The Hope of Glory

The Brazilian

Biblical hope is very different from natural hope. Natural hope is the optimistic wish for a particular event within the realm of possibility. Biblical hope is the joyful, confident anticipation of something certain. Biblical hope works because God’s promises are designed for the painful nitty-gritty of real life.

But for many Christians, we are hesitant to go ‘all in’ on God’s promises; instead of embracing them, we hold them at a distance. Too many Christians live like the manager of a Scottish football team. He hears about some amazing but undiscovered 17-year old Brazilian, and so he hops on a plane, heads down to Sao Paolo, drives the six hundred miles to Dourados, and watches this kid as he plays for the small club Desportivo Sete de Setembro. The young Brazilian dazzles: he’s quick, he’s fast, he can dribble, he can shoot, he’s amazing. He’s Pelé junior. But then the manager looks up and sees the sun and the palm trees and feels the warm balmy weather. And he starts to wonder. Rather than being filled with joy, pessimism instantly fills his heart. The Scottish manager remembers the wind, the rain, the snow, the sleet, and the physicality of the Scottish game. He finds himself wondering, ‘He looks GREAT in the warm and balmy rarefied climate of Brazil. But can he do it on a cold January Wednesday night in Aberdeen?’ Convinced the young Brazilian could not thrive in the more cavalier climate of Scotland, the manager returns, wondering if Cowdenbeath might generate any good players this year.

That’s the way some Christians look at the promises of God: they work in the Bible because – it’s the Bible, and God seems to show up all over the place doing great things. But we wonder, will these promises work in the turbulent, nitty gritty, pain-filled, problematic reality of my life? And we look in other places for advice nuggets that will 'work' in the rough and tumble domain of 'real life'.

The good news for us is that God’s promises are made for difficult times. In Romans 8.18-25 the apostle Paul acknowledges the present difficulties of our lives while pointing us forward to the confident consummation and realisation of God’s most beautiful promise.

1. What this text is about.

This section of scripture is about the longing anticipation of future transformation shared by both Creation and Christians. Both Creation and Christians suffer at present from a sense of incompleteness and frustration; both Creation and Christians eagerly yearn for a culminating transformation.

Here’s a picture to help you understand this: imagine that your great great uncle dies – someone you’ve never even heard of, much less met. You get a letter indicating that not only was your unheard of uncle mega wealthy – you’re the soul heir. And you are inheriting £100,000,000 … in ten years. But in the meantime, here’s a small deposit of £100,000. Your response – JOY at the downpayment; FRUSTRATION because you have to keep working and doing what you do. It’s not yet time to kiss you day job goodbye. You learn to live between the now and the not yet with joy and anticipation – joy at the blessings you enjoy now, anticipation – and frustration – because you know there is so much more for you

2. The Destination

Sometimes it helps to know the destination towards which we are heading. Paul points us in the right direction when he says in verse 24: in this hope we are saved. The point of this passage is that Paul describes for us the hope that is attached to our salvation.

Imagine a young man who is getting married; he is on the last stage of his journey to an island wedding. On the way his boat capsizes, he is rescued at sea and pulled into the boat. His rescue is not just FROM death in the ocean, it is TO life with his wife. That is, once he his pulled into the boat, while he is THANKFUL that he has been saved from death in the ocean, his heart and his mind are fixed on the HOPE OF THE WEDDING TO COME.

Now, while he is riding on the rescue boat from the place of his rescue to the island destination – he’s not lazy. He helps out – he swabs the deck, he cooks in the galley, he pitches in and helps. The journey to the destination is an opportunity to use his gifts to help the other crew on the boat. And on the way, they discover some other other capsized boats and pull some other people into help. While he’s on the boat, serving is the main the thing. But that’s not the destination; something much better awaits him on the island.

3. The Text

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

There is a contrast here between present sufferings and future glory; this is like the distinction between price and payoff. Anyone who has worked for a diploma or degree, or the price that an athlete has to pay to get ready for a game – there is PRICE, then there is PAYOFF. Paul wants us to be patient while we pay the price waiting for the payoff.

In the last half of verse 17, Paul introduced the tension between suffering and glory: we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. The context of that statement is that, having been adopted by God, we are his children, and if children, heirs. And the BIG IDEA is that we are heirs of glory.

In verse 18, and in the section following, Paul explores this tension further. In one hand, he holds the sufferings of this present time. In the other hand, he holds the glory that is to be revealed to us. Before looking at how he resolves this, let’s be sure we understand what he means by these two terms.

When Paul speaks of the sufferings of the present time, he is not limiting this to those sufferings that come to us because we are followers of Jesus, although these surely count. Rather, the sufferings of the present time include all the difficulties we experience in this life – mental and physical illness, bereavement, hunger, relational conflict, financial difficulties – even death itself. Life is not ONLY pain and suffering – but life as we know is marked by difficulty and challenge.

On the other hand we have glory, the Greek word doxa. In Romans 8, the kind of glory that is being described is what we might call eschatological glory – that is, glory that is going to be revealed at the consummation of redemption at the end of this age. There are various dimensions of this glory sprinkled throughout this chapter – ‘freedom’ (v. 21), ‘the redemption of the body’ (v. 23); ‘sonship’ (vv. 19, 23, 29). Paul is concerned that Christians understand the sequence of the Christian life: suffering now, glory later. The cause of the glory is our redemption in Christ; all of this is built on Romans 8.1 – there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That is, the sentence of God’s judgment against our sin is removed – the first part of Romans describes how that happens in Christ. We are all sinful and deserve God’s judgment, Christ took our place on the cross, we are justified by faith in him.

BUT – and this is the key point, we are not only saved from, we are saved to: and the key ‘to’ to which we are saved as described in this chapter is GLORY. In essence, Paul is answering the question – if we have been set free from the law of sin and death and are no longer under condemnation – why are we still subject to suffering?

Note three characteristics of the glory that God has for us:1) Our glory has already been determined (Rom. 8.30) - those whom he justified he also glorified. That is – God has already done it or provided for it, but we have not experienced it yet. 2) This glory is to be revealed to us: that is, God is going to show us or manifest for us something that already exists. But this is not something we merely observe, this is something we experience. THUS – there is a glory that is in store for us. 3) Glory, like salvation in 1 Peter 1.4-5, is something that is reserved for us, that is, God is keeping glory as an inheritance for us, and he is keeping us for the glory he has for us. In other words, on the last day God will bring us to into the experience of the glory he has for us, He will manifest the decision already made for us on our behalf (Moo, Romans, 512). ‘The present and the visible can only be understood in the light of the future and the invisible’ (Leenhardt)

The point is that the Christian views the sufferings of this life in a larger, world-transcending context that, while not alleviating its present intensity, transcends it with the confident expectation that suffering is not the final word (Moo, Romans, 511). SO – what this passage is about is the GLORY that God is going to reveal to us, the glory that God has prepared for us.

Paul’s key point: in light of the glory that awaits us, the present difficulties of our lives don’t merit consideration. The obvious application of this is that – if we can build a life of hope for this guaranteed glory, we will live with more joy in the mess of this life.

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

This section of scripture is about the longing anticipation of future transformation SHARED by both Creation and Christians. Both Creation and Christians suffer at present from a sense of incompleteness and frustration; both Creation and Christians eagerly yearn for a culminating transformation. Beginning in verse 19, Paul describes what waits for creation.

By creation, Paul here means what we might call subhuman creation. That is, obviously people are part of creation, but he is making a contrast between what is happening to creation and what is happening to people. The action here is done by CREATION with waits with eager longing … This is a personification of creation; it’s a picture of a person straining their next to see what’s coming.

Think about it like this: Imagine a wife whose husband has been off at war and she hasn’t seen him in two years. But he’s coming home. She’s at the train station as the crowds walk by, she can’t see him yet, but she knows he’s in the crowds, so she’s straining to catch a glimpse of her love. THAT’S the picture of what creation is doing – it is STRAINING – WAITING with eager longing for a revealing to take place.

The revealing is of the sons of God, a phrase that does not refer to all humans but to those God saves. Adoption is one of the metaphors for salvation; people are not born into God’s family, people are born again into God’s family through adoption. In verses 14 and 15 he defines the sons of God as those who have the Spirit and those who are led by the Spirit. In Ephesians 1.5 Paul writes that he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. So the Sons of God are those God has adopted into his family through Jesus Christ AND to whom He has given the Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance.

And so creation is wating for the revealing of the Sons of God. That is, ‘creation keenly anticipates the unveiling of the true nature of Christians. Christians are already ‘sons of God’. But, because they experience weakness and suffering like all other people, Christians do not in this life appear much like sons of God. Hopefully, we represent Jesus well in the way we love each other, in how we live. But you can’t walk down the street and tell who a Christian is and who is not. The SONS OF GOD are hidden amongst the people of the world.

In this life, Christians do not much APPEAR like the Sons of God. But on the last day there will be a GREAT REVEAL. God will publicly manifest our real status, our real identity, our real essence. But ‘this “being revealed” as God’s sons takes place only through a further act of God – causing his glory to reach out and embrace us, transforming our bodies. That is, this revelation is not only a disclosure of what has always been but a dynamic process by which the status we now live in preliminary form and in hiddenness will be brought its final stage and made public (Moo, Romans, 513-515).

And the waiting is for the revealing.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope,

God condemned all of creation to futility because of human sin. Creation is not what it should be or what God intended it to be. By futility (vanity, emptiness, unreality, purposelessness), we mean the frustration occasioned by creation’s being unable to attain the ends for which it was made. Humanity’s sin marred the ‘goodness’ of God’s creation, and creation has ever since been in a state of ‘frustration’/futility. God’s decree was in hope – in Genesis 3.15, there is a pointing to Jesus (the protevangelium): the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. Although creation was subjected to futility because of human sin, it has never been without hope; the very decree of subjection was giving in the context of hope.

To understand futility or frustration  – imagine a beautiful origami paper hat – it’s made of paper, but it’s exquisitely beautiful – so good you could wear it Royal Ascot. BUT – before you can put it on, it’s caught in a gust of wind and blown into a nearby loch where it absorbs water and gradually sinks. There it is – you can see it through the clear water – you can delicately retrieve it – but it does not good. In it’s current condition, it is FUTILE – it’s purpose FRUSTRATED. It is no longer fit for purpose; even letting it dry out won’t restore it to its former glory.

So here’s the deal. Creation is messed up. And I’m not talking about anthropogenic global warming, I mean that when Adam and Eve sinned they launched creation into a subjected state of corruption and futility.

So when we look at creation, it is not creation in its glory, but in its fall. But also, we are looking at creation without ourselves yet having been redeemed. It’s like one of those old fuzzy black and white TVs. If you’ve ever seen footage of the first time humans walked on the moon, it’s really messed up – you can hardly tell what’s going on. When you compare it with the ultra HD stuff that’s out now, you wonder how people could tolerate such bad images.

But the situation is actually worse. Imagine being someone who needs glasses to see twelve inches in front of you. So if a person who needs vision correction is watching a distorted black and white television, the image that’s coming to their mind is a distortion of a distortion. That is, what they see has very little relationship with real reality.

This is what it’s like when we look at the universe. So imagine the beauty of a rainbow, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the awesome majesty of a starry night, the colours of a perfect sunset.  ALL OF THAT is only a distortion of a distortion. WE HAVE NO IDEA how glorious and beautiful and majestic and splendid is the reality that awaits us as creation is redeemed and we are redeemed to see it without the distorting effects of sin.

21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

First, creation is subjected to the bondage of corruption, that is, to decay. Decay implies both changeability and corruption – for example – iron rusts. If you leave an iron plough in a barn for a hundred years and come back – it has rusted, it is corroded; vines have grown up over the barn, weeds and trees are growing in the field. Things get more corrupt not more tidy, clean, and organised over time. In physics, this is called entropy, described by the second law of thermodynamics: in a closed system, disorder increases over time.

But even though it is subject to corruption now, this is not creation’s ultimate destiny. Creation will be set free to participate in the glory to which the children of God are destined. It is only with and because of the glory of God’s children that creation experiences its own full and final deliverance. The hope of creation is related to and contingent upon the glory to be given to Christians. IMPORTANT: the idea that creation will be ‘set free’ points towards transformation, not annihilation: that is, there is purpose and destiny for the non-human creation.

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Paul uses the word ‘groan’ as ‘eschatological anticipation: that is, an intense yearning for the new order God is going to bring about at the end of the age. Birth pangs uses the analogy of childbirth to describe the painful anticipation of something good. Jesus uses a similar phrase to describe the times of distress preceding the end. The pains of childbirth have a purpose – there is a baby born at the end of the process. The difficulties and challenges of this age – for both Christians and creation – come with the knowledge that they will ultimately resolve in victory and joy. This is how Jesus frames this is in John 16:20b-22:

You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

Along with creation, we inhabit a moment of painful yearning for the better that is on the way. The pain and grieving only make sense in the context of the promise that is coming.

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.

In verses 19-22, Paul described the yearning anticipation of creation for deliverance, and he linked that deliverance with the ‘glory to be revealed’. In verse 23 he shows that believers also eagerly anticipate something good – we also have a hope, and he tells us what that is.  Along with creation, we groan inwardly: Not only creation but we ourselves – that is, like creation groans, we also groan. Our groaning can be understood as the perpetual frustration we experience because of the remaining moral and physical infirmities, weaknesses, problems that are inevitably part of our lives.

This period we live in is the gap between justification ‘I have been saved’ and glorification ‘we will be saved’. He tells us what this glorification is, but first, he acknowledges that we live in this time of transition – we have been justified, not glorifed. And so as Christians, we live with this sense that things are not the way they should be. We continue to experience physical sickness, mental sickness, moral sickness … we are not yet glorified. We LONG FOR an end to this state of ‘weakness’.

The word groaning implies the sense of frustrated longing occasioned by the continuing pressures of this age and the plea, the cry, the entreaty to God for deliverance from that situation. BUT – we have received a down-payment. Those who are experiencing the groanings are those who have received ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’. By ‘firstfruits’ Paul points to the beginning of a process AND the unbreakable connection between the beginning and the end. As it applies to the Spirit, because we have received the Spirit, it means that God’s eschatological work has begun, that God’s redemptive work will surely be brought about to completion:

2 Corinthians 1.21-22: And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Ephesians 1.13-14: were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.

THUS – It is because we possess the Spirit as the first instalment and pledge of our complete salvation that we groan – yearning for the fulfilment of that salvation to take place. We are waiting eagerly for adoption as sons; Our adoption as sons is marked by the redemption of our bodies. BUT – according to verse 15, we have already been adopted. So our adoption is both accomplished but incomplete. Christians, at the moment of their justification are adopted into the family of God; our adoption is incomplete and partial until we are finally made like the Son of God himself. The final element in our adoption is the REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES. The phrase redemption of our bodies means that we will receive glorified bodies like the resurrection body of Jesus. This is not a minor point of theology, but the very longing that marks our lives – THIS IS OUR DESTINY. Paul’s point: in this life our bodies share in the frustration which characterises this world as a whole, but something better is in the way.

Think about it like this: a couple has been planning to adopt a child for a long time. The day for the adoption is final here. The family goes to the orphanage, completes the paper work, pays the fee, retrieves their child. They put the child in the car and start driving home. The child is OUT OF the orphanage and is LEGALLY ADOPTED. But the child has not yet entered the family home. It feels good to be out of the orphanage, but something is missing; this is not everything the child hoped for. But the child knows more is coming. The ride from the orphanage to the home is filled with eager anticipation of enjoying all the complete benefits of being part of the family.

24 For in this hope we were saved.

Finally, we return to the conclusion that explains this passage for us. We live now with the hope that our salvation will be completed. We were saved, but our salvation is not yet complete. Our salvation includes the hope of adoption – the redemption of our bodies. Christians, though saved, are saved with hope – and hope, by its very nature, means that expectant and patient waiting is going to be necessary. Even though our salvation is definitively secured for us at conversion, it is marked by an element of incompleteness. Looking to the future is a necessary part of our lives as Christians, simply because – more is on the way, and that more is not a non-essiential add on – it is the destiny to which we were saved.

4. Conclusion

The future God has for us is more glorious than we can imagine. The invitation from God through this text is to dare to believe his promises. Yes, we live in the midst of a dirty, grimy life; we currently experience the sufferings of this present time. But remember, they are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. We can live now with joyful and eager anticipation that God will keep is word to us. His promises are made to sustain us until he finally brings us into the fulness of our salvation. These are robust promises, and you can believe them with confidence. They work.

Sign the Brazilian.




Note: much of the exegesis above has been adopted and quoted from Douglas Moo, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 506-522. The examples are mine; the Brazilian is adopted from a suggestion by Andy Morrison; the photo is by Janosch Diggelmann; the scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit.