The Next Life: What If It's True?

Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Romans 8:13-25

Teaching t21088


Restate series THESIS: If you have an informed and persistent trust in God’s promises about eternal life, your heart and lifestyle will be transformed

Today we will look at a passage that applies this thesis to suffering.  It tells us that if we understand and trust what God promises about the next life, we can be filled with hope in the midst of our sufferings.  The passage is in Rom.8—one of the greatest chapters in the whole Bible.  We will start from the end of this passage and work backward.  Read 8:24,25.  Paul says we can have a hope that gives us dogged perseverance in the present because of an eager anticipation of the future.  The previous verses tell us how to get this hope.  If we want it, we must have the proper foundation, focus, perspective on suffering, and evidence.

Hope’s foundation: adoption into God’s family

Read 8:15-17.  Here we see the foundation of our hope—adoption as God’s sons and daughters.  We are born alienated from God, and we deserve God’s judgment because of our rebellion against him.  But Jesus, God’s true Son, voluntarily bore the judgment we deserved so that we could receive this adoption that we don’t deserve!  He was forsaken so that we could be included.  Paul says we must receive this adoption.  Jn.1:12 says God adopts us when we receive Jesus as our Savior/Lord.  And the moment you become his child, your become an heir.  In Roman society, adopted children were not second-rate family members; they were full legal heirs.  Likewise, God has promised us a full share in Jesus’ inheritance.  And this inheritance is the focus of our hope...

Hope’s focus: glorified bodies in a glorified creation

Read 8:17-23.  Paul calls our inheritance being glorified with Christ (8:17), or having God’s glory revealed to us (8:18).  “Glory” is “God’s majesty made visible.”   The inheritance of every adopted son and daughter is to experience God’s glory to the fullest extent possible for us.  This includes, Paul says here, ruling over a new world that is suffused by his glory, and having new bodies that radiate his glory.  We will receive this inheritance when Jesus returns to establish God’s kingdom (Phil.3:20,21)

God created nature to be a visible expression of his majesty (Ps.19:1).  Even now, nature is filled with what Bruce Cockburn calls “rumors of glory” that sometimes leave us in awe (EXAMPLES).  But nature is now broken.  Now there are weeds along with fruit-bearing plants (e.g., KUDZU VINE), and now nature is hostile to humans (NATURAL DISASTERS; CREATURES THAT BRING INJURY, SICKNESS, & DEATH).  Much of this brokenness is the result of humanity’s misuse of nature (e.g., POLLUTION), and all of it is ultimately the result of humanity’s rebellion against God.  But the day is certainly coming when God will redeem nature—he will heal all of its brokenness, and he will give it a beauty and grandeur that far surpasses any natural wonder we have ever seen.

God made humans to visibly manifest his majesty, as a prism manifests the colors of light.  Even now, human beings are a marvel of complexity, coordination, personality, intelligence, etc.  But we are deeply broken, like ruined gods—broken psychologically, intellectually, and physically.  But the day is certainly coming when all of God’s children will completely redeemed.  We will someday be so radiant in beauty and power and health that if we were to suddenly see the most broken among us, we would be tempted to worship him/her.

Isaiah (who accurately predicted Jesus’ first coming in Isa. 53) describes our inheritance this way: read Isa.25:6-9; 60:4,5a17b-21; 61:7; 62:4,5; 65:17-19.  This is the focus of our hope.  We will learn more about this redeemed creation and our redeemed bodies in the coming weeks.  If you get informed about this, and if you persistently focus on it, it will radically change your perspective on the sufferings in your life...

Hope’s perspective on suffering: the pains of childbirth

Like our older brother Jesus, we must suffer before we receive our inheritance (8:17).  But our inheritance changes our perspective on/reaction to our sufferings in a profound way—read 8:19,22,23.  As heirs of this new world, Paul says our sufferings are not an end in themselves.  They are the pains of childbirth, so we groan in expectant labor.

On the one hand, we “groan.”  Stenazo means a strong expression of grief, pain, outrage, complaint, etc.  We groan because suffering is (by definition) painful (e.g., CHILD PROBLEMS [e.g., REBELLION; HANDICAPS]; JOB LOSS; MARITAL DIFFICULTY/BREAK-UP; PHYSICAL ILLNESS &/OR AGING; PYCHOLOGICAL BROKENNESS [e.g., DEPRESSION]).  But in some ways our groans are deeper because we know now that we were created to live in a world free from sickness, death, evil, tragedy, depression, etc.  We know now how different our present experience is from what we will inherit.  This knowledge produces deep heart sadness.

”We do not get everything we want; nor do we experience the fullness of perfection that God intends to give us in heaven... So things go wrong in our lives—we will be harmed by accidents, we will get sick, and we will have persons who dislike us and hurt us.  Despite our desire to be like Christ, who was perfect and sinless, we will make mistakes and commit sin.  Our thirst coming from the foretaste of heaven will clash with the reality of living in a fallen world, and the result is that we will groan sometimes.”  

So we should not protect ourselves through self-delusion (CHOPRA: “Everything is exactly the way it should be”) or macho stoicism.  We should let our hearts feel the pain caused by the brokenness of the world, others, and ourselves, and we should groan.  This is how Jesus reacted to Lazarus’ death (Jn.11:33-38), even though he knew he would soon raise him from the dead.

On the other hand, these same sufferings are “birth-pangs.”  We are groaning in expectant labor—suffering painfully, but our anticipation outweighs our sufferings because they will end with the birth of a joyous new world.  “The pains of childbirth are analogous to the present sufferings of humankind, animals, and the entire universe.  But those sufferings are temporary because of the imminent miracle of birth.  A far better world will be born out of this one, and a far better humanity will be born out of what we are now... There’s the groaning of those dying without hope, and in contrast, the groaning of those in child-birth.  Both processes are painful, yet they are very different.  The one is the pain of hopeless dread, the other the pain of hopeful anticipation.  (Our) pain is very real, but it’s the pain of a mother anticipating the joy of holding her child.”

This is why Paul says 8:18 (read)—we know that this “birth” will more than compensate for the worst of this life’s sufferings.  So we do not succumb to cynicism or despair because we know that our sufferings are not futile.  Every suffering brings us closer to the birth of this new world, so we wait eagerly (8:25) and we pray like the early Christians: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” (Rev.22:20).

Does this increasingly describe your response to suffering?  If not, it may be because you don’t spend much time focusing on this upcoming “birth.”  Or it may be because you lack assurance that it will actually happen...

Hope’s evidence: what God’s Spirit has already done in your life

How can we know we will receive this inheritance?  We know because we have already received what Paul calls the “first fruits of the Spirit.”  This term refers to an Old Testament spring festival which celebrated the beginning of the harvest.  The Israelites were to bring the first ripened barley sheaves to the Tabernacle, and praise God for this tangible evidence of a full harvest soon to come.  So the “first fruits” is like receiving a “down payment” on your inheritance—you have to wait until later to receive the full inheritance, but the part you have already received assures you that the rest will be yours.

In another passage, Paul uses this same term to describe Jesus’ resurrection (1Cor.15:20,23).  Because we can look back in time and see that God has already raised Jesus from the dead (LAST WEEK), we have solid objective evidence that he will raise the rest of his children from the dead when Jesus returns.

But here Paul refers to another “first fruits”—the gift of God’s Spirit to us when we receive Christ.  (Paul also refers to the Spirit the “down payment” of our inheritance in Eph.1:14.)  Our experience of God’s Spirit provides solid subjective evidence that our bodies and this world will be totally redeemed when Jesus returns.  What is this experience of God’s Spirit?  Earlier in this passage, Paul speaks of two different “first fruits:”

Already, we have seen the Spirit beginning to transform our moral lives (8:13b,14).  We used to be in bondage to sin, but now he has given us some freedom from it.  We used to be numbed and deceived by sin, but now we are uncomfortable with it.  Yes, we only have the “first fruits” of this moral transformation, and we know that we have a long, long way to go.  Yes, there are still many areas of our moral lives that remain largely under sin’s domination.  But God has begun to change our moral lives—this is the tangible evidence that the liberation that he has begun will one day be complete!

Already, the Spirit has enabled us to experience the beginning of relational intimacy with God (8:15,16).  We used to be like slaves who were afraid of God, but now we know something of what it is like to relate to him as our Father with intimacy and confidence.  We used to know God only as a distant, abstract deity, but now we have experienced a deep-down awareness that we belong to him and that he loves us.  Yes, these experiences are more intermittent and less intense than we would like them to be.  And yes, we often still avoid coming into God’s presence to commune with him.  But we have experienced a love-relationship with God—and this is the tangible evidence that we will one day see his face!

Can you relate to what Paul is talking about?  If not in the present, can you remember a time in the past when you experienced these “first fruits?”  Recall these experiences, and thank God for what they promise—that he will complete what he has begun!

Or is this utterly foreign to you?  If so, then you are probably not a child of God—no matter what your formal beliefs are, no matter how long you have gone to church, etc.  Every true child of God receives the Spirit of God (8:9)—and the Spirit of God provides this kind of personal assurance to all of his children.  You need to be adopted into God’s family, so you can receive God’s Spirit, so you can experience his assurance.  You don’t have to earn this adoption—God wants to adopt you, so much that he has already paid the price of his Son’s death.  Will you give yourself to him and tell him that you want him to be your Father?

Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven and Hell, p. 234.

Ajith Fernando, Jesus-Driven Ministry (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2002), p.141..

Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), p.132.