“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. 26In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:22-29)
As with all of Scripture, these select verses are in context with the entire epistle of Romans in general and Chapter 8 in particular. So it’s difficult to pull out a few verses and exegete them without teaching the whole book of Romans. Yet, this week I want to focus on Romans 8:22-29 in the context of groaning for glory seen in Romans 8:17-25.
We can begin by asking a question; what should the believer be groaning for? And the ultimate answer is to be like Jesus Christ in body, soul, and spirit. Of course, that does not mean to be Divine, for we will never be Divine (that was the sin of Lucifer and Adam and Eve and the new age movement today – to be God) but we are called to be like Christ as Romans 8:29 (and many other verses) say: to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ – the God-Man.
I believe Scripture teaches that man is a tripartite being (Hebrews 4:12-13) which means that when we get saved we are like Christ in our spirit (“the righteousness of God” – 2 Cor. 5:21) and yet our soul ( mind, will, and emotions) is progressively “being transformed” (Romans 12:2) – “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
And though we have been adopted by God (Romans 8:16) our full adoption that we groan for (Romans 8:23) is when our body, soul, and spirit will be resurrected and we receive our sinless and perfect glorified body that will be like Jesus’ glorified body. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. “(Philippians 3:20)
The final purifying process to make us like Jesus will be at the judgment seat of Christ where all the works we have done for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit will be rewarded and all the works done apart from Christ and the power Holy Spirit will be burned off. (1 Corinthians 3:10–15) This is when God will complete the work he began in us – “at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) All believers will be glorified at this point yet depending on their faithfulness and obedience some will have more capacity to serve and glorify God throughout eternity.
So the Holy Spirit takes our prayers and groanings for glory (for Christlikeness) and intercedes for us (along with Jesus’ intercession for us – Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) and the Father hears the prayers of the Spirit and answers them according to His will. This shows us once again the Divine/human collaboration in the process of sanctification. (See Philippians 2:12-13.) We also see an amazing picture of the Divine collaboration within the Trinity for our sanctification.
Thus our prayers do make a difference both in our desires (to want to be more and more like Jesus) and our efforts (to pray fervently (groaning) and frequently to be like Jesus). And the Holy Spirit takes our feeble prayers and groans with us and for us and along with Jesus and the Father we are empowered to grow more like Christ. And though it is mysterious it is clear that the Triune God works with us and for us in this process.
The context in Romans 8:17-25 is suffering both from the fallenness of the world (creation groans; thorns and thistles, disease, pollution, old age, etc.) and we groan over our fallenness, sinfulness, and the sins against us. But what we see here is very comforting because we can know that God is using all of this suffering to work together for our ultimate good as we long for and groan for and pray for what God wants and what we want in our spirit-man – to be like Jesus Christ. “We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose. For those whom He foreknew [of whom He was aware and loved beforehand], He also destined from the beginning [foreordaining them] to be molded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness].” (Romans 8:28-29)
“Simon, Simon (Peter), listen! Satan has asked excessively that [all of] you be given up to him [out of the power and keeping of God], that he might sift [all of] you like grain,32 But I have prayed especially for you [Peter], that your [own] faith may not fail; and when you yourself have turned again, strengthen and establish your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32) Here we see a picture of the Divine collaboration and the goal of the Triune God in the life of Peter. Jesus’ prayer (along with the Spirit as we have seen in Romans 8:26-27) for Peter (Jesus often used Peter’s old name Simon, when Peter was acting like his old self) was that his faith not fail and when he had learned to depend totally on the power of God (through prayer and other means of grace) and not himself, he would then strengthen other believers. If you read the book of Acts and Peter’s two letters to the church, you will see this is exactly what Peter did. And Peter suffered greatly for his faith and died a martyr’s death but his faith never failed. So Jesus’ prayer was answered. And by doing so Peter modeled the life and ministry of Jesus to his fellow believers at that time and to all who followed after them until us today. God caused all these things to work together for Peter’s ultimate good, likeness to Jesus Christ. This we see in his counsel to us so we can learn to respond like Jesus when mistreated by others: “You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 19 For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. 21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 22 He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. 23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” (1 Peter 2:18-23)
Likewise we see the sanctifying work of the Trinity in Paul’s life to conform him to Christ’s likeness. “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7-10) Jesus also prayed three times (Matt. 26:44) for the Father to deliver Him from His trial (the cross) and yet ended His prayer by saying not My will but Your will be done. He showed Paul and all of us how weakness (death of the cross) can lead to spiritual power (resurrection power) to manifest a supernatural love and forgiveness that wins people to salvation. In our fleshly weakness we cannot righteously respond to insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties but if we groan for the glory (to be like Jesus) in the trial, the Triune God will empower us to reveal Jesus’ sacrificial love to those who insult us and the supernatural strength to trust and obey God even in the midst of the hardships and difficulties of living in a fallen world.
So our business may fail, our health may fail, our friends may fail us, but God promises us that as we pray and groan and long to be more like Jesus that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will pray and work together for our spiritual and eternal good and make us more and more like our Savior and this will redound to the glory of God now and for all eternity.
In Psalm 73 (NLT) the psalmist, Asaph, shows us how his groans led to a revelation of the ultimate judgment of the wicked and proud who deny God and eternal judgment (v. 17-20) and that the greatest blessing in this life and in eternity is God Himself and staying close to Him (vv. 23-28).
“Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
3 For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
4 They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
5 They don’t have troubles like other people;
they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.
6 They wear pride like a jeweled necklace
and clothe themselves with cruelty.
7 These fat cats have everything
their hearts could ever wish for!
8 They scoff and speak only evil;
in their pride they seek to crush others.
9 They boast against the very heavens,
and their words strut throughout the earth.
10 And so the people are dismayed and confused,
drinking in all their words.
11 “What does God know?” they ask.
“Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
12 Look at these wicked people—
enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain.
15 If I had really spoken this way to others,
I would have been a traitor to your people.
16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.
But what a difficult task it is!
17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path
and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.
19 In an instant they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors.
20 When you arise, O Lord,
you will laugh at their silly ideas
as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.
21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
23 Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
27 Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. How does the Holy Spirit help us in our prayers? Who makes the “groanings” in verses 22-27? How do verses 17-25 relate to verse 28?
2. Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to pray with you and for you “according to the will of God”? Why may we as believers resist this kind of prayer and what would that say about our spiritual understanding of God’s best for us?
3. What do you think changed Peter’s life from self-confidence and self-interest to a man that looked a lot like Jesus?
4. What reason does Paul say God allowed Satan to torment him? What is the greatest sin and root of all sin and what is the greatest mark of Christlikeness and the root of all graces?
5. Reflect on and, if you feel led, share a painful experience that ultimately helped you grow in your love, trust and obedience with the Lord. Would you say Romans 8:28-29 is true based on this?
6. [“The suffering of God’s children is a dominant theme in the teaching of Scripture. Why then is it not more prominent in the teaching of many preachers and churches? Why are people invited to come to faith in Jesus Christ to escape suffering and to enter into peace and prosperity? Why do we seek to persuade men to trust in Christ by offering them the good life? If God graciously sends suffering and groaning into our lives, why in our prayers do we ask God to remove our suffering and pain? Why do we not pray for strength and endurance and for our hope to be set on heaven? Neither Jesus nor the apostles offered men peace and prosperity in this life. They warned men of the suffering and persecution which would result from turning to Christ in faith and following Him. They urged men to “count the cost” of following Christ (see Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 9:23-25, 57-62; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 12:1-13 1 Peter 1:3-9; 2:20-25; 3:14-18; 4:12-19; 5:10-11).”] (See https://bible.org/seriespage/16-groaning-glory-romans-818-27)