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May 8 lesson: Freedom For The Future

May 01, 2022
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Freedom For The Future

Spring Quarter: God Frees and God Redeems
Unit 3: Liberating Letters

Sunday school lesson for the week of May 8, 2022
By Dr. Hal Brady


Lesson Scripture: Romans 8:18-30
Key Verse: Romans 8:18


Lesson Aims
  1. List ways in which the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers.
  2. Give an example from Scripture where the Holy Spirit interceded for believers.
  3. Write a prayer to thank God for his presence during a difficult time.
Having stated in verse 17 that believers can expect to suffer, Paul then gives three grounds of encouragement: (1) the glory that will be revealed (vv.18-25), (2) the assistance of the Holy Spirit (vv.26-27), and (3) the fact that all things work together for good (vv. 28-30).

Therefore, the theme of our scripture lesson (8:18-30) is the believer’s future glory. This passage begins “the glory that will be revealed in us” (v.18) and ends “those he justified, he also glorified,” (v.30) on this note.

In between, Paul makes two basic points about this glory. First, it is the climax in God’s plan both for his people and for his creation generally. And since we have not reached that climax, we must eagerly and patiently wait for it. Second, God himself provides what we need in order to wait eagerly and patiently. As mentioned earlier, the Holy Spirit helps us pray and God promises to oversee everything for our good according to God’s unbreakable plan for us.

Lesson Context

The Apostle Paul was engaged in several significant mission trips, the last of which was his trip to Rome for a hearing before the emperor. The book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting the trial (Acts 28:30-31). Rome was a destination he had long desired (1:13), but not necessarily in the status of prisoner!

According to scholars, the letter to Romans includes Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament background for the Christian message, the nature of Christian salvation based on the atoning death of Christ, the centrality of faith as the only path for human salvation, the relationship between Christians of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds in the plan of God, and several other matters.

All this makes Romans both the most challenging of Paul’s letters to understand and the richest depository of what he calls “my gospel” (Romans 2:16; 16:25). The basis and reality of being justified by faith is the subject of Romans 1-4 in general and 3:24,28 in particular. Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 to set the tone for the entire book: “the righteous will live by faith.”

This means that faith – complete trust in Jesus – is the only way eternal life may be found. It cannot be earned by obedience, although obedience is important. It is not inherited by ancestry, although this is not important (3:1-2; 9:4-5). True life, eternal life, the life of salvation, is only found in trusting God to save us through his Son.

The question remains: Why do suffering and death still wreak havoc? Paul indicates the likelihood that Christians will suffer for Christ’s sake, and he encourages the Roman believers to keep the big picture in mind: we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17, not in our printed text).
  1. Present Sufferings (Romans 8:18-25)
Paul was trained by the respected Jewish teacher Gambrel (Acts 5:34; 22:3). So for Paul to “consider” was for him to draw on both his faith in Christ and his vast knowledge of Scriptures. His thoughts are not to be taken lightly.

Paul was careful to put our “present sufferings” – whatever their causes – in proper perspective. Jesus’ resurrection initiated a new era of salvation and restoration. Because God’s faithfulness to his salvation promises have been revealed (Hebrews 1:1-3), suffering of any kind pales in comparison to “the glory that will be revealed in us.” Forms of the word “glory” occur here and in Romans 8:21,30, further defining what believers have to anticipate. The path of suffering ends with being glorified with Christ and with all who have traveled the same path.

In verses 19-22, Paul accentuates the importance this revelation of glory by tying the liberation of the whole of creation to it. “Creation” includes anything and everything God has made (8:22; compare 8:39; Colossians 1:15; Revelation 3:14). Here it refers to the entire created world with the exception of “the children of God.” While the adoption of believers is a present reality (8:14-15), this fact can be obscured by the troubles of living in a sinful world. The suffering that results from our fallen world can further conceal the reality of redemption that is already present (8:17-18).

Following the lead of the psalmist, Paul personifies the created world, using vivid poetic language to speak of its “frustration” (v.20) and its eventual “liberation” (v.21). The entire created world has failed to attain its purpose. Because of human sin, it is not what God intended it to be. “The one who subjected it” could be taken to refer to Adam as the reason for the curse. For Adam and Eve fell into sin and were no longer capable of exercising proper dominion. However, in context it is clear that God is the One who subjected creation to futility. Only God truly subjected creation – in his decree after the Fall – and only God did it “in hope that the entire creation itself will be liberated.” God will one day set the created world free from the decay that mars everything after the fall of human beings into sin. The fate of creation is tied up with that of humanity. As it was through them that creation was damaged, so it is through the glorified children of God that it will be restored again.

In verse 22, creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth.” The pain a woman about to deliver a child experiences is a vivid metaphor of suffering that has a joyous outcome.

This analogy of “childbirth” captures a common first-century Jewish belief that as the salvation of God draws near, conditions on the earth would worsen progressively, like the contractions that get worse and worse until finally the baby is born. Portions of Daniel 7 and 9 helped shape their expectation. Jesus also spoke of the difficulty of the evil times, both concerning events that were near at hand and others that would continue until his return (Matthew 24; John 16:1-11, 31-33). His disciples continued to speak of the troubles that would be seen before Jesus’ return under this age (example: 1 Timothy 4:1-3. All that pain, though, is meant to result in joy for the world. It is not a vain struggle.

Firstfruits as a concept comes from the Festival of Harvest, also called the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 23:16a; 34:22a; Numbers 28:26-31; etc). The people would make sacrifices to the Lord of the first grains they gathered. This expressed thanks to God’s providing the harvest and confidence that God would bless the people with bounty throughout the harvest season. Like the firstfruits of a harvest, the indwelling of “the Spirit” within is a kind of down payment, guaranteeing what is still to come (Ephesians 1:13,14).

So we believers groan despite the fact that we have the Spirit. Once the Spirit, with his demand for holiness, enters our lives, we sense as never before just what God wants us to be. As a result, the Spirit increases our frustration at not meeting God’s standard and our yearning to be what he wants us to be. What do we wait for? The redemption of the body refers to the rescue of the body from sin and death. That will happen when it is raised from the dead (8:10-11).

Yes, as children of God, we have already been adopted (8:16). Here is a classic New Testament example of the “already-not yet” tension that characterizes the Christian life. Certainly, we are God’s children already justified, reconciled and brought into His family. But we are not yet God’s children in the way we one day will be – possessing the full inheritance, enjoying perfect holiness in resurrected bodies, and glorified.

So Paul uses adoption imagery to describe our future reward as sons and daughters of God. Believers became “co-heirs” with Christ (Roman 8:17), heirs to the glory of salvation promised to Christians.

In light of the “already-not yet” tension, therefore, it becomes clear that hope is an inevitable part of Christian living. Now, Christian “hope” is not wishful thinking or anticipating a probable outcome; rather it is assured because hope is based not on our own faithfulness but on God’s faithfulness to his promises (Titus 1:2-3). Still, we “do not yet have what we hope for,” because in that case we would no longer require hope.

When Paul declared that “faith, hope and love” remain and the last is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13), it is not because faith and hope are of questionable values. Instead it indicates that when faith and hope are realized in Heaven, we will not need them as we do now to anticipate our promised future. However, love will still be the order of the day, even in Heaven. So God has promised us glory, a glory already existing in Heaven for us. But we cannot see it, hear it, or taste it! We must simply hope in confidence and patience (Romans 5:3-5).

English painter D.F. Watt’s painted a picture entitled “Hope.” It pictures a poor woman against the world. Her eyes are bandaged so that she cannot see ahead. In her hands is a harp, but all the strings are broken save one. These broken strings represent her shattered expectations, her bitter disappointments. That one last unbroken string is the string of hope. She strikes that string and a glorious melody floats out over her world. It fills her dark skies with stars. The artist painted a great truth. Even when all else is gone, we can still have hope. And no one is defeated until hope is gone.

With God’s faithfulness and promise, we wait confidently and patiently with hope.
  1. God’s Presence (Romans 3:26-30)
The state of the world can leave us so completely horrified, such as today, that we are left speechless. Our “weakness” includes every piece of evidence that we live in a sin-sick and dying world. But when we do not know “what we ought to pray for,” the Spirit steps in on our behalf. This should really come as no surprise since Jesus promised the Spirit would be his disciples’ “advocate” (John 14:16,26; 15:26).

Paul builds on this, giving believers confidence that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” When words fail us in prayer, the Spirit does not.

Very important! When our lack of faith undermines certainty in prayer, the Spirit himself intercedes on our behalf. And so intense is the Spirit’s prayer that Paul describes it as “groans that words cannot express.” However, these groanings of the Spirit are perfectly in accord with God’s will (v.27). Thus, God, who knows the heart, hears and answers those prayers. It is a great comfort to know that our inability to pray as precisely as we would like is not a hindrance to the working out of God’s perfect will in our lives.

Now, we come to one of the favorite verses in Romans (v.28). How often in times of tribulation and trials have believers turned to Paul’s reassuring words that God has not deserted us, but is working in every circumstance of life: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and have been called according to his purpose.” Needless to say, this is one of the great promises in all of Scripture.

Note the phrase that Paul attached to this promise: “Those who love him, and have been called according to his purpose.” Not only is God continually at work, but those for whom He works, are faithful and true in their love for him.

Faith in the sovereign God means believing that God is in control of all things. Even the evil in this world is not beyond his control. Our problem here is that of limited perspective. Only God can see how all things work together for good regardless of the situation.

While the doctrines of foreknowledge and predestination are important to consider, Paul’s letter precedes by centuries of debates about these terms and does not address the arguments that future Christians would engage in. Rather, Paul’s point is that God is working within a plan, not haphazardly throwing people or events together in some sort of cosmic salvific experiment (compare Ephesians 1:11-14). Though choice or chance may seem to be the order of the day, we take comfort that God knew us long before we accepted the call to join him in his ultimate purpose for people: “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Psalm 139:13). As we are told, this is both a new creation and a re-creation, for to be made in the image of Christ is to be restored to our unspoiled state of having been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

In verse 29, as the first to rise from the dead into glory, Jesus’ bodily resurrection made him “the firstborn” from the dead (Colossians 1:18). Because of his resurrection, we expect to be “among many brothers and sisters” who will also return to life (contrast 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). It is the promise of our own resurrection that is the ultimate hope we have in the midst of our sufferings (compare Acts 23:6; 1 Corinthians 15).

In the context of verse 30, Paul means that God has made an earlier decision about our future (8:29).

This predetermined plan has three stages. First, God has called us, giving us the opportunity to respond to the gospel by faith. Second, a positive response leads to being “justified,” declared righteous through our faith in Christ because of his sacrifice on our behalf (3:24-26). The final stage is our being “glorified” when our own resurrections take place and we join Christ in Heaven for all eternity (2 Corinthians 15:42-58).

At any rate, in this text, Paul wants us to come away not with controversial theological questions but with a renewed sense of assurance that the God who began a good work in us will indeed bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Conclusion

Christians have a hope that persists through the ordeals of life. Outside of Christ and our faith in Him, this hope is not possible; still, we observe and experience sufferings. Focusing on these things makes a person nearsighted. Thus, it is only with an eye on our future glory that we Christians cannot only endure hardships but also thrive in the hope of God’s promises.

But while we hope for the glorious future in Christ, we still have work to do. Immediately our minds turn to evangelism – and rightly so – but these verses remind us that we are also responsible for all creation. God has made us stewards of his good earth, and while people suffer, all creation suffers. Likewise, believers’ peace is the peace of the world as well. Our glory will be the glory of creation. So may we be people who have died with Christ and live again in the Spirit, be ambassadors of God’s exciting intentions for all creation.

James Harnish, retired Methodist minister, tells the story of a little boy who was “not exactly” happy about going to church on Easter Sunday morning. His new shoes were too tight, his tie pinched his neck and the weather was just too beautiful to be cooped up inside. As he sulked in the back seat, his parents heard him mutter,  “I don’t know why we have to go to church on Easter anyway: they keep telling the same old story and it always comes out the same in the end.”

And we thank God it does!

Action Plan
  1. How do you find a faithful balance in dealing with current challenges without losing sight of hope?
  2. How do you respond to the fact that creation suffers because of human sinfulness?
  3. What opportunities have God placed before you to grow in patience?
Resources for this lesson
  1. “2021-2022 NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 305-312.
  2. “The NIV Application Commentary, Romans” by Douglas J. Moo, pages 265-271.
  3. “The New Interpreters Bible, Volume X Romans, 1 Corinthians, pages 504-507.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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