Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE GODLY GROAN”

Romans 8.23 

The very first chiropractor I ever went to was a nice fellow named Jack Holeman. Wonderful guy. The first appointment with him was when one of our Church’s members worked a few hours a week for him in Pasadena. That must have been twenty-five years ago. You probably already know that chiropractors basically do. They make small adjustments of various joints, usually in your spine. I say that because I want to play the role of a pastoral chiropractor this evening. I want to make a small, but surprising, adjustment in your belief system. And I think it will result in a noticeable improvement in your life if you are a Christian.

If you remember from my message last week, we are examining suffering. But some Christians, if their concept of suffering is uninfluenced by Christian doctrine, end up having some really strange ideas about suffering, ideas that can cause some real harm.

Let me give you an example of how a false notion of reality can foul you up. Do you remember how Elijah challenged the false prophets on Mount Carmel and how God showed Himself to be the only true and living God by sending fire from heaven? In the very next chapter of the Bible, First Kings 19, wicked Queen Jezebel threatened Elijah, the man of God, and he hightailed it from one end of the country to the other to avoid capture and execution. I had always been taught, and I had always taught myself, that Elijah ran from Jezebel to escape execution because he was frightened of her killing him. He was afraid to die. But in First Kings 19.4, he requested that God take his life. A person who is afraid to die does not ask God to kill him. Folks, Elijah was not afraid to die. He didn’t run because he was afraid of Jezebel killing him. He ran because he had a misconception about God.

Many of you will remember that Elijah’s complaint to God was that he was the only one who hadn’t compromised, he was the only one who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah ran away from Jezebel because he honestly, but mistakenly, thought that he was the only uncompromising believer left among God’s people. But after God sent Elijah back to where he was supposed to be, to do what he was supposed to do, He informed Elijah that there remained 7000 which had not bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah’s misunderstanding caused him to do far more to damage God’s credibility than ever would have happened had he had a correct understanding of God’s plan for his life and ministry. He ran away from Jezebel to protect and preserve himself as God’s last uncompromising prophet. He had a rather inflated opinion of himself. But he wasn’t the last uncompromising prophet. He was simply God’s last prominent one. So, in trying to “help” God, in his ignorance, he ended up doing a great deal of damage by running away from a woman of unparalleled wickedness. She was a bad actor. She was a nasty one.

Back to the subject of suffering in Romans chapter 8. Did it shock you last week when we read in Romans 8.18 that our present suffering is no big deal compared to our future glory? Did that shock you? Did that offend you? Some find that offensive because their suffering is their identity. Had you always thought that your suffering was a great deal more important than it seems to be to Paul? Last week, in Romans 8.19-22, we found that all of God’s natural creation “suffers” the effects of the curse that God placed on His creation when Adam and Eve sinned against Him in the Garden of Eden. Further, we saw that creation (nature) eagerly looks forward to the time that we will receive our glorified bodies because that is required, the reception of our glorified bodies is required, before God’s creation will be delivered from the curse.

Indeed, using the word “travaileth” in Romans 8.22, Paul likens what the physical creation is now going through to the labor pains of a woman who is about to deliver her child. Pain? Yes. Discomfort? To be sure. But suffering that will be followed by rejoicing when the “travail” has come to an end. We can understand how nature’s suffering is not as significant as we thought it was if nature’s suffering is a prelude to something like a birth, a fresh start, a new beginning for creation, for nature. But how about us? How about you and me?

In Romans 8.23 Paul continues to expand on the idea of “the sufferings of this present time” not being “worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us” by speaking now to our situation. That is the suffering that we Christians are currently enduring. My friend, your suffering is no big deal . . . when compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us. I don’t know why that is. And Paul doesn’t explain why such is the case in this passage. But he does declare that such is true. And in Romans 8.23 he focuses in on your suffering and mine, as Christians. And what a surprise he lets us in for. Let’s stand as we read that verse together: 

“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” 

Three sets of discoveries are found in this single verse that are related to the suffering that you and I endure in our Christian lives. Please understand that God has not given these to you to stop you, but to start you. 

THE FIRST SET OF DISCOVERIES HAS TO DO WITH OUR PARTICIPATION IN SUFFERING 

“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” 

There are two things to note about this first portion of verse 23:

First, there is the surprise of our suffering. It may not be a surprise to you and me, but it most certainly was a surprise to many first century believers to discover that Christians suffer. And perhaps you remember when you first trusted Christ. Unless you were hopelessly cynical, like me, you probably thought that life would be a bowl of cherries once your sins were forgiven and you began to learn God’s Word. Not so. There is no great surprise in the concept of the creation suffering, as Paul pointed out in verses 19-22. After all, God’s creation is under the curse. You’d expect problems for anything still under the condemnation of sin and its effects. But we are Christians. We have been born again. We have been justified by faith in Christ. Our sins have been forgiven, for crying out loud. Why do we have to suffer? That Christians participate in suffering even after we become Christians is not necessarily an immediately logical conclusion to draw. This is why Paul, when he moves from the natural creation below man, in verses 19-22 of Romans chapter 8, and he elevates his consideration to verse 23, uses the words “And not only they, but ourselves also . . . .” Are you personally conscious of suffering, Christian? Then join the club. Though some immature Christians are shocked to discover it, and though some television evangelists go to great lengths and harvest great incomes to deny it, every genuinely born again Christian participates in the characteristic suffering that is common to the material universe.

But if you think that this is a shock, wait until you discover the Source of our participation in this present suffering. It’s the Holy Spirit God. You may have noticed, by now, that God’s subhuman creation is discussed in the context of suffering in verses 19-22. And believers are discussed in the context of suffering in verse 23. But there is no mention of unbelievers. How come? Remember, though Paul is addressing the subject of suffering, he is doing so within the larger context of glory. Creation will someday be glorified. Believers will someday be glorified. Since only people who are believers in Christ will be glorified unbelievers are simply not discussed here. With that in mind, what particularly distinguishes believers from nonbelievers with regard to Paul’s discussion here? Notice, he identified us as people “which have the firstfruits of the Spirit.’ Do you realize what this means? Contrary to the fictional Bible teachings of such men as Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin and Benny Hinn who think that reception of the Holy Spirit somehow means that everything difficult and unpleasant suddenly ends for the Christian, Paul’s reasoning is that we who know Christ participate in the suffering that he is considering precisely because we have the Holy Spirit of God in us. You’ll understand this more in just a few moments. 

THE SECOND SET OF DISCOVERIES HAS TO DO WITH OUR PROTEST IN SUFFERING 

“even we ourselves groan within ourselves.” 

As to the peculiarity of this protest in suffering. Some Christians are of the opinion that all suffering must be endured in silence. Did you know that? It’s something like the Christian woman that I used to pastor who never allowed anyone to help her with anything and never wanted to go to the doctor for any reason. I guess she thought she was helping God by being so stubborn, making sure that no one would think of her actions that God didn’t answer her prayers. But that’s pride. We need to let God take care of His reputation. Amen? And we need to allow our false notions of things to be corrected by sound doctrine. Such is the case with suffering in this context. Paul is very forward when he says that we “groan within ourselves” as we suffer in this way. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with the groaning he refers to here. Just as the man in excruciating pain will often “groan” in protest to his physical pain, so we “groan” in protest to our spiritual suffering. And this is not a complaint against God, mind you. This is simply the very normal reaction, the expected reaction, the healthy reaction, the proper reaction, even the spiritual reaction, to suffering such as this. Groaning such as is referred to here is not whining.

As to the place of this protest in suffering. This is where you younger Christians begin to learn that you are not the only ones who sigh. You are not the only ones who pillow your heads from time to time at night and cry yourself to sleep because you are torn between the feeling that God is so good, but you are still so frustrated with life. Understand this: Every genuinely born again Christian suffers in the way Paul describes here. And every born-again Christian puts up a protest against it. Not against God, mind you. Against the pain. Against the heartache. Against the agony that not even the joy of the Holy Spirit and the constant answers to prayer can take away. But if you don’t study your Bible, or if you are still relatively new as a Christian, you think it’s a problem that only you have. Oh no, Christian. Every believer goes through this. But as long as you are still alive on this earth, you haven’t gone through it. You are still in it. And the reason it’s not obvious that every believer groans with this suffering? We “groan within ourselves.” We protest against the pain, but generally, we never vocalize it. Either because it’s something that is uttered by the soul and not the mind, or because we would never want to even accidentally be misunderstood as complaining against God. And that’s not what is happening. Often believers who are not diligent Bible students are so overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that they become discouraged. And this is because they think they feel the way they do because they are unspiritual or because they are ungrateful. As you shall see, this is not the case at all. 

THE FINAL SET OF DISCOVERIES HAS TO DO WITH OUR PROSPECT BEYOND SUFFERING 

“waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” 

This may be the closest Paul gets to telling us what the connection between the Holy Spirit in the believer and the believer’s suffering is. These two phrases are saying essentially the same thing from two different angles:

First, there is the earnestly expected adoption. This word “waiting” is the same basic Greek word that is translated “earnest expectation” in verse 19. Just as nature “stretches the neck” waiting for our glorification, so do we. But what we are “stretching the neck” for is described by Paul as “the adoption.” But hold it a second. Aren’t those of us who are Christians already said to be adopted sons of God? Yes, we are. But when Pam and I adopted Sarah, we recognized that two things took place: First, there was the day that the decree came down from the judge and he decided that Sarah was our child. Then, there was the official ceremony where he publicly pronounced her to be our daughter. We have a great picture of that event that I cherish. The fact of our adoption has already occurred. What we are now waiting for is that public ceremony whereby God officially pronounces us to be what we already know we are, but what the world does not yet know us to be, but has to take our word for.

Second, there is the redemption of our bodies. I am a child of God. I know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. But for you to acknowledge me to be a Christian you have to take my word for it and draw some conclusions from circumstantial evidence that ought to be found in my life. Amen? But there is going to come a day when you won’t have to listen to my testimony at all. You won’t have to weigh circumstantial evidence at all. To know whether or not I am a child of God, an adopted heir, all you will then have to do is look at me. First John 3.2 reads, 

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 

You have the Holy Spirit living inside you if you are a believer in Jesus Christ. And a consequence of the Holy Spirit’s influence on your personality is to make you forever dissatisfied with anything less than complete and sinless perfection and a glorified body in the presence of the Savior. That is why there is contentment, after a fashion, as a Christian, but always the lack of contentment, as well. You see, we are in between. Since Jesus Christ came into my life I have had heavenly affections and a redeemed soul, but an unredeemed body with a gradually changing personality caught in the middle. And it’s that prospect which lies beyond suffering, my publicly presented adoption, the redemption of my body, which the Holy Spirit-dominated soul of every Christian yearns for. 

Do you see how erroneous ideas can create problems? If you are here this evening, Christian, and you feel the disappointment, the anguish, the frustration, that accompanies your Christian life you might feel guilty about those feelings. You might think you are the only one who battles and struggles and groans within yourself, that you are the only one who feels the inner protest of your spirit that something inside is just not comfortable.

You know what it could be? It could be that you are not content with the way things are, in your spirit, because the Holy Spirit is influencing you to hunger for the way things will be when Jesus Christ comes for you. And nothing this side of heaven will feel quite right on the inside. If you are deficient in your personal Bible study and your spiritual growth is stunted, you can really misinterpret your reaction to this suffering that is characteristic of every Christian this side of heaven. If there is a longing in your soul, and you are not a growing and studious Christian, you might become overwrought with guilt, thinking something is wrong inside you. Or you might shift the blame and think your problem is someone else’s fault.

But understand it for what it is, Christian. You are stuck in transition for a brief period. You are a citizen of heaven who lives on earth. You are a redeemed person dwelling in an unredeemed body. You have a personality that is capable of spurts of truly spiritual behavior but too frequently slips back into the here and now groove. And you may have specific differences in your suffering than I do. Maybe greater or fewer physical problems. Greater or fewer spiritual problems. But when compared to the fact that it is a necessary feature of the life of one who is on his way to heaven, it’s no big deal.

Can you accept that? Is that an accurate description of you? Do you suffer the suffering of someone who knows Christ and who hungers for the way it can be, the way it ought to be, the way it will be? Or do you complain against God when you suffer and use your suffering as an excuse to quit when deep in your heart you know you could motor on . . . if you wanted to. On the other hand, sometimes suffering grinds you to a halt. However, that is between you and the Savior. It is Him you will answer to, since no one this side of heaven is your boss and has enough information with which to judge you.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

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