September 8, 2019
Dave Zuleger (South Campus) | Romans 8:15-30
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.—Romans 8:15–30
Introduction: Suffering and Fear
We’re in a series looking at different ways the Holy Spirit works among us to glorify Jesus. We’ve said since the first sermon that the Holy Spirit recalibrates the GPS of our hearts to always bring us back home to beauties of Jesus. That same theme rings true when we think about suffering.
How many of you have suffered in some way? Suffering is a universal experience. How many of you have had some fear or anxiety or worry begin to stick in your mind because of the suffering you went through? The suffering sets in and it makes our mind run to all sorts of places: Who am I? What is the future? Why is this happening? How will I make it? What horrible thing is coming next?
It doesn’t matter if it’s pain or persecution. It doesn’t matter if it’s cancer or criticism. It doesn’t matter if it’s the loss of someone we love or the loss of some physical ability— suffering is universal and fear comes with. Sometimes it’s low-level anxiety. Sometimes it’s crippling fear. What’s underneath this fear?
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.—Hebrews 2:14–15
Jesus came to set us free from lifelong slavery of fearing death. I think this is what’s happening with fear in suffering. It is whispering death to us. Suffering reminds us that all is not well, that things are broken, that life is short, and that there is so much that can go wrong or be lost. All suffering is the whisper of death, and the world is enslaved to fear of death (the advertising industry runs on this fear).
Sin has come into this world and brought brokenness that runs rampant. It doesn’t take long to look around this room and see the brokenness. And we have to admit that we are not immune to the fear, anxiety, and worry that come along with it.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God
Here, Paul tells us that we are no longer enslaved by a spirit of the fear of death and facing God as an angry judge. Why? Jesus came and suffered for our sins to reconcile us to the Father. His blood has brought us into the family of God, once-for-all. So, if you haven’t yet trusted in Christ to forgive your sins, I’d encourage you to do so now. The cross is big enough to forgive no matter what you’ve done.
And all who trust in Jesus receive the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters of God so that we can cry “Abba, Father!” The word for cry here is not just a word for affirming a fact—it’s a desperate, personal cry for help. This is significant.
You will only cry for help this way if you think help will come. Often children don’t cry out anymore if their caretakers don’t come. The Spirit reminds us we have help available because we are God’s children.
Paul wants us to see that in Jesus we have intimate access to the Father to ask for help. If you were here last week, you remember another place we hear the words, “Abba, Father!”—It is when Jesus is praying to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is facing intense suffering and some fear is beginning to set in for what is coming in his physical and emotional suffering. He is sweating drops of blood and falling on his face in sorrow. And he goes to his Father with desperate, intimate pleas for help for the suffering to go away—but if not, for the Father to help him walk through the suffering in a way that brings God glory. That’s exactly what we need in suffering.
Do you feel the privilege we have in Christ by the Spirit? We can cry out to the Father just like Jesus did. This is what the Spirit of adoption does. He reminds us that in Jesus we are full members of the blood-bought family. We are not partial members. Adoption means the parents are “all-in” to bringing the orphan slave into their home to provide for, protect, and love.
In the same way, the Father’s heart is totally for us. It is not 99.9% for us and .1% against us. The Son purchases this privilege, and the Spirit applies this privilege in our hearts over and over again. It is by his power we cry, “Abba, Father,” and he bears witness with our spirit that we are truly children of God.
The Spirit helps us cry out to our Father in times of suffering, and as he does so, he is testifying to us saying, “It’s true! The God of the universe is your Father! Your sins have no hold on you. Satan has no hold on you. Suffering and death have no hold on you! The Father is for you, and all the promises of God are ‘Yes’ for you in Jesus Christ!”
How does this work to help our fears in suffering? Let me give an example. It’s the middle of the night and one of my kids just had a bad dream. What do they instinctively do? Find a parent who loves them. Have that parent come sit in their room until they fall asleep. Why? Because their parent is stronger than them, wiser than them, and is totally for them.
How much stronger and wiser is the God of the universe? The Spirit works to remind us that because of Jesus, we have a Father who is all-wise and all-knowing and totally for us. So, when we are tempted in suffering to fall into fear, instead we join Jesus and cry to our Father, knowing his way is best and that he will be with us in the dark, scary stretches of life.
The Spirit comforts us by reminding us that in the midst of suffering and fear we are truly children of God and have 24/7 access to the Father who controls it all and is totally for our good.
And because we have been adopted into the blood-bought family of God, not only can we know who we are, but we can know where we’re headed. Isn’t the fear in suffering so often connected to what the future holds? Well, in a very real way, the Spirit is working in our hearts to confirm over and over again where we are headed.
And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
The Spirit is working here to confirm where we’re headed. All who belong to God as his children are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ! This is great news.
However, there’s hard news right after that. The world was subjected to the futility. Creation is corrupted and must bow its knee to the brokenness. No part of creation is free from this brokenness. That’s why along with broken bodies and relationships we see tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis destroy cities, and droughts and hailstorms destroy crops. The devastation is easy to see firsthand and sometimes can make us weary.
Brokenness is here and suffering is certain for all of us. Yet, notice that it was subjected this way “in hope.” This means that God is the one who subjected all of this world to futility. The devil is not one to do things so that there is hope. But God is. And so, God subjected the world to corruption and futility to show the seriousness of sin against him (Genesis 3), but he did so in hope. He did so with the sure hope that he would redeem people from their sin and ultimately rescue them from their suffering one day. He did so knowing he would create a new heavens and new earth inhabited by a blood-bought people with redeemed bodies, free of sin and suffering, who would worship him forever as the one who alone can save.
We are meant to experience suffering and have a groaning feeling. Things are not as they should be. Things are broken. Death is the last enemy. But, the Spirit dwells in us to remind us that if we suffer with Christ, suffering and brokenness and death is not the end. Those of us who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan. The Spirit helps us groan in a certain way, though. We groan in the pains of childbirth by the Spirit.
Now, why does Paul use this analogy? Because everyone knows the pain of childbirth is intense and real. But, the pain of childbirth is filled with hope because something amazing is coming. Moms don’t generally go through the pain of childbirth and, as the baby is handed to them, say, “It wasn’t worth it.” The Spirit helps us suffer like that. The Spirit reminds us that redeemed bodies are coming. The Spirit reminds us that we have a sure hope and a sure future. The Spirit reminds us that the light and momentary suffering of this present time is not worth comparing to the glory that is coming.
Now, when you first hear that, you might think, this suffering and this fear that I feel with it does not feel “light and momentary.” That’s because it’s not. Some of you have pain that’s gone for years and years and the waves just keep coming. It’s one thing and then another, and you spend your days weeping and wondering. But, it is “light and momentary” compared to the glory coming. We have to believe Jesus here, don’t we? We cling to this truth by the Spirit.
If this heavy and long suffering we experience now is called “light and momentary” compared to what we’ll experience with our Savior—how heavy and long will be the glory we will experience with Jesus forever? And it says we suffer with Jesus now by the Spirit.
How did Jesus endure suffering with hope? For the joy set before him. The joy of being in glory with his Father again and bringing many sons and daughters with him. How does the Spirit help us endure suffering with hope? The joy set before us of being with Jesus. This doesn’t make the pain go away or the fears magically disappear, but it does tell us that this suffering with Christ is no longer an obstacle but instead a pathway to eternal joy. It does tell us that this suffering is certainly taking us to future glories where we will enjoy him forever.
Grumbling is very natural. I want us to be groaners. Individually and together. Groaning in hope is supernatural by the Spirit. Groaning hates the corruption and brokenness, but remembers who we are and where we’re headed and clings to hope. Notice the groaning doesn’t go away. The struggle doesn’t go away. The fears will come back. Don’t’ feel bad about groaning. Groaning is a right response. We should groan together. We should groan in hope. But, we groan in hope by the Spirit because Jesus has purchased a secure future for us in his glory forever where every tear will be wiped away.
And yet, even when we are reminded of who we are and the certainty of where we’re headed, sometimes we still have no idea what to do or what to say or how to pray. We just feel lost and paralyzed and sad and overwhelmed by it all so that there are no words. What about when we’re too weak to remind ourselves or to go to God in prayer?
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
And here is the promise, the Spirit will pray on our behalf. He will contend for us in prayer. He will groan when we’ve used up all our groans. And he will pray the will of God for us on our behalf.
You remember Jesus in the Garden praying in his suffering? “Not my will but your will be done.” The Spirit here prays the will of God on our behalf. What did Jesus say to the disciples? “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Here is the beauty of being in the blood-bought family of Jesus—the Spirit is always with us to pray the will of God on our behalf.
Have you ever had a friend who knows just what you need even when you don’t know? This is the Holy Spirit! When we are all out of words and perseverance, the Spirit prays for us. When we don’t even have enough energy to ask for help anymore, the Spirit asks for us. This help in our weakness guarantees our future. Even when we don’t know what to pray in our suffering and we are overwhelmed with sorrow and fear, the Spirit prays on our behalf.
The Spirit is the guarantee and seal of our salvation and he will work the will of God for the good of the people of God and the glory of the Son of God to make sure we persevere through suffering, with Jesus, into eternal joy in the glory of God.
In other words, we can endure the suffering of this life and rest even in the midst of the fears that come with it because the Spirit reminds us of the love of God on our behalf. A love that purchases our place as children of God and guarantees our future with him forever. This love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit to remind us experientially and subjectively of the objective promises we have in Christ.
So, how can we be set free from fear in the midst of suffering? The ultimate answer is knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that has been purchased in Christ Jesus. We know who we are and where we’re headed. The Spirit lives in us to remind us of these realities.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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.
Bethlehem, will tribulations come? Yes, they have. Distresses? Yes. Persecution? Yes. Famine, nakedness, danger, sword? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Will that separate us from the love of God? No. Has God abandoned us? No. Will death or life or angels or rulers or things presents or things to come or powers or height or depth or anything else be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? No. God gave us his Son and he will give graciously give us all things to sustain us and transform us through suffering until the day we’re with him.
We don’t just “make it through the sufferings.” We are more than conquerors. When suffering whispers death to us, we groan in hope because we know it’s taking us to a sure future. When suffering and death come for us, we know that our future is secure and we will be with Jesus forever—so the sufferings of these earthly years is worth it. When fear grips us, we answer it with hope. And when we can’t answer, the Spirit prays on our behalf and sustains us.
As suffering shakes us and fears come with questions, the Spirit helps us answer with confidence.
The Spirit is at work to remind us of who we are and groan in sure hope of the future. All of this points to the glory of Jesus in his saving and sustaining work. He is enough. He is true. He has done it. And he is with us. Therefore, we no longer need to be slaves to fear, but are set free to cry, “Abba, Father,” and groan in hope.