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One of the simplest things we can do with our kids is play connect-the-dots to help them draw pictures. As they trace one dot to the next, they see connections ending in a picture. We’ve been tracing the dots in Romans 8 so that we can see the big picture of assurance. We’ve traced verses 1–17 to see the Christological and pneumatological aspects of our assurance—that we’re in Christ and in the Holy Spirit for justification and sanctification. With verses 18–39 we connect more dots to see the fuller picture: the eschatological (ultimate) aspect of our assurance or what Paul calls glorification. Let me exposit and apply Paul’s proclamation of assurance as a future-looking reality.

Suffering and Glory (Rom. 8:18)

Our Present Sufferings. Paul speaks of “the sufferings of this present time,” not “the suffering.” He’s speaking of “the time” between Jesus’ resurrection and return. In the “present time” we experience “the sufferings” of persecution at the hands of the world and the devil. “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). Ministers experience “the sufferings” of being “jars of clay . . . afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; stuck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:7–9). Added to these are all “the sufferings” we experience because Adam’s sin caused the world to be a fallen place: women’s suffering in childbirth and men’s suffering agony in the course of their work (Gen. 3:16–19). “The suffering” of a fallen world include hunger and loneliness, illness and disease, and the sorrow of death.

Our Future Glory. In contrast, Paul speaks of “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He’s just said in Romans 8:17 that we’re united to Christ in His suffering and glory. What Jesus experienced as Son we, too, will experience as sons. Think of kids playing with modeling clay or Play-Doh. How do they know how to transform it into a whale, a tiger, or a person? They either have a picture in their minds or in front of them. Jesus is that picture, we’re the clay, and God is the molder. One day, the ultimate experience of fellowship with God will be “revealed” when He glorifies and “transform[s] our lowly bod[ies] to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). When Paul “consider[s] the[se] sufferings” in light of “glory,” he says they “are not worth comparing.” Our sufferings are earthly; God’s glory is eternal. Our sufferings are temporal; God’s glory is eternal. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Our sufferings are as light on a scale as a feather compared to an elephant, are as insignificant as a dot compared to extending lines with arrows on a number line.

Groaning for Glory (Rom. 8:19–27)

Creation’s Groan (Rom. 8:19–22). Paul illustrates that this age’s sufferings aren’t worth comparing with glory “because the creation waits with eager longing” (Rom. 8:19). The image is of someone lifting up their head, longing to see something on the horizon, as one might climb a hill in the morning to see the sunrise. What does creation long to see? “The revealing of the sons of God.” All creation waits for us to enter glorious, face-to-face fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why is creation groaning? “For” or “because the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). Something happened to change creation: it became “subjected to futility,” reflecting Genesis 3, where God cursed the ground to produce “thorns and thistles.” Creation no longer lives up to its promise. It’s become “vanity, vanity” (Eccl. 1:2). Everything seems pointless, meaningless, and futile. We know the frustration of not living up to our potential, but this is frustration on a cosmic scale. The creation was “subjected . . . not willingly” but passively; the active cause was “him who subjected it”: God.

He isn’t the author of futility, but He executed His curse because of Adam’s sin. Creation’s subjection is not God’s fault. Like a parent who makes terrible choices stunting the emotional, social, and spiritual growth of their children, so with Adam and all human beings who descend from him by ordinary generation. God, though, didn’t place a curse on creation for cursing’s sake; He did so “in hope” (Rom. 8:20). God placed in the DNA of creation itself this hope: “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” (Rom. 8:21). Bondage now, freedom then; corruption now, renewal then; futility now, glory then. Paul summarizes in verse 22: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Paul switches the image and says creation is like an expectant mother in labor pains (Gen. 3:16). The pain is serious, but it will soon pass.

Paul isn’t adopting pagan mythology of “mother earth.” He’s personifying creation with human characteristics. Why? To encourage we who eagerly longing for sufferings to end so that we can enter glory face-to-face. Be encouraged; we’re not alone in longing for the renewal of creation. Everything around you is too. Every couple of months I go out into the front yard to trim my Phoenix robelinii. I find them an astounding example of hope and patience. I’m constantly cutting off branches, cleaning up dead ones, and removing messy flowers. But I hardly water or fertilize them. Yet, they’re taller and more lush than before, as if they are patiently enduring my neglect. What’s amazing is how the trees hidden under the shade of my neighbor’s roof and nestled in the back of my planter have grown toward the sun. Entire trunks contorting. Branches from one tree stretching out over those closer to the sunlight. All in the hope of light. In a similar way, creation is waiting for its renewal, patiently yet earnestly groaning for restoration.

Be encouraged; we’re not alone in longing for the renewal of creation. Everything around you is too.

The Christian’s Groan (Rom. 8:23–25). Like the creation, the believer also groans: “and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly” (Rom. 8:23). “Firstfruits” were what God’s people offered to Him from their families, their fields, and their flocks as a symbolic way of saying everything belonged to Him. Amazingly God has given us the Spirit as firstfruits. He’s to us what the clusters of grapes from the promised land were to Israel: a down payment of something greater. The Spirit is a down payment of glory. When we believed, we “were sealed”—stamped with God’s authentic mark—“with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:13–14).

Yet, we groan “we . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons” because there’s something we don’t have: “the redemption of our bodies.” Our “inheritance” is something we still have to “acquire possession” of (Eph. 1:14). Have you ever had a sample of something that tasted so amazing that you just had to have more of it? There’s a certain cut of beef in Brazil called picanha that I long to taste again. The look, the smell, and the taste are part of me; I just can’t get it out of my mind. Similarly, we’ve tasted eternity in the Spirit, but we long for His fullness. This leads to tension. Like a big rubber band that’s pulled two ways, becoming tighter, we’re pulled toward this age with sufferings but to the age to come with the Holy Spirit. Paul characterizes this tension in terms of hope: “for in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24). What’s “this”? “The redemption of our bodies.” Look at how Paul explains hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24). Earthly hope is for things you can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. There’s another kind of hope: the things of the world to come that are fixed and satisfying. Why is the Christian hope better than any other? Why would I give up what I can experience now for what I have to wait for? Because our future hope is based in past reality. The hope we have of putting off mortality and entering glory in new bodies is based on the resurrection of Jesus’ body. Hope leads to patience, “but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:25). Jesus is the best example of this: “For the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).

The Spirit’s Groan (Rom. 8:26–27). The Spirit is also groaning: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26). Why? “For” or “because we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). As those made alive by Him to be God’s children, we “ought” to know how, when, and why to pray. Because of our ongoing struggle with sin, Paul particularly singles out “our weakness of not know[ing] what to pray for as we ought.”

Isn’t it usually the case that every large problem starts small? Like an avalanche starting as a small falling rock—the avalanche didn’t just happen. It’s the same with us in prayer. Some selfish decision or sinful attitude of ours gets in the way and clouds our minds to think clearly about our spiritual needs. Then, all the cares of the world get in the way causing us to be too busy even to utter word in prayer. Feelings of guilt creep in, making us sink further into depression. What’s so encouraging is the Spirit’s assistance: “but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.” Listen to the affection of His groan. “The Spirit helps.” He’s no impersonal voice on your GPS or iPhone—“helps” speaks of His being sympathetic with our weakness, taking our burdens on Himself. How does He do this? He “intercedes for us with groanings” or sighs “too deep for words.” They’re beyond words or even without words. God’s people have been groaning for millennia; yet while we groan, not even knowing the right words to pray for the actual needs of our soul, God the Holy Spirit groans “for us.” We have not only Jesus Christ as our Advocate, Intercessor, and Mediator (Rom. 8:34) but the Holy Spirit. John Murray said: “The children of God have two divine intercessors. Christ is their intercessor in the court of heaven. . . . The Holy Spirit is their intercessor in the theatre of their own hearts.”

Note the acceptance of the Spirit’s groan in verse 27. “He who searches hearts” (God the Father) “knows what is the mind of the Spirit” because although the Father and Spirit are distinct in terms of person, They’re one God. “But my prayers are so futile; my mind is so clouded with sin; my heart is so faithless.” Yes, they are. But God knows what’s in your mind and especially what’s in the “mind of the Spirit.” He “intercedes according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:27). You may not know what to pray for as you ought, but the Spirit does.

A Golden Chain of Good (Rom. 8:28–30)

Turning to verses 28–30 and “the golden chain of salvation,” we must see clearly here the promise that “all things work together for good.” This means that the glory of eternity that comes after this life of sufferings is rooted in the proof that God ultimately works all suffering to our good, which is the unbreakable golden chain: “those whom [God] foreknew, he also predestined . . . he also called . . . he also justified . . . he also glorified.” We’re confident in this life because of what God has already shown He’s done. Paul was so confident of what God had already done that he spoke in the past tense: “foreknew,” “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” “glorified.” Even glorification—which we have yet to experience—is secure. Why does Paul say this? He is so certain that all our sufferings are part of God’s good plan to renew us that it’s as if we’ve already been glorified finally and fully.

The hope we have of putting off mortality and entering glory in new bodies is based on the resurrection of Jesus’ body. Hope leads to patience.
The Greatest Catechism Ever Written (Rom. 8:31–39)

This future-looking reality of assurance all comes to a glorious climax in what I like to call the greatest catechism ever written.

Q 1: “What then shall we say to these things”—being foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified?

Q&A 2: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The obvious answer is “no one.” The ancient Greeks were always outnumbered by their enemies, especially the Persians. Line upon line of enemy forces would attack the Greeks, but the Greeks always had the confidence to know that they had Alexander on their side. He devised new ways of fighting against all odds time and time again. We’re outnumbered on all sides by the world, the devil, and our own sinful nature. But “God is for us.” So “who can be against us?” We worry about everything under the sun, but “God is for us.” What problem do we have that’s too big?

Q&A 3: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up.” How far would God the Father go in reconciling the world that fell into sin? Note for whom the Son was not spared and given: “for us all.” It wasn’t because you were loveable that God “did not spare his own Son,” but because He loved you. “How will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?” The same God who “gave” His Son in the past is the same God who will “give” us “all things” in the future. Eternal life? Yes! Complete liberation from all the sins of our thoughts, words, and deeds? Yes! New bodies freed from the fall and curse? Yes! Glorified bodies made like the glorified body of Jesus? Yes! The experience of seeing Jesus face-to-face and no longer just through faith? Yes! Eternal dwelling with Him in the new heavens and a new earth? Yes! How? “With him,” the Son, our Lord.

Q&A 4: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Like the woman caught in adultery in John 8, the world surrounds us with stones in their hands to condemn us. Our sinful nature is our enemy. It’s like a body of death (Rom. 7:24). In one sense, even the law of God is our enemy: “the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). It powerfully declares to us what’s right and wrong, that we’ve not measured up, and that we deserve condemnation. Our conscience is our enemy. It bears witness and either accuses or excuses us (Rom. 2:15). The devil is our enemy. He’s “the accuser of our brothers . . . accus[ing] them day and night before our God” (Rev. 12:10). These all “bring . . . charge[s] against God’s elect.” The world, our sinful nature, the law, our conscience, and the devil rush forward to the Judge’s bench, crowding each other out, fighting over one another, yelling out the charges against us.

Their first charge leads us to say, “I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God.” Since God is righteous and must punish sin, this is a particularly pointed accusation in condemning us. We know it’s true. Yet, our conscience plays the trick on us of trying to appease ourselves, saying, “But God is love; but God is merciful.” Yes, He is, but since He is God, He is also supremely just. In fact, even our idle words—you know, all those things we say when we’re just hangin’ with the boys—those will be judged (Matt. 12:36).

The second charge leads us to say, “I have kept none of the commandments of God.” The law says to us, “It’s not good enough for you to say that you have already been declared righteous, because I demand perfect obedience.” The law is relentless. It law follows us, yelling at us, condemning us, reminding us of how big a failure we truly are.

The third charge leads us to say, “I am still inclined to all evil.” “You say you’re forgiven, but you don’t act perfect,” the world says. The devil says: “You? A child of God? Have you see yourself lately?” As forgiven sinners there’s still the knowledge that God’s eyes are so holy that He can’t even look on sin.

Listen to the answer: “It is God who justifies.” The first charge against us that God will punish us in His perfect righteousness because we’ve sinned against His law is answered by Jesus’ perfect satisfaction for those violations. The second charge against us that God demands our perfect obedience where we have none is answered by Jesus’ perfect righteousness in our place. The third charge against us that God will expel us from His holy presence because of our clinging residue of sin is answered by Jesus Christ’s perfect holiness—His being conceived by the Holy Spirit in holiness, without sin; His living a life of holiness in thought, word, and deed; His shunning all sin; and His doing all righteousness. Caspar Olevianus said we have “much more righteousness in Christ than sin in [ourselves]. Indeed, a Christian has more righteousness than do all the angels in heaven.”

Q&A 5: “Who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:34). The world condemns us, saying to the government that we’ve “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) because we proclaim another King, Jesus; because we proclaim salvation outside ourselves; because we proclaim a new life that requires renouncing the world. The world will persecute us as it did our Lord, saying that we’re insignificant, behind the times, and dangerous. “Who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:34). Our own consciences, seared by sin, condemn us, telling us we’re too sinful to be loved by God. They will tell us that we’re not good enough to be loved by God. They will tell us that we’re too inconsistent to ever believe that we were born again in the first place. It will tell us that we’ve not done enough good. They will tell us that we’ve not cleaned up our thoughts, our words, or our deeds enough. “Who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:34). The devil will try to condemn us. That ancient serpent who so craftily tempted our sinless first parents now comes against us. That accuser who entered the presence of God to get his hands on Job so that Job would renounce his faith in the Lord now wants the same with us. That powerful opposer even of our Lord Himself in the wilderness now uses Scripture to oppose us. That enemy who sought to sift Peter like wheat through a sieve, in the hopes that Peter’s faith would go right through, seeks us. That deceptive enemy who disguises himself as an angel of light wants to get us to put our guard down (2 Cor. 11:14).

We’re confident in this life because of what God has already shown He’s done.

Yet, we’re not afraid because of Jesus’ crucifixion. “Christ Jesus is the one who died” (Rom. 8:34). His crucifixion is our redemption, the price that needed to be paid to free us from condemnation in hell. He gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). His crucifixion is our satisfaction, the punishment that was needed to remove God’s condemnation from us. As He said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). His crucifixion is our propitiation, the sacrifice that turns away the condemning wrath of God from me. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2). His crucifixion is our expiation, the sending away of our sins forever from the presence of God so that we are not condemned. “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). His crucifixion is our reconciliation, bringing me from a status of condemnation into a status of peace with God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10–11).

“More than that, who was raised” (Rom. 8:34). Bring all the condemnation you want, O world, flesh, and devil, because Jesus’ resurrection is the proof of His being my perfect Savior. “If Christ has not been raised . . . you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But He has been raised! This is the proof of His sacrifice’s being accepted by God. This is the proof of His victory over sin: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55–57). “Who is at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34). Not only was Jesus raised, but He was then crowned at the right hand of God, the place of highest authority, dignity, honor, and power. His exaltation is the validation of everything He did. When Jesus entered heaven at His ascension, He entered as my representative. This means that when Jesus was raised, I was raised; when Jesus’ humanity was accepted into heaven, mine was also. “Who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). My once dead, now alive, now exalted Savior is now interceding for me with His person. He literally is before the face of our heavenly Father, between us and any accusation or condemnation.

Q&A 6: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35). Paul then lists the litany of enemies and strategies that are arrayed against us on the battlefield of our souls. It’s as if Paul is motivating us, his troops, like a Roman general. He’s telling us that our enemies are going to bring everything they’ve got against us. Be prepared. This litany is impressive. There are spiritual struggles: “tribulation.” There are psychological and emotional struggles: “distress.” There are the worldly struggles of “persecution.” There are tangible struggles of
“famine,” “nakedness,” “danger,” and “sword.” To these Paul adds a citation from Psalm 44:2, where Israel cried out in the midst of its sin: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36). Paul then sums this all up with a series of contrasts, saying that neither “death nor life, angels nor rulers, things present nor things to come,” “nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Rom. 8:38–39) can separate us from God’s love. Make no mistake about it: separation from God is what all these things seek to accomplish. All the opposition is seeking to sever the tie that binds you to Jesus.

But they cannot succeed.“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). We are “more than conquerors”—“super-victors.” If you remember your Greek mythology, the Greek goddess of victory was Nike. That’s where Nike shoes gets their name. When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they just took all the Greek gods and renamed them, so Nike’s name became Victoria, victory. Paul writes to suffering Christians in Rome, “being killed all the day long and who are like sheep to be slaughtered,” yet he mocks the false gods of Rome saying that we—we—are “more than conquerors,” more than Victoria. We’re super-victors!

How? “Through him who loved us.” At the end of verse 39, he calls this “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Isn’t that a striking contrast? All the attacks of the enemy are conquered by the love of Christ. They hate; He loves. They attack; He rescues. They curse; He comforts. It’s so easy for us to engage the power politics of our nation and seek to change laws, policies, and regulations, and we should do so. But what truly transforms a society is the love of Christ entering the heart of one sinner at a time. Jesus has loved us; now we must love the world. Jesus was patient with us; now we must be patient with your enemies. Jesus forgave us; now we must forgive one another. We will fall short. We could all live out Jesus’ love better. But this is just another evidence that we are all sinners and that we need a perfect Savior! Of all this “I am sure” (Rom. 8:38). Paul speaks in the perfect tense, which speaks here of something already done in the past and that has ongoing significance. He speaks in a passive voice, which signifies something that has been done to him. He’s saying, “I have been convinced, and I remain convinced” that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). Charles Wesley sang,

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Conclusion

Christian, you are loved by God the Father. You’ve been redeemed by God the Son. You have God the Holy Spirit residing within. What assurance! I pray you’ve been encouraged in this short series to know your God, to know what He thinks of you, and that you can live confidently now as well as into eternity face-to-face with Him as with a friend.

The Spirit-Led Life: Assurance as a Spirit-Produced Reality

Practical Applications of the Doctrine of Justification