10. God's New World - 14th April 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible Reading: Romans 8:18-39

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The Christian gospel is not a little thing. It’s vast. It’s cosmic. 

So often you hear people talking about Christianity as if it is a little thing. Just a few slightly strange people with their little religious habits and their fringe views on certain issues. Christianity is something that can be hidden away; kept under wraps; done in private. If we hear that often enough we might be in danger of buying into that idea ourselves. A version of Christianity that is between me and God. It’s a private thing: important, yes, but quiet. Small. 

If you have thought like that, then I hope that as we’ve been going through this Bible Overview together you’ve been changing your mind. Because I hope you can see by now that Christianity is all about God’s big plans, and God’s plans are vast. Ever since the start God’s plans have been creation-wide: he has always planned a renewed, restored creation; an improvement uponEden. Those plans focused onto the person of Jesus. Jesus is God stepping into the brokenness of creation to mend it and renew it. Jesus is everything that God has promised.

But Jesus has come now, hasn’t he? He’s lived and died and risen and gone away again back to heaven. The main event in God’s plan to save the world has happened. So the question for us is, what now? Where are we on the timeline of God’s plan? Is this it? Is there more to come? What now?

 There’s a NOW and there’s a NOT YET 

It’s really important we get this if we’re going to understand how we fit in. There is a now and there is a not yet. Jesus has come once, but he’s coming back. God’s plans are fulfilled in Jesus, but the work is not finished yet. We who believe are saved, but there’s salvation still to come. It’s now. But there’s a not yet. 

This wonderful passage from Romans makes this clear. Have a look at verse 16, where the apostle Paul is talking about what it is like to be a Christian living in the time of now but not yet: 

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  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.  18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

Now can be summed by the word “suffering.” And what is not yet can be summed up by the word “glory.” What do we have now? Suffering. What is coming? Glory. It’s suffering then glory.

Now that is because of what happened with Jesus. If we are followers of Jesus then we are united to Jesus and that means that the things that belong to Jesus belong to us too. There are different things that belong to us in this passage aren’t there? Verse 16: we have Jesus’ Spirit living in us – that’s the way that we are united to Jesus, we have Jesus himself living in us by his Holy Spirit. That means that – verse 16 – we too are God’s children, just like Jesus. Just as he is the Son of God, the fact that he lives in us by his Spirit makes us sons and daughters of God. We have God as our Father just as Jesus has God as his Father. And if we are children of God then – verse 17 – we are heirs, inheritors, just like Jesus. We share in the inheritance which belongs to Jesus by right – we too inherit all of God’s blessings, his everlasting eternal glory and joy – that’s ours because it’s his. 

We have so much, don’t we, if we are believers? Jesus with us by his Spirit, God as our Father, with a perfect everlasting inheritance waiting for us. Suffering is not the only thing we have now, is it? But nonetheless there is this pattern of suffering first and then glory. That’s how it was for Jesus: death then resurrection. Suffering then glory. That’s how it was for Jesus. And so that’s how it is for Jesus’ people. You don’t get straight to glory without the suffering first. Jesus didn’t, and neither do we, says Paul. It’s there in verse 17: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” It couldn’t be clearer, could it? There’s a now and a not yet; suffering now, glory to come. 

Suffering then Glory for the creation (v19-22) 

Look at verse 19: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” 

The creation is now in a state of frustration. We talked about this a few weeks ago when we were thinking about the fall and how human sin has affected the whole world. Because what Paul is saying here is that the things happen with God’s people overflow to creation. When people sinned and broke the relationship at the heart of everything – the relationship between God and people – that overflowed to the creation. The creation itself was subjected to frustration, says Paul. It was knocked out of joint. Things went wrong. Suffering entered the world and infected everything. Like in the words of that hymn Abide with me “change and decay in all around I see.” That’s how the world is.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because as God saves and renews his people, that too overflows to the creation. Paul says that the creation was bound over “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” A day is coming when the creation itself will be set free. When it will be renewed. And that will happen when our bodies are raised and renewed. There is a future for creation. But it’s all tied up with what happens to God’s people. 

Lots of Christians seem have the impression that there is no future for creation. They think that one day we’ll be sucked out of the physical world and taken away to a sort of non-physical heaven, and that will be the end of it. The creation will dissolve away, and all that will be left will be an everlasting ethereal spirit world. Now please notice that there are religions that teach that, but biblical Christianity doesn’t. The Bible picture of the future is a renewed, liberated physical creation. Real, tangible, better than what we have now, not less than. CS Lewis captures this really well in his Narnia books when he talks about the grass in the new world being so real and solid that walking on it would cut your feet if you weren’t made ready for it. Physical, but more so. There is hope, there is a future for creation. 

But this also shows us that there are problems with creation which can’t be fixed this side of the return of Jesus. Now I think the Bible has a lot to teach which is relevant to environmental things. It teaches us the value of the world, it teaches us how all things are connected to each other, it teaches us careful stewardship. But the brokenness of creation won’t be fixed by us being careful. It will only be fixed when God dramatically renews his people and that overflows to the rest of it too. Making Jesus known so that people can be saved is a deeply environmental thing to do. Because the hope for the physical creation is all tied up with people being saved and raised through Jesus. This is what I mean about the Christian gospel being a big, not a small thing. It’s not just some little religious habits. It’s God’s way of saving the world. 

So now, the creation groans on. It’s stretching forward, looking for the day when God sets it free, yearning for the future when God puts things right. Suffering now, with the glory on its way. Paul says in verse 22 that it’s groaning like in childbirth. What a powerful image that is. When I think of the word ‘groaning’ I tend to think of that thing you do when someone tells a bad joke – you know: <sigh>. But if you’ve had first hand experience of childbirth groans then you’ll know it’s a bit more than that. There’s nothing <sigh> about childbirth groans. That’s what the world is like, says Paul – it’s convulsed with pain. We know that, don’t we? A lot of the time we ignore it, but sometimes it gets through to us, just how painful existence can be. But childbirth groans are not the end of the story, they’re a phase that you have to go through before something wonderful happens. That’s the world. Now there is suffering. Not yet, but one day, the glory will follow. 

That’s how it is for us too. Verse 23: “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.” 

Suffering then Glory for us (v23) 

  • There is pain now 

Childbirth pain. The pain of life can be awful. Almost unbearable. You know that. If you’re coping with long term physical pain or the pain of family breakdown or the pain of loss or the pain of miscarriage or the pain of abuse; it’s almost unbearable.

Living as Christians in this world now means that we have an inbuilt longing for what is not yet. The Holy Spirit in us is the firstfruits of what is coming; he longs for the new heavens and the new earth. This world, as it is, is not my home. We should be uncomfortable with things as they are; we should long for more. There is a godly dissatisfaction which Christians should have. If you’re not craving the new creation, then you’re probably too attached to the things of this world. It’s a good thing when the Holy Spirit in us longs for glory. Sometimes that longing is acutely painful. 

If you’re really struggling with life at the moment then I don’t want for a minute to downplay the sufferings you’re going through. And nor do I want you to have the impression that you are a deficient Christian because you’re finding it difficult. Sometimes sadly Christians have failed to understand this bible pattern of suffering then glory, and that can lead to all sorts of mess. It can leave people wracked with guilt that their lives are not as glorious as they feel they ought to be, or it can cause people to measure their success along worldly lines, and crave things which God doesn’t want us to have. If you’re struggling at the moment, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a Christian. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect and all sorted out to come to church. What a lie that one is. But we all too often believe it. We of all people should know that there is suffering now, and so we should be ready to help each other with it, and receive help from each other. 

  • There’s a battle with our sinful nature now. 

This is another part of our groanings – we still live with our sinful nature. There is a battle within us if we’re believers. If there’s a battle within you, that’s a good sign. Sometimes Christians become discouraged when they realise how sinful they are and how far short of imitating Jesus they are. But we shouldn’t be discouraged by that. Yes, we should be discontent with it, we should be longing for holiness. But don’t be discouraged because you find that a battle. The battle is a sign that the Spirit of God is in you and he wants to change you. The time to worry is when there is no battle going on, because that probably means that your sinful nature is just winning all the time. It’s like if you’re not a believer – I don’t expect you to be struggling for holiness in your life. You’re probably comfortable as you are because you don’t have the Spirit of God in you, for you the now is all there is. If you’re dissatisfied and craving for more, for lasting holiness, that’s a sign that the Spirit of God is doing something in you. You need to listen to that craving.

This whole issue of the battle with sin – it’s a massive topic; it’s several sermons in its own right. Can I recommend that you sit down later and read Romans chapter 6 to chapter 8. It won’t take long, there will be bits of it that make you scratch your head, that you find hard to understand, but as you read it prayerfully God will flood so much light into your soul. It’ll do you so much good. Read it and let it soak in. And let the Spirit in you make you crave after holiness.

There’s pain now, there’s a battle now. But, as big and as serious as that is, and it is, Paul can still say in verse 18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” When you stand the sufferings of now alongside the glory of the not yet, the now seems like nothing. It’s like Paul gets out a set of scales, and on one end there’s the sufferings of now – let’s say it’s a brick on one end. It’s not nothing: it’s real and significant. But on the other end of the scales is an ocean liner. Alongside that, and only alongside that, it seems like nothing.  

What we have now guarantees the not yet (v24-39) 

The thing that keeps Christians going in the sufferings of now is the glory to come. And that’s not just empty pie in the sky, because what we have now guarantees the not yet. It’s that crucial little phrase in the middle of verse 23: “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.” We have the Spirit of God already as firstfruits. And firstfruits are the bit of the harvest which tells you that the rest of it is coming. The fact that we have the Spirit in us now means that the not yet is definitely coming. And look at what the Spirit in us does – verse 25 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” The Spirit himself groans, doesn’t he? This is one of those verses that people bring out a lot when they’re talking about prayer, but in its context it’s all about longing for the glory that’s coming. It’s saying that the Holy Spirit in us does that yearning, that longing, that straining forwards that we need as we keep going now. 

One of the most moving sporting moments I’ve ever seen was Derek Redmond running in the final of the 400m hurdles at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. You may remember it. Derek Redmond was one of the favourites, and he was running well when all of a sudden on the final bend his Achilles tendon broke, and he collapsed on the track in agony. But the finish was still in sight, and he wanted to finish. So he dragged himself to his feet and tried to limp on, but he couldn’t do it. And then, as everyone looked on, a man in a white T shirt came running across the track, and put his arm round him, and lifted him up. It was Derek Redmond’s dad. The two of them made that walk up the finishing straight together. 

By his Holy Spirit God comes alongside us and he lifts us, and he carries us forward to that finish line. He prays even when we don’t know how to. We can’t do it on our own. 

If you ever doubt the future glory, Paul gives us two things to look at, doesn’t he? We can look at Jesus – Jesus rose and so will we. That’s one thing. The other thing we can look at is the work of the Spirit in us now. If we’re believers, the Spirit is already at work in us, giving us faith in Jesus, calling out to God as Father, battling against our sinful nature, yearning for the glory that is to come. All of those things are evidence that he’s there. And the fact that he’s there at work in us is guarantee of what’s coming. He’s already at work. He’ll finish the job. 

When God starts something, he finishes it. If you’re a believer in Jesus then he’s already done so much in you. So of course he’ll finish it. That’s what we can see in that unbreakable chain of events in verse 29 and 30. Can you see that? It’s a list of things that God has done, and it’s unbreakable. If he’s done the first thing in the list then all the rest follows. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” If you’re a believer, you’re already predestined, you’ve already been called, you’ve already been justified – that’s what we were talking about last week. And if he’s already done all of that, well the last bit is absolutely certain. You will be glorified. You will share in the everlasting inheritance. You will be raised as part of a glorious liberated new creation. That’s all going to happen. God can’t and won’t go back on it. What we have now guarantees the not yet. 

Where are we on the timeline of God’s big plans? Well if we’re followers of Jesus then most of the big stuff has already happened. Jesus has risen. We have been given his Spirit, so we are already children of God, inheritors of his kingdom. But there’s a now and a not yet isn’t there? There’s suffering then glory. Just like it was for Jesus, so it is for us. That means that the glory will come, just as it did for Jesus. That means it’s worth holding on in the pain and the battle. 

What is the pain and the battle for you now? 

How can this give you strength for it?