The Redemption of the Body (Exposition of Romans 8:18-25)

To listen to this sermon online, click here.

Chapter 8 begins with the wonderful and familiar hope-filled words, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those which are in Christ Jesus.” But there’s a problem. Why do those “in Christ Jesus” still struggle with sin, sickness and death? If there is really no condemnation why does it appear that we live in condemned bodies in a condemned world? The apostle Paul addresses these questions in this morning’s text. He deals with both the apparently condemned world and the apparently condemned bodies of believers. He shows that there is a vital link between creation’s and the redemption of the bodies of believers. Let me summarize:

  • Humanity is not as it was meant to be. Humanity is not as it one day will be.
  • This world is not as it was meant to be. This world is not as it one day will be!
  • This world is not as it was meant to be, because humans are not as they were meant to be. This world is not as it one day will be, because humans are not as they one day will be.

Ever since creation, he status of this world has been linked with the status of humanity!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (19) For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (21) that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (22) For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (23) 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. (24) For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? (25) But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25

Paul begins in verse 18 with a summary statement. These hope-filled words begin a section of hope. Here we are told that suffering is not the final word for the child of God. Here we are also told that the present and visible can only be understood in light of the future and invisible. As Paul states in a parallel passage in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18,

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

This is why Jesus could say in Matthew 5:11-12,

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

As Bible commentator Octavius Winslow commented on this passage,

Are they worthy to be compared? Oh, no! One second of glory will extinguish a lifetime of suffering. What were long years of toil, of sickness, of battle with poverty, and persecution, and sorrow in every form, and closing even with a martyr’s death, weighed with one [drink from] the river of pleasure at Christ’s right hand – with one breath of Paradise – with one wave of heaven’s glory – with one embrace of Jesus, with one sight of God? No Condemnation, p. 204

Next, in verse 19, Paul makes a statement of anticipation. This “earnest expectation” is an “eager longing” of the created order (nonhuman creation). The phrase means “‘to wait with the head raised, and the eye fixed on that point of the horizon from which the expected object is to come’. It depicts somebody standing ‘on tiptoe’ (JBP) or ‘stretching the neck, craning forward’ in order to be able to see” (John Stott, Romans, p. 238).

What is all of creation longing to see? “The manifestation of the sons of God.” The world is moving toward a climax and that climax is somehow connected to the revealing of the sons of God. What does this mean? It is the same reality spoken of by the apostle John in 1 John 3:2,

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

We are already the sons of God, but it don’t look like it. We still live in this earthly tabernacle that is crippled by sickness and weakness, but one day He will appear and we shall be like Him. Then, all creation will see what it has been looking for: “the manifestation of the sons of God.”
Why is there such an eagerness on the part of creation to see the revealing of the sons of God? It is because, as I stated earlier, the world is not as it was meant to be! This is clearly stated in verse 20. Creation is less than it was created to be. It has been reduced to futility because of the presence of sin. At the end of the sixth day of creation, God looked at all that He had made and He declared it to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). What went wrong? Genesis 3 went wrong. Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator! The result was that the whole world was turned wrong-side out. Man’s disobedience had consequences in the created order. Genesis 3:17-18 state,

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . .

God cursed not only Adam and Eve, but the earth itself was also cursed because of Adam’s sin. But there is hope! Even in the pronouncement of the curse there was hope for in Genesis 3:15 God said to the Devil,

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

The hope is that one day the effects of sin would be removed by the crushing of the serpent’s head. This is what Christ accomplished on the cross. The seed of the woman crushed the head of the devil. Because of Christ’s victory over sin and death on the cross, there is coming a day when the effects of the curse are removed from creation itself. Look at verse 21! This is what Isaac Watts wrote about in the great hymn “Joy to the World.” One verse states,

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

This is not an annihilation of creation, but a restoration of creation. We often think of this earth being completely destroyed and replaced by a new earth. The Bible does speak of a new earth. But I believe the new earth is the old earth restored, just as we will have “new” bodies, that are our old bodies transformed. God hasn’t given up on planet earth! He will yet restore it by removing the effects of the curse. What will this new restored earth look like? Revelation 21:4 describes it as a place where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” And in Revelation 22:3 the Bible says,

And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:

The curse will be forever reversed! Hallelujah!!!

Verse 22 brings about to the expectation in creation for the “manifestation of the sons of God.” This will happen at the second coming of Christ. Creation is groaning in birth pains for this climatic event. What are the birth pains? Let me list a few of them: cancer, AID’s, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, famine, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes.

Did any of you see this picture from Florida of the python that swallowed the alligator? A 13 foot Burmese python apparently swallowed a live 6 foot alligator. The python burst and both python and gator died (see news story here). Talk about biting off more than you can chew! But when I first saw this story earlier this week, I was thinking about this text and I thought, this is a part of the birth pains of creation. What a different picture we see in Isaiah 11:6-9 where the new earth is described as a place where:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Creation is crying out for the day when all of this becomes a reality. But not only is creation crying out, we “ourselves also which have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (v. 23). Even redeemed humanity knows the frustration of the rest of creation and our inward groaning joins in harmony with the groaning of creation for the redemption of our bodies. We know the frustration of moral and physical infirmities. As 2 Corinthians 5:2 states, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

Our glorification and the restoration of creation are vitally linked together. The “redemption of our bodies” is here called our “adoption as sons”. You might say, “I thought we had already been adopted as the sons of God.” You’re right, we have. We have received the “Spirit of Adoption” already. But we are still awaiting what F. F. Bruce calls the “full manifestation of believer’s status as sons of God.” This is the future aspect of our salvation for which we are still waiting. This is what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18,

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

On the day when the sons of God revealed, creation too will be restored. The last vestiges of Satan’s hold on this world will be removed. The curse will be reversed and God will be all in all!

To listen to this sermon online, click here.

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