Monday, January 8th: Review Romans 8:18-22
Go back to the list of questions provided for review days and notice anything new which stands out to you as you examine these passages from a broader stand point. It is true that individual verses (as we have been looking at) have meaning in and of themselves, but Paul here is writing a collection of sentences into a whole letter. The scope of that letter is the fullest meaning of what Paul wanted us to know.
Tuesday, January 9th: Romans 8:23
My wife has given birth to three beautiful and wonderful children. But, without hesitation she would always tell you that the birth of Owen, our first, was the worst experience she has ever endured. The labor was seven hours of what doctors call “back labor,” a type of labor which happens when the baby is facing the mother’s spine instead of the other way. The body actually has to work against its natural geometry in this instance, and Sarah did all of it without an epidural.
Owen was born around 4:00 in the morning and both Sarah and I were quick to pass out for the next few hours. Waking up, I went into the bathroom of our hospital room and noticed a zit on my nose. I attempted to deal with it, but it only made the pain all the worse (graphic stuff for an early morning read!). In frustration I walked out into the hospital room and began to say to Sarah, “Sarah I have this zit, but it’s like under the skin and it…” Then it hit me. Here was my wife (who was genuinely concerned while listening!) who had just had seven hours of the worst pain in her life listening to me whine about the pain of a zit. “Nevermind…” I said in shame.
There is an aspect of relativity which helps us understand our own circumstances. My pain was nothing in relation to Sarah’s pain, and realizing that changed my response to the situation. In the past few verses Paul has been emphasizing the relationship of the created realm (rocks, birds, trees and animals) with redemption. But he has done so in order to make this relationship relative to our own relationship. The experience of creation is real (in the same way my pain was) but it is not equal to the experience believers have when faced with the same issues.
“And not only creation,” Paul finally affirms, “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.” This verse is really the culmination of many of Paul’s themes in Romans 8. Romans 8:9-11 portrays a hope of life after death. Romans 8:12-17 opens the doors to a divine adoption service. Romans 8:19 echoes with the groans of creation’s eager expectation. And now resurrection, anticipation and adoption all come full circle. No longer in regards to creation but in regards to ourselves: those who believe and are saved.
In this text it is important to see the unity and distinction Paul presents. We groan with creation, but we do not groan in the same way as creation. What is the difference? We have the firstfruits of the Spirit. As we have seen in previous verses, creation will be redeemed indirectly. The redemption of creation is a byproduct of God’s complete and future salvation of his people. So when creation eagerly waits, it does so without any taste of the beauty to come. It becomes a window shopper gazing at what it only wishes it could now afford.
But we (Paul’s “we” isn’t all people, but people who are in Christ, Romans 8:1) are not without a taste of redemption. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit. The idea of firstfruits is an agrarian idea. In ancient days, farmers would find the first tree or grain to bear fruit in their field and the quality of that firstfruit would be the standard for what they would expect to follow. The firstfruit was not the whole harvest, but it was the promise of what the harvest would be like. A shriveled or sour grape would be a bad omen for the following crop. But a grape which was plump and sweet would cover the whole farming crew with great anticipation for what would follow.
Paul says that unlike creation, we have this firstfruit. What is it? Our redemption. In Romans 8 Paul speaks often of our future redemption, the resurrection of our body. But he in no way is wanting us to think that we do not have a present redemption also. Charles Hodge comments: “We have been reborn, we have experienced faith, we have been justified, and in our justification we are united with Jesus Christ. So there is a sense in which we are saved, but we have not yet experienced the full measure of our salvation.”
Because we have the Spirit of God in our hearts we have the promise of redemption. It is a real crop which has real value, value inexpressible and unfathomable! And yet this award winning crop is not the whole harvest. The best is still yet to come.
This reality though does not keep us from groaning inwardly. We have the promise of a firstfruit, but as R.C. Sproul notes, “it is a taste which is mixed with an ongoing struggle against sin, mixed with a coat of suffering that still causes us, in spite of the joy of our salvation, to weep, to suffer, to hurt.”
One day the full harvest will come but now we are better informed to understand what Paul meant when he said, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Because we have a taste of our redemption already, we are hungry for more. But because we have a taste of our redemption already, we know we can wait in confidence that more will certainly come.
While we wait our final adoption, adoption both spiritually and physically, we groan inwardly because our groaning does not overwhelm us. Our external demeanor is not without pain at times, but more times than not it should be a portrait of hope. So let us groan inwardly, but let us all the more hope eagerly. This is what Paul meant when he later wrote: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
Wednesday, January 10th: Romans 8:24-25
If you’ve never read or seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you are missing out on a wonderful reenactment of the drama of redemption. The tension of Tolkien’s saga culminates in a scene where Frodo is finally atop Mount Doom ready to throw the ring of power into its destructive center. This moment was the hope of the whole story. Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring risked their lives in an adventure to guard the ring and finally destroy it. The people of Middle Earth were hopeful that a day would come where the powers of Mordor would be broken and they would live in a restored peace.
Frodo himself was at times burdened beyond physical capacity by this ring. But in this fateful moment, the moment towards which all hope pointed, Frodo froze. He couldn’t destroy it. He had grown oddly comfortable with it. The burden and baggage of the ring seemed to fade away. His comfort had killed his hope. The result was that the salvation he once hoped for was now gone. You must read the books to find the resolution!
The drama on Mount Doom is less legendary that you and I would actually hope. If we are not willing to hear Paul’s message in these verses then we too might be blinded by the immediacy of comfort and made impatient by the hope we once had. To lose sight of hope is to lose salvation. This may seem overly dramatic, but it is indeed what Paul whishes for us to see in this text.
“For in this hope we were saved,” Paul says. This hope refers back to what we saw yesterday: our final adoption by God and the resurrection from the dead. In a text which emphasizes a future salvation, here Paul shares the foundation of our present salvation: in hope you were (past tense) saved. “Faith is the mother of hope,” says Matthew Henry on this text. The confidence we have presently in our salvation is dependent upon the hope we have in the present. According to Paul, to not have hope is to not have salvation. This was the sad reality in Tolkien’s crucial scene.
Why? Paul goes on, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” At this point Paul has mentioned the word “hope” four times so it’s no secret that he wants us to know what he means when he uses the word! Hope that is seen is not hope. This would make sense right? If hope is something in the future, then to have it presently is to no longer hope for it. Charles Hodge says, “Salvation is a blessing we have in hope, not in possession.” Going back to what we looked at yesterday in regards to firstfruits, we do have something, but that something is not everything! We do not yet fully possess salvation because salvation is still yet to come in our adoption and resurrection.
Because we do not and cannot possess fully our salvation here, we do not look to anything we can see as our ultimate hope. Paul asks a rhetorical question here, “Who hopes for what he sees?” Who wants to look at this world and say: “Ah ha! Here it is, I found my salvation.” Unfortunately the answer is far too many. As R.C. Sproul points out in his commentary it is this delusion which leads many to a “prosperity gospel.” This false gospel claims that if you are really saved you will never be sick or poor. But to see wealth and health as salvation is to look to what is seen instead of what is unseen! And to lose that unseen hope is to lose your salvation!
Because we are eagerly awaiting salvation we may at moments become prone to impatience. Because God has not yet given us full salvation we tend to look towards other things to fill that void instead of hope: relationships, entertainment, adventure, career, affirmation of others, family…the list goes on! But John Calvin strongly and rightly applies this verse when he says, “For if life be invisible, we must have death before our eyes.” All that glitters is not gold. “As long as we are in the world,” Calvin continues, “salvation is what is hoped for; it hence follows that it is laid up with God far beyond what we can see.” Any attempt to have salvation without having hope in salvation is to take out the gospel at its knees. It is to take what only God can give, and make it into something that we can possess in this world.
So what do we do with this hope? How do we handle situations where we groan with the weight of waiting? “But if we hope for what we do not see,” says Paul, “we wait for it with patience.”
There is a phrase in football that analysts use when a quarterback is forced to avoid being tackled behind the line of scrimmage: “You’ve got to keep your eyes downfield.” Their point is that when a giant 300 pound man is trying to tackle you, your greatest hope is to look for a receiver down field to catch to ball. When the ball is out of your hands, your problem (at least for the sake of this analogy!) is over. In this text Paul is calling us to keep our eyes downfield. To cast our hope towards the future salvation which awaits us. When the ball is out of our hands and sailing downfield, we are no longer crippled by the anxiety of losing what we once had. No lineman can take it from you. In football a quarterback may still worry about an incomplete pass or an interception. But with God we have no such fear for he will secure our hope.
Because of this we wait for it with patience. Though we groan, though we wait, though we hope, we do so patiently knowing that God will not fail. Matthey Henry says, “Those that deal with God must deal upon trust.” Hodge says that the Greek wording and grammar in this passage communicates more than mere patience, but also a constancy of hope. It is not only patience in posture, but continual patient hope. To have this hope, that in Jesus Christ we have been adopted saved and ransomed, is to have salvation.
As we conclude let us consider the commendation to hope from Matthew Henry, “Our way is rough and long; but he that shall come will come, and will not tarry; and therefore though he seem to tarry, it becomes us to wait for him.”
Thursday, January 11th: Romans 8:26
I was pulled over and given a ticked once for talking on my cell phone and not having updated plates on my car. I was guilty of the cell phone use, but went to court to plead no-contest to the license plate charge since the Court House had sent my tags to the wrong address. As I awaited my hearing by the judge I remember a feeling of inadequacy coming over me. I had never been in court before and most of what I did know about judiciary proceedings was the result of television dramas.
What was I to say? How should I address the judge? What am I allowed to request? What is my best defense? All of this left me with one desire: I wanted a lawyer! I wanted help from someone who knew what I needed and was able to present it in a powerful way before the judge. In our passage today Paul is going to remind us of an advocate we have who is greater than any lawyer!
Paul opens this text with “Likewise” or “In the same way.” What Paul is about to say regarding the Holy Spirit is tied to what he has just taught us: that we are left to wait patiently in hope even though we may suffer. “Likewise,” Paul goes on, “the Spirit himself helps us in our weakness.”
It is one thing to be aware that God saves us. It is another thing to think that inside of that salvation God is willing to help us. Lots of superhero movies include scenes of salvation, but almost none of them include a pledge from the hero for ongoing, personal, continued assistance. But our God is no superhero. He is something more real and wonderful. He has come to help us in our weakness through his Spirit.
As our various groanings and trials remind us, we are not strong! Salvation does not take mice and make them mighty. The strength we come to possess in our salvation is strength that comes by God himself. We are weak, but God is strong to provide us aide in our weakness. Because of this when we are weak we do not need to despair! We have not lost the shiny gleam of salvation. Our weakness is just a reminder of where our hope and strength stems: God himself.
God has given his people a wonderful gift in his church. The local body of believers is of utmost importance to a healthy and thriving spiritual walk. But there may be moments, even for those committed to the local church, where one might feel weak, alone and forgotten. But we must use this verse as a proper lens through which we understand our experience. If we have the Spirit (which is true for all who are saved) then we are never without the promise of strength. John Calvin challenges us when he says, “There is then no reason for anyone to complain, that the bearing of the cross is beyond their own strength, since we are sustained by a celestial power.”
How does the Spirit help us? Does he point us to our own value and worth? Does he summon the inner strength which sin has hidden in our hearts? No. The Spirit strengthens us by pointing us to the God of all strength: “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.”
The primary way the Spirit helps us in our weakness is by making us all the more reliant upon God in prayer. He would be no help if he “helped” us by pointing us to ourselves or some other created solution. Instead he points us to the storehouses of help we have in our heavenly Father. Our problem is not only that we face suffering, but than in our suffering we do not know what to pray for as we ought.
Two important truths are embedded in this sentence. The first is that we ought to pray. Suffering, glory, hope, faith, trial all of these require a patient reliance in prayer. The second is that we don’t know what to pray for. In the same way I was inadequately prepared to provide my own legal defense, so too are we to unprepared to ask God for what we really need. If we were in charge most of our prayers would ask for our trials to be removed. But it is God who works good through our trials (there is no greater proof of this than the cross!). So if he were to remove all our suffering, it would actually be to our detriment. As Matthew Henry says, “As to the matter of our requests, we know not what to ask. We are not competent judges of our own condition.”
The Holy Spirit knows our hearts better than we do and therefore is a better intercessor before God than we would be on our own. An intercessor is an intermediary, a relationally invested advocate. In other passages we see that Jesus acts as an intercessor (1 John 2:1) and here we see the third member of the Trinity joining in this cause.
Without the Spirit’s prompting we would not feel the need for prayer because we would be cut off from the Father. But Charles Hodge reminds us of the mercy of this text when he says, “Instead of our ignorance putting a seal upon our lips, and leaving our hearts to break, the Spirit gives our desires a language heard and understood of God.”
We pray because the Spirit moves us to pray. Prayer is hope weaponized. Without the Spirit we have no desire to pray, and no direction in which to pray. Hodge continues when he says, “All true prayer is due to the influence of the Spirit, who not only guides us in the selection of the objects for which to pray, but also gives us the appropriate desires, and works within us that faith without which our prayers are of no avail.”
He works in us and with us in prayer with groanings too deep for words. Some people take this text to mean that the Spirit gives us a secret and special spoken language in which to pray. There are some passages in scripture which may lead to this conclusion, but this is not one of them. The word Paul uses for “groanings” is the same root used in verse 22 and 23. So it is safe to assume that the meaning of the word Paul used only a few sentences ago has not suddenly changed. What Paul is saying is that in the same way we are groaning with anticipation of our redemption while we wait, so too is the Holy Spirit groaning for our holiness in our waiting. God is helping and God wants to help us in our weakness.
To neglect prayer is to neglect the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit in our life. God has given us help in moments of need, so let us rely on the Spirit to work boldly in our prayers. R.C. Sproul speaks of this great need, “The more we grow in grace, the more we cultivate the life of the Spirit, the more accurate and effective our prayer life becomes because we pray according to the Word of God and according to the mind of God which is given to us, inwardly, through the Holy Spirit.”
So spend time in prayer today and realize the wonder of this activity.
Friday, January 12th: Romans 8:27
When I was in seminary we frequently participated in a sort of spiritual self-assessment. We examined which areas of our walk with God were weak and made plans for growth. Of the groups I was a part of, prayer was always one of the most commonly neglected or weak practices (it was mine too!).
One of my professors was struck by this phenomenon and said something like this: “I don’t understand why people make complex plans to get better with prayer. It’s as easy as praying more!” This was striking to me for a number of reasons but the most significant was that I saw in this man a passion for prayer which led to a simple reliance on it. For me prayer was a duty, for him prayer was something far more beautiful.
An early 1900’s Scottish theologian named P.T. Forsyth wrote a small book on prayer. In it he made the case that prayerlessness is one of the worst sins for a believer and results in a sort of “spiritual dumbness…and starvation.” His goal was to convince his readers of the miracle of prayer so that we would see the beauty behind it and encounter a renewed sense of godly ambition in our prayers. His efforts largely mimic the task which Paul is putting himself to in this portion of Romans 8.
Yesterday we observed the role of the Holy Spirit in our prayers and in Romans 8:27, Paul continues to pull back the curtain on this divine correspondence. “And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit,” says the Apostle. The first question we need to ask is “who is he?” Later on in this verse we will see that he is God, but we also would know this to be true from other passages in scripture which allude to God having such vision into our hearts (Hebrews 4:12, Revelation 2:23).
This knowing is in the context of prayer. Yesterday we saw that the Spirit knows our heart, and here we see that God knows the mind of the Spirit and also the heart of the one who prays. God knows our heart, he searches our heart. Grounds for confidence and concern lay in this knowledge. Matthew Henry points out, “To a hypocrite, all whose religion lies in his tongue, nothing is more dreadful than that God searches the heart and sees through all his disguises.” But, Henry continues, “to a sincere Christian, who makes heart-work of his duty, nothing is more comfortable than that God searches the heart, for then he will hear and answer those desires which we want words to express.”
After putting the kids to bed one night my wife came out and told me, “Owen wants you to come into his room and hear how good his prayer sounds.” The shamelessness of performance in the heart of my five year old is more subtly disguised in all of our hearts. Often we pray the right things with the right words in the right way with the wrong heart. We often pray to appease God or to perhaps bring a superficial sense of relief to our own circumstances.
But the power of prayer which Paul is talking about here refuses to focus on the heart of the one who prays, but instead centers our attention on the God we pray to. Why should we be motivated to pray? Look again at Paul’s logic: “And he who searches hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Why does God search our hearts? Why does God already know the groanings too deep for words of the Spirit? Because our prayer, and the work of the Holy Spirit is only done by the will of God.
It is possible to pray, like Henry’s hypocrite or my five-year old, Spirit-empty and Godless prayers. Paul’s pattern here is Spirit-empowered, God-willing prayer. Our prayers are actually a response to the union our salvation has brought us with God. Because we have been adopted by God, because we have been given the mind of the Spirit, because we have set our minds on him, we have been invaded by the will of God. God wills for us to endure. God wills for us to wage war against sin. God wills for us to will for him. Forsyth points out the miracle of prayer stemming from this union: “In every act of prayer we have already begun to do God’s will, for which above all things we pray. The prayer within all prayer is ‘Thy will be done.’”
Prayer is our lifeline in a waiting world. The genesis of true prayer is the God’s knowledge of our need, and the act of our prayer results in us knowing our God better. It is a union of our will with his will—his person with our heart—our God-stirred request with his desire to graciously provide the strength we need to wait well. When we pray, seriously pray, we are receiving a gift of God even in the request. R.C. Sproul says, “the Spirit knows both the mind of God and my mind in a way that I don’t know the mind of God nor even my own mind.” And yet in prayer we know what God knows to the extent that God wants us to know it. How do we know this? He causes us to pray according to his will. Why would we deny ourselves such a privilege? This is the beauty of prayer.
Saturday, January 13th: Review Romans 8:23-27
How does the connection between waiting and groaning change the way we think about prayer? Think on the issues which most lead you to pray and see how those issues relate to the issues Paul is addressing in this text.