What on earth is the Holy Spirit doing Pt 3? (Apr 2020)

Three reflections on Romans 8
1. Romans 7:21-8:13
2: Romans 8:14-17
3. Romans 8:18-39

Romans 8:18-39

I have noticed that when I go to share a really good story with people there is always someone who has a much better story to tell, always someone who can top my story with a more interesting or dramatic one. Perhaps it’s because my stories aren’t as interesting as other people’s stories. It even happens when I have a story of some suffering I am experiencing; other people’s suffering stories put my suffering to shame.

However, people try to be consoling and helpful. “It could be worse” they say when it’s bad enough already. “This, too, will pass” they say when I didn’t want it to even start. “The best is yet to come” they say Yes, but when? “I understand what it’s like” they say when you know they could have no idea. “You need to pray more and confess your sins” when you know this problem has nothing to so with whatever you have or haven’t done. “Remember, you’re not the only one who has suffering” and perhaps with a reminder of the terrible suffering of poor people in other parts of the world, even though their suffering doesn’t make mine go away.

In chapter 8:18-25 it looks like Paul’s advice to the Romans seems to cover all these grounds:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

It makes you stop and think a bit when you look around you and admit it’s not only me that suffers, not only other people who suffer but it’s the whole of creation that suffers – the animals, plants, waters, rocks and hills. None of it matches up to perfection. There is deterioration, there are disasters, there are even weeds in the garden. The creation is subject to frustration and is in bondage to decay. It is groaning to be liberated and brought into freedom. The creation is certainly not in the state God made it at the beginning. At that time, God looked at it all and could truthfully say, “it is good”.

When you read the Bible you discover it has been like this since humans first ceased to have faith in God and instead decided they wanted to know both good and evil. Well, now we know. That’s the type of world we live in, with all that is good in it along with all that is bad. We are all in the same universe and we all suffer the same problems. There is not much comfort in knowing that it’s not just me that’s suffering but that it’s everyone else and, indeed, the whole of creation. So, it’s universal, unavoidable and we cannot fix it. The question is, how do we handle it?

We can start by considering that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. It is an encouraging thing that as unpleasant our present suffering may be compare it to the glory that is to come.  This isnot only the opposite but the very diametric, extreme, inverse, incomparably opposite state. 

This will come, but it’s not here yet. It’s not what we have right now but we hope that it will come. We are absolutely sure it will come because God has promised it will. It is part of our salvation brought to us by Jesus. It is part of our inheritance as children of God the Father. At present it is something we hope for but not hope in the form of wishful thinking. It’s not like hope you will be given $10 million. It’s more like hoping the sun will set tonight. We know it’s going to happen type of hope.

The word hope does not apply to things you already have. You don’t hope you were born. Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Now there’s something we are not always good at – waiting patiently. Most of us need some help on that – and help is at hand!

Romans 8:26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

These words bring both power and comfort and are yet another reason to read the Bible!

You are not on your own in a world which includes suffering; others suffer, too; the whole of creation suffers. But you are not on your own: God is with you in person – in the person of the Holy Spirit and he will help you in your weakness, whatever form that weakness takes. Do you need patience? Hope? Faith? Even prayer?

Sometimes you don’t know what to pray, or even how to pray, or even why to pray. Nonetheless the Spirit speaks to God on your behalf. In the extremes of life the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God also searches your heart and prays for you – and who better to pray for you than the Spirit of Jesus? The Holy Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. When the Spirit prays he prays faultlessly, asking for what God already wants and because he asks in accordance with the will of God naturally his prayers are answered every time!

Better still, it’s not only in the extreme moments of life but at all time, in the good, the bad and the ordinary, that the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God also searches your heart and prays for you.

Are there times when you don’t know where to start? Or just can’t find the words? Ask the Spirit to pray for you. He has the words and even while the best you can do is wordless groans the Holy Spirit will understand them and know their full meaning, taking them to the Father. Can’t pray? Relax and settle down with the Spirit, ask him to pray for you. Feel like groaning? Settle down with the Spirit and groan together. Can’t find the words? Get comfortable with the Spirit and ask him for the words you need.

There is next a phrase often used and which often sounds like a platitude.

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

But it’s no platitude! God is in control of everything, he cares for you and wants what is good for you – all good things come only from God. All things work together for good to those who love God. In all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good. 

While God is working things out for your good join him in the work by the commitment of faith and perseverance.

Romans 5:1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I have never won the lottery – mainly because I have never bought a lottery ticket. You cannot be a lottery winner without entering the lottery. You can’t be a winner if you don’t enter the race. You can’t be a conqueror without confronting the battle. This chapter, Romans 8 concludes by telling us not only that we are conquerors but that we are more than conquerors! 

Here, then is our declaration of our conquering status:

Romans 8:31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No-one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is on your side, who can beat him – who can beat you? God is and will be the ultimate and complete winner and those who belong to his Kingdom are naturally conquerors – because God conquers all.

If God has picked you out and declared you to be completely clean, forgiven, justified who can argue with him, who can possibly have any charge against you, who can condemn you when the judge of all says there is no condemnation for you? Indeed, Christ who died and – more than that, who was raised to life – is at God’s right hand and declares to his father that you are cleansed, washed and clothed in Christ’s own righteousness. There will be no way any charge, criticism of you will even be heard.

How secure is this status you hold? How sure can you be that your relationship with God through Jesus cannot be taken from you? What can separate you from the love of Christ? Not even trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, the sword. Death cannot separate you from Christ! Nor can angels, demons, the present or any time in the future, no powers of any sort, at any height or any depth come between you. There is nothing else in all creation – which must include you – can separate you from God’s love. Not even you can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

We are more than conquerors, but not proud of our achievements. God has done all that needs to be done in Jesus Christ. He was crucified and he was raised from the dead totally overcoming the worst that evil could throw at him. He has conquered and he carries us along with him in his victory. We do not boast in ourselves but we boast in the cross of Christ our victor who makes us more than conquerors.

We have such an expectation, such an inheritance, such a hope, a hope which must inevitably be fulfilled, which cannot be taken from us and which we cannot lose, a sure and certain hope given to us by the Holy Spirit and explained to us here as promises from God in his word, the Bible – promises from God.

No wonder we are filled with peace and joy and no wonder we come with praise, thanks and worship to God our Father, to Jesus Christ his son and to his Holy Spirit.