19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Continuing my study in Romans 8, I’ve come to what seems to be a intimidating passage to try to interpret or study. I’ve had to read it several times in different translations, and I’m still not entirely sure that I am on the right track. But, I think it is very profitable when we bump up against tough passages like this, where we have to slow down and really think. It sharpens the mind. I had to “get over” the fact that I may be completely wrong in my explanation of these verses. I don’t like to be wrong. Even now, I put my thoughts out there with some trepidation of being off the green and into the weeds. (Sports analogy. Proud of myself)
I think with this passage, one must first pull way back and take a wide angle view of the verses as they fit together before delving into the individual verses. At least, that is what helped me in studying this passage. According to my ESV Study Bible, “creation” here in these verses is personified. In other words, for sake of the meaning of the passage, creation is likened unto a person. That does not mean that creation is a person with a soul, though obviously it lives vibrantly, but rather it is being compared to a person to make the illustrative point.
Once I understood that, I was able to drill down into the verses to gather a beautiful picture of the upcoming time when all of creation, including we who believe, will be sanctified. Let’s start with verse 1:
Creation is waiting. Not only is it waiting, it is waiting with eager longing. But for what? What possibly could creation, which doesn’t have a soul, be waiting for?
It is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. This is a word picture designed to emphasize what is to come. The sons of God are those who have believed; those who have been adopted as the sons of God as we see previously in Romans 8:15. The difficult question is, if they have already been adopted as the sons of God, then why is creation waiting for the revealing of these sons of God? Are they not already revealed?
Salvation (the adoption of we who believe as the sons and daughters of God) is a starting point. It is not the end point. As we move toward the inheritance of all that God wills for us eternally, we walk through something called “Sanctification” . This sanctification will not be completed until we have arrived at our forever eternal home of heaven. This sanctification is what creation is waiting for, in the revealing of the sons of God.
The next two verses drills down even farther:
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Creation was subjected to futility. To be futile is to be useless, or not successful. Creation was meant to be so much more than it is. It was meant to be perfection. But it was subjected to futility–but not willingly. It was subjected to futility through the sin of man-the sin of Adam. This introduction of sin meant that creation would never live up to what it was intended to be–at least, not until it will be set free. In verse 21st is where we see this longing, this hope. Creation will be set free from the bondage of corruption and obtain the same freedom of the glory of the children of God. Therefore, what perfect sense it makes that creation is longing for the final revealing–the ending sanctification–of the sons and daughters of God.
We receive another vivid picture of this longing in verse 22:
Wow. Paul uses the picture of childbirth to explain the agony that creation is subject to as it eagerly awaits the fruition, the completion, of God’s plan for this earth and for His sons and daughters that He has adopted through their faith in Him. I’ve given birth four times, without the use of medication. The pain is intense; beyond intense. It comes wave after wave with no end in sight. I think that must be how creation feels as it awaits the completion of the promises of our God.
But it’s not just creation that is groaning in these waves of pain. It is we ourselves. It is us, the sons and daughters of God. We have the first fruits of the Spirit, which means we have been giving the Spirit of God in this first process toward sanctification. We have been given salvation. Nothing can take that away from us. However it is not the end product. And we groan inwardly with the sorrows of this word, the sufferings of this word (see Romans 8:18), knowing that they are temporary, they are nothing in comparison to the glory that is to come. We groan as we eagerly await for adoptions of sons. It’s the already—we are already adopted; and the not yet–our adoption will be complete when we receive our resurrected bodies. When we go home.
This whole passage points toward our final home of heaven. When creation will be free from it’s bondage and in it’s hope will become all that God intended it to be, as the forever home of us who are adopted by God–a home that is unmarred by sin and destruction, where all of creation cries out in praise to God our Father.