Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Glorified!

Part 5 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:29-30




For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (vv. 29-30). 


God Is Not Indifferent to Our Suffering

In this life we groan. It’s normal to ask, “Why, God?” But one question we should never ask is “Do you care, God?”

In John 11, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus informing him that their brother Lazarus is dying. Jesus doesn’t leave until two days later, and by the time he arrives at their house, Lazarus has died. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21). I think what she really wants to say was, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” Did Jesus not care?

When Jesus sees Mary weeping, he becomes “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (v. 33). The KJV says that Jesus groans. [1]  And then when he arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus cries. [2]

God is not indifferent to our suffering. When we groan, God groans. When we cry, God cries.


The Coming Day of Glory

There is no greater proof that God cares about us than the cross. On that cross, Jesus groaned so that one day our groaning would cease. On that cross, Jesus suffered so that one day our suffering would end.

There is coming a day so glorious that the suffering of this life will seem like nothing in comparison. [3] That’s not making light of our suffering. That’s making much of the glory of that day!

How can we be sure that we will experience this day of glory? 


An Unbreakable Chain

The “purpose” of God (v. 28) is outlined in verses 29 and 30. There is an unbreakable chain of five links (i.e., five acts of God) that guarantee the completion of a believer’s salvation: “those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). There’s been a lot of debate about what “foreknew” means.

There are two interpretations:

  • “Foreknew” means that God knew ahead of time who would put their faith in Christ. 
  • “Foreknew” means that God foreloved the elect (i.e., those whom he chose to be saved). “In Scripture God’s knowing often refers to his entering into relationship with someone.” [4] For example, in Amos 3:2 God says, “You [Israel] only have I known [5] of all the families of the earth.”

I agree with the second interpretation—though I also believe that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Our destiny is to be like Jesus in his glorified state. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

“Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified.” “Calling” is not a general gospel invitation. It is God’s effective summoning of us into relationship with himself through Christ.” [6]

“Those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” Our glorification hasn’t happened yet. Why does Paul talk about it in the past tense? Because it’s as good as done from God’s perspective.


Grace Alone

How can we be sure that we will experience the day of glory? We can be sure because of God’s grace and God’s grace alone. It’s not up to us. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). “Every justified believer will be saved in the end.” [7]

____________________

[1] “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33, KJV).
[2] “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
[3] “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
[4] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[5] The NIV says, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.”
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[7] Ibid., p. 279.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

God Works All Things for Our Good

Part 4 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:28




And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (v. 28). 


An Amazing Promise

The promise of Romans 8:28 is one of the greatest promises in the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Nothing will come into our lives that God doesn’t allow and use for our good. What this promise tells us is that “God is for us” (v. 31).

But maybe you don’t feel like God is for you. Maybe your life—or the life of someone you know—seems to contradict Romans 8:28. Let’s make sure we understand what the apostle Paul is really saying in Romans 8:28.


A Promise for Every Believer

This promise isn’t for everyone. This promise is “for those who love God.” This promise is “for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul isn’t talking about two kinds of people; he’s talking about one kind of person. He’s talking about believers.

You might be thinking, “But what if I don’t love God enough?” Paul isn’t saying that this promise applies only to believers who love God to a certain degree. This promise is for every believer. “Those who love God” is a description of all believers.


All Things?

All things work together for good.” “All things” means all things—both the good things and the bad things. But this doesn’t mean that bad things are good things.

Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate example of God using a bad thing to bring about good. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). “In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).

Was the crucifixion of Jesus a good thing? That’s a tricky question. The cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened.


"Good" Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

“All things work together for good.” Romans 8:28 is not promising that life will always be easy for a believer. Consider Paul’s life. He certainly didn’t live a life of ease. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.] 

We shouldn’t interpret “good” from the world’s perspective. For example, if a believer loses his or her job, we shouldn’t automatically say, "Don’t be upset. God must have an even better job for you because 'all things work together for good.'" Maybe that is the plan of God. But maybe it isn’t. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.] “Good” includes our conformity to Christ—which begins in this life—and our glorification. [Read verses 29-30.] 


The Benefit of Hindsight

Paul says, “We know that…all things work together for good.” “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 12:8). In the present, we “know” by faith. We trust God to cause everything to work together for our good. We trust God—an all-wise God, an all-powerful God, a faithful God, a good God. One day, we will “know” by sight.

We live this life not having all the answers, not understanding why things happen the way they do. We ask, “Why would God allow [something bad] to happen?”

Think again about the crucifixion of Jesus. As his mother and friends were standing there watching him suffer and die, what were they thinking? They were probably thinking, “This is the most horrible thing that could have ever happened.” They were probably asking, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

We now have the benefit of hindsight. We now see that the cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened. In the end, we’ll have the benefit of hindsight. We’ll be able to look back at some awful times in our lives and see how God was working for our good. The promise of Romans 8:28 gives us hope when everything seems pointless and painful.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Holy Spirit's Groaning

Part 3 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:26-27




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 (v. 26). 


It's Not Easy to Pray

It’s not easy to pray. Anyone who says it’s easy to pray is either lying or isn’t normal. Why isn’t it easy to pray?

  • Prayer requires time. 
  • Prayer requires discipline. No one accidentally falls into the habit of daily prayer.
  • Prayer requires focus. 
  • We often don’t know what to pray for. The Bible tells us to pray “according to the will of God,” but what do we do when we’re not sure what God’s will is? Should we pray for deliverance from our troubles or for strength to endure them? 

Why should we bother to pray when we don’t know what to pray for?


The Spirit Helps Us

When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us. “The Spirit [who “dwells in” believers (v. 11)] helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). [1]

Notice that Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He doesn’t say “you.” Paul is admitting that even he didn’t always know what to pray for. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells about a time when he asked for something that wasn’t the will of God. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.]

How does the Spirit help us? He “intercedes [i.e., prays] for us” (v. 26). And how does he intercede for us? He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). One way to understand these “groanings” is that they are our groanings. “They are inexpressible longings that arise in every believer’s heart to do and know the will of God.” [2] But our groanings also become the Spirit’s groanings. He takes them to the Father and “translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will.” [3]


Your Will Be Done

The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is the model for our prayers. We naturally want the easier path (deliverance from the trouble rather than strength through the trouble). It’s not wrong to pray for deliverance. Jesus prayed—while being “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33)—that the “cup” (a metaphor for the wrath of God) would be removed from him. But in the end, he said, “Yet not I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

 Is that your desire? Do you desire to do the will of the God who endured the cross?


Hope in Prayer

Verse 26 begins with the word “Likewise.” As our hope helps us in times of trouble, the Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray for.

If we truly desire to do the will of God, we don’t have to fear that we might ask for the wrong thing. The Spirit intercedes for us.

___________________

[1] The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. There is only one God, but each Person of the Trinity is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Should we not believe in the Trinity because we can’t understand it? No! We shouldn’t expect to understand with our finite minds everything about God. God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Even the most brilliant human mind is finite.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 446.
[3] Ibid.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Our Groaning

Part 2 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:23-25




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 (v. 23). 


Groaning

The apostle Paul says that we (i.e., believers) “groan inwardly” (v. 23). Did you groan about something this past week?

  • We groan about the never-ending tasks of life.
  • We groan about our physical struggles (e.g., tiredness, weight gain, sickness, pain).
  • We groan about our relational problems (e.g., failed marriages).
  • We groan about our spiritual failures (e.g., not loving others as ourselves). 

We don’t groan because we have no hope. We groan because we do have hope. How can hope cause us to groan?


Our Hope

Paul writes, “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” (v. 23).

We “have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” The “firstfruits” are the beginning of the harvest, and they also cause the farmer to anticipate a greater harvest. Paul is saying that because we’ve received the Holy Spirit, we now look forward to even greater blessings. And since we are looking forward to a life that is so much better, we groan when we go through the struggles of this life.

An elderly person who was once a great athlete must inwardly groan when he struggles to walk up the stairs. He groans when he looks back. We groan when we look forward—not because we don’t have hope, but because we do have hope.

When Paul talks about our “hope,” he’s not talking about the normal kind of hope (i.e., wishful thinking)—“I hope I win a million dollars.” Our hope isn’t wishful thinking because it’s guaranteed by the word and power of God.

What’s our hope? “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” But didn’t Paul say in verse 15 that we already children of God? Yes, we have already been adopted into God’s family, but we do not yet enjoy all of the blessings of adoption. We are living in the period between justification and glorification (v. 30).

Paul is thinking specifically about “the redemption of our bodies.” [Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.] When Christ returns our bodies will raised (if he comes after we die) and transformed. “The redemption of our bodies” is not only freedom from our physical struggles, but also freedom from our spiritual struggles. (Do we groan about both?) “In this hope we were saved” (v. 24a).

There needs to be a balance in our lives between thankfulness (for our present blessings) and groaning (as we look forward to our future blessings).


How Should We Wait?

“Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (v. 24b). “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

We are waiting for a day when we will no longer groan. This is our hope. How should we wait for the day when our groaning will cease?

1. We are to wait with excitement (“we wait eagerly,” v. 23). 

Are you waiting for some big event, counting down the days? My kids often ask, “How many days until…?” We count down the days when were excited. What God has planned for our future is something to get excited about!

2. We are to wait with endurance (“we wait for it with patience,” v. 25). 

Paul isn’t talking about just killing time. He’s talking about holding on to hope despite suffering and difficulties. It’s not like waiting to see the dentist for a checkup. It’s like waiting to see the dentist because you have a terrible toothache. But remember, we’re not just waiting for the end of all our problems. We’re waiting for a future so glorious that we can’t even begin to imagine it.


We Are Far Too Easily Pleased

Are we really longing for this day?

C. S. Lewis writes,
…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory, p. 26).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Creation's Groaning

Part 1 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:18-30




For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (v. 18). 


Series Introduction

For the remainder of our journey through the book of Romans, I’m going to do things a bit differently. From here on out, I’m going to make each section of Romans into its own little series of sermons. So I’m beginning a four-part series on Romans 8:18-30. And I’m calling this series From Groaning to Glory.

Notice the word “groaning” in verse 22, the word “groan” in verse 23, and the word “groanings” in verse 26. And also notice the word “glorified” at the end of verse 30. From groaning to glory.


Present Suffering, Future Glory

Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). Is Paul saying that our suffering is insignificant?

Paul isn’t saying that people don’t experience great suffering. I'm sure you can think of someone (maybe it's yourself) who is going through a time of great suffering. And we know that there are many others who are going through similar kinds of suffering--or even worse.

Notice that verse 18 begins with the word “For.” What Paul says in verse 18 is connected to what he said in verse 17: we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

In verse 17, Paul is talking about persecution. In verse 18, he’s talking about all kinds of suffering. We suffer because of our “human frailty,” which includes both our physical and moral frailty. [1]

Paul doesn’t pretend that a person’s problems disappear when he or she becomes a follower of Christ. Actually, he often writes in his letters about how following Christ caused him to experience suffering. [2]

Paul suffered greatly. People today suffer greatly. Paul isn’t saying that our suffering is insignificant. What he is saying is that the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. So if our suffering is great, imagine how great the glory will be!


Eager Longing

Paul says that the glory will be so great that even “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19). Paul personifies [3] creation. [4]

He says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 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” (vv. 20-21).

Who subjected creation to futility? It was God. Creation was “subjected to futility” because of humanity’s sin. [Read Genesis 3:17-19.] This world is not what it was made to be. But notice that he subjected creation to futility “in hope”—in hope that one day creation will “be set free from its bondage to corruption.” God says that he will “create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isa. 57:17; cf. Rev. 21:1).

We won’t forget about the old heavens and earth, but we won’t miss it (like my parents miss their old washing machine, even though they now have a new and “better” one). [Read Revelation 21:1-5; 22:3.] Paul is talking about the world we want to live in—a world where “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3), a world free from futility and frustration.

In The House at Pooh Corner, Winnie the Pooh is asked, “What do you like doing best in the world?” Pooh starts to answer, and then he stops and thinks because “although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you begin to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” That’s true. Usually the anticipation is better than the experience. The experience often doesn’t live up to our expectations. And, of course, every experience is only temporary.

What do you long for? What we really long for, we won’t find in this world. C. S. Lewis once said that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” [5] We were made for another world.


Do You Have Hope? 

In verse 22, Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I haven’t experienced childbirth (obviously), but I’ve observed it. I was present for the birth of my four children. What I know is that the pain of childbirth is great, but it’s nothing compared to the joy of having a newborn baby. That’s what keeps a woman going during the pain of childbirth.

In this world, there is great suffering. But the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. Imagine how great the glory will be!

One thing we need during times of suffering is hope. Do you have hope?

____________________

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 237.
[2] In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Once I was stoned” (2 Cor. 11:25; cf. Acts 14:19).
[3] This is common in the Bible. For example, Psalm 65:13 says that the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys “shout and sing together for joy.”
[4] “Creation” refers to “all of subhuman creation: plants, animals, rocks, and so on” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 266).
[5] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 136-137.