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The Spirit & Suffering

August 6, 2023 Speaker: Jim Davis Series: Romans

Passage: Romans 8

Romans 8. I’ve said this before, but one memory that is ingrained in my mind is when Angela and I hiked up one of the tallest mountains in the Italian Alps and when we hit the summit, we looked out and we were above the cloud line and we saw only the tallest mountains shooting through the clouds. We couldn’t see the mountain range that connected them. If that mountain range were the Bible, these peaks would represent the most important parts of redemptive history. These peaks would represent things like Jesus’, birth, death, and resurrection. His second coming. Probably Jeremiah 31 and how the covenants fit together. The law coming to Moses. And I believe that Romans 8 would also be one of those peaks. 


Last week in Romans 7, Paul addressed the question, “How do I know I’m saved if I still sin?” This week in Romans 8, he answers the question, “How do I know God still loves me if I still suffer?” We who suffer with cancer, finances, jobs, marriage, lack of marriage, kids, lack of kids, and so many other things. How do we know in the midst of that suffering that God still loves us? And Paul’s answer is both honest and hopeful. 


In this passage, Paul is telling us about the reality of suffering and then three ways the Holy Spirit both gets us through it and gives us hope.


  1. The reality of suffering. 


People have for millennia tried to turn God into some genie in a bottle that if we do the right thing or understand the right formula, we won’t have suffering in our lives. Or, at least it will be much less. Of course the main theological stream we see this in right now is the prosperity gospel. These false teachers say that God’s ultimate plan for us is to be happy, healthy, and wealthy and if we have enough faith, that’s exactly what will happen. If we are experiencing suffering in our lives, that’s because we don’t have enough faith. This couldn’t be further from what Paul is saying here. 


Paul says in verse 17 that we are heirs with Christ PROVIDED WE SUFFER with him. In verse 22 he says that the whole of creation has been groaning up until the moment Paul is writing this letter. And it still is today. Paul is saying that suffering goes even beyond our own personal experiences. In some way, all of creation is groaning with us. There is no part of the cosmos that is unaffected by the fall. We know our bodies are deteriorating as we speak. Some of us feel it more acutely than others, but it’s true for all of us. It’s also true for all of creation. 


I’ve probably been to Rome 30 times and one of my favorite things to see there is the Colosseum. As you know, it’s a massive structure that could hold around 50,000 people and uniquely communicated the grandeur of Rome to all who visited. It survived earthquakes and even Barbarian forces, but do you know what ultimately did it in? Plants. When it was abandoned, dirt filled large sections and plants began to grow and that ultimately caused large sections to crumble. It naturally decayed. 


One of the things I dread most is cleaning out our minivan. After months of no attention, it’s crazy what you will find in the back seat of that thing. Or growing in the back seat of that thing. Not to mention the van itself needs to be constantly repaired and maintained or it will break down. Everything in this world is literally falling apart. It’s the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is using more energy than it can restore. Our sun will burn out one day and all life in this solar system will cease. Each solar system is drifting away from the center of the galaxy and each galaxy is drifting away from the center of the universe. Literally everything is falling apart. And It’s groaning as it does. 


We can spend all the money we want on cosmetic work to slow this process down on our bodies, but our bodies will deteriorate. Even our relationships will go away if we live long enough. I remember my grandmother in her mid 80’s telling me how sad it was that all her original family…her siblings, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles…they were all gone. Not only that, but most of her life long friends were gone as well. 


If you live long enough, you will experience suffering that you just can’t imagine right now. And while some of our suffering is brought about by our own bad decisions, Paul is talking about the inevitable suffering that will come just from living in the world. We can do everything to the best of our ability and our bodies will still fail, our faculties will deteriorate, and our relationships will fall apart. We will be sinned against even when we have committed no sin. Paul doesn’t sugar coat it, but he does give us a way to persevere and a hope that will make it all worth it. 


  1. Three ways the Holy Spirit both gets us through it and gives us hope.


The three ways the Holy Spirit ministers to us is through proof, prayer, and purpose. First, the proof. The Holy Spirit is the proof in the midst of our suffering that suffering will not have the final word. Paul says that the Holy Spirit is the proof that we are heirs with Christ. That means that what is true of Jesus will be true of us and the way Paul makes this case is through adoption. We have received the Spirit of adoption. Adoption in Roman times was as secure a relationship as you could find. The emperor Julius Caesar adopted Octavian who later became Caesar Augustus. All the rights and privileges of the father were transferred to the adopted son, including the throne. If you were adopted, not only do you have all the rights and privileges as the biological children, many make the case that you had more. A biological child could be disowned, but an adopted child could not. 


When we put our faith in Jesus, we are adopted as true sons and daughters. Like justification, it is a once and for all permanent declaration of our relationship to God. I knew a man once who had an adopted child and that child was being picked on at school about being adopted and she said, “I actually feel sorry for you.” And the bullies were like, “Why?” And she said, “Your parents just got stuck with you. My parents chose me.” Now, the analogy I’m trying to make falls apart if we think that God got stuck with Jesus, but what’s true is that we were chosen by God to be adopted as sons and daughters. And because we are chosen to be sons and daughters, the Spirit resides inside of us and reinforces this truth by giving us a heart to cry out to God as Abba! Father!.


But, if we are heirs with Christ through our adoption, we inherit all the things that Christ does which includes suffering. Verse 17: 17 and if children, then lheirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, mprovided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. - Rom 8:17 What father, when they see their child suffering doesn’t have the deepest affections inside of him stirred? People suffer and ask ‘where is God?’ and the answer is he’s right there with you the whole time. God may in fact give you more suffering than you can possibly handle… without him. But when we walk through it as a Christian, he’s sustaining you. The way we walk through suffering can be healing. Instead of just trying to survive it, there can be hope. And this the way we walk through suffering is actually proof of our adoption. 


When a Christian suffers, we are made more human. We cry ‘Abba’ ‘Father’ in the same way Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. This cry is a cry in the hardest moments of our lives of the painful expectation of God’s goodness in any trial. Which leads to the second way the Holy Spirit ministers to us in suffering: prayer.


When we are experiencing suffering, we can go to God in prayer because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The second half of the summer we have not had any camps or vacations so the kids are largely home everyday and you hear different kinds of cries. I know the ‘he took my stuff on Minecraft’ cry. I know ‘the dog just ate my food’ cry. And I also know the ‘I’m seriously hurt and scared’ cry. When I hear that last cry, nothing I’m doing is more important than responding to that cry. God knows our cries even better than we know our own children’s cries and he is even better at responding to them. These cries stir up the affection he has for us even more than any parent because we are his children. 


And Paul says in verse 26 that the Holy Spirit will pray for us even when we do not know what to pray for. Now, some have made this out to be a secret prayer language like speaking in tongues, but I don’t think we can come to that conclusion from this passage. This is something that happens in our weakest times. That isn’t at all how charismatics describe speaking in tongues. They teach that that happens when we are at our strongest. So, however you define speaking in tongues, I don’t think we can say that this is what Paul is talking about. 


Paul is saying that there will be times when things are so bad that we don’t even know what to pray for.  Angela and I can both remember breaking up with our college boyfriend and girlfriend respectively. Both of us hurt in that moment and we at times prayed for the relationship to be restored. God heard the hurt and the core of our prayer that we wanted our hearts to not hurt, but looking back, man is Angela thankful the Holy Spirit interceded and prayed for her to meet me:) And so am I. Or, it could be something so much worse like losing a spouse or a child and all we know to do is groan and cry out. And the Spirit will intercede and pray what we should pray. 


Tim Keller says that there is the core part to our prayers and the stupid parts. The core part is our groaning. Our hurts. Our fears. Then, the stupid part is how we advise God to fix the problem. From my vantage point, God, I think you should do A, B, and C and that should take care of everything. Our loving father hears the heart of our prayers, but we don’t see the full picture. We don’t have all the information, so the one who does know everything prays what we would pray for if we did. 


Two important caveats. 1) This is not to say that we should not ask for specific things. We are explicitly commanded to do so. But we do so knowing our limited vantage point. And 2) We have to know the Holy Spirit desires more for us than getting married or bringing a loved one back to life. In His sovereignty, He decided that this path for us is what would draw us closer to him. If we just make it about getting what we want in this life, our theology is no better than the prosperity gospel. The Holy Spirit desires that we have the greatest gift, him. 


Do you hear what Paul is saying? When we are hurting, we can go to God with confidence because he who does know every possible variable and contingency is going to take our prayers and pray for us what we should be praying. What we would pray for if we had the same vantage point. That’s amazing. That alone should bring a sense of calm and hope in our suffering. 


Then, lastly Paul gives us purpose in our suffering through his Spirit. Look at verse 18: 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time nare not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. - Rom 8:17 These words ‘I consider’ are really important. Paul sees the purpose and that makes him see things in a different way. Our staff team mostly has little kids and I was telling them how amazing it is that my kids do the dishes after dinner. Now, initially, it was all groaning. No one wanted to do the dishes after dinner. They weren’t grateful for the free meal they received and more than willing to show their thankful hearts. But, we told Ivey that we would pay her $25 a week if she did all the dishes after every meal every day. Some may think that’s a lot of money, but with 6 people and two boys who never stop eating, I calculated that she’s making less than half of minimum wage. Same task, but now she does it without complaining and even with a bit of joy because she knows that after the toil of her work, she will have $100 every month. Same task, but she considers it differently. 


In the same way, as Christians, we consider our sufferings differently. We see a different purpose in them. We know that if we are heirs with Christ, not only do we share in his sufferings, we will also share in his triumphs. This is why Paul says,  20 For the creation pwas subjected to futility, not willingly, but qbecause of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that rthe creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. - Rom 8:20,21 Do you see that our being subjected to this suffering, what Paul calls futility, is not because we want to be subjected to it. Paul says that this has not happened to us willingly. So, who has subjected us to it? Some have said Satan, but this can’t be because of the next two words: in hope. This hope gives us purpose in our suffering. 


Paul says in the next verse that all creation is groaning together in the pains of childbirth. And don’t you want to hear a man tell you women something about childbirth? As best I can tell, childbirth is very uncomfortable. When Angela and I were newly married, we were invited to go fishing at the number one offshore fishing resort in the world off the rainforests of Panama. She caught a 500 pound blue marlin. She fought that thing for two hours and after she was finished, she said, “There’s no way childbirth can be worse than that.” Two years later, she took back every word of that statement. Then, she had three more children! Why would she do that…why would any of you do that? Because childbirth is a sort of pain and groaning that leads to life. There is a purpose that makes all the pain worth it. And as you’re holding that child in your hands, you forget about all that pain because that suffering was not worth comparing to the glory that you now hold in your hands. 


That’s the point Paul is making. All this is leading to a world without strife, without sin, and without suffering. And more than that, we will be with God. The Spirit inside of us will cause us to continue in the faith even when our suffering feels insurmountable. And he will take us to a kingdom that will make all the sufferings of this world seem like a bad night in a tent. 


Then Paul brings back adoption and the Holy Spirit. He says that in our adoption, we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. Just in the off case some of you here today are not farmers, first fruits are very important because they signify what will be true of the rest of the crop. Jesus is the first fruit. In his resurrected body, we see what the rest of the crop will be like. The Holy Spirit is God’s pledge of completion. Elsewhere, the Holy Spirit is called the down payment. The way that we can know what is true of Jesus will be true of us. And in this case, Paul is specifically talking about the redemption of our bodies. Our glorified resurrected bodies that will make the bodies at the Crossfit Games look weak and pudgy by comparison. Bodies that will never fail us. Bodies that will never deteriorate. But most importantly, bodies that will be at home in bodily form with our Savior. And this is why Paul says 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time nare not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. - Rom 8:18


When we suffer, we are tempted to feel like God doesn’t love us. We are tempted to wonder if our faith is of any value and Paul wants us to know not only that there is a purpose to it, but that our suffering, no matter how real and how great, can never take us outside of his purpose and his love. If God is for us, who can be against us? Notice that it is not just creation who groans, it is not just us who groan, but the Spirit groans as well. How can that be? How can God groan? How can God know what this suffering feels like? This is the key to this passage and the key to the Christian faith. 


None of us know groaning and suffering like God does. No one in this room has ever suffered more than Jesus. On the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” He is ofcourse quoting Psalm 22 to proclaim that he is the Messiah who has come to save us from our sin and suffering by suffering the wrath of God for our sin in our place. How many of us have suffered the wrath of God? I mean, I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering, but no one here who trusts in Jesus has ever or will ever know suffering like he did. This is why Paul says qHe who did not spare his own Son but rgave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? - Rom 8:32 


Then, we come to this famously beautiful part of the passage which tells us one last thing about the purpose of our suffering: it makes us more human. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together hfor good…- Rom 8:28 All these things, these hardships that are sure in this life will work out for our good. What is that good though? That we will be conformed increasingly through them into the image of Jesus, which is to be made more human. 


Those God foreknew before we were ever born, he predestined that we would be conformed into the image of Jesus. This word foreknow doesn’t just mean foresee, it means to personally know. It means forelove. That’s how unconditional God loves us. It’s not our love that makes God love us, it’s God’s love that makes us love him. Many of you have kids who mess up and even some who have messed up bigtime. Does that make you love them less? No, it stirs your affections because your heart goes out to them. You want them to know you love them even more in those times. That’s the way God loves us.


All who foreknown are predestined, all who are predestined are called, all who are called are justified, and all who are justified are glorified. It’s so sure that Paul says ‘glorified’ in the past tense even though it hasn’t happened yet. It’s like when a baseball player hits a ball so hard and so far that before it’s even out of the park, the announcer says, “This ball is gone!” It’s a sure outcome, it’s a guarantee. 


Now, I know the concept of predestination can feel funny at first, but the more we see the way Paul uses it, the more it should become a warm blanket to our soul. No suffering, no sin, so strife is ever going to take you out of his love because his love was predetermined before the foundation of the world. Nothing truly good will ever be taken from us and only good lies ahead. This is why Paul ends by saying 34 tWho is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—uwho is at the right hand of God, vwho indeed is interceding for us.10 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? - Rom 8:34,35 37 No, in all these things we are more than yconquerors through zhim who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Rom 8:37-39


Nothing. Nothing will separate us. Your cancer, your divorce, your wayward child, your singleness, your infertility, your financial hardships, or even your own sin. Nothing will separate you from the love and good God has for you in Jesus. And every trial you face, if you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, will only work to make you more human and more a son and daughter of God.


I was reading a sermon this week and the pastor used a great illustration from the Velveteen Rabbit. The story goes that the Skin Horse says to the Velveteen Rabbit, “When a child loves you for a long, long time, then you become real.” “Does it hurt?” asks the Velveteen Rabbit. “Oh yes,” says the Skin Horse. “That’s why it doesn’t happen to those who break easily or who have to be very carefully handled. By the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get really loose in the joints and you look awfully shabby, but once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to the people who don’t understand.” That’s the purpose. 


God has given us his Holy Spirit so that when we suffer, it doesn’t break us, it makes us more real. Our hair have been loved off, our eyes may droop out, our joints may be loose, but we’ve been changed on the inside. And just as Jesus’ marred body on the cross gave way to his glorious resurrected body, so will ours. And we will live with him more appreciatively, more joyful, and more satisfied than we can possibly imagine now. And that joy and satisfaction will only grow for the rest of eternity. 

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