As people journey through life, by God’s grace, many of them are confronted with the gospel of Jesus and come to believe that he is the only way their sins can be forgiven. So through an act of faith, they believe on him. As a result of the new birth, God is their father, and they enjoy a close familial relationship with him (Rom.8:14-15).
Now, because they cannot see God, although he is here, some people experience doubt about their relationship with their new heavenly father. But, since God is a good father, he gives them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells the believer (Rom.8:9), and reassures him/her that they really are God’s child (Rom.8:16). Just like an eyewitness in a trial, who can confirm the guilt or innocence of the accused, the Spirit of God acts an internal witness to the reality of conversion. The Spirit’s witness is a settling influence on a doubtful heart. No Christian should live in perpetual doubt. The problem is, while I may have the inner witness of the Spirit confirming my relationship as a child of God, my experience does not always match with what I expect to be the experience of one who has the creator and sustainer of the world as his father. After all, how is it that I suffer so much when my God is my father?
Paul turns our attention to suffering in Rom.8:17. This sudden talk of suffering seems jarring. Many people think that since they have come to Jesus, their lives should be trouble free. You might be surprised to know that this was not an uncommon perspective in the first century church, either (1 Peter 4:12)! But remember, according to the scriptures, Jesus didn’t die to make you rich or give you a good life now, he died to redeem you from sin and promises that your best life is yet to come!
The fact that we suffer first and enjoy glory later is in fact, the testimony of Christ’s life. Yet, even in the experience of suffering there is hope. For instance, Paul says that when you compare the temporary suffering you experience in this life alongside the glory which awaits us in the life to come, you cannot believe the difference (Rom.8:18). It’s like seeing the water which runs out of your tap alongside the water which comes over Niagara Falls. On the hardest day, in the most difficult trial, reflect on this. The degree to which I am suffering is far outweighed by the degree to which I will experience blessing and joy in the coming age.
Alongside this perspective is 2 Cor. 4:17 where sufferings are less, not only in degree, but also in duration. Suffering here endures for a moment. Even if you’re present suffering lasts a life time, your life is only like a vapor (Jam.4:14). Suppose you have been afflicted with a serious, lifelong illness. Guess what? Compared to eternity with a whole, healthy body which is free from that illness, your sufferings here are brief. Compare the span of your difficult life with the span of a joyful eternity. There really is no comparison.
Paul adds more encouragement to this realization. He tells you that you have a companion in suffering. The entire creation is waiting for this coming age. The whole creation strains to see the day when the children of God will ascend into glory. Why? God cursed the earth in Gen.3, and so nothing in the created world can serve the purpose God intended it to have! Just like the children of God will one day be released from their bondage to corruption, so too will the earth. Meanwhile, there is a groaning that is part of creation. The earth moans under the burden of this curse. But, the curse does not mean God abandoned the earth, rather he cursed it the same way he cursed men. A curse with a promise of redemption (Gen.3:15). That’s why Paul says that the earth groans with pains of child birth – pain with a purpose – groaning with a goal –difficult, hard labor, but with a realization that what is coming will make the pain vanish.
How does knowing the earth is groaning for redemption actually help us? Well, Paul says we share in the experience of groaning. We groan within ourselves, recognizing that while we have received salvation, there is also a sense in which it is not yet complete. We are awaiting the salvation of our bodies! So we are helped through our suffering by the hope that we have in knowing that even the earth awaits its new birth!
And so Paul says we are saved by hope. You might say that the salvation I presently possess is the first installment of what is coming (Eph.1:14). After all, we know that we do not possess everything that is promised. If we already had it, we would not need to hope for it, but since we do not have it yet, we wait in hope!
Now, we might feel as though Paul is a little out of touch with reality. After all, think about what he has just said. All believers have an indwelling Spirit who, in some way assures us of our position with God. Often, the testimony of the Spirit is drowned out by the circumstances of our life which seem to tell us that God does not care about us. So Paul says that we should not lose sight of what lies ahead, we should not lose hope, because there is a place and a glory that awaits us as God’s children that is unlike anything we have ever imagined! Even the earth is looking forward to it! So, don’t lose hope.
In the midst of difficult and overwhelming trials, you still have the Spirit. The Spirit intercedes for you with groaning. He goes to the father on your behalf and he knows what is in you because he indwells you and so he groans for you.
Finally, we must be reminded that all the purposes of God toward us are good. This is not to say that everything will turn out good. The emphasis is on God’s good purposes in our suffering. In his time, in his way he will right the wrongs and end the suffering (Psalm 46; Rev.22:1-17) – it may not be until glory but it will happen. Does this give you hope? It should. Does it bring you assurance? It should. Is your hope firmly fixed on Jesus or is it in something else?