Triumphant in Christ:
A Bible Study of Romans 8:18-39

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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Some parts of Scripture that speak of the return of Christ may have significance only for those who live in the time of Christ's return. This may be true for those passages that present events that signal the end times. However, most passages that discuss the return of Christ are more generally helpful to the Christian community, providing an orientation for Christian living that is important throughout this age. One of the chapters that discusses this orientation is the eighth chapter of Romans.

By any measure, the eighth chapter of Romans is one of the lofty heights of this epistle. Romans has the reputation of being one of the more difficult books of the New Testament to interpret correctly, and, indeed, there are sections that stimulate much study and debate among serious students of the Scriptures. Yet the eighth chapter is comparatively clear waters for anyone who wishes to read it carefully; which makes this Scripture even more attractive.

In addressing the issue of how Christians should view suffering, Paul takes two approaches. In the first, contained in verses 18-25, he points us to the future. In the second, from verse 26 on, Paul emphasizes our present victory in Christ even in the midst of suffering. It is our future deliverance, however, that Paul brings to our attention first. It is from this perspective that we are to view the latter truth (our victory in the midst of suffering). In fact, if we remember that the chapter divisions in our Bible did not exist when Scripture was first written, we can see even more clearly that this viewpoint governs much, if not all, of the discussion of the rest of Romans.

If this seems a lot to claim for this section of Scripture, attention to what Paul says here makes the significance of his teaching obvious. In verse 20, Paul begins to talk about an event that will effect not only Christians, not only people everywhere, but all of creation. Although Paul does not use the word "kosmos" here, it is a cosmic event in the truest sense of the word, where, in Greek, the word "kosmos" indicates not just what exists, but the order by which everything is related. Paul is not just talking about a new physical creation, he is talking about an entire new order, a new relationship for all created things.

The old order is defined by decay. Long after Paul wrote this letter, scientists would call this tendency for all things to decay "entropy," the gradual dispersal of all energy throughout the universe. In a more technical sense, entropy is a "tendency toward randomness and disorder." What this means in everyday life is that everything has a tendency to run-down and fall apart. If you think about it, a major part of our lives is devoted to keeping things up. Wood rots, metal rusts, food decays, living things eventually deteriorate and die - including people. This is the order of this world. A major amount of upkeep and maintenance is required to keep up our houses, automobiles, foods, appliances, and bodies.

This is not an accident. God made decay a major factor in our universe as a result of the sinfulness of mankind (Genesis 3:17-19). He did not do this without purpose. God's purpose is to indicate to us that our future lies in spiritual realities rather than in physical things like worldliness and sinful self-reliance. It's purpose is to prod us to look beyond what this creation can offer so that we will seek the living God (Acts 17:26-27).

It makes little difference whether the universe Adam and Eve were created in was one that was "running down" already or whether God introduced this tendency to decay after the fall. That is an issue that is open for Christians to study and debate. More important is the teaching of Scripture that this was not the ultimate plan of God for His creation. It was always God's plan to have a universe that was eternal. If the universe Adam and Eve were created in was subject to decay, then sin postponed the day when it would be transformed into something more permanent and abiding.

To make this point, Paul uses poetic language and a literary device called "anthropomorphism" or "personification," attributing human qualities to non-human things. To illustrate how unnatural decay is, he writes as if the universe itself has a mind, and makes it anxious to be free from the tendency to decay. Just as a slave cannot wait to be free, knowing that only in freedom can that person attain his or her full potential, so too the universe "longs" to be free from this tendency to become corrupt. Its "pain" is like the pain of a mother who knows that the end of her pain will coincide with the beginning of a new life. That moment that creation "strains" toward Paul calls "the "revelation of the sons of God." That same event from the viewpoint of Christians Paul calls "the "redemption of the body," for our bodies are just as much a part of this age and this order as any other part of creation.

In his first epistle, John writes, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). To see Jesus "just as He is" now is to see Him in His glorified body, the body He had when He rose from the dead. In I Corinthians 15:20-28 and 35-57, Paul discusses the change that will take place when Jesus returns to claim His own. Although Paul tells the Corinthians that it is foolish to speculate too much about how our bodies will be transformed, the reference point for Paul, as for John in I John 3:2, is the glorified body of Christ.

Even when we stand in a saving relationship with God through Christ, our bodies still break-down and die, just as do the bodies of non-Christians. The physical body, then, as a part of this universe, is still subject to decay (II Corinthians 4:1-5:10). The "redemption of the body" takes place when the benefits of the cross of Christ that apply to our physical selves, our bodies, are applied (Colossians 3:4, Hebrews 9:27-28). At that point the "sons of God" will be "revealed" because, being like Jesus, it will be evident that they are Christ's brethren. As Paul teaches in I Corinthians 15, "But each in his own order; Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming . . . the last enemy that will be abolished is death" (I Corinthians 15:23, 26). And death is abolished when our physical bodies are made like the glorified body of Christ - fit for eternity in a creation that does not know decay.

In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul makes clear that the redemption of the bodies of those Christians who live will not take place until after the resurrection and glorification of the bodies of those who have died. All of this will take place quickly, however, and those who live will be "raptured," glorified, and brought into immediate fellowship with Christ and those who passed away in the Lord. At that point, the blessing consists not just of a renewed body, but of the fellowship we will have with Christ and His own from that moment on. It will be a time of supreme happiness. Surely, this fellowship will be the most outstanding and enjoyable part of the time when our bodies are redeemed (Revelation 21:3).

But it will also be the time when God says, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5). Peter describes the cataclysmic nature of this renewal (II Peter 3:10-13). As does the 21st and 22nd chapter of Revelation, Peter describes this as a time of great blessing for Christians and a time of great distress for those who do not know the Lord. Our constant remembrance of this Paul calls "the blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). When it is our constant hope, it has a cleansing effect upon our lives, freeing us from putting too much emphasis upon "fairness" and "blessing" in this age, challenging us to live as citizens of a kingdom that will never pass away (I John 3:3, I Peter 1:13, II Peter 3:14-15). This is the point of view Paul promotes in Romans 8.

Having established this orientation of our mind, Paul then draws back from looking to the future to consider the present. Now is a time when the people of God sometimes suffer. But it is also a time when God is working out good things through every event and experience that Christians endure, preparing them for the glory that will be revealed not only to, but in them. Then Paul goes on to write something supremely surprising. Because God is at work in them (Philippians 2:13), even in the midst of the worst experiences they can endure, Christians are, at that moment, "more than conquerors" (KJV), since "in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

Nowhere does Romans 8 teach that there will be a "super-race" of glorified Christians who will rule the world prior to Christ's bodily return. This fanciful interpretation, held by those of today's "Manifest Sons of God" movement, results from the failure to recognize precisely when the redemption of the body takes place. They follow in the footsteps of such deluded individuals as the Zealots and the Crusaders, those who believed that to experience the victory of Messiah they had to impress those around them with demonstrations of power and military force; to force the world to submit to God. How different this is from the attitude of Paul when he wrote, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" and "when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Corinthians 4:7, 12:10).

To successfully represent Christ in this age does not require miracles or overwhelming power. Faithful Christians need merely be themselves (II Corinthians 3:1ff.). Jesus entered the world, with all of its frustrations, temptations, and suffering, endured it, and conquered it. Through Him, so can we, if we trust in His promise for the future and His provision for the present.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume V, Part 12, December 1997.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.