The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. —Romans 8:21
The Bible rejoices in the greatness of God, and that sets the tone for our whole lives. For example,
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place. —1 Chronicles 16:27
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. —Psalm 145:3
He is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed. —Daniel 6:26
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. . . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us. —Ephesians 1:3, 7
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, . . . to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. —Ephesians 3:20-21
God is magnificent, and he’s giving himself away freely to anyone who will have him. That’s why nothing is more essential to your whole life than for you to see him and love him as he is. How we think of God is the question for you and me every day. Everyone is either a little-godder or a Big-Godder. How we see God predetermines how we respond to everything else in life. Romans 8 helps us, because it stretches our faith to fit a big salvation from a big God. He isn’t just patching us up. He plans to renovate the universe, and he’s starting now inside us. God is on a mission. It’s huge. It has to be. He’s huge. Your future in Christ is huge. Your faith can and must be huge.
Sometimes we find that difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God is so massively good. That’s why Jesus said to his friends, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). Literally, “O you mini-believers!” Who are they? Mini-believers have faith, but it’s small. They pick and choose. Think of Nashville as a bell curve. At one end are a few unbelievers. They’re not buying the gospel at all, they know it, they live like it. At the other end are believers. They swallow the gospel whole, and their enthusiasm is infectious. In the middle of that bell curve are a lot of mini-believers, like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). You can say that to him. He will help you, because your faith matters to him.
Why does your faith matter? What is at stake in the audacity of your faith? Jesus said, “According to your faith be it done for you” (Matthew 9:29). He did not mean that, if we just believe hard enough, he’ll do whatever we want. He meant, “Take me at my word, believe me for all that I am, because the only salvation I have to offer you is magnificent. You have to stretch your thoughts out to the magnitude of the gospel. If you will, I will not disappoint you. According to your faith be it done for you.” Your faith matters to Jesus. The Bible says about the people in his hometown, “He could do no mighty work there, . . . and he marveled at their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6). The Bible also says about a Roman soldier, that Jesus marveled at his faith. He said, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9). And Jesus helped that man. The Bible says, “The one who doubts . . . must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man” (James 1:6-7). What is the Bible saying? If you believe in Jesus but you’re careful not to go too far with him, if you can’t make up your mind whether you really want the will of God because of what it might cost you – he sees that. Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). He wants us to be like children in our faith. What is childlike faith? It is not not asking questions. Children never stop asking questions! But here’s what children do. When children receive a true answer to their question, they believe it. As we grow older, we become guarded. We have to be. But let’s be guarded on all fronts. Let’s be guarded against ourselves too. There is only One you can always trust, and it isn’t you. Jesus said, “Believe in God” (John 14:1). Romans 8:19-21 is his call that we stretch our faith to match his word. He wants to use Romans 8:19-21 to give us the gift of childlike wonder.
In just three verses this passage looks back to when God created everything in perfection, it looks around at the ruins of the world today, it looks forward to the new heavens and the new earth. The gospel is more than God saving you. It’s God renewing the whole universe. Everything we will ever face is smaller than Jesus. That’s why Paul said back in chapter 1 he is not ashamed of the gospel. Only the gospel says to us, “Look how bad things are. Open your eyes. Look at the way nothing ever changes in this world. Look how empowered evil is. Look at everything horrible. Include everything you fear. Leave nothing out. Heap up together all that sadness, all the loss, the tragedy, the regret, the wreckage of history, and for good measure throw in all the dying stars out there in the universe – pile it all up together into one massive heap of disappointment, and guess what? Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’” This passage takes us on a brief guided tour of his future kingdom, so that we can return to the present with a confidence that can move mountains.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. —Romans 8:21
Paul has just told us that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. He has just told us that, as God’s children, we are his heirs. So we wonder, How big is our future inheritance? Is it worth living for? Is it worth risking for? We wish we could ask Paul, “You know a lot about this. Tell us more about this coming glory. We need to know what it’s worth. How big is it, Paul?” He anticipates our question. He pulls back the curtain of appearances and shows us something about the creation we never would have known otherwise.
Here’s the surprise: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” History is going somewhere, and it’s something to look forward to. Paul is saying here that God has built into the creation a forward tilt, a happy inevitability, a longing for the debut of the children of God. He has put his hand down on his own creation, so that it’s like a coil spring tightly compressed, straining to be released. J. B. Phillips put it another way: “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” Not that the creation has rational thoughts. But God made everything for perfection. He made us to rule over it. But we ruined it in the Garden of Eden when we broke with God. And God’s remedy is not an evolutionary process. His remedy is the re-creation of man through Jesus Christ the only perfect man. And right now the creation is waiting for the time when we will be made royal again, like Jesus. The Greek scholar, James Hope Moulton, tells us about the word translated “eager longing.” That Greek word suggests someone craning their neck, stretching their head out to see what’s coming. What’s out there? “The revealing of the sons of God.” God will gather us all together, even from the grave, and crown us with immortality. Compared with what we will be then, right now we’re almost vegetables. Two weeks ago I was in Berkeley. I remembered the most tragic man I’ve ever seen. One day in the 1970s I was walking down Telegraph Avenue, and here came a young man stumbling down the street totally stoned with a completely vacant look in his eyes and in a condition I don’t want to describe. But there was only an inch of difference between him and me, compared with what we will be someday by the power of Christ. We will not just be good. We will be majestic, to the glory of God. And Paul is saying, “It’s as if all the powers of the universe, with the robins and oak trees and largemouth bass and the Matterhorn – the creation will look at us then and think, ‘Now those are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Rule over us, and it will be perfect!’” That’s where God is taking us through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Believe it. Believe it wholeheartedly. It is the promise of God.
Right now there is so much futility and defeat and failure and loss and tragedy and abuse:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 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. —Romans 8:20-21
There is a reason why so many artists and poets and other perceptive people have told us that this world is all for nothing. Think of the books, the movies, agonizing over the futility of life. Nobody said it better than Woody Allen:
I always see the death’s head lurking. I could be sitting at Madison Square Garden at the most exciting basketball game, and they’re cheering and everything is thrilling, and one of the players is doing something very beautiful – and my thought will be, “He’s only twenty-eight years old and I only wish he could savor this moment in some way, because this is as good as it’s going to get for him.”…The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. It’s absolutely stupefying in its terror, and it renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless. As Camus wrote, it’s not only that he dies or that man dies but that you struggle to do a work of art that will last and then realize that the universe itself is not going to exist after a time.
There’s a lot of truth in what he’s saying. But there’s more truth in the gospel. God created the universe not for futility, not even for mediocrity. God created all things to be a symphony orchestra of glorious praise, so that we could be caught up in him and enjoy him to the max. But we’ve never heard the orchestra perform. We’ve never seen what the creation was made to do. Why? Because when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden and we all fell from our place of dominion, God said to the whole creation, “Shhh. Not yet.” So right now – do you remember the old hymn “Abide with me”? There’s a great line in there: “Change and decay in all around I see.” That’s the way it is. Change and decay. And we’re a part of it. When you read a novel about the bitter futility of life, you should write the author and say, “Thank you for telling me the truth.”
God’s creation, that he loves and cares for, is pervaded with brokenness. Not intrinsically. As Paul says here, “not willingly.” The sun does not willingly shine on people that use its light and warmth so that they can do terrible things to each other. It’s as if the sun is thinking, “This is not what the Creator made me for.” The rain doesn’t like falling on the earth so that people can harvest the crops and use the energy of that food to lie and cheat. Electricity doesn’t like running computers so that guys can look at porn. Air doesn’t like being inhaled by people who hate the glorious Creator who made the air. But that’s the way the world is. Obviously, it cannot last. God never meant this. But he subjects the creation to all this futility. He didn’t make a mistake in his design. It’s his judgment: “. . . not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.”
When Adam sinned, God cursed the ground, in Genesis 3. That’s where we live right now – with broken hearts and sick children and people maligning each other and people enslaving each other and people having to drink putrid water and live in filth. It’s all wrong. The world is not normal. We are not normal. But 2000 years ago a normal Man came into this broken world. We hated him. We blamed him. We heaped our ugliness on him, and he took it. He took it to his cross, and it sank him down into death. But he rose up from it all. He rose with a new power of life that won’t stop until the whole universe is renewed. Jesus is our future. He is why our sufferings are not worth despairing over.
Here’s the future Jesus is creating: “. . . in hope 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.” God’s going to take the lid off, God will uncork the cosmic champagne bottle, and the whole universe will burst into joy. The Bible says, “You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). That’s how big the gospel is. And God wants you to be there. He wants you to rule there with Christ. But you get there only one way. You open your empty hands in faith and receive him for all that he is.
There is nothing small about Jesus. There’s nothing disappointing in him. Let’s not arrange our lives so that we confess the truth of Christ without living by faith in Christ. Let’s be careful that we don’t say all the right things about Jesus while making sure we never have to depend on him. Let’s believe what we believe, let’s pray that way and rejoice that way, so that Jesus looks at our faith and marvels at our audacity. I like the way A. W. Tozer put it: “Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted him.”