37.Groaning Saints

Meditations in Romans : 37:  Groaning Saints

Rom 8:22   Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We have seen Paul describing this world as being in a groaning state, in anticipation of something better to come and now he turns to us Christians and says the same is true of us, this is also true of “we ourselves”. When we became a Christian we may have thought that we had ‘arrived’ but actually we just arrived at the starting post. The rest of our life was in front of us and it is a life of continual change, which is partial while we remain on this earth and then complete when we see Him face to face.

He describes us Christians as having “the first fruits of the Spirit”. By definition, first implies others to follow. Thus he is saying that we now enter into a life of experience with the Spirit but whatever we experience here on this earth, is only the first part of a much bigger experience of Him which we will enter into when we go to Him.  So, he goes on, in the same way as the world senses that it waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (v.20) so the same thing happens with us. We “groan inwardly as we wait.” Note that it is an inward groaning not an outward groaning. If I may put it like this, it is like a rumbling stomach, except it is in the spirit. Deep inside me something tells me that I have not ‘arrived’, that there is something more than this.

Often we may say of church life, “there must be something more than this.” (Well those of us alert to God at least, do). We look at our own lives with dissatisfaction when we are being honest, yearning for something more than we have at the moment. It is a strange thing but two opposites exist within us at any one time. On one side we are called to be contented and on the other side there is this holy dissatisfaction. We are to be contented with the life God has led us into and the material provision we have (which doesn’t stop us working for more) but in the realm of the Spirit we will always be wanting something more, because this is only a partial experience of Him, this side of glory.

We catch a sense of this same idea with Abram: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:9,10) Abram had received a promise of family, a land, and a blessing to bless the world (Gen 12:1-3). So, says the writer to the Hebrews, in his travels he was following God’s leading and looking for whatever it was that God had on His heart for him, a city, he sensed, that God would build – and so he looked for something that never came while he was on the earth. That writer explains it: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16).  These ‘people of faith’ in the ‘faith gallery’ of Hebrews 11 all sensed there was something better than they had at the moment – and that helped them live out their time on earth.

Job, struggling with his terrible infirmities, came to this awareness: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25,27) At that stage it was simply that One would come and even though he died he would see Him. There was this hope!

We find this same sense of ‘looking forward’ in the apostle Paul himself: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14) He expresses this sense of incompleteness in himself – not yet perfect – yet Jesus took hold of him for a purpose and an end goal and so he will press on for both. He presses on to become the man and ministry Jesus called him to be, and he presses on so that he will do nothing to hinder Jesus bringing him to glory, the ultimate goal in God’s purposes for him.

The writer to the Hebrews conveys the same idea about Jesus: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus knew the ultimate goal, the joy of being seated next to his Father in heaven, reigning in the midst of his enemies, and it was this that sustained him when he faced the Cross. Jesus looked beyond the immediate present and looked to the ultimate goal – and so do we.

Yet there is more: “we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” This is interesting and it reminds us that they are various ways of fulfillment, because we have been adopted as sons when we came to Christ, yet there is a fuller expression of it yet to come. Now, as we’ve said before, part of that is in our time here on earth. As every year passes so we learn and experience more and more of what it means to be an adopted son of God. Yet, the fullness of being a son does not come until we see Him face to face and at that time our entire beings are redeemed and made perfect. For now we struggle with ageing and decaying bodies, but when we pass on from this existence we will receive new bodies that will never suffer sickness, or weariness or illness. As we age, that is the hope we have – new bodies! Hallelujah!

11. God’s fruit

Meditations in James: 11 :  God’s Fruit

Jas 1:18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

Tucked away in Scripture we sometimes find gems that we were not expecting. I believe this verse is one such gem. James, aware of the needs of those he is writing to, has been telling them how to cope with this sometimes difficult world. He has shown us how we may have a positive perspective of trials and reminded us that we can ask God for wisdom to know how to cope. He’s told us to have a right perspective of God, realising that He is good and everything that comes from Him is good, and to that he tacks on this reminder of what has happened to us and why.

Years ago I wrote a short story around the idea that Scripture gives us that before all things the Godhead looked into time-space history future, considered the world they would make and mankind on it, saw the Fall and its effects, and planned accordingly. No, they didn’t NOT give man free will so that the Fall would never happen, but instead they allowed it to happen, allowed men and women to sin, but made provision for a possibility that was staggering in its enormity. They planned for the Son to come and provide a way whereby sinful men and women could come back to God and enter into a living relationship with Him. Absolutely everything was provided for, the means of forgiveness, the channel of communication, and even the power source to be given to enable new lives to be lived. The possibility was of a new race of human beings living in harmony with God, empowered by Him, guided by Him and filled with Him. They would still have the old life within them, but they would reject it for the love of God. They would be love motivated and love empowered beings. They would be Spirit motivated and Spirit empowered beings. Out of the old sinful lives would emerge something new and beautiful, but what would be the thing that would bring them to Him?  What would be the catalyst that triggered this new birth, this new life?

The answer is very simple: the word of truth. The Son would first come communicating truth and as it was received, some would respond and gather to him. Yet the truth about the past was insufficient. Yes, the beings had heard of God’s dealings with His people and understood a little of His greatness and His desire to have a people for Himself, a people who would talk to Him and listen to Him, who would relate to Him, but this truth was insufficient. This human race needed to know that God loved them because, as we said, love would be the motivating force brought by the Spirit. Thus the penultimate part of the plan, that the world had to be told about, was that this Son willingly laid down his life for us. The final part of the plan was that he would be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven, to retake his place next to his Father. The world had to be told this. This is why it was so important that Jesus had to have followers who would tell what they had seen and heard.

Thus in time-space history, about two thousand years ago, this band of witnesses are waiting and wondering, waiting for God’s appointed time and wondering what will happen. God loves doing things with significance and so on the feast day called Pentecost (which was all about first fruits) He came and alighted on these witnesses. The joy they experienced, and the sense of sudden understanding of the truth they had witnessed, drove them out into the streets praising God. As they were questioned, one of them, Peter, stood up and preached the truth. As they listened to that first ‘Christian’ sermon, three thousand of them opened their hearts to God and were born again as He came to them with forgiveness and His Spirit. The word of truth brought new birth, and has continued to do so ever since. As someone has said, the Christian Faith is a religion with content. There is truth to be told and that truth, when it encounters open hearts, has the effect of bringing a surrender which God takes and blesses and a new life is formed.

These, says James, with a look back to the Old Testament, are like first fruits of a great harvest. The first fruits of the harvest, according to the Law, belonged to God. Presenting to God these first fruits was an acknowledgement that in fact all the harvest was His gift. The first fruits were reminders that it all belonged to God, it was all His gift. So it is that Christians are to be considered first fruits, or reminders, that everything in Creation belongs to God and is His gift to us. This significant reference says, in the context of the difficult world and the trials we go through, don’t forget that this is God’s world even though fallen, and that you Christians are signs to the rest of the world of God’s goodness which has been restated through you. The sin of the Fall opened a Pandora’s Box of awfulness into the world, and so the world is sometimes hard and difficult to live in. However, God has declared again His goodness and love in bringing forth a new creation, a new expression of His love, a new people who show everyone else what is possible. You can’t get more positive than that!

Finding the world difficult? Going through trials?  Remember who you are. Remember how you came into being. Remember you are a divinely supernatural creation, a sign to the rest of the world of God’s love and goodness. How you respond in your trials will reveal even more who you are and also God’s goodness and love. Shine forth!