.” The better textual evidence has it in the singular; it is a common infirmity shared by all Christians. It suggests an inability to produce a desired result (whatever may be indicated by the context).

While the immediate text focuses upon the Christian’s lack of knowledge in knowing “how to pray” with absolute precision, the Spirit’s function, in assisting with the entire panorama of human difficulties, with which we struggle, may be hinted of as well (cf. Murray, 311).

For example, it is entirely probable that the divine Spirit is active in the orchestration of providential benevolence on behalf of the children of God. Jesus once promised that the Father will “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Lk. 11:13). In a parallel reference, God is said to “give good things to them that ask him” (Mt. 7:11).

The use of “Holy Spirit” in Luke’s version appears to be an example of the figure known as metonymy, in this case, the cause being put for the effect (see Horne, I.359). The Spirit is named for the blessings he effects. This strongly hints of the providential activity of the Spirit of God in the lives of the saints.

It is not inappropriate that we briefly discuss what the Spirit of God does not do on our behalf. There is a common idea in the community of “Christendom” that the Scriptures are not sufficiently clear for human beings to understand, hence, the Spirit operates in a mysterious way so as to “help” us comprehend the meaning of the sacred text. This concept is called the “illumination” of the Spirit.

Professor Allan Killen argues as follows:

“Without an illumination of the Holy Scriptures [by the Spirit], no man can understand God’s divine, infallible revelation … illumination [is] the means by which the Scriptures are made clear to the reader” (Pfeiffer, et al., 831).

This notion is false for the following reasons:

  1. In terms of divine knowledge, the Scriptures furnish us completely unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This statement could not be true if the revelation, as given, is incomplete, and thus requires supplementation by the Spirit’s direct influence.
  2. We are commanded to “understand the will of the Lord” (Eph. 5:17). The command is superfluous if, in reality, we cannot understand the will of the Lord as made known in the Scriptures. If one must understand the Scriptures, but does not, whose fault would that then be?
  3. Many who claim to have the “illumination” of the Spirit teach ideas that clearly contradict the Spirit-given Bible.
  4. Many who profess to posses Spirit “illumination” disagree with one another in matters of doctrine. If a person offers an interpretation of the New Testament, which he claims is the result of “illumination,” how may others check this person’s views? Would it be by the Scriptures themselves? If so, how would he know his interpretation of the Scriptures, in evaluating that “illuminated” message, was correct? Unless he perhaps had an “illumination” by which to verify the previous “illumination.”
  5. The fact is, if the Spirit provides on-going, modern-day illumination, why is there even the need for a Book twenty centuries old?
  6. If the Spirit could not make the Scriptures plain when initially providing them, how can we have confidence that He would do any better on the second go-around?

For we know not how to pray as we ought

In this phrase, our pitiful, limited knowledge of the ideal will of God is dramatically underscored. We think we have the avenue of prayer perfected, but how woefully mistaken we are. We sometimes pray for things which, if supplied, would be most harmful to us. There is much truth in the saying that “one of life’s greatest blessings can be unanswered prayers” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-9).

Too, there are deep needs that we have, but of which we are unaware. Accordingly, we do not think to pray for them. And so, we do not “know” how to pray as we ought.

The verb rendered “know” is oida, which Vine suggests has to do more with “fullness of knowledge” (444). Wuest thus renders the phrase: “we do not know with an absolute knowledge” (366).

Though the verb is a perfect tense form technically, it yields a present tense sense (Arndt, 558), which indicates that we never master the art of expressing our prayer needs adequately. The Christian will always need the Spirit’s assistance.

But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us

The expression “Spirit himself” is emphatic; it expresses an activity of the Holy Spirit personally, rather than what He may accomplish through a representative medium (cf. Jn. 4:2). While the pronoun auto (“itself” KJV; “himself” ASV) is a neuter form, it is more appropriate here to render it as a masculine, since the Holy Spirit is a Person, not a thing. This has the precedent of Scripture itself (cf. Jn. 14:26 where the masculine ekeinos is used of the “Spirit” – a neuter term).

With groanings which cannot be uttered

The term “groanings” (stenagmois) denotes a sigh or groan. It is used (in various forms) more than fifty times in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and it reflects a “human lament” which suffering people are powerless to remedy on their own (Balz, 3.272). For instance, it describes the anguish of the Israelite people under the burdens of Egypt (Ex. 2:23; cf. Acts 7:34).

The notion that the “groanings” refer to “speaking in tongues” is to be rejected totally. Stott comments:

“These groans can hardly be glossolalia, since those ‘tongues’ or languages were expressed in words which some could understand and interpret” (245).

But whose groanings are these? Though some would attribute them to the Holy Spirit, the better view appears to be that they are the Christian’s groanings, which are conveyed, on his behalf, by the Spirit unto God. Clearly the term refers to the Christian’s plight a few verses earlier in this chapter (vs.23), though a different point of focus is in view.

The context seems to suggest that the “groanings” originate because “we know not how to pray as we ought” in a knowledgeable and articulate way. It would seem, therefore, more in harmony with the general tenor of the Bible as a whole, then, to conclude that it is the Christian who gives rise to these “mute sighs, the expression of which is suppressed by grief” (Thayer, 25), rather than the “groanings” issuing from the omnipotent Spirit of God.

Hardeman Nichols observes:

“Surely the Holy Spirit who has the ability to completely reveal the mind of God to man would have no difficulty in pleading man’s cause to God” (350).

It is not impossible, though, that there may be a blending of two thoughts. Some think that the “groanings,” though originating with the Christian, actually are “shared by the Holy Spirit and the believer” (McComiskey, 2.424).

John Stott suggests that “the Holy Spirit identifies with our groans,” so that “[w]e and he groan together” (245). One thing is certain. When the “groanings” reach God, they are perfectly clear to him.

It is imperative, though, that we emphasize this point. It must not be concluded that the Father could not know of our plight apart from the Spirit’s intercession; no, rather, it is the role of the Spirit as a companion in the Christian’s life that is being emphasized. His work has been divinely orchestrated, consistent with the planning of the entire Godhead.

  1. Leo Boles wrote:

“Since [the Holy Spirit] dwells in Christians, he helps them in the act of prayer. Prayer is to God the Father in the name of Christ, and by the help of the Holy Spirit. Hence, each member of the Godhead is included in acceptable prayer” (256).

And he who searches the hearts

The heart-searcher of this passage is generally conceded to be God, the Father, mentioned subsequently in the verse. God is said to “search” the heart of man.

The word means to examine, to investigate. It is a form of the figure known as anthropomorphism (representing God with human traits), the design of which, in this text, is to emphasize the all-knowing aspect of deity (cf. 1 Chron. 28:9; Psa. 7:9; Prov. 17:3; 1 Thes. 2:4). Similar expressions are used both of Christ (Rev. 2:23) and of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10).

The present tense form argues for the concept of a God who is ever aware of our needs. The “heart,” of course, is the soul or spirit of man, the rational, feeling aspect of the human being – that part made in the very image of God Himself (Gen. 1:26-27; Dan. 7:15; 1 Cor. 2:11; Rom. 10:9-10).

Knows what is the mind of the Spirit

Again the verb (oida), employed as a present tense (see above), reveals the fact that the Father and the Spirit are constantly in close communication with One Another, if we may express ourselves in the same sort of accommodative language discussed just above. God is ever aware of the Spirit’s insights into our souls, hence can adequately respond to our needs.

Cottrell suggests that Paul’s argument here is one where the reasoning proceeds from the less likely to the more likely.

“If God knows what is in the minds of created beings who are qualitatively different from him and relatively independent of him, then surely he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit himself, who is qualitatively equal with God and one in nature with him” (1.498).

Because [that – ASVfn] he intercedes for the sainst

The present tense of the verb (intercedes) depicts the characteristic activity of the Spirit on behalf of the Christian. For the meaning of “intercede,” see above.

The term “saints” (hagion), as used in the New Testament, is a general term for those who are faithful to God. It is commonly used for the members of various congregations of the Lord’s people (cf. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). It is linguistically related to the words “holy” (hagios), and “sanctified” (hagiazo). It refers to a person who, by virtue of his obedience to the gospel plan of salvation (cf. Eph. 5:26), and his consecration of life, has become “separated unto God” (cf. 1 Thes. 4:3-4, 7; Rom. 6:19, 22; Heb. 12:14).

The Holy Spirit is delighted to operate on behalf of a people dedicated to righteousness. The Roman Catholic concept of “sainthood” bears utterly no relationship to the New Testament Scriptures.

According to the will of God

The Greek text simply says: “. . . according to God.” The translators of both the KJV and the ASV have supplied the words “the will of” (as indicated by the italics) for clarification purposes. God the Father and the Holy Spirit operate in perfect unison in the interest of Christian people.

Perhaps it is not out of place at this point to remind ourselves that, unlike the so-called “gods” of the ancient pagan world, the members of the sacred Godhead are never at variance with One Another. They function in absolute harmony.

As we conclude this rather detailed discussion, perhaps we could sum up, with a commentary-paraphrase that brings everything together.

Just as we entertain a precious hope for the future as a result of the promised activity of the Spirit of God, in like manner, even now, the Spirit helps us by taking hold with us of our infirmity.

Especially is this true in the matter of our prayers; we just do not know how to fully address our needs in prayer. On this account, therefore, the Spirit personally pleads our case. He takes the sighs which reflect the true needs of our souls, which we are unable to put into words that form a proper request, and He conveys them on our behalf to God.

And God, Who is perfectly familiar with the inner workings of the human mind, and Who certainly knows the mind of the Spirit, responds to our needs. He honors the role of the Spirit Who is making intercession on behalf of those who have been set apart for divine service by virtue of their obedience to the truth.

Yes, God answers according to his will, rather than according to our superficial requests.

Most Bible students would agree that this marvelous pair of verses, dealing with the work of the Spirit of God on behalf of Christians, is one of the most thrilling one can contemplate. Surely there are things about these verses that as yet challenge our understanding.

In spite of the limited scope of our comprehension, there is enough here to almost take away one’s breath! Thanks be to the divine Godhead for Their precious interest in those who love Them and are submissive to Their will.

SOURCES

Balz, Horst & Schneider, Gerhard (1993), Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Boles, H. Leo (1983), The Holy Spirit – His Personality, Nature, and Works (Nashville: Gospel Advocate).

Bromiley, G.W., Ed. (1982), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), Four Volumes.

Chamberlain, William D. (1979), An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker).

Cottrell, Jack (1996), Romans – The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press).

Green, Samuel (1907), Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek Testament (London: Religious Tract Society).

Horne, Thomas (1841), A Critical Introduction to the Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: J. Whetham & Son).

Lanier, Roy H., Sr. (n.d.), Class Notes on Romans (Denver, CO: Privately Published).

McComiskey, T. (1976), Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).

Murray, John (1968), The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Nichols, Hardeman (1980), What Do You Know About The Holy Spirit?, Wendell Winkler, Ed. (Hurst, TX: Winkler Publications).

Pfeiffer, C.F., Vos, Howard, Rea, John (1998), Wycliffe Bible Dictionary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).

Robertson, A.T. (1919), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (London: Hodder & Stoughton).

Stott, John (1994), Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity).

Thayer, J.H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).

Vine, W.E. (1991), Vine’s Amplified Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Iowa Falls: World).

Woods, Guy N. (1970), How To Read The Greek New Testament (Nashville: Gospel Advocate).

Wuest, Kenneth (1961), The New Testament – An Expanded Translation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2021 in Romans

 

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