A study of Romans 8:19-28
Paradise is definitely lost. No doubt there are situations in your life that range anywhere from slightly less than perfect all the way to indescribably torturous. Then think about what is going on in the lives of people you know. Then, via TV, newspapers, or the Internet, expand your concentric circles of awareness to the rest of the world, and the countless people suffering day after day from a myriad of hideous circumstances.
Sure, it might be a beautiful day where you live, and you may be experiencing no current trauma, but even a cursory look at life on planet earth reveals incalculable suffering. This morning I quickly went through my prayer list, noted each person with his own particular set of circumstances, and my heart ached to think that God and the Lord Jesus, who love people far more than I do, must look upon the unspeakable pain of humanity for yet another day in what has thus far been about 6000 years of misery.
This brief article will show that God and the Lord Jesus (and, figuratively speaking, creation itself) are very much in touch with our pain, and that they eagerly desire to bring about the inexorable redemption of the world. It is comforting to know that our Hope is their Hope! In the meantime, they are beside us in the trenches of life, fighting for us in every situation. We will focus primarily on Romans 8:19-28, and in so doing answer the question many have asked as to whether verses 26 and 27 pertain to speaking in tongues as intercessory prayer. By following the context, and in particular the word “groan,” we will see that they do not.
When you are suffering with physical or emotional pain, what thought is paramount in your mind? You want it to end, right? You want the situation to change for the better. How much better? Well, if you are financially broke, what about the guarantee of a million dollars a day for life? The history of mankind is replete with an insatiable longing for a perfect world, and this is reflected in belief in such things as Nirvana, Valhalla, or Utopia. Even a temporary escape to a better place is apparent in the way people speak of large amusment parks, for example. Actually, what God will bring to pass is far better than anything man has conceived.
Sometimes things get so bad that you have no words to express your agony, and all you can do is let out a groan. What does it mean to “groan”? One dictionary says: “to utter a deep, mournful, inarticulate sound expressive of pain or grief; to be overburdened or overloaded; to suffer greatly or lamentably.” The following two verses are examples of how Satan’s domination of the world causes godly people to groan for something better.
When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.
I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.
As Christians, we live in this current Administration of the Sacred Secret, which began on the Day of Pentecost and will end with the Rapture of the Christian Church, when our salvation will finally be consummated. What we have now is the absolute guarantee of a glorious life in the coming Paradise. God has given each of us the gift of holy spirit, which, as the following verses state, is the witness within us that we are forever His children and thus have everlasting life.
Romans 8:15 and 16 (REV®)
(15) For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, by which we cry, “Abba” (Father).
(16) The Spirit himself bears witness together with our spirit, that we are children of God,
Our new birth also gives us the power to serve the Lord amidst a dying world. Doing so will require us to share in his sufferings, but if we are faithful, we will be richly rewarded and share in his glory also, a glory that will far outweigh whatever suffering we must endure.
Romans 8:17 and 18 (REV)
(17) and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, since we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
(18) For I maintain that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed in us.
Then come the verses we will exposit in some detail, for they contain great truth that will enhance both our motivation to stand for the Lord in this sick world and our anticipation of his appearing, when we will see him face to face and receive our rewards from him.
Romans 8:19-21 (REV)
(19) For the eager expectation of the creation is assiduously waiting for the revealing of the sons of God
(20) (for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it) in hope
(21) that the creation itself also will be freed from the bondage of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
First, via the figure of speech personification, we see that even the earth itself longs to be free from the curse of sin imposed upon it by Adam’s transferal of his God-given dominion over it to Satan. The Greek word translated “eager expectation” literally means “anxious looking with outstretched head,” which aptly expresses the focused expectancy.
Note the parenthesis, which makes it clear that it was the Devil, not God, who subjected the world to its present state of agony. In the New English Bible, the end of verse 20 and the beginning of 21 reads: “Yet always there was hope that the creation itself will be liberated….”
In the next verses, we will see that Creation itself groans to be restored to its Edenic state, and that we believers, who have the guarantee of new life in Paradise, groan for the new bodies we have been promised.
Romans 8:22-25 (REV)
(22) For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
(23) And not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our body.
(24) (For we were saved for the hope. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for that which he sees?
(25) But if we hope for that which we do not see, then we, with patience, eagerly wait for it).
And now come the verses that have perplexed many saints through the centuries.
Romans 8:26-28 (REV)
(26) Moreover, in the same way also the Spirit joins in to help with our infirmity, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us along with groans too deep for words.
(27) And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the holy ones according to the will of God.
(28) Now we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, even to those who are the called, according to his purpose.
“In the same way”—as what? In the same way Creation groans and we groan, the Lord Jesus (here called “the Spirit”) groans. Nothing in God’s creation is free from the horrific consequences of sin. As our brother, and one who loves God’s creation, Jesus groans too. This is a case where the orthodox belief that God is unchanging and all-controlling causes people to misunderstand the verse. For example, Lenski wrongly writes, “…the Holy Spirit does not and cannot groan….” The truth is that God can groan, and has a myriad of other emotions as well. So does Jesus. Jesus is touched with the feelings of our infirmity (Heb. 4:15), this verse tells us that he, like the rest of Creation, is groaning in distress about its trauma.
In verse 26, “the Spirit” is Jesus, just as he is referred to elsewhere in the New Testament. When Jesus was resurrected, his body was still flesh and bone (Luke 24:39), but it was spiritually empowered in a way we do not fully understand. 1 Corinthians 15:44-46 says that Jesus was raised “a spiritual body.” When he first appeared to his disciples, they thought he was a spirit (pneuma; Luke 24:37), but he denied that, and had them touch his body to feel its flesh. Because Jesus’ new body is spiritually empowered, he is called “the Spirit” in many places in the New Testament (Acts 2:4; 10:19; Rom. 8:16, 26, 27; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 14:13; and 22:17.
In verses 26 and 27, “the Spirit” is not referring to the gift of holy spirit born in each Christian, for it does not have a mind of its own as this Spirit does (v. 27), nor can it intercede for us. Rather, we intercede for others via our holy spirit. Those who say that the “Spirit” in this verse is the gift of holy spirit usually also say that the groans mentioned in the verse are speaking in tongues. However, it is the Christian who speaks in tongues, not the gift of holy spirit, and this verse clearly says it is the Spirit who groans. That flows with the context; even Jesus is feeling the awful effects of this fallen world, and he groans as his Body, the Church, is groaning.
The Greek word for “joins in to help” means “to take part with, generally, to come to the aid of, be of assistance to, help.” The Spirit, Jesus, “helps” us, but he does not do it all. We also must pray if we are going to have God’s power fully manifested in our lives. “Makes intercession for us” is in the present tense, active voice, showing that Jesus prays to the Father for us now, just as he did when he was training his apostles on earth (Luke 22:31).
The phrase, “along with groans,” shows that when Jesus prays for us, he also groans about the fallen state of the world (there is no separate word for “with” in the phrase, “with groans,” as groans is in the dative case). This verse is not saying that Jesus prays “with groans,” i.e., he prays by using groans, for that would miss the point in the context. Because of the fallen state of the world, it groans, we groan, and Jesus groans. We use “groans” because it can be understood as a noun, and more easily makes the connection with verses 22 and 23.
Friberg’s Analytical Lexicon has a clear definition of the Greek word translated “too deep for words”: “of something that arouses such strong emotions one cannot find words to speak of it.” This definition is reflected in many modern translations. The groans about the ruined and enslaved state of Creation are too deep to express in words. These groans do not refer to speaking in tongues any more than do the groans in verses 22 or 23. If they did, the verse would be saying that Jesus makes intercession for us by speaking in tongues, for which there is no biblical basis.
Today, all Creation, all Christians, and the Lord Jesus groan “for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19) and “the creation itself also will be freed from the bondage of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). That glorious day is when the Lord comes for his Church and gathers us together unto him (1 Thess. 4:13-18). That is when our salvation from sin and death will be fulfilled. What we have now is the “first-fruits of the spirit” (v. 23) as the guarantee of our future salvation, and that is what motivates us, despite our trials and tribulations, to go on serving the Lord until we see him face to face and he gives us our new body.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (REV)
(1) For we know that if our house here on earth, our tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, Age-abiding, in the heavens.
(2) For indeed, in this house we continually groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven,
(3) because indeed, having been clothed, we will not be found naked.
(4) For indeed we who are in this tent continually groan, being burdened, not that we want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
(5) Now it is God who made us for this very thing, who gave to us the spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
The earthly “tent” is our mortal body, and the “building from God” is our new body that Jesus, who is currently “in heaven,” will bring to us when he meets us in the air. Note that verse 4 says “not that we want to be unclothed, but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.” To be “unclothed” means to die, and we do not want to die, for death is not the Christian’s Hope. Death is not the gateway to heaven, but rather a mortal enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), and our goal is to live until the appearing of the Lord Jesus. Day by day we groan in anticipation of that rapturous event, but we do so with the assurance that our Lord also groans for that day. We know that the wonderful moments we enjoy in this life as we walk with him and love our brethren are but tiny glimpses of the magnificent life that is to come. Amen.