Living In Hope
Re-Translated In January 2000
1. There are just under two months left to this year. So, as this year passes it will be 1999. In about two years this century will be over as well. I haven't given much thought to myself living in the twenty-first century, but it's coming just around the corner. But, what are people thinking as they welcome in the new century? I suppose many people might be embracing thoughts equivalent to resignation such as "when the new century comes nothing will change; no, things will be getting worse and worse." The other day I was noticing several pictures with a theme on the destruction of nature. Nothing looked unusual. Ruin and desolation are becoming so familiar. Both humankind and nature are going to a destructive death together. Doesn't everyone sense such a gloomy fate [for the future]? It seems if I were looking for [one] word that would be the most difficult word to associate with "the twenty-first century," it would be the word "hope." So, we don't really want to think much about the future. We might have parties to forget the year, and yet have no courage to face the upcoming year. I think such thoughts dominate the hearts of many people.
2. But, we don't want to keep on living under the dominance of words for giving up which so fill this world. [We don't want to listen to] the words that fill up this temporary world but rather to an alternative, we want to concentrate our listening on the voice which resounds from the other side beyond this world. They are not words that speak despair, but words that speak hope. They are not words that avert our attention from the future and make us look only at the short-term, but words that will make us people who live watching for the future with great expectations. As we continue to concentrate our listening onto such a word from God, we want to worship him together and keep being used [by God] in this temporary world.
The Moaning And Hoping Of Creation
3. With that let's read from verse eighteen to verse twenty-two.
"When we compare the present sufferings to the glory which is expected to be revealed to us in the future, I think it is incomprehensible. Creation is eagerly waiting and hoping for the sons of God to be revealed. Creation submits to futility, but that does not come from its own volition, but from the will of the One who made it submit, [but] at the same time it has hope as well. In other words, someday even creation will be freed from subordination to destruction and will participate in the freedom that shines in the glory of God's children. We know that all creation groans together even to this day and has been experiencing together the pains of childbirth," (verses eighteen through twenty-two).
4. To live by being joined to Christ, receiving the Spirit of God, and being led by the Spirit of God is the same as living as a son1 of God. Living as a son of God is to live with hope as an heir of God who will inherit the glory of God and eternal life. Paul has been telling us this so far. Furthermore, he sees the hardships of the real world in the light of this hope. Also, he says, when we compare the present sufferings to the glory which is expected to be revealed to us in the future, [it is so wonderful] beyond comprehension.
5. I used to feel a great resistance to these words, primarily because I couldn't get the thought out of my head that the concept of putting up with the present by thinking of the future only produces an ignorant people who don't stand up to the unfair pressures of the real world. Furthermore, doesn't speaking on the world that is to come produce a way of living which looks down on the present? I used to think it would cause persons not to seriously deal with the items and issues right before them. There were days when I used to be critical towards my Christian parents and church people, and whenever I heard the messages they spoke on the second coming of Christ or the hope of the resurrection somewhere in my heart I used to grumble at them.
6. Now as I look back, I was clearly missing something back then. It was the experience of personal suffering. Paul spoke in verse seventeen particularly on this matter of "suffering with Christ." If I were to put it in the words of Jesus it would be to bear [one's] cross and follow Christ. I had not had the experience of making a decision that involved suffering for the name of Christ. I had not even experienced giving up the self because of Christ. I had never even dealt with something that required me to really put up with it and endure. No matter what I said when I was like that it was only the empty theory of an ivory tower and arm chair perspective.
7. On the other hand, as I think about it now those who spoke on the second coming of Christ and the hope of the resurrection had not been looking down on the present at all. Each one in his or her own way faced his or her hardships and difficulties head on because of Christ and had not run away from his or her problems, but dealt with them directly. On the contrary, I felt ashamed that the one who did not value his time and was living irresponsibly was no one but me. People without a hope in the world to come generally measure the difficulties of the present by comparing theirs to others. They either grumble, "I shouldn't be having such thoughts!," or they console themselves by saying, "[At least] I am not suffering as much as the other guy." But, does such a way of living lead to responsible and patient behavior which deals with difficulties and various other topics [of concern]? I don't think it does. If we turn our eyes only on this present age and not the one to come, does that make for living with a high regard for the present? -- It doesn't. What [gives] value is hope. We are to live by a sure and certain hope.
8. In regards to this hope, beginning in verse nineteen, Paul illustrates its spectacular prospects as a hope which encompasses the world of all created beings. The reason Paul is speaking like this is that he not only hears the groans of humanity, but also the groaning voice resounding from the depths of the entire created world. We look at the present abnormal state of affairs in nature's destruction and the natural environment and we think "Oh, it's awful!" But we are very dull and slow in beginning to notice the groaning of the natural world. In contrast, Paul had already listened to its groaning voice two thousand years ago. This is terribly surprising for us. Also at the same time, as beings that affect the entire created order, it makes our minds feel the sharp-pointedness of the biblical viewpoint that sees the sins of humankind.
9. At the very beginning of the Bible is recorded the narrative of the creation of heaven and earth. It has used a very simplistic expression, but [the creation story] makes clear that nature and humankind are placed in God's order of creation and purpose with deep ties to each other. Both humankind and other creatures were created together for the glory of God. With that purpose humanity was given a task. "God blessed them and said: 'Give birth. Increase. Fill the land. Tame the land. Rule over all, the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the living things which creep upon the ground,'" (Genesis 1:28). To rule does not mean you should use it your own way selfishly. It means to manage it right and take charge of it according to God's purposes and for his glory. It is not a right but a responsibility.
10. However, men and women as human beings have been disconnected from their original purpose by losing their righteous relationship with God. Human beings are out of their places in the order of creation and have come to live for themselves and outside of their intended purpose. Consequently, the world of nature has also lost its purpose and has submitted to futility. Paul says that everything in creation ended up becoming [a world] that is moving towards destruction without meaning and without purpose. We should not comprehend human sin merely as the cause of our misfortunes or those around us. Our sin is a poison affecting all creatures. Paul has already seen and understood that. He has heard the groaning of nature that human sin has caused.
11. When our thoughts so delve into humanity's sin, even as we head into a new century, we see that our cloudy awareness that humankind and the natural world are together going into their last moments by way of destruction is not without basis. But, Paul was not gripped by a feeling of tragedy as many people today are. Instead, he speaks of hope and it's not because he has not looked at the serious situation like we have. That's not why, but rather it's because he still has hope for sinful humanity and because he knows (because it has been revealed in Christ) the work of God which saves humanity from sin.
12. The sin of humanity was redeemed by Christ. The time is coming when before long those who live guided by the Spirit of God will be completely set free from the chains of sin and will have recovered the original image of humanity. The time is coming when [our] image as a child of God will have been completely recovered. Furthermore, the time of humanity's salvation is also the time of salvation for nature. The time is coming when even creation will be set free from its subordination to destruction. Therefore, Paul did not just see the world of creation as groaning in pain. He did not look at the suffering of creation as merely a heading into its demise by way of destruction, but he looked at it as birth pains filled with expectancy.
The Groaning And Expectations Of The Christian
13. Paul, who sees the created world as a world that is having birth pangs, thinks again of the Christian's situation with a hope that fills the world over. Let's read from verses twenty-three to twenty-five.
"Not only creation but, even we who receive the first fruits of the 'Spirit' are waiting in hope with groanings from our hearts to be made sons of God, that is, for our bodies to be redeemed. We are saved by this kind of hope. A hope for what can be seen is not hope. Does anyone still hope for what he actually sees? If we hope for the invisible, we hope and wait patiently," (verses twenty-three through twenty-five).
14. There are groanings, which don't come in words, in Christians too. In reality we still live groan after groan even though we have been justified by faith, been made dwelling places of the Spirit of God, and been made children of God led by the Holy Spirit. But, they are not the groans of a person heading into despair. They are the groans of a person waiting in hope for the perfecting of his or her salvation. If the groaning of nature is because of birth pangs and includes expectant hope, then the groaning of a christian is just the same. They are birth pangs and they are groanings of a people who wait in hope for the perfecting of their salvation.
15. The Holy Spirit is expressed here as "the first fruits." First fruits refers to the part that is first harvested. At the time of the [harvest] festival this [portion] was offered up to God. In other words, that there is the first fruits [of a harvest] means that there will be a total harvest later. It means it precedes the perfected salvation at the end times and a part of it is given to us [now]. In the reality of our current every day lives we are allowed to taste of the end time [final] salvation. In another passage it is expressed as "a guarantee" (arrabon, arrabwn) (such as in Second Corinthians 1:22). This is what we call "key money" or a deposit. It is a guarantee that the remainder will positively be paid. The giving of the Holy Spirit to us means precisely that we are given this guarantee.
16. Therefore, even though we continue to groan we wait with hope in expectancy. We are waiting in hope to be made sons* of God. Those who have already been given the Spirit which makes [one a] son of God are living and waiting in hope for the time when that truth will completely come to pass. Paul expressed that as "the redemption of the body." Redeeming the body means the body is set free from sin and death and becomes absolutely free. Now a fierce battle continues in our bodies in which sin still dwells. We must cut off the deeds of the body through the Spirit, (8:13). Sin tries to control us in these bodies. The Holy Spirit guides us and sets us free from sin. The body is a battleground of the Holy Spirit and sin. Our lives are in this continual unending battle. But, this battle will not go on for ever. The time of its end is coming. We can wait in hope for that time. We are granted a waiting period in expectant hope for the hour when our bodies will be redeemed.
17. Thereupon, Paul says, "We are saved by this kind of hope." Many translations have the translation "saved in hope." What is being said in this [passage] is that we are "still" waiting in hope for a salvation which has "already" been given to us. Hope is different from peace of mind. If the settling of a restless mind were salvation, it might be given to us by soothing words. But, the salvation spoken about here does not have to do with our hearts but has to do with our entire existence and being. Therefore, the hope talked about here must be a genuine hope different from the consolation of mere lip service. He sees in one event the basis for genuine true hope. It is the work of God manifested in Jesus Christ. It is the event in which Jesus was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life from the dead so that we would be justified. The work of salvation has long ago been fulfilled. Subsequently, we can say that we are already "saved." Furthermore, God's Spirit has been given to us [who are saved]. He gave us the Spirit that makes sons of God and he makes us people who call out "Abba, Father." However, we still do not see the perfection of our salvation. We are still waiting in hope. We are living in hope. This is the meaning of "saved in hope."
18. Therefore, it's possible to say our faith life is a lifestyle where we wait in hope for the invisible. Patient endurance is what is required of the person who is "saved in hope" in order to bring that salvation to perfection. This is the reason why everywhere in the New Testament it urges us that we should have steadfast endurance. But, conversely, we might say that it is only because we have genuine hope that we are able to live with great endurance.
19. Before we know it, this year will be over too. I don't think we should be greeting in the new year like we're hopeless. We should not forget that we are getting closer step by step to the perfecting of our salvation. By living indeed with our eyes fixed and our faces firmly directed towards [that] still as yet invisible salvation, we do not flee reality, but stand our ground in the battle field we're given and we can live with steadfast endurance highly esteeming the time now.
1 Recall the end note for the previous sermon from Romans. Other uses of this term in this chapter will be marked by an asterisk, *.