The Twenty-Second in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
God will not only save all of those whom he has chosen in Christ, he will also save all creation from the horrible effects of the fall of the human race into sin. In Romans 8:18-25, Paul’s focus moves from the individual dimension of sanctification to the cosmic dimension. In the last few sermons, we have seen how God redeems his people “in Christ” by removing from them the curse, condemnation, and bondage to sin. Now we will see how “in Christ” God redeems all of creation, thereby ensuring glorious freedom for all of God’s people, and all that God has made.
Once again, this section of Romans must be viewed against the backdrop of Paul’s eschatological contrast between the “already/not yet,” between “this age,” and the “age to come,” what we are “in Christ” vs. what we were “in Adam.” As we saw last time, in Romans 8:17 when Paul wrote–“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”–the apostle begins to contrast the suffering associated with this present age with the glory of the age to come. As believers share in Christ’s suffering, so too, creation groans under our feet. But for all those in Christ, present suffering will give way to eschatological glory and the creation itself will be liberated from the principle of decay. God will save his people and God will renew his creation.
A number of commentators point out that according to Paul’s eschatological categories, suffering belongs to “this present evil age” while glory belongs to the “age to come.” Because of the fall of the human race into sin, suffering is one characteristic of “the already,” while glorification in Christ is the mark of the “not yet.” Since our suffering will finally come to an end at the second coming of Christ, the Christian’s unquenchable hope in the midst of present suffering is that the glories of the age to come will become a reality on the Day of Christ Jesus. And yet, Paul’s point is that even in the midst of our sufferings which we must endure in this present evil age, even now, in some way, we participate in the glories of the “not yet” through word and sacrament. Therefore, the theme of glory and how we participate in it now and how it gives us hope for the future, dominates the balance of this entire chapter.
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