There is A Whole Lot of Groaning Back to all sermons
Date: March 9, 2012
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Romans 8:18–8:27
We are going to start this morning with a group exercise. At my signal, I want all of us to say together the word “groan”. Ready? “Groan!” Say it again. “Groan!” Now, again at my signal say it together slowly. “Groooooooan!” Now put some volume and feeling into it. “GROOOOOOOOAAN!”
We are going to talk about groaning this morning; groaning and its place in our world and in the Christian’s life. The word “groan” occurs three times in the passage before us. And in each case, it has a different subject. There are actually three “groaners” in the text.
In verse 22, we are told that the whole creation is groaning. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
In verse 23 we find that the Christian is groaning. 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.
Then in verse 26 we see that the Holy Spirit is groaning. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Now, that’s a whole lot of groaning going on. What is the cause of it all? And what kind of groaning is this? That’s what I really want to focus on. Because we find in this passage that there are not only different “groaners” but there are also different kinds of groans. In fact, again we find three. First there is the groan of anguish.
Now this is the kind of groaning that usually comes to our minds when we use the word. Groaning is a natural response to pain. You’re walking down the hallway at night and you stub your toe: “GROAN!” You stand up too quickly from under the cupboard and bump your head; “GROAN!” You slam your finger in a door or hit your thumb with a hammer; “GROAN!”
As we consider the groan of anguish, we find that the creation is groaning in anguish. Why? Verse 20 tells us the answer. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.
The word “frustration” means futility, emptiness, a lack of purpose or an inability to fulfill one’s purpose. There is a phrase in the Book of Ecclesiastes that says, “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” One translation renders that: “Meaningless, meaningless; everything is meaningless.” That is a pretty good express of frustration and futility.
How and when was the creation subjected to frustration and meaninglessness? To answer that question we must go all the way back to Genesis 3:17-18 and the story of the Fall of Man.
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
God created man to rule over his creation. When man disobeyed and rebelled against God’s command, it affected not only the human race, but also all of man’s domain. As part of his judgment against man for his sin, God subjected the whole creation to frustration. Nature and the creation as we see it and experience it today is not as God intended it to be.
In fact Paul gives us a little more detail here. This frustration and the groan of anguish that accompanies it is related to death, dying and decay. In verse 21 we read that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay. Prior to Adam’s sin, there was no death, no decay, nothing rotten. Nature, as we know it, is often cruel. Nature is described as being “red in tooth and claw” based on a food chain with different species preying on one another. Paul personifies the creation here and speaks of it as groaning in its bondage to this cycle of aging, dying, decaying. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
But creation is not the only thing that is groaning in anguish. The believer also groans in anguish. Why? Because life is painful and full of suffering. Back in verse 18, Paul made reference to “our present sufferings” or “the sufferings of the present age.” The Bible never promises that the Christian will have a life free of suffering and pain. This life, this present time is full of pain and suffering and we groan in anguish. This anguish is fundamentally related to that fact that we live in bodies that are mortal and subject to the same process of aging, illness and ultimately death that affects the whole creation. We face our own mortality and we grieve when people we love are snatched from us by death. These are real groans from real pain.
But I want to quickly highlight another note in the groaning that is described in this passage. For the groaning that is described here is also a groan of anticipation.
Have you ever been really, really thirsty? I remember once on a hike in an extinct volcano in Kenya. We set off from the cars without water for what we thought was a short hike to the peak. Only there was a very deep ravine between us and our destination that we were not aware of. We ended up spending several hours laboring up and down large rocks before giving up and returning to the vehicles. By that time we were seriously dehydrated. I remember the last part of that hike being consumed with one thought and one thought only; “Water!” As I stumbled that last distance to the car, I could almost feel the cool water trickling down my throat and found myself groaning in anticipation for “cool, clear water.”
Now, interestingly enough, the groan of anticipation is not in opposition to the groan of anguish. In fact, the very same groan often has both elements in it. The best example of this is the groaning of child birth. It is at one and the same time a groan of real pain, yet accompanied by anticipation and eagerness to welcome a new baby into the world. This is the analogy that Paul draws in verse 22: We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. There is anguish, but there is also anticipation. Pain, but pain that is laced with hope.
The creation groans in anticipation. What exactly is the creation looking forward to? Look at verse 19: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
This is an interesting verse. There are two different words describing the eagerness of the creation. One of them describes a physical posture of someone stretching his head forward in eagerness for something to appear. So why is the creation so eager for the sons of God to be revealed? Verse 21 tells us: that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. When the sons of God are revealed and set free, the creation will be set free as well; set free from its frustration, set free from its bondage to decay. The Scripture speaks of a time when the lion shall lie down with the lamb. All creation will be set free to fulfill God’s initial purposes and designs. Creation can’t wait! Creation is groaning even now for that glorious day of liberation.
Not only does the creation groan in anticipation, but also the believer groans in anticipation. What are we anticipating? A number of different words or phrases tell us what we have to look forward to. The first word is glory. This word actually takes us back to the end of our passage from last week, in verse 17: Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
You may remember that I said last week that one of the realities of those of us who are indwelt by the Spirit of God is that we have a new hope. I also told you that we’d come back to that topic this week. Well here we are. We have a new hope as those who have been adopted into the family of God. That is the reality that we shall share in his glory. We shall see, share and experience the glory of God. That is what we are promised in verse 18: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
That glory is described as liberation or freedom in verse 21: that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. That can be more literally translated “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” When we experience the glory of God we shall be truly free. This is the wonderful truth of the third great doctrine of the Christian faith. We have talked about justification and sanctification. Now we are considering the truth of “glorification” when we shall share in the glory of Christ and be truly free.
Along with that freedom will come new bodies. 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.
Now, you might be wondering at this point; I thought we had already been adopted as sons and daughters of God. Why does he tell us here that we are waiting eagerly for our adoption? To understand this, we need to understand the Roman practice of adoption. In modern times, when we think of adoption, we usually think of adopting an infant or small child. A couple desires a child. A baby or small child needs a home and parents. Adoption meets both needs. It’s about nurture, care and cuddly babies. In this practice, older children are often labeled, “hard to adopt”.
The Roman practice was very different. It had more to do with the continuity of the family name, family honor and family inheritance. It was a practice of the upper classes. When a man had no heir to carry on the family name, he would begin to consider adoption. Only he would not necessarily think of adopting a child. After all, such a child might die. And who knows how such a child might turn out and whether he would be a worthy heir? So the man would often choose to adopt a young man of already proven character and worth; someone who would prove able to carry the family honor as well as the family name. Such adopted sons were considered full sons in every regard. Even if there were already other sons in the family, the adopted son would have equal inheritance rights with the natural born sons.
While this practice of adoption had many legal and property implications, it was often a relationship that was accompanied by great mutual personal affection and loyalty. It was also a relationship that might take some time to work out all the legal details. The relationship might be privately arranged and promises made and sealed. But when all of this was done and accomplished, there would come a great event in which the adoption was announced and celebrated publicly. There would be a great party. This was the adoption party, the official “adoption as sons.” For various reasons the adoption might even be kept quiet until the great event was announced and celebrated.
We’ve been adopted. We’ve been given the Spirit of adoption. We have the wonderful privilege of calling God “Abba, Father!” But there is a step in the process that is yet to be completed. The adoption party. The celebration when the children of God are revealed openly before the watching universe and all creation will celebrate. That celebration will be accompanied by the fact that we will receive new bodies, redeemed bodies; bodies that are no longer subject to pain and disease and aging, death and corruption.
Philippians 3:21 describes it this way: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
What a glorious hope that is! No more pain. No more doctors, no more medicine, no more hospitals. (Some of you are going to have to find a new line of work!) No headaches, no sinus infections, no arthritis, no cancer, no heart disease, no Alzheimers and dementia, no aging. Our bodies will be just like Jesus’ own body of glory.
How do we know we will experience all of this? Well, we’ve already been given a down payment. That’s what verse 23 tells us: 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.
This was a promise referred to earlier in verses 9-10:
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
The Spirit of Christ who indwells us as believers is both a guarantee of our future resurrection as well as a foretaste of what is to come. That foretaste of God’s glory is enough to set us groaning inwardly in eager anticipation of our adoption party and of our new bodies.
How does all of this affect our lives today? We live in a state of tension between the groan of anguish and the groan of anticipation. In this state, we need to do a couple things. First we must do some calculating and comparing. That is really where Paul began this paragraph in verse 18: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
I love that verse. There is no comparison! The darker and more painful this life becomes, the brighter this verse grows. The glory and joy of eternity is so much greater! Imagine how bright our life with Christ will be! No comparison.
In addition to doing some comparing we are also called upon to wait with endurance. This is Paul’s point in verses 24-25: 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.
We live in a state of hope. In this hope we are called to wait patiently and with endurance. What we have and experience now is not all that shall be. We live suspended between the “now” and the “not yet” of the Christian life. If we had it all now, we would not have to wait. But we don’t have it all yet. This isn’t all there is. There is more to come. Much more. Wait patiently.
That brings us to the third kind of groaning. It is one which we greatly need as we wait patiently, balanced between the groan of anguish and the groan of anticipation; the “now” and the “not yet” of the children of God. It is the groan of assistance.
In this interim time of waiting, we need help to cope with the suffering; help to endure the waiting. Good news! That help is at hand.
First of all, we can pray. Now our prayer has limitations. That is what Paul tells us in the middle of verse 26: We do not know what we ought to pray for. We have been given a great privilege in prayer. We know that we can come to God and call on him as our “Abba! Father!” We can make our needs and requests know. But we often do not know exactly what to ask for. When that is the case, there is help as we are told in verses 26-27.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
I love those verses. I love that phrase “he intercedes for us.” The root idea of intercession is to meet with someone; usually someone with influence or authority or resources. And to meet with that person on behalf of someone else. The Spirit of God meets with the Father and the Spirit communicates on my behalf. But the beauty of it is that in this process and by the Spirit’s intercession, my heart and the will of God are brought into alignment. And it often happens without words, but only a wordless groaning of the Spirit of God. It is this groan of the Spirit’s assistance that will sustain us between the anguish and the anticipation of the Christian life.
These three kinds of groaning are actually a clear summary of the Christian experience. There is anguish in the Christian life, is there not? I have felt it. You have felt it. We have felt it even this week, as we have grieved over the death of a member of our church. But this groan of anguish does not lead us to despair, because it is also a groan of anticipation – and oh, what we have to look forward to! What a glorious adoption party that’s going to be! And in the meantime, we do not despair because we have not been left alone; from alongside us and within us comes another groan – the groan of assistance as the Spirit of God intercedes for us according to the Father’s will.
As Christians, we need not be afraid to groan. It is Biblical! There is no need to keep a stiff upper lip and pretend that all is well with the world. Go ahead and groan! But let it be a balanced groaning. A groaning that expresses the pain and suffering you are feeling and yet includes the hope and the anticipation for the glory that lies ahead of us.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Who are the three different “groaners” found in this passage?
- Pastor Cam also identifies three different kinds of groaning. What are they?
- Give examples of “the whole creation groaning”. What is the link between the creation’s groaning and the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden?
- Give an example of a “groan of anticipation”.
- What is creation looking forward to and why is that significant? What do we as believers have to look forward to? What are you particularly looking forward to when you get your new body?
- Discuss your thoughts, feelings and reactions to the Holy Spirit’s groan of assistance as described in verses 26-27.