Re-Creation: Romans 8:18-30

Thoughts from Passage

There are passages that elicit all types of responses, this is one of them. As I read and reread this passage and as I read commentaries on this passage I found myself thinking about art. I found myself drawn to the idea that in art, an artist attempts to depict some scene of creation or to create a response. The artist is usually trying to recreate, in most cases, a scene that they have seen in their mind or in the world around them. The artist makes every effort to create their art to match the vision in their head, but never comes to the exact reality that they have seen. This is in many ways a quick (or bad) illustration of what Paul is writing here. He wants his readers to know that even in the current time with the resurrection of Jesus it is impossible to see the full consequence of sin or the full consequence of the redemption. What he wants his readers to know is that in Christ the redemption of all creation will be greater than they could ever imagine. He also wants to leave them with the message that they are a part of God’s redemption work as children of God!

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children 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 freedom and glory 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 to sonship, 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 they already have? 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 through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Paul’s argument throughout this text appears in a few stages: v. 19-22 creation groans, v. 23-25 we groan, v. 26-27 the Spirit groans, which leads ultimately to v. 28-30 which shows from the groans we move to being His predestined ones which lead to justification, to glorification, and culminating in the image of Christ.[1]

We also see a pattern that develops in much of Pauline thought and writing in this text. Throughout this section there is a thought that runs through it and it is that the believer lives in an “already, but not yet” world. We see it in verse 24 in terms of hope. “Here the sense seems to be that the hope we have is so secure that with it we are already “saved.” We are no longer what we once were, but not yet what we shall be…[2]

We look all around the world and we see the beauty that exists, but in the midst of it we see the decay of that same beauty. We see glimpses of the best of the created world and yet at the same time we see the destruction of much of that beauty. Paul begins as a great poet or an artist painting a picture that tells the story of how all creation from the plants to people are eagerly awaiting the redemption of all things. A day when sin and evil would be utterly crushed, fully and completely. On this day forward the glory of God would shine in such a way that there would be no going back.

Paul understood time to exist in two ways as did most other Jews. There was the Present Age of death, destruction, and decay, and all of this was wholly bad and there was in the future The Age to Come, which was the exact opposite. At some point there would be The Day of the Lord that would divide the two ages. On that day, God would set the world right.[3]

It is interesting that Paul uses the illustration that creation is in the pains that come during childbirth. It is as if all of Creation knows there is to be a great birth of something magnificent and until that time there is a pain that will eventually subside. I was there for the birth of both of my children and I can tell you I watched my wife suffer as the moments passed from the time of the children being in her womb, until the time in which she delivered them. There was in the moment of delivery the last bit of exertion and then new life came in a hurry. This is the picture that Paul is painting in the redemption of all things that comes through the resurrected Christ!

“Creation suffers because human beings foolishly refused to live in dependence on God. Instead they perverted their God-given responsibility of dominion…Human sin created the problem, but the rest of creation suffers the consequences as well. God uses crippled creation to contribute to the self-destructiveness of sin, so that he can eventually restore creation to its proper function as a suitable environment for human life as he originally intended it to be.”[4] Until that day the church is in the restoration business in all of the created order.

This pain that Paul says the Creation is enduring is not to be taken lightly. It is the call of the believer and the Church to bear together the pains of this world. The pain that all of Creation is experiencing is to something that the church partners in feeling. The Church shares in the pain of all people in a way of solidarity and with a message that says there will be a day when all pain is gone, but until that day we are here with you. The Church stands in this gap as a tangible and visible expression of the invisible, eternal God.

Paul addresses the firstfruits of this resurrection, which is all the believers who have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit have received a glimpse of what will be, but only a glimpse of the fullness of God’s total redemption of all things. This is why the Scriptures are full of sections that mention the resurrection of the dead, our current bodies that are bound to death and destruction will be made entirely new! This is the hope of the Christian, that the end of life is not the end and that in the current age, the day of the Lord, and in the age to come God is redeeming and restoring and making all things right…even our bad hips! Or as another scholar puts it, “The resurrection will effect the redemption of our bodies, not their elimination. Paul does not look forward to some kind of bodiless spiritual existence, but to the transformation of ‘our lowly bodies.’”[5]

We live with the expectation that we have seen nothing yet. That in Christ the redemption of all things will surpass whatever visions of grandeur we have. But, we do not sit idly by and wait for this redemption. The opposite in fact! “Final salvation remains contingent upon our perseverance in faithful waiting in the present.

Those that call themselves followers of Jesus are to be working with God in the redemption of all things. From things in the created order to relationships, to the building that we inhabit. God is a god of beauty and he calls us to restore beauty in all its forms. We see glimpses of God’s beauty, but they are tempered with the other glimpses we see with the parts of creation that have been destroyed. It is sometimes hard to remember it will not always be that way.

There seem to be times that it is east to know what to restore and yet there are other times we are left not knowing what to do. It is these times that Paul addresses in verses 26 on. We don’t always have the words to pray, but when we are in tune with God through the Spirit in us, we are able to pray the prayers that are needed. Sometimes we do not know the words to pray and other times we do not have the power to utter them through the pain and hurt, which is the antithesis of beauty! In these moments the Spirit of God provides what we need. These prayers are prayed in the will of the Father, who desires all of creation redeemed and restored. Prayer is a way in which we share in the sufferings of the world, in the groaning for redemption.

Verses 28-30 can lead to all kinds of confusion if we are not careful. Throughout the Scriptures we see God calling all people to himself, but not all respond to Him. The same is true in our day. God calls all of us to be His people, but not all listen. We tend to also miss the importance of the context in these verses, “Average readers seem to ignore that what Paul asserts here is stated from the corporate perspective. That is, he says nothing about God micromanaging and determining the destinies of individuals, but only about God’s plan for the community.”[6]

In the same way, Paul writes that, “all things work together for the good of those who love Him.” Paul is not saying that everything that happens to a person is good. 11 of the 12 apostles were martyred, Paul himself was killed, and Stephen was martyred. There is no great way to argue that any of that was good, but there can easily be an argument that God can work through their death and bring about good.

We get in trouble when we expect everything in a believer’s live to be “good.” Paul does say that it is only true for those who love God. No where do we find Scripture that says God works for the good of all people. If we are choosing life apart from God we cannot expect Him to make our bad or even sinful decisions “good.” Paul doesn’t write that and the Bible doesn’t spell that out, but what is clear is that God can take the messy parts of our lives and transform us through them. God doesn’t “cause” the bad events to take place, but he can bring us to a place of “good” on the other side. We do not have the ability to look ahead and determine if what we are praying for is of God or not, nor do we know what outcome it will produce. It is in these moments that the Spirit speaks the words we either cannot say or do not know we need to say.

It is always a good reminder for us to read Scripture in light of the whole text. We see plenty of passages that speak of salvation for some, but also we see passages like John 3:16 in which Jesus speaks of himself coming for all. From the Wesleyan tradition we have come to understand that God has predestined all to choose Him, that He has called all people, but not all respond to that call. This is what led William Greathouse and George Lyons to add this to their commentary on this passage, “We must keep in mind that we are not dealing with a rigidly thought out and expressed deterministic philosophy but with a profound religious conviction, so that the best commentators on this passage may not be the great theologians but the great hymn writers of the church.”[7]

In fact, William Barclay encourages believers to read this passage by looking back over their time as believers in Christ. He argues that it is not meant to be understood as a theological or philosophical point in the way God works, but a reminder of God’s faithfulness to those that believe. If this passage is read in that way then all of us who look back will see the way God has called us and the way he continually transforms us into his image.[8]

Foreknowledge and election issue in predestination, and predestination means that our God-fashioned destiny is that we may be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Conformity to Christ is a process of transformation that begins in baptism, in which am old self is buried and a new person arises out of the water to live henceforth in Christ, who was himself the image of God. The transformation is currently manifest, at least in part, as believers cooperate with the Spirit to achieve good…”[9]

This passage ends with a flurry not unlike a boxer throwing a burst of punches as an exclamation of a moment. Paul writes that those who are called by God are born into the image of Jesus, into a fully human state and share as brothers and sisters of Christ, himself. From the place as a child of God they move to receive the call of God and from that call they move to a place of justification (of being justified, and in right relationship with God through Jesus). From the place of justification to a place of sharing in the glory of Christ himself. In Wesleyan theology we call this the place of entire sanctification.

Additional thoughts, predominantly on predestination:

This final section is some good thought from William Greathouse and George Lyons out of these last few verses:

“In these verses Paul applies to all believers the idea of “election” so central to the self-understanding of Israel, and the church, as the people of God. Behind the existence of all who are “in Christ” – Gentiles as well as Jews – stands the eternal “choice” of God. Behind them also stands the plan or design that God has formed in their regard…

…Paul does not have individuals principally in mind; he is applying the scriptural privilege of election to the Christian community composed of believing Jews and Gentiles…

…Paul’s doctrine of predestination says nothing about an arbitrary selection by God of certain people to be saved and of others to be lost. This would not be loving foresight and preparation, but vicious capriciousness. Likewise, Paul lends no support for notions of predestination as salvation based on merit known beforehand, as if God chose to save only those he knew in advance would believe in Christ. This would be nothing more than salvation by works. Predestination is not about persons but about God’s purpose…

…God’s knowledge is all-inclusive in the sense that nothing escapes his personal lordship. Divine foreknowledge does not mean that history is scripted in advance or that human choices are casually determined by God. It springs out of the experience of the Christian community’s relation to a personal Lord whose personal will governs its life from beginning to end, enfolding “all things” in such a way that these things “work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…

…Christ is the elect; the church is elect in him…Those in Christ are elect, i.e., called to salvation, called to be saints, but whether we align ourselves with Adam or with Christ is not a matter of our divinely determined destiny, but of our responsible decision…

“…Predestination affirms that God plans in advance and that he acts purposefully to achieve these plans.”[10]

[1] Greathouse, 257.

[2] Greathouse, 258.

[3] Barclay, 113.

[4] Greathouse, 262.

[5] Greathouse, 265.

[6] Greathouse, 270

[7] Greathouse, 275.

[8] Barclay, 122.

[9] Greathouse, 276

[10] Greathouse, 268-270.

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