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Graves, Groanings — and the Geologic Column

Romans 8:19-30 - “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Romans 5:12 clearly teaches that human death is the result of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. “Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” That this death was physical death as well as spiritual death is made clear in 1 Corinthians 15:21: “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.” The death of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for man’s sin was more than a “spiritual death.” The penalty for sin required the physical death of all who sinned. Thus the literal, physical death of Jesus Christ was required as payment for the penalty of sin, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a literal, physical, bodily resurrection, not merely a “spiritual resurrection.”

Romans 8 teaches that the sin of mankind involved the animal kingdom as well. In fact, Romans 8:22 says that mankind’s sin affected the entire creation: “...we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now...” Everything that God pronounced as “good” at the end of creation week (Genesis 1:31) became subject to death and decay because of mankind’s sin. Evidence of the “groaning creation” is all around us, and it is proof of the truth of Scripture. Let’s look at the three “groanings” mentioned in Romans 8.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points

1. The creation groans, awaiting the revealing of the sons of God.

“...the whole creation groans...” (v22).

The whole creation is groaning. All we have to do is look around to see it. Disease, decay and death are everywhere--including violent death and horrific natural disasters. The Second Law of Thermodynamics cannot be denied: the universe is running down. It is dying a slow death.

But it wasn’t always that way! Verse 20 says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it ...” God allowed His own perfect creation to be “subjected to futility.” Why? Romans 5:12 gives the answer: “...through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” Death and dying entered this world because mankind sinned. Trees didn’t sin! Elephants didn’t sin! Birds didn’t sin! Man sinned--and God allowed the results of man’s sin to affect the rest of creation. All of creation groans at the present time.

The really great news in Romans 8 is that it won’t be that way forever – praise the Lord! “The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God…” (v21). When will this happen? “...the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (v19). The idea in this verse is that creation is standing on its tiptoes in anticipation! And the birth process has already begun: “...the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (v22).

All believers will be part of this wonderful change! “...the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (v18). Right now all creation groans, but ultimately all things will be subjected to Christ. What a great day that will be!

2. The Christian groans, awaiting the redemption of the body. 

“...we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (v23).

There is a second area of “groaning” in Romans 8. We ourselves groan. Why do we groan? Is it because of family or personal problems, or serious illness? Is it because we’re getting older and we don’t have the energy that we used to enjoy, and we’re “all aches and pains” now? All these things can be traced back to the effects of sin, so they are all part of our “groaning.” But the primary reason why we groan is that we still have a sinful human nature--even as believers. Although we have the promise of what’s to come, right now we groan because of our sinful nature that results in personal sin.

We can all identify with ”groaning” because of sin, but a time is coming when we won’t have to groan because of indwelling sin. We look forward to the “redemption of our bodies,” when we will have bodies that are not subject to sin or the effects of sin. We won’t even have negative thoughts about those fellow believers with whom we can’t seem to get along now! In that day we’ll automatically love them! There will be no more groaning when the “adoption process” of becoming mature sons and daughters in the family of God is complete (v23). But right now the Christian groans, awaiting the redemption of the body.

3. The Comforter groans, awaiting the reality of God’s purpose.

“The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. We do not know what to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v26).

Here is the third area of “groaning” in Romans 8. The Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that words cannot express. Notice that these verses emphasize that the Holy Spirit is God. It it is the Spirit “Himself,” not the Spirit “itself.” The Holy Spirit is a Person of the triune God!

Verses 26 and 34 teach that we have two intercessors praying for us: the Lord Jesus, who is at the right hand of the Father (v34), and the Holy Spirit (v26). So we have one intercessor in heaven, and one intercessor dwelling in us! Do you think that those prayers are answered? Of course they are--especially since they are according to the will of God (v27). All the Persons of the triune God are for us!

What is the primary focus of the Spirit’s groanings? “..the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.” Are our sicknesses or our aches and pains the “weaknesses” mentioned here? Probably not. The word ”weaknesses” is actually a singular word. Our “weakness” probably refers again to our sinful nature, because that’s the real root of our problem.

Because of indwelling sin, we don’t pray as we ought to pray. We don’t even know how we should pray, and sometimes we may even pray outside of the will of God. In fact, some Christians even pray against one another, or ask for things that are clearly not in God’s will! It’s wonderful to know that the Holy Spirit within us is praying for us the right way.

The Spirit’s groanings are beyond expression in speech, but they’re real and effective with God, because they are obviously in line with God’s ultimate purpose for our lives--to make us holy and perfect. And that will become a reality in the future! In the words of an old hymn: “And is it so, I shall be like Thy Son? Is this the grace that He for me has won? Father of glory—thought beyond all thought--In glory, to His own blest likeness brought!” The Comforter groans, awaiting the reality of God’s purpose.

The days of this earth’s “graves and groanings” are numbered. A wonderful future is coming, when all of creation will be brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God!

Practical Applications

1. You can’t have it both ways!

Earth’s groaning--decay, disease and death--confronts us at every turn, from the ever-present Second Law of Thermodynamics to the fossil record of the geologic column. Evidence of disease and death is found throughout earth’s geologic column.

Some believers postulate that the earth must be very old, because they feel that the layers of the geologic column “prove” there were many “geologic ages” in the ancient past. However, if this is true, the rampant death and decay found throughout the geologic column must mean that disease and violent death occurred before Day Six of Genesis 1, when God saw that all that He had made was very good (1:31). The record of death in the geologic column forces “old earth” theorists to admit that death had to precede the sin of Adam! This places “old earth” theorists into exactly the same theological position as those who believe in theistic evolution or progressive creation. You can’t have it both ways.

Furthermore, the “old earth” believer is forced to abandon the overwhelming geologic evidence for the global Flood of Noah’s day. Why? The worldwide fossil-laden layers of precipitated sedimentary rock in the geologic column are clear evidence of a global Flood. If these layers are reinterpreted to become evidence for an “old earth” with millions of years of disease and death, rather than evidence for the Flood, then passages such as Genesis 6-8 and 2 Peter 3:5-7 must either be reinterpreted as teaching a “local” flood--or abandoned, as being in error or of no historical significance! Holding an “old earth” position logically forces one to give up the evidence for the biblical truth of the global Flood. You can’t have it both ways.

In addition, if the geologic column is evidence of an “old earth” rather than evidence for the global Flood, eventually the “old earth” theorist is moved towards theistic evolution, with a common ancestor for humans and chimpanzees. Thus even the biblical teaching of a real, historical Adam and Eve begins to topple! This, in fact, is the majority opinion of the recently formed Christian BioLogos Foundation. Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians are moving in that direction because they feel that the supposed “scientific evidence” of the geologic column “proves” an “old earth.”

Sadly, many of these believers do not seem to realize that an “old earth” position undermines the critical doctrine of salvation in the book of Romans! If death and decay existed before mankind sinned, and if Adam and Eve were not real historical people who brought sin upon all mankind, the logical conclusion is that Paul, the inspired writer of Romans, did not know what he was talking about. The doctrine of salvation taught in Romans 1-8 (and throughout the Word of God) rests inescapably upon the historicity of the foundational teachings of Genesis.

In the “domino effect,“ when the first domino in a line of dominoes falls, a chain reaction is triggered and all the dominoes fall as a result. In the same way, “reinterpreting” one truth of the Word of God starts a domino effect. If the Word of God is inerrant and consistent, every facet of biblical truth will logically and necessarily affect all biblical truth. When one biblical passage is toppled (such as the literal, historical account in Genesis 1 and 2), other passages and truths will begin to fall, one after another. You can’t have it both ways.

2. Don’t forget Romans 8:29!

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Notice that this verse doesn’t say that everything that occurs in our lives is good. Many things that come into our lives are not “good,” but God, in His sovereign ways, works together everything that happens in our lives for our ultimate good, if we love Him.

What is the ultimate “good” in Romans 8:28? Good health? Financial success? No! Verse 29 reveals that the ultimate “good” for believers is to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ! “For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

God’s ultimate purpose is that we should become more like Christ, to complement His glory! We were foreknown, predestined, called and justified by God for that very purpose, and eventually we will be glorified according to that purpose (v30). What a wonderful “chain of events”!

The overarching point of Romans 8: 18-30 is that God is in control of everything. He created all things, He has a wonderful purpose for everything He created, and there is nothing that can thwart His purposes! Although things may seem to out of control in the universe, or in the affairs of this earth, or sometimes even in the events of our lives, nothing is ever out of God’s control! There are no “maverick molecules” in this universe, and there are no “chance events” in our lives! We don’t have to worry about an asteroid colliding with earth and wiping everything out. If that happens, God planned it. God is in control.

God is working out His glorious plan and purpose for the universe, and God is working out His glorious plan and purpose for our lives as well.
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