A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 8:23-27. b). The sufferings and glory of God’s children.
Verses 22-23 draw an important parallel between God’s creation and God’s children. Verse 22 speaks of the whole creation groaning. Verse 23 begins: *Not only so, but we ourselves…groan inwardly…* Even we, who are no longer in Adam but in Christ, we who no longer live according to the flesh but *have the firstfruits of the Spirit*, we in who God’s new creation has already begun (cf. 2 Cor.5:17), even we continue to groan inside ourselves *as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies* (23). This is our Christian dilemma. Caught in the tension between what God has inaugurated (by giving us his Spirit) and what he will consummate (in our final adoption and redemption), we groan with discomfort and longing. The indwelling Spirit gives us joy (E.g. Gal. 5:22; 1 Thess.1:6) and the coming glory gives us hope (e.g. 5:2), but the interim suspense gives us pain.
Paul now highlights different aspects of our half-saved condition by five affirmations.
First, *we…have the firstfruits of the Spirit* (23a). *Aparche*, the firstfruits, was both the beginning of the harvest and the pledge that the full harvest would follow in due time. Perhaps Paul had in mind that the Feast of Weeks, which celebrated the reaping of the firstfruits, was the very festival (called in Greek ‘Pentecost’) on which the Spirit had been given. Replacing this agricultural metaphor with a commercial one, Paul also described the gift of the Spirit as God’s *arrabon*, the ‘first instalment, deposit, down payment, pledge’ (BAGD), which guaranteed the future completion of the purchase (see 2 Cor.1:22; 5:5; Eph.1:4) Although we have not yet received our final adoption or redemption, we have already received the Spirit as both foretaste and promise of these blessings.
Secondly, *we …groan inwardly* (23b). The juxtaposition of the Spirit’s indwelling and our groaning should not surprise us. For the very presence of the Spirit (being only the firstfruits) is a constant reminder of the incompleteness of our salvation, as we share with the creation in the frustration, the bondage to decay and the pain. So one reason for our groaning is our physical frailty and mortality. Paul expresses this elsewhere: ‘Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling [meaning probably our resurrection body]…. For while we are in this tent [our temporary, flimsy, material body], we groan and are burdened….’ (2 Cor.5:2, 4). But it is not only our frail body (*soma*) which makes us groan; it is also our fallen nature (*sarx*), which hinders us from behaving as we should, and would altogether prevent us from it, were it not for the indwelling Spirit (7:17, 20). We long, therefore, for our *sarx* to be destroyed and for our *soma* to be transformed. Our groans express both present pain and future longing. Some Christians, however, grin too much (they seem to have no place in their theology for pain) and groan too little.
Thirdly, *we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies* (23c). Just as the groaning creation waits eagerly for God’s sons to be revealed (19), so we groaning Christians wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, even our bodily redemption. We have, of course, already been adopted by God (15), and the Spirit assures us that we are his children (16). Yet there is an even deeper and richer child-Father relationship to come when we are fully ‘revealed’ as his children (19) and ‘conformed to the likeness of his Son’ (29). Again, we have already been redeemed (cf. Eph.1:7; Col.1:14; cf. Rom.3:24; 1 Cor.1:30), but not yet our bodies. Already our spirits are alive (10), but one day the Spirit will also give life to our bodies (11). More than that, our bodies will be changed by Christ to be ‘like his glorious body’ (Phil.3:21; cf. 1 Cor.15:35ff.). ‘Bondage to decay’ will be replaced by the ‘freedom of glory’ (21).
Fourthly, *in this hope we were saved* (24a). *We were saved (esothemen*) is an aorist tense. It bears witness to our decisive past liberation from the guilt and bondage of our sins, and from the just judgment of God upon them (cf. Eph.2:8). Yet we remain only half-saved. For we have not yet been saved from the outpouring of God’s wrath in the day of judgment (5:9), nor have the final vestiges of sin in our human personality been eradicated. Not yet has our *sarx* been obliterated; not yet has our *soma* been redeemed. So we are saved *in hope* of our total liberation (24a), as the creation was subjected to frustration *in…hope* of being set free from it (20). This double hope looks to the future and to things which, being future, are so far unseen. For *hope that is seen*, having been realized in our experience, *is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?* (24b). Instead, *we hope for what we do not yet have* (25a; cf. Heb.11:1).