STUDENT POST: The Groaning of Romans 8

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series featuring outstanding excerpts from student papers at the BibleMesh Institute, which offers affordable online training for local churches, schools, and ministries. The author’s name has been withheld for privacy and security purposes. She is preparing to serve as a missionary overseas.

All of creation, including our bodies, longs to be set from bondage and experience the ultimate redemption and freedom available to us as sons of glory. Romans 8:18-23 compares and contrasts our present sufferings to our future glory. In this passage, we see three different groans occurring: creation’s groaning, our groaning, and the Spirit’s groaning on our behalf. The Greek word for groaning is stenagmos literally meaning, “a groaning, or a sigh.”[1] Webster defines groan as, “to give forth a low, moaning sound in breathing; to utter a groan, as in pain, in sorrow, or in derision; to moan.”[2] All of creation is uttering a low moaning sound as we await the day of our liberation. There is pain and sorrow present, a sighing in our hearts. I picture the woman in labor with her hand grasping her swollen belly, moaning and rocking, breathing through the pain. It is a bleak picture if just left to itself, but we are not the only ones groaning. The Spirit is groaning with us, and for us. He utters moans on our behalf to the Father. He reminds us that the birth pains are a sign of new life to come. He gives us the hope of new life.

In vv. 24-25, Paul uses the word “hope” five times. “But if we hope in what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:25). It is important to define the word “hope” here, because we often use this word in our culture to express our desire for something to happen in the future that is very uncertain (“I hope I will get what I want for Christmas”). However, this is not the hope Paul is referencing. Sproul defines hope as, “faith looking forward.”[3] When God promises something, we can know that He is faithful, and He will bring it to fruition. So, when God says that he will liberate us from our bondage and glorify our bodies by adopting us as His children, we can know for certain that He will. The analogy of childbirth still fits well here. Just as a woman in labor is comforted in her pain by the hope that comes in knowing she will soon get to hold her baby, so believers are comforted in their suffering by the hope of things to come, of glorification.

Not only does He give hope, but He gives the Holy Spirit who “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (8:26). When we pray, it is important to ask the Spirit to help us pray according to the will of God because many times, especially during trials, we do not know what God’s will is or what to pray for. This brings us to v. 28 which is a well-known passage, but often taken out of context. The “good” that God is working out for those who love Him is that final glorification, not good fortune in our lives. We see this clearly demonstrated in the next verse, in what is commonly referred to as the “Golden Chain of Salvation.”[4] Here, Paul lays out the most condensed version of what happens theologically speaking when a person is saved. First, God foreknew and predestined us. Next, he called us and justified us. Justification is a legal term meaning “to declare righteous.” God looks at us and declares us to be righteous. He can do this because he imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. Jesus takes on our sinfulness, and in exchange, we get his righteousness. Glorification is “the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died…thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.”[5] That is why a believer can have hope, and this is the good that he works out for those who love him.  One day we will be liberated from these bodies of death and the earth will be set free from its bondage from corruption!

There is a contrast in this passage between present suffering and future glory. Paul seems to take two concepts, on opposite ends of a spectrum, and put them up on the scale to see how they measure up with each other. He contrasts present vs. future and suffering vs. glory. As we look to v.18, we can see this contrast clearly. We have a little suffering now compared to the immeasurable glory we are promised for the future. R.C. Sproul states it well, “The difference between the present degree of pain we experience and the blessedness to which God has appointed his people is so immensely different that there is no way to compare them. Any comparison we come up with falls short.”[6] Maintaining an eternal perspective gives us the hope to suffer well in the here and now.

[1] “Strong’s Greek: 4726. Στεναγμός (Stenagmos) — A Groaning”, Biblehub.Com, https://biblehub.com/greek/4726.htm.

[2] “Definition Of GROAN,” Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/groan#:~:text=1%20%3A%20to%20make%20or%20say,stairs%20groaned%20under%20his%20weight.

[3] R. C. Sproul, Romans Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009.

[4] “The Golden Chain Of Salvation”, Ligonier Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/golden-chain-salvation/.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

[6] Sproul, Romans.