The Hope of Future Glory Has Conquered Present Sufferings
Context of Romans 8:18-25
Romans 8:18-25 is part of a tightly constructed argument that Paul is making in Romans 5-8. Romans chapters 5-8 are about hope (=certainty/confident expectation that God has fulfilled all of his saving promises to Jews and Gentiles through Jesus Christ). Romans 5 begins with hope, and Romans 8 ends with hope.
For example, Rom. 5:1-11 teaches that Christians have hope in suffering, because Jesus died for our sins. Rom. 5:12-21 teaches that Christians have hope that Jesus Christ has reversed Adam’s curse. Rom. 6:1-23 teaches that Christians have hope that sin no longer rules over us like an evil tyrant, because of what God has done for us in Christ to liberate us from the power of sin and death.
Rom. 7:1-8:11 teaches that Christians have hope that we will be liberated from the condemnation of the law, because of Jesus’ death for our sins, and because we walk in the power of the Spirit. Rom. 8:12-17 teaches that Christians have hope, because in Christ, we are no longer debtors to the flesh; as heirs, we walk in the Spirit. Rom. 8:26-29 teaches that Christians, when weak, have hope that the Spirit prays for us when we do not know what to pray.
And, consequently, all things will work together for our soteriological good, because we love God since God has predestined us for future glorification. Rom. 8:31-39 teaches we have hope that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Exposition of Romans 8:18-25
In Rom. 8:18-25, Paul provides a reason for his statement in v. 17. There he says: “If we are children, we also are heirs. On the one hand, we are heirs of God. And, on the other hand, we are joint heirs with Christ—if we suffer together with him so that we will also be glorified [with him].” Then in verses 18-25, Paul supports this statement. To paraphrase: Our future glorification with Christ has in fact conquered our present sufferings in this fallen world. I want to highlight one truth: God in Christ has conquered our present suffering with future hope in Christ (18-25).
God in Christ has conquered our present suffering with future hope.
After Paul states that we are joint heirs with Christ if we suffer with him in v. 17, he continues in v. 18: “I consider that the present sufferings are not comparable to the glory which is about to be revealed in us.” The term Paul uses for suffering here occurs in Rom. 7:5. But there it refers to sinful passions, because it’s connected to sin. Here in v. 18, however, the word refers to suffering because in v. 17, Paul states that we are joint heirs with Christ if we participate in his suffering. And, in v. 17, Paul asserts that our future glorification with Christ in part depends on our current sufferings with Christ.
Paul does not specify the exact nature of the suffering beyond associating it with Christ, with our future glorification, and with the present time in vv. 17-18. Glorification, hope, eschatological salvation, and redemption reside in the future, but suffering, Paul says, is present now. The phrase the “present time” refers to the present evil age in which we and the entire creation groans, agonizes, and cries out because of the devastating and universal effects of Adam’s transgression and our participation in it, for all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and death comes to all because of one man’s transgression (Rom. 3:23; 5:12-21; 8:21-25).
Present suffering is temporary and the future hope is eternal. Temporary sufferings occur in the present evil age prior to the future glorification of those whom God has chosen and justified in Christ. This future glory is possible (as Paul stated earlier) because of God’s work for Jews and Gentiles through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose work put to death sin, justified us by faith, delivers us by reversing the curse of Adam’s transgression and the curse of the law, and ushered in the new age of the Spirit (Rom. 3:21-8:17).
The term “glory” in v. 18 is a soteriological (=salvation) term. Paul is talking about the soteriological glory that those in Christ will receive on the last day from God because of our participation in the sufferings of Jesus Christ in this life. Another way of talking about this glory in this text is to call it adoption (v. 23), the redemption of our bodies (v. 23), hope (v. 24), and salvation (v. 24).
Jews and Gentiles in Christ have already tasted and experienced this glory because we have the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-16). And we will fully and perfectly experience this glory without the threat, or the power, or the presence of sin reigning over this current fallen creation, when God liberates creation in the future (Romans 6, 8). Every Christ follower has already both experienced salvation in Christ and has partaken of new creation. But there is a not-yet, future day when God in Christ will give to us eschatological glory (=salvation) in Christ (Rom. 2:7-10).
That is, he will bring to full realization the goal of our faith. This is, I think, what Paul means in v. 19 when he states that “the longing of creation is awaiting the revelation of the sons of God.” This interpretation is supported by Paul’s remarks that we are children of God because we have the Spirit of God (vv. 13-16) and that we are awaiting adoption, which is defined as the redemption of our bodies in v. 23. The sons of God will be revealed when God’s glory is revealed in us on the last day. And, then, we will inherit in full everything for which Jesus died to achieve for those in him.
If you’re suffering today, hear these words of encouragement.
First, because we have hope in Jesus, the Spirit prays for us when we suffer (Rom 8:26-27).
Second, because we have hope in Jesus, all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed into the image of his son. Those whom he predestined, he called; those he called, he also justified; and these he justified, he will certainly glorify (Rom. 8:28-30).
Third, because we have hope in Jesus, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).
Therefore, we should not let go of Jesus, the source of our hope, when we suffer as Christians in this fallen world. Instead, we should fight against our sin, pursue God in Christ, and rely upon the Spirit to enable us to persevere in our faith with God’s help until the end, because the hope of future glory for those in Christ has conquered the pain of present sufferings in this world.