Romans 8:18-25 – A Passage of Hope

Category: Bible 281 1

Most Christians have a favorite verse or passage in the Bible. I have a few myself, and I want to tell everyone about one of them today. In my opinion, one of the best passages in all of Scripture is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans is considered to be one of the best books in the Bible to learn the basics of the Christian faith. And it is in the middle of this book, Romans 8:18-25, that we find Paul teaching about hope.

Romans 8:18-25 says:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the coming glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration [or futility], not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Suffering in the Present World

This passage teaches us a lot if you pay careful attention to it. Paul begins by speaking about the sufferings that we face in this life. If we are honest with ourselves, this life, at many times, is not a lot of fun. Relationships are shattered, dreams are lost, we lose our jobs, we get diseases, and, in the end, we die, leaving everything and everyone behind (this is only a very, very short list of all the bad things that can happen in this life).

However, Paul tells us about the hope that he has, and the way he speaks about it can only make a Christian feel happy that all the bad things that happen will not last forever. Paul begins by saying that all our present sufferings in this current life cannot be compared to what awaits us in the coming glory. What is the coming glory? Verse 19 tells us that it is the revelation of the sons of God; that is, when Christians will be given their resurrection bodies. Christians will receive these bodies at the second coming of Christ. This passage then is looking ahead to the return of Christ and when he will restore the world.

In the next age (the new heavens and new earth) there will be no more suffering and the pain that we feel in this current life will be a distant memory; “the contemporary era is marked by suffering, but in the future age pain will be left behind forever.”[1] The whole point of verse 18 is that our present sufferings and problems that we experience right now are inconsequential and nothing compared to the future glory of Christians.

Creation

However, we are only getting started. The thing that helps us understand our hope for the future comes from the rest of the passage, and this deals with the word “creation.” What is the meaning of the word “creation” in this passage? The Greek word used here (ktisis) can mean a number of different things depending on the context of the passage being read: 1) everything that God has created; 2) a living individual or even a non-living creature; 3) humanity as a whole (or figuratively for a group); 4) Christians; or 5) government.[2] So the word can mean “everything” or “humanity” in some kind of capacity. To know which is correct we must closely examine the passage.

It is clear that “Christians” is not the meaning of the word here since Paul is comparing the “creation” with believers, and specifically excludes them in verses 19-22. Also, verse 19 says the “creation” is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. The sons of God and the “creation” are different. Verse 21 states that the “creation” itself will be released from bondage. The words itself and also contrast the creation with believers. Another contrast between the believers and the creation comes from verse 23 when it says, “not only so, but we ourselves.” “[B]ut we ourselves,” is distinguished from the “whole creation” by “not only so.”[3]

Paul’s insistence in verse 20, that the creation was subjected not of its own choice, excludes all of humanity and even the angels. Humanity was subjected to bondage because we willingly rebelled against God. Fallen angels sinned before Adam and Eve sinned, and also did this willingly. Angels are also not being “liberated from its bondage” so “the creation” cannot refer to them. So, # 2-5 in the list above are excluded. Thus “the creation” must refer to the whole subhuman world, especially animals, who also experience suffering and death like humans do.[4]

Romans

Who Subjected it?

Verse 19 says that creation was subjected to futility (the NIV translates it as “frustration”). So the obvious question is “who subjected it?” The “one who subjected” creation has been identified with 1) Adam, by his fall into sin; 2) Satan; or 3) God. Only God can be seen here because he is the only one with the right and power to condemn creation to frustration.[5]

Henry Smith says, “This subjector, therefore, would have to possess the power and authority to subject the entire sub-human creation to futility, and have hope in view at the same time.” This negates the possibility that it was fallen angels or humanity since neither one has the power to subject the creation with hope in view. Only God, who is both our Judge and Savior, could entertain hope for the world that he had cursed.[6]

Birth Pangs, Futility, and Decay

Verses 20-22 give us a description of the current state of creation. Verse 19 says that the creation is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. The reason is because creation has also been subjected to futility. There is good reason to conclude that Paul has in mind the curse that creation was placed under in Genesis 3:17-19 when Adam and Eve sinned. Futility means that the creation has not fulfilled the very purpose that God created it to do. Scholar Thomas Schreiner says that “the text should be interpreted in terms of Gen. 3:17-19, where the ground is cursed because of human sin, and thereby does not fulfill its created purpose.”[7] Another scholar, Douglas Moo, says, “Humanity’s fall into sin marred the ‘goodness’ of God’s creation, and creation has ever since been in a state of ‘frustration.’”[8]

Verse 21 describes this futility as “bondage to decay” or, as some translations put it, “the slavery of corruption.” “Slavery entails corruption, decay, and death, which pervade the natural world.”[9] Verse 22 adds “groaning” and “pains of childbirth.” The groaning of creation is linked to the groaning of believers in the world. Since creation’s and the Christian’s redemptions are linked, it is reasonable then to come to the conclusion that they came into this bondage to corruption at the same time.

But when did this groaning and bondage begin? Paul indicates that it began when God cursed creation at the time when Adam and Eve sinned. First off, the description of futility and slavery to corruption does not fit with what Genesis teaches about creation (it was “very good”). Second, “groans and labors with birth pangs” is very reminiscent of God’s judgment against Eve in Genesis 3:16. Third, as mentioned above, the liberation from this bondage is connected to the redemption of believers’ bodies.

Smith says:

“If the creation was in a futile state at the initial moment of its existence, it technically could not be subjected to corruption and decay. It would simply come into existence in that state. Its natural and initial inclination would be toward futility.”[10]

He continues:

“The narrative of Genesis 3:14–19, however, is much more consistent with Paul’s expressions found in the text under investigation. If Adam’s fall was indeed the cause of this ‘subjection to futility’ by God, the idea of hope being directly connected to the action makes perfect sense if Paul had Genesis 3 in view. Many biblical commentators see Genesis 3:15 as the protevangelium, the first proclamation of the Gospel. The first human beings have disobeyed God in paradise, and, having been fairly warned, they are to receive punishment for their transgression. But this punishment occurs with hope in God’s view. The Gospel is the ultimate hope in a desperate and impossibly corrupt situation. The combined [Greek] terms hupetagēand tēs douleias tēs phthoras,… in verses 20 and 21 are perfectly consistent with the events described in Genesis 3:14–19, a direct result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.”[11]

Also, the hope of the creation is connected to the glory of the sons of God. “It therefore follows that the creation’s futility is also inexorably connected to man’s futility, both originating in man’s fall. The whole sub-human created order was plunged into futility by man’s fall, and it will be liberated as a result of man’s redemption”[12]

There will be animals in heaven. Source for picture: http://askville.amazon.com/animals-place-heaven/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=69427908
There will be animals in heaven. Source for picture: http://askville.amazon.com/animals-place-heaven/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=69427908

What does all this mean?

This passage tells us a lot about biblical theology. First, the major point of this passage is that our present sufferings of this age are nothing compared to what awaits us in the next. Schreiner says “Given the wonder of the glory awaiting believers, they should endure present sufferings with eagerness, knowing that all sufferings in the present can be borne because the reward before them is incomparably delightful.”[13] In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul speaks of “our light and momentary troubles” as “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Schreiner continues, “Believers should be full of hope because the sufferings of this age are part and parcel of a fallen creation, and the glory of the age to come inevitably includes a renewed creation. In verses 19-22 Paul argues that the glory of the future age must be indescribably beautiful because the creation longs to experience it.”[14]

Paul personifies the subhuman creation (with the groaning) to show his readers of the “cosmic significance” of humanity’s fall into sin and the Christian’s restoration into glory. Paul uses two words (“waits” and “eager expectation”) which show that the creation cannot wait for the revelation of the sons of God.[15]

Second, this passage tells us some very interesting details about what heaven is going to be like. The fact that creation cannot wait for the return of Christ shows us that it will not be completely destroyed, but instead, restored. Creation will always exist. And for all you animal lovers, there will be animals in heaven. This will, in itself, bring joy to most people.

Third, this passage teaches us an important point concerning the creation vs. evolution debate. This is that creation was created by God to be perfect and was only subjected to death and decay when mankind rebelled against his creator. Thankfully this curse will be reversed. Creation will fulfill the purpose why God created it when Christ returns to restore it. Paul “envisions a future salvation that will engulf the entire cosmos and reverse and transcend the consequences of the fall. The redemption anticipated by the elect will also affect the created order.”[16]

What do you think? Does this bring you hope? I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait for the return of Christ. Leave a comment below and visit us on Facebook.

 


[1] Thomas Schreiner. Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998. Pg. 433.

[2] Ron Minton. “Apostolic Witness to Genesis Creation and the Flood.” In Coming to Grips with Genesis. Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury eds. Green Forest: Master Books, 2008. Pgs. 355-356. Douglas Moo. The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996. Pgs. 513-514. Henry B. Smith Jr. “Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: and exegesis of Romans 8:19-23a.” Journal of Creation 21 (1):75-85. http://creation.com/cosmic-and-universal-death-from-adams-fall-an-exegesis-of-romans-819-23a.

[3] Schreiner, 435. Leon Morris. The Epistle to the Romans. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988. Pg. 320.

[4] Minton, 356; Moo, 514; Schreiner, 435; Smith; Morris, 320.

[5] Moo, 515-516. Schreiner, 435. Morris, 321-322.

[6] Smith. Schreiner, 435.

[7] Schreiner, 436.

[8] Moo, 515.

[9] Schreiner, 436.

[10] Smith.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Schreiner, 440.

[14] Ibid, 438.

[15] Moo, 514; Morris, 321. The Old Testament also personified the hills, meadows, and valleys who shout and sing together for joy (Psalm 65:12-13), and also used the earth to mourn (Isaiah 24:4; Jer. 4:28; 12:4). See also Psalm 96:12; 98:8 Isaiah 35:1; 55:12.

[16] Schreiner, 437.

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