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Destined for Glory! - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 8:18-25

  • 2018-05-20 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Well in the passage that we're studying together in Romans 8, Paul has answered for us some very difficult questions. One of those questions is the obvious one and that is: if as he has explained to us, our standing before God has changed, there is no condemnation for us, if He has changed and empowered us by His Spirit, if He's adopted us as His children, then why do we still face all of the trials of this life? It's an important question and one unfortunately that many Christians answer poorly. Many professing Christians respond badly to the troubles that come into their lives. Let me just begin by giving you a few of the common wrong responses to trials that sort of sneak into the lives of even Bible believing Christians.

First of all, some embrace the un-biblical idea that God shields His children from life's trials. This, by the way, is a crucial difference between the false faith of the cults and the true Christian faith. Cults and false teachers will tell you that if you will believe what they're giving, then your troubles will go away, and God will make you happy, wealthy, and fulfilled. That's never the message of Scripture. Job 5:7 says, "man is born for trouble, as [the] sparks fly upward." You come to the New Testament, and in John 16:33, Jesus says, "In the world you will have tribulation." The word is "pressure" of all kinds.

Sadly, the subtle influence of the prosperity gospel has led some Christians to think that they should be exempt from trials, but Scripture never promises that. The lives of believers, throughout the Scripture and church history, certainly disprove that. The life of Jesus our Lord disproves that. In Luke 22:28, He says to His disciples, "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials." Jesus's life was a life filled with trials. That's a bad, wrong way to respond to our trials.

Secondly, some people complain about their circumstances. If you doubt that, just read the Old Testament stories of the wilderness wanderings of Israel. This is always their response to trials and troubles; and unfortunately, it is for many who profess Christ.

A third wrong response is to grow angry with God, even to hold a grudge against Him. I have talked to some professing Christians who, because of some hardship in their lives, have responded like this to God; like Jonah did when God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry against me?" And some respond to trials with anger. They think that anger is against their circumstances; but, in reality, it's always against the God of their circumstances. It centers on God Himself.

A fourth wrong response to our trials is to doubt the character of God. Some for example, immediately, when the trial comes, doubt God's justice. Our immediate response if we're not careful can be what? "This just isn't fair!" So, it's fairness you want? Okay, think about this; God only made one contract with mankind in regard to life circumstances: it was this. Genesis 2:17, "in the day that you … [sin], you will surely die." In other words, justice, fairness, would mean that God strikes us dead the moment of our first act of treason against Him, our first sin. Listen folks, anything more than that is grace and all grace. Others doubt God's power and sovereignty, His goodness, His wisdom, His love. They doubt God's character.

A fifth wrong response to our trials is to doubt our salvation. Some genuine Christians encounter trials, and their first reaction is to think something like this, "If I truly belonged to God, this wouldn't be happening to me."

A sixth wrong response is to pretend that everything about our trials is good. It's become extremely trendy among Christians in the middle of trials to say, "It's all good!" It's not all good. In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter says we are "distressed by various trials." The Greek word that he uses literally means "grieved, made sorrowful". Or, consider Paul's response to his trials in 2 Corinthians 2:4, "out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears." Listen, God will cause your trials to work for good, but they're not all good. Often, they're the result of the fall and the curse or even of human sin.

A seventh wrong response is to comfort ourselves with the thought that God will quickly remove those trials, "I just know God's going to heal me of this cancer." "I just know it's all going to be all right." Or, we well-intentioned Christians will say to those Christians who are suffering, "Just hang in there, it's going to get better; you're going to be okay." Listen, in His providence, God sometimes does remove our trials for which were all grateful, but He doesn't always, and He certainly hasn't promised to do so.

An eighth and final way that I think Christians are tempted to respond wrongly to their trials is to simply practice resignation, to resign stoically to "our fate." Listen! That is not how Christians ought to think. Our good and gracious Father is causing all of the events in our lives, or He is causing them to work together for good. Those events that are perpetrated by the sin of others, He's allowing; but in the end, He's causing all of those things to work together for our good. So, those are wrong responses to life trials.

Instead, we are learning from Romans 8 that we must understand, apply, and preach the truth of the gospel to ourselves and develop an eternal perspective about life's troubles. You see, here's what Scripture does promise. Scripture promises we will have troubles and trials in this world. It promises that God will be faithful and sustain us in and through those trials and use them for our good, and Scripture promises that what awaits us in the future completely eclipses all of the trouble that we will face in this life. That's what we're learning in Romans 8:18 - 25. Let me read it for us again, Romans 8:18:

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. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 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. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 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. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Now again, just to remind you so far in Romans 8, we have learned that our salvation is secure for several reasons. In the paragraph that we just read, we discover a fourth reason that our salvation is secure, and that is that God has destined us for glory. God's plan for us and for the cosmos is incomplete. In fact, in this paragraph as I noted for you last time, there's a stark contrast between our present suffering and our future glory. And as Paul develops that contrast, as he thinks of that now and in the future, he teaches us here in this paragraph three crucial lessons that underscore our security in Christ, that strengthen our assurance that we are in Christ, and that equip us to deal with the sufferings of this life. So, we're learning these lessons together.

Now last week, we looked at a couple of them, let me just remind you. The first lesson we learned is our future glory far outweighs our present sufferings; our future glory far outweighs our present sufferings. Look at verse 18, "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." Now we noted that when Paul uses that expression "the sufferings of this present time," in context, he's talking about all that we suffer living in a universe and in a world and in a body that has been subjected to sin and to the curse. In other words, when he talks about our present suffering, he's talking about every circumstance in your life that has been, that is, or ever will be, that causes you pain and grief and sorrow, whether it is small or large. It's the product of living in a decaying universe, on a decaying planet, among decaying people, in a decaying body. It's everything included in that; that's the sufferings of this present time.

But notice that that present suffering is the sort of dark backdrop for the remarkable contrast that Paul makes in verse 18. He speaks of the glory, literally, that is about to be revealed to us. And we noted last time Paul is talking about, when he thinks about that glory that's coming, he's talking about two realities.

First of all, he's talking about our seeing the glory of God. We're going to actually see God in all of His glory, in all the glory that human eyes can tolerate and still survive. And we are going to share the glory of God because we are going to be just like Jesus Christ. What an amazing reality! If you are a Christian, a day is coming when who you are, your moral character, will be exactly like Jesus Christ. You will be as pure as He is pure; you'll be as loving of God the Father as Jesus Christ is; you will be as loving of the people around you is He is; you will be as patient and kind as He is. You're going to see and share the glory of God. That is the glory that's about to be revealed to us.

Now, verse 18 is really about the comparative weight of those two realities. Notice again what he says in verse 18, "For I consider [I have reached, after examining the evidence and coming to a logical conclusion from the gospel,] 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." I noted for you there's a powerful image in this verse; it's an image of weight and value, like a set of scales. Paul says put the sufferings of your life here on one side of the scale, and put the glory that's certainly going to be yours in eternity on the other side of the scale, and our present sufferings don't even move the scale. Our future glory far outweighs our present sufferings.

Now a second lesson that we began to see last time is that our future glory provides hope in our present sufferings. This is the message of verses 19 - 23. Now I noted for you that this promise, this lesson, is true on two levels. In verse 23, we'll learn that it's true for us as believers. But Paul doesn't start there. Paul starts by showing us that this is true even of the entirety of the creation. That's where he begins; and so last time, we began to look at verses 19 - 22 where Paul makes this basic point. Now, right now, all creation groans under the weight of sin and the curse; but at the same time, eagerly waits for future glory.

Now we noted in verse 19 the basic fact. He makes this point. Notice verse 19, "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God." Now I noted for you that there are two word pictures in verse 19, and they're both graphic. First of all, when you look at those words "the anxious longing of the creation," it's a word picture that pictures the entire cosmos on its tiptoes craning its neck, looking for what's coming. But then he also uses that expression "waits eagerly, the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly." There is a word picture in that as well, and the word picture there is looking for a friend who's coming. It's even used in secular Greek of a guy who goes out to the road, he's so eager for his friend to arrive on his journey; he goes out to the road and waits for his friend so he can welcome him.

So here are these two word pictures. The entire creation stands on its tiptoes, strains its neck, eagerly waiting to welcome something; and that something, you'll notice, is the day when we are revealed, are unveiled as God's children, the day when our adoption is made public to the universe, and when it's completed, with the redemption of our bodies down in verse 23. The cosmos is so eager to see that day come. Paul personifies the entire created universe, and he says it can't wait for that day. Why?

Well that brings us today to the reason, the reason and we see the reason that the entire creation is so eager and is straining and waiting and wanting to welcome this day. Now let's look at verses 20 and 21, this is one sentence in the Greek text, and it's the reason creation is so eager for that day to come.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 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.

Now that is an amazingly compact but rich theology. Let's see if we can take it apart and understand all that's here for us. Now, you'll notice, first of all, that for a third time, Paul begins verse 20 with the word "For." He's done that with the two verses before it, and now here in verse 20, he uses that little word "For." He is going to explain, it's a word meaning "because". He's about to explain, for us, why the entire creation so eagerly anticipates our revelation as the children of God. And the reason simply put is this: the cosmos itself is no longer what God created it to be. It's no longer what it once was, nor is it what it will eventually become, and it is eager for that to change. It's, as it turns out, and this is Paul's point here, as it turns out, the destiny of the cosmos and our destiny as the children of God is inseparably linked. Think about that for a moment. God has tied the destiny of the universe to our destiny as the sons and daughters of God. That's what he's saying. And the universe can't wait for us to be changed because it means it too will be changed!

Now, these two verses, again I can't stress enough how powerful these verses are because these two verses patently contradict our entire culture's worldview. Today in America, I think you understand this. The primary worldview is naturalism, Darwinian Naturalism. What is naturalism? Well, let me give you little outline in case you're not aware of it. Once you know this, you see it everywhere. This is our society's worldview.

James Sire, in his excellent book, The Universe Next Door, reduces naturalism, America's religion, to these seven propositions. Here is the religion of America in seven propositions. It is Darwinian Naturalism, here they are.

Number one, matter is all that exists, and it has existed eternally. Matter is all that exists, and it has existed eternally. Carl Sagan, the leading voice for naturalism until his death, many of you will remember, began each episode of his television series, Cosmos, with these words, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." That's the leading premise of naturalism; it's all there is.

Secondly, second proposition for naturalism, the cosmos, that eternally existing thing that's all there is, is a closed system. That is, there is no such thing as anything supernatural or anything miraculous. It's locked into uniformitarianism.

Third proposition, human beings, you and I, are complex machines. Personality is simply the interrelation of chemical and physical properties that we simply don't yet fully understand. We're just machines.

Number four, the fourth proposition of naturalism, is that death is the end. Death is the extinction of personality and individuality. You die; you're done; that's naturalism.

Number five, morality is determined solely by the individual and circumstances.

And number six, I said seven, I meant six; number six is history is a linear stream of events linked by cause-and-effect. So there is a linear stream of events linked by cause-and-effect, but without an overarching purpose. There is no overarching purpose to history; it just is a random set of events that occur by cause and effect. Folks, that is the worldview that surrounds us. That is the air we breathe. That is what our culture preaches.

But here in two brief verses, Paul completely demolishes Darwinian Naturalism, and he provides us in these two verses, verses 20 and 21, with a thoroughly Christian worldview. I want you to see it. This is so important. I'm not going to hurry through this, and we're celebrating the Lord's Table today, and so we're just kind of going to get started here, but I want you to see this.

Number one, here's this biblical worldview. Here's how you really understand the world. Number one, God personally created the universe, and it belongs to Him. Notice Paul calls the cosmos "the creation," verse 20, "the creation." And down in verse 22, he speaks of the "whole creation." What does the word "created" imply? A Creator! This presupposes a Creator.

Now, as we learned last week in this text, the creation refers to everything God created except the angels and human beings. So, in this text, he's talking about all subhuman creation, animate and inanimate; the entire universe of matter, plants, and animals. God created it. He simply, according to Genesis 1 and 2, and affirmed by our Lord Jesus Himself, spoke it into existence out of nothing. There was nothing but God for all eternity; the three persons of the Trinity; that is it. And God spoke, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Now you need to understand: when you think about this Darwinian evolutionary mindset that permeates our culture, you need to understand this. And you need to challenge people who hold to it, that it doesn't really resolve the question of origins. Have you ever thought about this? Evolution doesn't resolve the question of origin. All it does is push the question back into the farther distant past. Because the question is, where did matter come from? Where did that little whatever it is, the newest theory is, come from that exploded into all of this? It doesn't answer the question of origin. It just postpones it. Because in the end, there are only two options when it comes to the origin of our universe. And this is where, again, you need to challenge your friends and family who've bought into this. There are only two options. Either matter is eternal and has within itself the necessary power to create all things, and think about that; that ultimately means that you believe that matter has the attributes of eternality and omnipotence, which means what? You're simply worshiping matter as god. Or, the second option is there is an eternal God who created all things, and that's exactly what Paul hammers here. That's the first principle of the biblical worldview that he is teaching us. God created all things, and it all belongs to Him.

Now, there's a second part of our worldview that we learn here in this text. It's that God cursed the universe, and it is no longer what it was created to be. God cursed the universe, and it is no longer what it was created to be. Look at verse 20, "For the creation was subjected to futility." But notice that the creation didn't choose that fate. "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it." In other words, it wasn't of its own free will that the entire universe was cursed, but the One who subjected it. So the question is, who." Who subjected the creation to futility? There have been a few who have argued that, "Well, must be Adam." You know, the one who brought death and decay into the world through his sin. Others have argued, "No, maybe this is Satan whose temptation led to man's fall. He's the one who subjected the creation to futility."

Neither of those are obviously the right answer because neither Satan nor Adam has the right or the power to condemn the entire cosmos to futility because of human sin. And neither Adam nor Satan subjected it "in hope." So, when verse 20 says the entire cosmos "was subjected," it's what theologians call a divine passive. It means God is the One who is at work. God subjected the entire creation to futility; only God and God alone can do that. As a result of man's fall, Paul is saying, God subjected the entire creation to futility. So, understand then that verse 20 is actually Paul's commentary on the curse back in Genesis 3.

Let's turn back there, Genesis 3. Genesis 3:13, "… the LORD God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' … the woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'" And of course in verse 14, you have God's curse on the serpent; and in verse 15, on Satan. Now come to verse 16, here's the curse on man and the universe. "To the woman He said as a result of this sin, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children.'" So, there's going to be pain associated with your bringing more sinners into the world even though children are a gift from God, there's pain connected to it as a reminder of the pain that was created by human sin.

And He says, "your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you." Now, there's a lot of disagreement about what those phrases mean. I tend to land with the majority here and believe he's talking about a curse on the marriage relationship because of the way Adam and Eve circumvented the purpose of God and the order and structure that was to be in that relationship. And essentially he says, "Because of the fall, because of sin, wives are going to be tempted to usurp the role of their husbands, and husbands are going to be tempted to rule and lead with domination rather than with love and care." So, the relationship itself, the tension that is felt in most marriages and that, only by the grace of God, through the work of the Spirit, the work of the Word, can be overcome in a Christian marriage, it goes back to the curse.

Then he says, verse 17, to Adam.… "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I command you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you…." Literally, he uses the same word that he used back of the woman, "pain," in pain you will eat of it all the days of your life. The woman is going to experience pain in childbirth; the man is going to experience pain in trying to eke out a living and to provide for his family. So understand, work is not the curse, but pain in work is the curse. "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;" [weeds and all that goes with that,] "And you will eat of the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread," [and then you're going to die,] "Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." [There is the curse.]

Let me just stop and say here that if you don't believe in Jesus Christ, you probably are tempted to think that your sin is not that bad. If you're tempted to think that, if you're tempted to take your sin lightly, if you believe God takes your sin lightly, then let me remind you of what happened here. One person, Adam in this case, committed one sin; what was that sin? He disobeyed God by eating a piece of fruit from the tree God said, "Don't eat." And in response to one man's, one sin, God cursed the entire universe. Don't you for a moment think He's going to take your sin lightly. It's not going to happen. It's not His nature. He can't! He is holy. The only way out of sin is through the provision that He Himself made in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Now, with the curse in mind, go back to Romans 8, Romans 8. And I want you to see here that in this chapter, Paul defines God's curse that we just read about; he defines God's curse on the cosmos in three words. First of all there's the word "futility". Verse 20, "For the creation was subjected to futility." The Greek word for "futility" means "empty, purposeless, and even temporary." This Greek word appears forty-seven times in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, forty-seven times; thirty-two of those times, it appears in the book of Ecclesiastes to translate the Hebrew expression, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity." So, this verse then is Paul's summary of the curse, and it's the summary of the problem that's identified in the book of Ecclesiastes. As a result of man's fall into sin, the goodness of God's creation has been terribly marred, and it no longer accomplishes all the ends for which God made it.

You see, sin didn't just affect man; by God's design, by God's curse, it affected the entire cosmos, and so the entire universe experiences today the frustration of no longer accomplishing the full purpose for which it was created by God, and that's why it stands on its tiptoes and cranes its neck, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the day when we are revealed as the sons of God because it will be changed.

But that's not all, not just futility. Paul further explains the curse in verse 21. In a second word, "slavery". The entire creation is in "bondage"; it's in a state or condition of slavery. In other words, it's completely unable to extricate itself. The entire creation can't change this reality.

In verse 21, Paul explains the curse with a third word; it's the word "corruption", "slavery to corruption", specifically, inextricably bound by corruption. The Greek word "corruption" speaks of deterioration, decay. It's exactly what we see in the second law of thermodynamics. The universe is decaying. It's running down. Or we could put it this way, "It's enslaved in a cycle of conception, birth, growth, followed relentlessly by decay, death, and deterioration." God's curse then, Paul says, brought futility to the universe; it brought slavery to the universe; bondage; and thirdly, it brought corruption; it brought decay and deterioration.

But thank God the fall was not the last word, and the curse is not the end of God's story because look at verse 20 again, "the creation was subjected [by God] to futility … in hope." It was subjected "in hope". This is God's hope, not our hope. In other words, when God cursed man and He cursed the entire cosmos, even that was a reflection of His grace. He saw the curse that He was pronouncing on the planet and on the universe in the context of His great, eternal plan of redemption, and He issued His decree to curse the universe, "in hope".

I think what Paul likely has in mind here in this verse is what theologians call, "the proto-evangelium; the proto-evangelium." That is the proto-first, evangelium-gospel, the first mention of the gospel in Genesis 3:15. Keep your finger here, and turn back to Genesis 3:15 again. Go back to Genesis 3, and look at verse 15. I skipped over it before, but I want to see it. God says to Satan, "I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed;" that is between God's children, those who know Him and Satan's children, those who don't. There's going to be this enmity, the rest of history, between the children of the devil and the children of God. Boy, is that being played out on the front page. But then he adds this, he talks about One particular descendent of the woman, of the godly seed, "He", now we're talking about one person, "He", and of course, Jesus Christ is this person, "shall bruise you [Satan] on the head." He's going to deliver you a crushing, destructive blow to your head. He's going to crush you; and when He crushes you in that process, you'll give Him a bruise on the heel. He's talking about the cross, the cross. The seed of the woman crushed the serpent and was bruised on his heel as a result. Don't you love that comparison? I just love that picture.

Now what I want you to see here, have you ever noticed before in Genesis 3, that God promises the gospel in verse 15 before He pronounces the curse on man and the universe in verses 16 to 19? Before, because God knew what He planned to do. He cursed the cosmos to pave the way for redeeming grace. He did it, according to Paul's words in Romans 8, "in hope". And what's that great hope? Well, the answer, back in chapter 8 of Romans verse 21 is, and here, by the way, is the third crucial part of a distinctively Christian worldview; God will renew this universe, and it will be free of its curse. Look at verse 21, in hope "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."

Folks, when God cursed the cosmos, He had a plan, a plan that's unfolded in what I would say is the great theme of the Bible, and that is that God is redeeming a people by His Son, for His Son, to His own glory. He did it "in hope," and He accomplished that plan as we know, in that period of time on the cross when Satan bruised the heel of the Messiah. But as Jesus died on that cross, He crushed the life out of Satan, and all that remains is for his ultimate end. He accomplished the plan of God, that eternal plan, foreseen before God cursed the universe, by His perfect life, by His substitutionary death, and by His resurrection. And that's why the outcome is secure.

It's that perfect life, that substitutionary death, and the resurrection that we celebrate in the Lord's Table. Take a moment and prepare your heart as the men come.

Our Father, even as we contemplate the future, our hearts are so filled with joy to know that You had a plan; and that while we live in a cursed world among fallen people, that You are working out that eternal plan of redemption that You promised before You even cursed this world. We thank you that You're working that plan out in us. Lord, many of us here this morning are in Christ, and we rejoice in your gospel, in the Lord Jesus Christ who crushed the head of the serpent. We thank you that all that remains is for Him to complete that purpose in the years ahead; but that it has been, for all intense and purposes, already accomplished because it is so certain to be.

But, Father, as we walked through this world, and even this morning as we celebrate our Lord's victory at the cross, we're painfully aware as well of our own sin. We still cry out with Paul, "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?"

Lord, You are good beyond all comprehension; and yet we who are your children whom You've adopted, because of our flesh, we still sin. We confess to You, oh, God, we bring our souls to You, and we ask that You would break them and wound them and then mold them and cleanse them. Lord, help us to see the utter deformity and disgusting nature of our sin. May we hate it. May we run from it. Father, You are the one and the only one who can give us the grace to truly hate our sin. Help us to see that "the way of transgressors is hard?" That the paths of evil are hard paths, that to depart from You is to lose everything good. And Father, help us to mourn our sin even now and to cry to You for pardon, individually, for our specific sins against You, and work in us a profound and abiding repentance. Give us the kind of grief over our sin that longs to change.

And Father, may we who know You worship You now through the Lord's Table, being reminded that this is how You dealt with our sin so that You could forgive us; that at the cross, our sins and the guilt and the disgusting nature of them were more clearly seen than in the garden when You condemned the entire universe for one sin against You, when on the cross You treated Your Son like that, like we deserved to be treated for all of eternity. Lord, we love You, and we are amazed at Your grace in Christ.

Receive our worship now we pray. In Jesus's name, Amen.