The Spirit Groans


On Pentecost Sunday, we rejoice in the fact that the Comforter has been given, poured out upon us, so that the world might be prepared for the final consummation. This is a central role of the Spirit in the world, and it ties in directly with the purposes of God for this world that we have already addressed.


“But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh . . . For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected [the same] in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only [they], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, [to wit], the redemption of our body . . . Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what [is] the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to [the will of] God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose ”

(Rom. 8:11-12, 19-23, 26-28).


The Spirit of resurrection is the Spirit who indwells us (v. 11). Because our bodies will be raised, we should behave with those bodies now (v. 12). Those who live for the flesh will die; those who do not will live (v. 13). Those who are Spirit-led in this way, these are sons of God (v. 14). Our relationship with the Father is intimate and holy (v. 15). This is how the Spirit bears witness, by cleaning up our act (v. 16). But childhood and adoption cannot be separated from the issues of inheritance (v. 17). It is an inheritance of glory (v. 18). The whole creation is longing for this moment, looking foward to it (v. 19). The creation was originally subjected to vanity, but in hope (v. 20). This is because the creation will be liberated into the same freedom from corruption that we will have (v. 21). The whole creation groans in the pains of childbirth (v. 22). Not only does the creation groan, but we who have the Spirit also groan—with the resurrection in view (v. 23). This groaning is in hope and patient waiting (vv. 24-25). The Holy Spirit helps us with this task of groaning (v. 26). The Spirit prays for us toward this end (v. 27). And this is what Paul is talking about when he says that all things work together for good (v. 28). This provides us with a straight line to glory (vv. 29-30).


When Adam sinned and fell, the whole creation was subjected to the bondage of corruption. Adam was the lord over the creation, having been given dominion, and as the vice-gerent this meant that when he fell the whole thing fell. In the same way, when the second Adam came into the world, it was to do a work of restoration. But the fall was great and the restoration will not be accomplished without much groaning. The groaning here is an image taken from the pains of childbirth, the pains of delivery (v. 22). The created order is pregnant, and at the consummation of all things, will give birth to the new order. This is not something we watch as unaffected by-standers. The creation groans this way (v. 22). We—because we have the Spirit—groan in a similar way also (v. 23). And the Spirit knows our weakness—He knows that we don’t even know what kind of baby it will be. We are like Eve before her first child—imagine what it would have been like to not even know what was happening. And so the Spirit participates in this groaning of childbirth (v. 26).


We are talking about a complete transformation—not a minor refurbishment. There are two mistakes to avoid here. One is that of thinking this creation will be burnt to a cinder and not replaced, or replaced by something completely unrelated. The other mistake is that of thinking that this creation will simply be tidied up a bit, with a certain amount of polish and shine. But take a cue from Christ’s resurrected body, and our resurrected bodies. These bodies are part of this creation, right? And yet they will carry over into the next. Your resurrected body will need something to stand on.

The body that goes into the ground is like a kernel of corn (1 Cor. 15: 36). There is continuity between the old body and the new, of course, but there is a discontinity of glory. It is the same with the creation. The whole creation will die, and be gloriously raised. Or, to use another image, the old creation will give birth to the new, and we cannot even begin to fathom how glorious the new will be.


Remember that Jesus was born here too. He is longing to come back as well. But when it first begins to sink in on us that God has not given up on this world, but intends to transform it in glory, certain common questions arise. Didn’t Jesus tell His disciples that He was going up into heaven in order to “prepare a place for them”? In my Father’s house are many mansions? Yes—the word is mone, and the ESV has “rooms.” The word denotes temporary lodging, as you would find in a hotel. In this case, it is the nicest resort hotel you ever heard of.

But doesn’t Peter tell us that the elements will melt with a fervent heat, and good riddance (2 Pet. 3:10)? The word for elements is stoichea, and is the same word that Paul uses in Galatians for the elemental spiritual forces that had kept them in bondage in the old covenant. When we read elements, we tend to think of the periodic table, and not of the spiritual forces that governed the old world. But Peter is talking about the government of the world—he compares this event to the flood which had done the same thing (v. 6). But even if you don’t see this, and take it as referring to the meltdown of the cosmos, Romans 8 requires that this be a transformative meltdown, not an annihilating meltdown. If your body melts down in this conflagration, your body will nevertheless be raise.


We should return to the nature of the groaning. What is the Spirit helping us do? The Spirit releases us from our debts to the flesh (v. 12). The Spirit leads us into virtue (v. 13), putting to death the misdeeds of the body. The Spirit stirs us up to pray to our Father (v. 15). The Spirit seals our coming inheritance in glory (v. 17). The Spirit teaches us to groan for better days (vv. 23, 26), and not to interpret the word “better” in our own limited, truncated, and pathetic categories (v. 27). He is the one who searches the deep things of God, and He is the one who knows what is coming. He is the one who groans most eagerly.

Leave a Reply

Notify of