There is a longing in humans which leads us to want something better and to believe there is more to life than what we experience on earth. While we don’t necessarily want to die to attain it, believers maintain death is the only way to gain the reality we hope for. In these verses, Paul contrasts our present suffering with our future state of existence.
God’s Grace Leads Us to Anticipate Better Days (vv. 18-25)
Any suffering we experience on earth will not compare to the future glory we anticipate. There are various forms of sufferings or persecution that come because of our faith stance. They can be emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Much of it comes simply because we live in a world diseased by sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the consequences affected not only them and their physical descendants but also the creation.
Jesus referenced this when he instructed people to store their treasures in heaven where moth and rust could not destroy and where thieves could not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20). God also told Adam he had cursed the ground. He would have to struggle to make a living from it, and it would reward him with thistles and thorns. By the sweat of his brow, the ground would produce fruit, and then he would die and return to the ground from which he came (Genesis 3:17-19).
It is easy to notice this decay. Things don’t last. We might even lump natural disasters into the group of sin’s consequences. Floods, famines, diseases, earthquakes, and droughts are all parcel to earthly existence. Since we live on a fallen earth, we are subject to the consequences. However, we look for a radically different future. Our suffering—which is a sharing in what Christ went through—prepares us for this future glory with him.
Suffering also refines. When we respond correctly, suffering leads to greater dependence on Christ and helps us grow spiritually. God can and does teach many important lessons through times of hardship and suffering. God’s Word gives us snippets of what heaven will be like, and there is a stark difference between this description and what we experience on earth. John describes the new heaven and earth as void of sorrow, death, crying, pain, and sin (Revelation 21:4-8).
In addition to humans, creation groans for deliverance from sin’s curse. Creation refers to all things beneath humanity: animal, plant, and mineral. God’s creation is not what it originally was or what it will eventually be. After God created, he pronounced all things good. A good God could create nothing less. It was perfect for it had been created by him and for his purpose (Genesis 1).
While God allows sin to presently run its course, the day will arrive when believers and God’s creation will be delivered from the curse. Knowing God will eventually bring a new heaven and earth gives a reason for optimism. While we don’t worship mother earth, we care for her because we worship her creator. Many theologians feel God may not totally obliterate the present earth at the end of time but simply purge it of evil and return it to its Adamic state. The good elements may well survive this process which gives us the incentive to care for God’s earth and thereby fulfill God’s original instruction to Adam and Eve.
Paul compares the groaning of creation to the pains of childbirth. Birth pains are normally severe, but the joy that follows because of new life more than compensates for the pain. In like manner, our pain and suffering are temporary, and what lies ahead will far outweigh anything we face presently. We wait patiently and confidently for our deliverance which will come at death or Christ’s second coming. If we aren’t careful, we can place all our focus on heaven, forgetting there is a new earth involved as well. And we will likely have access to both.
To assuage our weariness and help us endure, God gives believers the presence of his Holy Spirit. He comforts us in our times of agony and assures there is a better day approaching. He guides through all life’s decisions and is our comforter, teacher, guide, and the seal of God’s ownership making our eternity secure.
Believers now await our full rights as God’s children, which includes new bodies. While currently joint heirs with Christ, the full reality of that position will not be realized until eternity begins. When we think of all our bodies are subject to at present as well as the processes we have to partake of to try and keep them healthy, it is comforting to know that one day we won’t have to worry about diets, exercise, and other things associated with being health conscious.
The reason we continue to hope is that we don’t enjoy the full benefits now. We don’t anticipate something we already have. We don’t await vacations we’ve already been on. When we look forward to something, it involves patience. If our vacation is scheduled for June and it’s only January, we can’t speed it up. The hours, days, and months have to pass in the normal process.
In like manner, it may appear God is slow in bringing about his promises, but we must have confidence in his perfect wisdom and timing. Our salvation is past, present, and future. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin, and will be delivered from the presence of sin.
God’s Spirit Aids Believers in Difficult Times (vv. 26-27)
Prayer is a typical response to difficulties. Many people have endured circumstances so complicated or confusing that they didn’t know how to pray or, what to pray for and perhaps did not feel like praying. Life can cave in unexpectedly. Imagine how Job must have felt when he received one discouraging report after another concerning his family and possessions.
Paul’s news is encouraging. When difficulties arise, God’s Spirit prays for us. Since the Spirit is part of our Triune God, the Father knows what the Spirit is saying. The Spirit pleads for us in harmony with God’s will because he knows God’s will.
This setup is a wonderful reminder of prayer’s importance. It is a great privilege to approach God’s throne with boldness and confidence (Hebrews 4:16). Boldness because we belong to him and know he is interested in the details of our life and boldness because our position before God has been changed through repentance and faith. Our sins are forgiven, and we are no longer under condemnation.
Yet, under the best of circumstances, we still may not know how to pray for we don’t always know the will of God in particular situations. And there are other issues we have to deal with: wandering minds, sleepiness, distractions, emotional mood swings, uncertain future, selfishness. Add to this that we really don’t know what’s best for us in any given situation. We must trust the Spirit of God to take our imperfect prayers and make them faultless to the Father so he can impress upon us his perfect will and we can then respond accordingly.
Verse 28 is a favorite verse of believers but often misquoted and misunderstood. We use it to assure ourselves and others that God is acting in our best interest even in the most challenging and misunderstood situations. It does not teach that everything coming into our lives will be good. Experience teaches the opposite. Rather, the promise is that God will take even the bad things and bring good from them. God is allowed to bring anything into our lives that serves his purpose and does not violate his nature. We might term an occurrence awful when it is really only so because we don’t see the entire picture as God does—just as a child may consider something ghastly that a parent enforces on them. The parent, however, knows the desired outcome while the child doesn’t.
Those things God doesn’t actually initiate, he allows, as with Job. Even the things that violate his nature, he brings good from. The good in some way witnesses to his glory and aids our spiritual nourishment. We won’t enjoy everything God brings or allows, but with the right focus we can respond correctly and let him work them for our good. This is a wonderful assurance that reminds us God is working in every detail of our life, not just isolated events. He sees our life from beginning to end and in between and uses all the events to fulfill his plan.
All that happens to us cannot be classified as good but it becomes so after God finishes with it. Nor will all things make us happy, but God is not necessarily after our happiness as much as he is our spiritual growth and fulfillment of his purpose. Nor is this a promise given to all people but only to those who have entered into a relationship with Christ. The qualifiers are that we must love God and be called according to his purpose.
God’s ultimate goal in choosing us for salvation is to form us into the image of his Son. All the things he is working together for our good and his glory are for that purpose. As we become more like him, we discover who we truly are and why we were created. The way this occurs is through the normal spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible study, studying the life of Christ in the gospels, letting his Spirit fill and guide us, and by obeying his commands. Our responsibility is allowing God to make us in practice who we already are in position. The conformation God is after takes place on the inside first and then manifests itself outwardly.