The Christian life is a study in contrasts. We live in the world but aren’t of it. We’re redeemed children free from sin’s authority who fight sin every day. We walk in the power of the Spirit who indwells us in a body of death that fights against us. We have faith in the eternal promises of God in the midst of a world concerned only with the here and now. We have outrageous hope in a coming glory as we live lives filled with trials and pain. This is what Paul describes in 8:18-25. We live in a sinful world with sin-fueled problems but we live with enormous hope. The Christian life is thus both – affected by sin but redeemed to hope.
Verse 18 begins with ‘For’ (the first three verses of the text begin this way – Paul builds one idea on top of the other). Paul elaborates on what he said at the end of verse 17 – that we are fellow heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him so we may be glorified with Him. He now says why we can willingly suffer with Christ – it’s because our suffering is nothing compared with the glory we’ll someday share with Him.
This verse is at the same time very realistic and incredibly encouraging. Paul doesn’t sugarcoat our current life. In this world we’ll have trials and setbacks and sickness and persecution and all the other things that come with living as a believer in a sin-cursed world. Jesus and Paul and all the New Testament writers repeatedly and readily acknowledge this truth (it’s one of the many reasons the Bible is such a wonderful book – it meets us where we are and discusses life as it is). But the encouragement follows right behind. The glory that’s waiting for us is greater than the suffering we experience now. Yes, life can be difficult and discouraging, but the glory of the next life is well worth it. We can suffer now because of what we know to be true about the new earth where we’ll live for all eternity.
Notice the words. Our suffering is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed. The glory will be so much more amazing and more intense and more impactful than the current suffering that it’s not even worth mentioning both in the same breath. You can’t compare the two. Paul says something similar to this in II Cor 4:17 – For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison… The gap between the two can’t be measured because the future glory so far surpasses anything we experience now.
It’s amazing to consider this verse in light of all the suffering we can point to in the world. Paul himself was essentially beaten to death at one point for his beliefs (Acts 14:19) and he lives in a world where believers are brutally persecuted (this is not a naïve statement made by someone who’s not experienced real life). We also know what kinds of things Christians through the ages have faced as a result of their faith. Yet Paul says those persecutions and trials and even martyrdom are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us. They are momentary, light affliction in comparison. They are not worthy to be discussed in the same sentence. Name the worst thing you can think of that someone can experience and it’s not worth comparing to the glory that’s ours in the next life.
Let that sink in. This is a verse to meditate on. The more we contemplate it the more amazing it becomes. The world is full of awful things and we all experience varying degrees of suffering just because we live in it. And yet, NOTHING is worth comparing to our future glory. No suffering, no abuse, no poverty, no disabling disease, no ANYTHING is worthy of comparison. Our future glory is at such a level and to such a degree that it makes the worst of this world not worth mentioning. That’s what awaits us!
Beyond the incredible message of this verse is its applicability. It applies to every circumstance and issue, big or small. There’s no way to take this verse out of context. It can be lifted out of this passage and applied to anything and everything. Small trial? It fits. Big trial? It fits. Life-altering, life-endangering, so-big-we-can’t-get-out-of-bed trial? It fits. Lower level trial that never seems to go away and just seems to suck the life out of us with its omnipresence and invulnerability in our lives? This fits. THERE IS NOTHING THIS DOESN’T APPLY TO. Our current suffering – whatever it is – can’t be compared to the glory that’s to be revealed to us.
What awaits us is so amazing that even creation itself longs for it. Paul personifies the created world and says it anxiously longs for and eagerly awaits our elevation into glory. Why does it long for this? Because God subjected creation to futility as a result of man’s sin. What did God tell Adam in the garden after he sinned with Eve (Gen 3:16-19)? He said the ground was now cursed and Adam’s relationship to it and to his wife would never be the same. The default setting of the earth was no longer to serve man but to fight him. In that way the created order was upended; what was supposed to serve man and glorify God was made to exist outside its created purpose. Without a purpose it became subjected to futility (Ecc 1:2).
But now there’s hope. Creation will be set free when we’re glorified. It’s interesting how Paul says this. Creation doesn’t eagerly wait for its own glorification – it awaits ours. When we’re revealed in glory creation will be free. The earth itself will be redeemed and glorified. There will be a new earth and a new heaven and the created order – as it was meant to be – will once again be established.
Because both our glory and the freedom that awaits creation as a result of our glory are so amazing, we and creation both long for it. As a matter of fact, we groan within ourselves as we wait for it to come. Creation is subjected to futility and we live in bodies of death, so we both groan and suffer as if we’re in labor waiting for the glory to be revealed. Remember that the glory outshines anything on this earth; therefore if we have a grasp of what awaits us we’ll longingly groan as we wait for it in a world that falls so short of it.
We do this because we have the first fruits of the Spirit. We know what walking with our Redeemer and living in relationship with Him are like because of His Spirit who indwells us (which means that even with the emphasis in this passage on hope for the future, the believer’s life isn’t just looking forward – we have a little slice of heaven now because of the Spirit’s work). But what we have is just a foretaste of what the next life will be. Our full realization of our status as God’s sons will come when we’re revealed in glory. We will live in His presence in a world unstained by sin for all eternity. Knowing a little of what that’s like now causes us to long for it even more and inwardly groan that it’s not yet here.
We eagerly await both our full adoption as sons and the redemption of our body. This hearkens back to Paul’s words at the end of Chapter 7. There he lamented our bodies of death that are enslaved to sin. These are the bodies he now says will be redeemed when we’re revealed in glory. The competing natures we fight and that cause us to do what we don’t want to do (7:14-25) will go away in the next life. That victory and release are worth eagerly waiting and longing for.
Something this wonderful is worth our contemplation and hope. We should have it in front of us at all times. We are redeemed and we know our ultimate future and so we should live in hope. Paul says we’ve been saved in hope. This hope is what sustains us and is a true hope because it requires us to feel sure about what we can’t see. Nothing in this world points to the promise of glory, so we hope based on what we know to be true, not based on what we can see around us.
This is the essence of living by faith and not by sight. We walk based on what we know, not what the world around us screams is important or worthy of our time and concern. It also fits perfectly with verse 18. We can handle the suffering – what the world says we shouldn’t have to experience and what it says we should try to escape at all costs – because of what we know to be true about our future glory. In a word, we can persevere. The world doesn’t reinforce this for us; we live in light of what we know and in light of what’s worthy of our hope. ..while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (II Cor 4:18). Life is hard; we have hope.
The Christian life is full of contrasts. We suffer while we hope. We live with longing. We live in a world that isn’t what it was meant to be and isn’t what it will be. So we hope for what we can’t see and long for what we know to be true. But it’s this hope and longing that allow us to live effectively in this world. We can suffer through what a sin-burdened world brings because we have confidence in God’s promise of future glory. And since we know that that glory far surpasses anything we suffer now, we can wait with perseverance for our hope to be realized. We have hope so we persevere. We have hope so we willingly suffer along with our fellow Heir and Redeemer.
And that means it’s okay to long for our future home. It’s okay – actually, it’s essential – to endure this world while we long for the next. Intuitively it seems like we’ll be less useful in this life if we spend our time hoping for the next. But it’s that hope that allows us to be most valuable for the kingdom in this world now. When we live in hope we aren’t weighed down by the temptations and rewards of this world. We see this world for what it is and live accordingly – it’s a means to an end. Our hope isn’t set on now – it’s set on what we know will come and what we know to be far beyond anything we experience now. Thus we don’t live with an expectation that this world owes us happiness and satisfaction. We live hoping for the glory to be revealed.
We know that NOTHING in this world is worthy of comparison with the glory that awaits us. We can therefore live with and through anything the world throws at us while longing for the day when we’ll fully realize our adoption as sons.
Life is hard but glory awaits.