Imitators and Examples: Discipleship and Martyrdom

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Imitating Jesus means imitating his examples.  

So, imitate those thriving unto perseverance. What evidence of grace exhibits thriving perseverance, and are grounds of assurance that lead to true perseverance?

  1. Conversion: A cataclysmic change of belief and allegiance.
  1. Worship: Seeing the worth of God in proportion to pain, and everything else. 
  1. Discipleship: The humility to identify and imitate the godliness of good examples.
  1. Mission and witness: Authentic word and faith goes forth and goes everywhere. 

We’ll look at the last 2 today.  

Discipleship: We imitate those who have proved examples in godliness 

Conversion (faith) and worship (joy) lead to imitating God as he is displayed in Christ Jesus. This imitation, this pursuit of godliness, is called discipleship.  

But no one can make Jesus their direct object of complete imitation. He is ascended. He said this is because God with us is now the Spirit—God’s work no longer limited in space, but everywhere present—and yet imminent. 

So how do we imitate God, or even Jesus, now? We imitate his best examples as compared to his word. The word we have of him is incomplete, yet representative. You can follow him based on his word, and his disciples. 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-7  You know how we lived among you for your sake.  6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  

What makes up this dynamic here:  

  • “How we lived among you” (imitating Jesus with integrity)
  • “For your sake” (doing it partly for the observers) 
  • You became imitators of us (choosing to respond) 
  • In spite of severe suffering (you came out in the midst of opposition) 
  • So you became a model  

Godliness means being like God in the ways we are meant to be. It is evidence of imitation. We are told we bear God’s image—that is, God created us to imitate and replicate his own image in creation.  

Discipleship: the school of godliness in which we imitate Christ by imitating his examples.  

We must become a disciple (imitator) of Jesus, but none of us can be discipled by Jesus. His ascension led to his sending of the Holy Spirit, to form godliness in all Jesus’ imitators. 

“Disciple” means learner—a relationship of teaching and imitation. Heavy on imitation.  

Jesus’ commission to “make disciples” given to the whole church assumes that we must be disciples, and that we must make disciples. Or in Paul’s language here, to be imitators and to become examples.  

But we can use doctrine to discern the most wholesome examples around us that are imitating Christ. We can imitate them, or at least the things in them most like Christ. 

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (vs 6 ). the two are bound together. By becoming imitators of Christ’s disciples, we become imitators of Christ himself.  

Godliness must always accompany the gospel. It is its attracting fragrance, and its concrete and concentrated form in us. The message of the gospel must produce: 

  • Real piety in the heart 
  • A working faith (conversion and obedience) 
  • A laboring love (mission and martyrdom) 
  • A steadfast hope (worship) 

This is the heart of the activity of a healthy church.  

It may also be the future of the church’s organization. We may organize our faith in the most expensive way ever devised right now. Buildings, staff, marketing, technologies, seminaries, think tanks, merch. 

Discipleship rooted in imitation costs nothing—time, infrastructure, money.

  • Requires no formal institutions 
  • Can be done while doing other things—like tent making or tree removal 
  • Is not a heavy tax on time—since you can include it in much of your life as it already is

This is the result of worldliness: 

  • Performative Christian leadership—the pursuit of celebrity and salary.
  • Seeing the church as a growing market to which to sell lots of things.
  • Consumeristic expectations about what churches should provide that leads to an arms race among churches to provide ever more goods and services for church attenders—who see the church more and more like a business they patronize, rather than a body they are a part of. 

 Martyrdom/faithful witness: We imitate those who speak and show the gospel bravely 

1 Thessalonians 1:7-8   7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. 

The direct and severe persecution and affliction they experienced didn’t seem to silence them.  

1 Thessalonians 1:9  9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 

The message of the gospel “rang out” and the witness of their faith “has become known” everywhere. Others were now telling about it everywhere. News was traveling. 

Martyrdom: Faithful witness no matter what will happen to you. We call it: mission, evangelism, witnessing, profession… 

  • I think the word “mission” can sound too corporate to our ears now. And “evangelism” like a church program. That is not really the feel of it in the Bible.  
  • Martyrdom” is from Greek word that means “witness” or “professor.” It came to mean, those that profess Christ no matter what will happen to them. 

A martyr isn’t a preacher or an apostle, just a faithful witness in word and in deed. Not everyone in Christ is an apostle, but everyone can be a martyr in this sense.  

Imitation: Willingness to speak in spite of opposition and affliction. Not stopped by intimidation.  

In chapter 2, Paul tells them that he had faced a lot of opposition in his last two stops. 

1 Thessalonians 2:2  2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition

It had occurred to him that being a faithful witness and confessor of the gospel was going to lead to more trouble, and to trouble for those who believed it. Yet he preached it anyway.  

In Thessalonica, people acted with jealousy, drama, political outrage, reputation assassination, and violence; among other things. We are told that this is a characteristic of the prophets and Jesus.

A family line—the line of martyrs:

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16  14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,  15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men  16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. 

  • The Prophets 
  • Jesus  
  • The Apostles 
  • The first Churches—in Judea 
  • Now Thessalonica 
  • Then: Faithful believers through the whole history of the church 

Implications: 

  • You are a child of the God the human race mistreats
  • Many of God’s faithful witnesses in every generation are mistreated 
  • They are often mistreated by religious people—even people who claim to be of their own faith. Like the Jews who killed their own prophets, and who killed their own Messiah. For us it will often be people that identify as Christians or generally religious/spiritual. 
  • This displeases God.
  • They are hostile to all humanity, because they are trying to deny them access to the message of salvation. They think they are protecting people, but they are harming them, dramatically and damnably (damnably: “heaping up sins to the limit” and “the wrath comes at last”).   

This is part of the Christian identity—the family line of the faithful. We determine and prepare to be faithful witnesses, and he determines how much opposition we will face. 

God also promises to give grace in the work of being a confessor. It is the position of greatest reward—if you are called to suffer greatly.

  • Martyrs in heaven (Revelation 6:9).
  • Hebrews 11:35—did not avoid suffering in order to “gain a better resurrection.”  

Imitating Jesus means imitating his examples in discipleship and martyrdom.  

Think about the spiritual family line from the prophets to us.  

In Hebrews 11, that line starts with Abel, the first martyr and true confessor, up to the present moment. Jesus is the first and the older brother of all of us who will be disciples and confessors. And we are called to believe and follow in that line—imitating his examples, and becoming examples ourselves.  

Now this is the question: How do you feel about that?  

Does it seem completely unreasonable? Or does it sound like an incredible privilege?   

This is an evidence of grace, and a means of assurance. If you have come to see it as a privilege, then you have embraced the cross—and much of its real meaning.  

Being like Jesus and those who are truly his is more valuable to you than mammon, and leisure, and promotions, and vacations, and a good name. 

It is evidence that God is working in you by his Spirit. That you can be assured that he is operating in your life, and that he is drawing you on to thriving perseverance.  

For some, you can feel yourself on the brink of this thing. It feels a little like jumping out of an airplane. It seems like an exhilarating freedom, but at the cost of all safety and security—in your person and in your inner self. 

But you feel that you could chose to believe. You do see the value in Jesus, and you see something of the dead end of this world. That is called “conviction”—to know a scary thing is true and that you should believe it. 

Some of you are even experiencing “deep conviction”—to where it almost feels like pain.  

All I can say is that it’s a good day to jump.  

Today is the day. If at any moment you have the grace to believe—do it. To deny the Spirit’s conviction is not just to lose the Spirit—it leads to losing yourself. 

But to say yes: To be converted. To become his disciple. To come into the line of faithful witnesses in the earth. The gain is incalculable.  

At the moment of conviction you know the costs—you feel them. But you don’t know the gain—you don’t have the experience yet, nor the imagination to see it. You only have the good promise of the truthful God of all power and perfect providence.  

Make your choice. Open your heart to the truth of God until it is irresistible. And then embrace it with all you heart, soul, mind and strength.  

Imitators and Examples: Conversion and Worship

Imitation unto thriving perseverance. 

Imitation is the foundation of human learning. Imitating Jesus means imitating his examples.  

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7   6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 

What imitations should we find exemplary?  

Joel Salatin Quote-ish: “We don’t need veterinarians very much and we don’t use antibiotics on any of our animals. That’s because we select our genetic lines for survival. Our chickens are the children of previous generations of survivors living in natural conditions. So we always have robust and healthy livestock.” 

Purpose of 1 Thessalonians is assurance unto “thriving perseverance.”  

So, imitate those thriving unto perseverance.  

Like chickens: not all growth is created equal. You get some choice in the genetics of your spiritual life—who becomes your spiritual fathers and mothers. You aren’t limited to two. But you need to chose for thriving perseverance. Not by gifting, or following, or who sounds cool, or who acts passionate, or any other affectation. Jesus said to judge trees by their fruit, and the fruit of joyful perseverance is among the most important. 

But you can ask: How do I break that down? In some ways I can’t know who will persevere until it’s over. How does that help me now? Can I see more than trajectory right now? What can I look for that makes persevering and thriving in the faith likely?  

First, track record DOES matter. Someone who has trusted Jesus for 30 years through tests and changes is a better bet than someone else.  

But how do I even assess a strong track record or a good trajectory in the faith?  

1 Thessalonians talks about these.  Paul makes them the object of how he offers them assurance: 

  • The things the Thessalonians are doing well 
  • That they imitated faithfully in Paul, Silas and Timothy 

These things are what we should imitate, and these things display evidence of grace in our faith. They show our faith is real, assurance is warranted, and that we have everything we need to thrive and persevere. 

There are 4 things in this passage that lead to perseverance 

  1. Conversion: a cataclysmic change of belief and allegiance 
  1. Worship: seeing the worth of God in proportion to pain, and everything else. 
  1. Discipleship: the humility to identify and imitate the godliness of good examples 
  1. Mission and witness: authentic word and faith goes forth and goes everywhere 

We’ll just look at the first 2 today.  

1. Conversion: we imitate those Jesus has persuaded

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 “…They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” 

Produces: 

1 Thessalonians 1:3  3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Conversion is unpopular because the concept is confused.  

We should expect this to be true of all critical areas of knowing God. The flesh, the world and devils will attack every concept and premise God reveals. This will usually take the form of confusion—a muddying of the logical waters around an important concept. 

People tend to feel that conversion amounts to closing one’s mind rather than simply changing one’s mind.  

But being willing and able to change your mind is the very definition of not having a closed mind. But if conversion is never warranted—then we are by definition closed minded.  

Conversion is the opposite of bigotry.  

  • Conversion: the proper change of mind as a response to being persuaded of a warranted truth. 
  • Bigotry: The resistance to changing one’s prejudice, even after expose to evidence that warrants persuasion. 
  • Bigot: “Obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.” (Merriam-Webster) 
  • You can’t categorically be against both conversion and bigotry.  

Conversion is the full change of mind and heart from idols, death and wrath, to the Living God, the saving Son, and hope in his return and vindication.  

Gospel content/doctrine: faith in the content of the gospel—the news of the events of God’s work to save us.

  • The God of the Bible is the living and true God.
  • All other gods are idols—gods of our makings (false), and dead (without the life we ascribe to them).
  • Jesus is the Son of God, who has died for our sins, and who has promised the hope of his return that we are waiting for—rather than giving up.  
  • God the Father showed this to be true by raising Jesus from the dead. 
  • This Jesus is our rescue from the final judgment of God. 

Full change: a full and decisive total change of mind.

  • Involves repentance and faith 
  • Repentance: rejection of unbelief, sin, and cynicism toward God 
  • Faith: Living belief, embracing love, and seeing hope

Conversion is thought unnecessary—though it is absolutely necessary. 

An example: New versus nice

  • “World Weavers”: “immerses people in different faith traditions for a month for a small fee.” People can experience “Buddhism for a month,” “Muslim for a month,” or “Rasta Roots Spiritual Tradition.” 
  • Michael Lawrence: “There is no need to become a true believer. Rather religions help people become better, nicer people, and any religion will do the trick. This assumption…is why so many people in the west have abandoned religion altogether. If the point is simply to be a better person today than I was yesterday, then why do I need any religion at all?”  
  • You could substitute “nice” for “health” or “wellbeing”.

The concept of Christian conversion is that we must be made new, because we are not good. 

  • John 3: “you must be born again/born of the Spirit.” 
  • 2 Corinthians 5: “a new creation” 
  • Ezekiel: dry bones come alive, heart of stone to heart of flesh 
  • Romans 6: dead and raised into a new life 
  • Titus 3:5: “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”

Imitating Jesus’ examples means imitating their sound conversion

There is no imitation of Christ without this transformation of mind and allegiance. Conversion is not small minded, or unnecessary. It is the noble recognition that we have gone the wrong way, rejected our Creator, and that we need to correct our course, repent of our self-righteous bigotries about the universe, and come to his Savior for rescue and to restore our identity. 

It is beautiful and good—and it is categorically worth imitating. Especially when done in the mist of palpable opposition and affliction.  

2. Worship: we imitate those who rightly value the gospel

Conversion leads to worship—because it leads to joy and away from idols.

Conversion naturally leads to a sense of proportion in value—seeing our hope in God as a fountain of joy, increasingly overshadowing the afflictions of the world and the curse. 

To God from idols: devotion is personified. We relate to what we believe, hold commitments like relationships, want them to do things for us, and are mastered by them. 

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10  They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 

Joy over affliction: Joy is the wide universal and sadness the narrow particular.

G.K. Chesterton on the Dogma of Joy: “The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.”  

1 Thessalonians 1:6   6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 

2 Corinthians 4:16-18   16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

Romans 8:17-18   17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

Worship: Worship is essentially our joy in God expressed to God. 

  • Expressed: thankfulness, pursuit of godliness, obedience, adoration—prayer, singing, discourse, etc. All expressions of joy in the worth of God.  
  • Joy in God’s goodness and beauty: is its vitality. 
  • It is especially helpful as testimony of the worth of God when in the presence of suffering and affliction.  
  • Such worship shows how Christ’s work is more valuable. It also comes with the gifts of calling, justification, transformation, family, and glory.  

Joy: This creates a sense of emotional proportion in which the gain in Christ overwhelms the cost of all the curse and sin. This joy is divinely empowered—“of Holy Spirit.” 

This is something we imitate from inspiring examples.  

  • Paul and Silas had just been persecuted for the faith in Philippi—and still told them about it (1 Thessalonians 2:2).
  • The churches in Judea (2:14).
  • Jesus was killed, and so were the prophets (2:15).
  • Jesus did it “for the joy set before him…endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).  

All these imitators of Jesus cared more about God than what would happen to them—and were willing to bear scorn for faithfulness.

Paul and Silas getting flogged in Lydia (Acts 16) 

Paul and Silas had done an exorcism and healed a woman, and God let that good deed be answered by personal attack, getting arrested, getting whipped, not having their wounds cleaned in a time when infection killed you, getting thrown in jail, and getting chained in very uncomfortable foot stocks (like terrible criminals and escape risks) in a cell with no windows (inner cell) where it was probably pitch black.  

What were they doing in the middle of the night? Well, inner stone cells have great acoustics. 

Acts 16:25-28   25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.  27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 

Why did Isaac Watts and William Cowper write so many hymns? To fight for joy through the dark night of depression. They wrote hymns because they knew the joy was in the doctrine—the truths and promises of Christ. That God was the fountain head of all human joy—even joys in this world.  

The joy of God—in him and in what he does—leads back to a wholesome love of the created world without the poison of worldliness.  

Cowper says of an oak tree he saw one day:  

“Could a mind, imbued with truth from heaven, created thing adore, I might with reverence kneel, and worship thee.” 

“So fancy dreams. Disprove it, if ye can, ye reasoners broad awake, whose busy search of argument, employed too oft amiss, Sifts half the pleasures of short life away.” 

It also caused him to see morally through one of the more difficult moral issues of his time that most men were blind to: his poems against slavery—also quoted by MLK.

The purpose: thriving spiritual endurance through encouragement about assurance, rooted in present faith. 

  • Faith that works—has moving energy 
  • Love that labors—that is sacrificial and self-forgetful in its activity 
  • Hope inspiring endurance—that our joy dwarfs our afflictions because of the clarity and certainty of our hope

The emphasis here isn’t on how hard our faith hope and love works, but on the operation of God in our conscience and willingness to imitate the examples he gives us. 

Christians call this “evidence of grace,” and it is the basis of our assurance.  

Before we are saved, the question is “Have you been converted by repentance and faith to belong to Christ and be his imitator/disciple?”

But what about after? How do we know our faith isn’t false? Delusional?  

Answer: The evidence of grace. Is what God does operating in us?  

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 NIV 4 For we know, brothers and sistersloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.   

 Becoming imitators and examples 

People are struggling with what perseverance and growth are right now—while we feel pretty stuck.  

It takes humility to be an open imitator. It takes embracing responsibility to be an example.  

We all have to ask ourselves whether our faith does work, whether there is a labor to our love, or whether our hope makes us steadfast.  

The point of this book it to encourage us to perseverance. Not by driving us on like slaves, but by celebrating not only God’s worth (adoration), but also affirming that what God is doing in us is worth celebrating (affirmation).  

 

Imitators and Examples

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Our brain is wired for an imitating mind. The part of our brain that controls our arms is part of what activates when we see another person using their arm, especially if their movement is unfamiliar to us. Imitation is the means by which technicians are trying to make machines able to learn.

Imitation isn’t popular to do, though it is prestigious to have done of you.

Since imitation is substantially the opposite of innovation—where being different, individual and unique is valued—imitation is seen as a form of weakness. To imitate is to not have a sense of self, to lack creativity, or to go along with a mindless crowd.

But this misunderstands imitation and borders on delusional arrogance. It is simply a fact that we are all imitators. We do it so naturally that we don’t even know we are doing it. So naturally that we can actually think we are mostly innovators, when we are 99.9% imitators. Even in our innovations, we have built them mostly within the framework of other things we have imitated.

Not only that, but most people that excel at specific skills have intentionally imitated people or can tell you who formed them extensively—people they imitated. By imitating people in lower order actions, we can focus our innovating energy in the specific areas we really feel need change.

Last, what do we expect others to do if we invent a truly positive innovation? We expect them to imitate it. Don’t we? That is why we’re having a fight with China over intellectual property rights. We have laws making it illegal to do the most natural thing in the human mind—imitation. You don’t have to incentivize people to imitate others. But you do have to create incentives for people to innovate.

The right human response to something good—a true improvement—is imitation.

Knowing this, God has been leading us to imitate him in all his leading of us.

To bear his image is to imitate his character and type of action. The law is a display of God’s character so the Israelites could imitate it. We are, as Romans 8 says, “conformed to the image of his Son.” We are formed into his image—we are his imitators.

In John 15, Jesus says that to see him is to see the Father. In what way? In his glory? No. In his will, purpose and character—everything a human being can imitate.

Jesus had hundreds of disciples that listened to him, and imitated him in life and teaching. But that didn’t end with Jesus, it passes on through the spiritual generations of the Church. The truth and ways of Christ are passed on personally by a coordinated combination of word and example. Like a rabbi to his disciples, or a master to an apprentice, teaching and example flow in and out of each other in a woven whole. Teaching helps us understand the meaning of the example, and the example authenticates and embodies the teaching.

This is why Jesus made it the explicit mission of his people to make disciples: intentional learners by hearing and imitating a master disciple. Every Christian disciple is an apprentice of Jesus through others of his apprentices.

The whole passage is structured around imitation and examples: This makes sense.

  • Paul was only there a short time.
  • There was no Bible to read.
  • All they had was the Old Testament, Paul’s preaching so far, and everything they had observed while watching Paul and Silas as examples.

You can see this in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10:

  • The word came with power.
  • Paul, Silas and Timothy: “how we lived among you for your sake.”
  • Verse 6: “You became imitators of us, and of the Lord…”
  • And they welcomed the message.
  • “And so” you became a model, or an example, for all the believers.

Because of God’s unrelenting love displayed in the gospel:

Jesus builds his people by making examples of his imitators.

We are not that special, though we are individuals. We are the same kind of sinners as others, in the same experience of humanity, offered the same gospel, convicted by the power of the same Spirit, and offered examples of those that have come to faith before us. We are all called to leave our life of dead idolatry, and to serve the living God, to wait in hope for Christ’s return and to put our faith in his rescue from final judgment.

This might seem offensive in that we are the same as everyone else in these large ways. The ways we are not like everyone else, are not really ways we are like no one else—these are just smaller group traits. Sometimes we need examples in these lesser traits.

Imitating what?

Four things in this passage that we’ll cover in the next few sermons:

  1. Conversion: a cataclysmic change of belief and allegiance.
  2. Worship: seeing the worth of God in proportion to pain, and everything else.
  3. Discipleship: the humility to identify and imitate the godliness of good examples.
  4. Mission and witness: authentic word and faith goes forth and goes everywhere.

Becoming imitators and examples

People are struggling with what perseverance and growth are right now. while we feel pretty stuck. It takes humility to be an open imitator. It takes embracing responsibility to be an example.

We all have to ask ourselves whether our faith does work, whether there is a labor to our love, and whether our hope makes us steadfast.

The point of this book it to encourage us to perseverance. Not by driving us on like slaves, but by celebrating not only God’s worth (adoration), but also affirming that what God is doing in us is worth celebrating (affirmation).

More than Conquerors over Everything: LAMENTABLE SUFFERING

Romans 8:28-39  28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all want assurance that we are on the right track. 

I don’t mean that we are right, and not wrong. We’re not mainly worried about our ideas; we are worried about ourselves. We defend the idea because we are defending our path, because in defending our path, we are defending ourselves.  

We are defending our track, our path, our hopes, our wellbeing, our legacy—ourselves. We want to know that we are on the right path. 

We want to know this when things are good.

When things are just tolerable. 

When things are difficult. 

But most of all—when things are lamentable.  

Lamentable: when things are so bad, you feel “put to shame.” The results are obviously out of your control, you are being crushed, and the way is blocked. All you can do is cry out—groan in the pain, and cling to whatever hope is left, if there is any. It is to sit in the ashes of what you thought was the way—the right track. It makes you question the path, and whether it was ever the right one.  

This is the question the apostle is taking up in these verses. Based on what God the Father has done in Christ and the Spirit, what are we to do in times of lamentable suffering? If the gospel is strong enough for lamentable sufferings, it is strong enough for all moments.  

Romans 8:35-39 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” g 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 1 

Because of God’s unrelenting love displayed in the gospel:  

We conquer in lamentable suffering through Christ  

Truth and Promise:  

We are the ones in question. We are the focus of this passage:  Verse 35 “Who can separate US from the love of Christ?” 

God’s commitment is already established: Verse 31-34 emphasize the absolute commitment and steadfastness of God’s commitment to our complete salvation through:  

  • The Spirit’s local help in our hearts (26-27)  
  • His (Father’s) providence (vs 28)
  • Willingness to give his Son (vs 32) 
  • And Christ is a present, active advocate for us at the father’s side (34) 

God’s level of commitment is unrelenting. Everything we need is ours because of the work of his relentless love. (See also: 2 Peter 1:3-11) 

So can anything drive a wedge into that connection? Can we be separated from his love on our end? If we cannot be attacked and condemned from HIS end, can we be separated from our end?  

There is one main candidate for what could separate us: suffering that leads one to the ashes of lament.  

In Lamentable Suffering 

We are going to face lamentable suffering that is not specifically or particularly explained. 

We can know that everything functions under God’s sovereignty, and that all creation groans under the curse. That sin’s general infection of creation is wreaking havoc on all of us—and we don’t see it. We grab, fight for, and embrace the very thing that’s killing us. 

Lament will be the place our heart is in, like in Psalm 44:

  • We boast in you.
  • You give victory, not us. 
  • We belong to you and have obeyed you.
  • We are humiliated and subject to unjust suffering.   
  • Where are you? It feels like you are asleep or absent, or don’t care! Why won’t you fight for us? Why won’t you vindicate us?  
  • We face death all day long, we are considered like sheep for slaughter. 
  • Where is your LOVE?  

You have to prepare for this. not hope it doesn’t happen. Our conquering happens IN LAMENTABLE SUFFERING.  

Verse 37: “rather, in all these things…” Not only are we going to be in, and not saved from, lamentable suffering, but we also conquer IN that suffering. 

But look close at verse 36: “we face death all day long…we are considered as sheep for slaughter.” Is that TRUE? When we face death constantly, are we what others think we are? Nothing but sheep for slaughter? (What if it is slaughter—but the slaughter of sacrifice? Then would that be different?) 

We Conquer 

We conquer in lamentable suffering—we are not going to be put ultimately to shame.

Romans 5, 9 and 10 all have references to us not being left to shame, but being vindicated—that we will triumph. This conquering is the opposite of shame (your enemies triumphing over you).

Romans 5:5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Rom. 9:33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 

Romans 10:9-11  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”1  

Then why do we conquer IN these sufferings—why not OVER them. That would be more glorious, wouldn’t it?  

We don’t just conquer, we “over-conquer”—more is happening than traditional conquering. This is why so many people can’t imagine why God doesn’t just give them the victory they think is important.  

What is “more” than conquering?  

  • Winning over some of your enemy.
  • Not just killing your enemy—but getting your enemy to serve you.  

That is, that we conquer more and better by triumphing as believers in the slaughter of the curse, than in being saved out of it.  

WE over-conquer EVERYTHING in all creation.  

In faith, through Christ, it all has to work for our eternal good. Our transformation, our reward, our worship, etc. 

Through Christ 

This all happens “through” Christ. The word “through” is doing 8 chapters worth of work. It is not a general statement; it assumes everything Paul has told us Christ has done for us in all 8 chapters of Romans, but especially in Romans 5-8.  This will be really important later.  

The way and reason we conquer is not just because Christ loves us, but through what he has done for us because he loved us—in all the parts and aspects of his salvation.  

This includes: foreknowledge, election, calling, giving Christ, justification, reconciliation, adoption, giving his Spirit and final glorification—all for the purpose of transforming us into the image of his Son. 

All of his work comes because of his love—and is also evidence of his love as a demonstration of it. 

For example, what I give someone is both from my love and evidence of my love. So I give two things: the thing I give, and a further evidence of my love.  

Shaping this truth for faith, freedom and obedience today 

Clarity: two fears are cleared away, and one object of faith remains.  

There are 3 possibilities in our lamentable suffering: 

  1. Our wretchedness will overwhelm the long-suffering of Christ’s love—as it has done with others.  
  2. The curse is right that God is not with us, and so does not love us. We are regarded by it, and by many as nothing better than sheep for slaughter.  
  3. Are we part of the conquering of Christ? The curse and our wretchedness has been triumphed over by Christ, and we are, in him, part of his over-conquering of wretchedness and the curse that will lead to the realization of our hope in his promise, assured in the demonstration of his love.  

Knowing the truths of Roman 1-8, especially 5-8, put aside possibilities 1 and 2 in our lamentable suffering and leave us with option 3—the questions of trust, promise, faith, hope, love and perseverance. Not abandonment/nonexistence or inferiority/wretchedness. 

Narrowing our fears to one option and knowing what can be done is clarifying. And a clear heart is one that can overcome.  

Confidence: Knowing Christ’s complete love, we can face the slaughter of the curse with joy and hope.  

During Holy Week, we talk about how the death of Jesus is one act with the resurrection of Jesus. His death and his rising are one triumph over sin, the grave and the two together—the curse.  

The way of salvation is then described to us that same way—as a death and resurrection. We die to indwelling sin and the flesh so we can be made a new creation in the Spirit—with the mind of the Spirit and of Christ.  

Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can awe who died to sin still live in it? 

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”   

Luke 9:23-24 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 

Romans 6:4-5 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 

Colossians3:1-4 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  

Philippians 3:10-12 “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 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.” 

This assurance is the ultimate encouragement that you can die the death of faith in Christ. That the death and resurrection are one thing 

We are no sheep for the slaughter of uselessness to be devoured by those opposed to God.  

We are the redeemed sheep of God’s sacrifices of redemption—who bear the bloody mark of true sonship.  

This is the way of Jesus:  

Acts 8:32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 

This is the alternative:  

James 5:4-5 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  

More than Conquerors over Everything

Romans 8:31-39 

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[a]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Can we believe in a promise of unrelenting love?  

When I was a child I saw my dad make deals with some men simply on their word and a handshake. He’d say to me as we walked away, “Son, there are some men that can do business that way. What they say they will do, they will do.”

My mother had a hormone imbalance when I was growing up, and often I didn’t know if she would be sane, but I never thought she would abandon us. I didn’t realize how hard it is to keep a promise in times like that.  

20 years ago I promised my wife I’d never leave her nor forsake her—and she said the same—no matter her wretchedness nor the world’s chaos, if she would only stay in the covenant of this promise. 

I still believe in and am inspired by those things: by a promise being rooted in character, and that character being capable of unrelenting love. 

Even though I know they are not the norm in the world as it is.  

In fact, that is the only surefire way for me to cry in a movie—when someone does something that people don’t do. When they don’t chose themselves, but chose the good, and make whatever sacrifice to live by it.  

For years I thought the main reason people don’t hold to the promise of Christ in his death and resurrection was for empirical reasons. We don’t lose faith because we don’t believe there is the power in the universe to bring life to the unalive. It is that in the perception of our hearts, there is too much doubt and sorrow to believe that the universe is guided by unrelenting love—especially towards us.  

But the resurrection of Christ demonstrates:  

God’s children conquer because God’s love is unrelenting.  

Not because we are good, or strong.

We are conquerors because God’s love is unrelenting. 

In spite of our moral wretchedness and suffering under the curse, God will sanctify and glorify his children through the resurrection spirit of holiness.  

  • God has done everything for his children and heirs. 
  • God will succeed in glorifying those who are his. 
  • God has given us everything we need for godliness. 
  • God works for the godliness and glory of all who believe.  
  • God will transform his loved ones to godliness and glory. 
  • The resurrection is God’s guarantee of godliness and glory to his own/children.
  • God’s Spirit will unleash resurrection power on all God’s children. 
  • God’s Spirit unleashes resurrection power on all God’s children. 
  • God’s resurrection power is our conquering power.
  • The resurrection is the promise of glory.

But how can we believe this?  The “world isn’t like this.” (Intuitional empiricism rather than scientific empiricism.) 

The conflict is that when it comes to God’s love and the meaning of our lives, we are being called to believe that Jesus—in his life, death and resurrection—is a more compelling demonstration of what is true than our intuitions about our sufferings. 

Rom 8:12 “I do not consider our present sufferings to be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

There are 2 reasons this can’t be believed. We’ll cover one this week and one next week.

1. Moral self-doubt: I’m too weak and wretched.

Romans 8: 31-34 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.2 

Moral self-doubt is the belief that says, “I don’t really have the character of Jesus. I’m not going to make it, and he will ultimately reject me.”

Rom 7:21-24 “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?3” 

Just as I Am by Andrew Peterson: “All of my life I’ve held on to this fear, These thistles and vines ensnare and entwine, What flowers appeared, It’s the fear that I’ll fall one too many times, It’s the fear that His love is no better than mine 

We think that, even after all the promises of God’s interest in loving and saving us, that he still must have a frown towards us. He must always be thinking about how he would correct us, how we should improve.  

We think that he wants a divorce and will abandon us.

Heart of Man: “I spent 60 years trying to scrub my father’s expression off of the face of God.” 

This completely misunderstands how God offered redemption in the first place:  

God sanctifies us: God’s purpose is the process. This mindset forgets that our godliness is God’s business and purpose. He will give us everything we need (2 Peter 1:3) – because he is already given us his Son.  

Why would he decide now to reject us as too wicked? Instead, if he has already delivered of his own Son, what other resource for our transformation will he not withhold?  

God is the one who justified us: there is no other court in which to accuse us. God had no illusions about us when he chose to work our salvation—there is no new evidence to marshal against us. No new crimes, no unforeseen disappointments.  

Rom. 5:6-10 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  

Jesus received our condemnation: The one who was condemned for us is our advocate to the Father.  And Jesus rose from the dead to advocate for us to the Father (who already loves us).

Isa. 53:4-5 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  

God’s love—displayed in Christ and the promise of everything that comes with Him—is strong enough, reliable enough, and serious enough to put all your trust in. Don’t allow your intuition to tell you his love is like yours when he has done everything to demonstrate that it isn’t. 

You have to chose between your experience bias and God’s demonstration of his love, and the promise he’s given in it. 

Romans 5:1-7 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.6 

Sermon: More than Conquerors over the Curse

“It doesn’t matter.” 

I hate that sentence. Not when choosing a restaurant or a movie, but when I hear it from someone dealing with a hurt or disappointment.  

Whether as a parent or a pastor, it always makes my blood run a little cold—because I know that saying “it doesn’t matter” feels like resolution or even acceptance, when it is really escapism and gloom.  

That kind of “it doesn’t matter” is a way people lose themselves. It displays a loss of heart in the great struggle against the world that “shouldn’t be this way!” 

We are subjected to futility, and enslaved to decay (Romans 8: 20,21). This is the haunting pain of life—that life can feel futile or vain, and decay inevitable.  

In youth it creates an “angst,” in maturity, a “crisis,” and in old age, a “sourness”—and to all a kind of darkness.  

Our reaction to this pain and disappointment under futility and decay is what this passage calls “groaning.” And the apostle Paul tells us that all of creation is subjected to this:vanity, vaporousness, futility, frustration, purposelessness, decay, perishability, corruption of wholesomeness, decomposition. 

Everything seems to be against our natural hopes, either in circumstance or in the slow decay of time. Even if you get what you want, time will bury it in sand, or decompose and grow over it.  

Christians call this punishing, discouraging futility  “the Curse” because we believe that it is both unnatural (things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be), but also, that the Curse will be broken and can be overcome. 

However, without the help and hope of God, the curse overcomes us and closes out the light of hope, closes our hearts to feel life, weakens our courage to face challenges, and dims our eyes to see beauty and glory. 

When the tunnel of disappointment loses its light at the end, we fall into gloom

Gloom is the loss of the ability to hope, being overcome by despair.  

It is what happens when we think the Curse is the final explanation of suffering—pain without purpose, suffering without hope.  

Gloom preaches that this is all there is: futility unto decay” and “meaninglessness, then death.” 

How do we find the “Mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:6, 27; Ephesians 6:18) in all of this?  

Last week I said from Romans 8: Christians conquer the flesh, curse and suffering in the Spirit.  

In this sermon: Christians conquer the Curse by the Spirit.

But how? How do we conquer something so universal and so constant as the curse? Something we know will eventually, in some way, win?  

The danger: When in pain, we often reject answers because we think they dishonor our pain. Every answer sounds either trite or severe. 

Romans 8:18 may seem like both, but it is the main answer, nonetheless: 

Romans 8:15-18 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christif indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  For, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  

This is both the promise and the way to overcome in the Spirit.

ways the Spirit can make us conquerors in the curse:   

The Spirit magnifies our hope in glory in the face of the Curse’s gloom 

Gloom makes it so we can’t lift our eyes to TRUST in God. The Curse claims the final word of futility and decay over every trial. All of our pain is going nowhere because of failure and the grave. 

Christians don’t combat this by saying there isn’t pain, or that if we trust God, he will shield us from our experience of the curse.  

“Well, I’m sure God will protect you!” is a phrase that can reveal a person who thinks that if we obey God, he will keep bad things from happening to us—that our obedience will break the curse. 

Such people need grace, since some CHRISTIANS think this is true: that if they obey, God will protect them from all harm. God never promises that. He promises the opposite.

The antidote to the gloom of futility is the hope of glory. 

Romans 8:18 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  

“Hope of glory”- 2 ideas:

  1. Glorious: God’s glory revealed and experienced 
  2. A hope: Hopes are future until they are revealed

The future glory will be all from God and for all of creation.  

  • Rom 8:18 – “The glory that will be revealed in us.” 
  • All the glory that there is will be revealed “in us.” 

It’s BIG- all creation’s hope:  All creation is in “eager expectation” and “anxious watching.” The literal translation of verse 19 is, “For the anxiously watching creation is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God.” 

Romans 8:19-21 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  

All creation, including us, was subjected to futility, frustration, and dysfunction—by God, in the curse. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. Everyone feels this. It’s a universal moral intuition, even when we are taught otherwise.  

Creation is watching someone: All creation is in “eager expectation” and “anxious watching.” The literal translation of verse 19 again: “For the anxiously watching creation is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God.” 

Romans 8:18 – “The glory that will be revealed in us.” All the glory that there is will be revealed “in us.” Presently things are “groaning as in the pain of childbirth,” and we feel the same as the rest of creation.

A hope: Hope is by definition not experienced yet. So not happening right now isn’t a valid objection against it. 

Romans 8:23-25 “…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” 

Application: Learning to “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly” (just like creation’s “eager expectation” in vs 19).

This is the work of the Spirit—as we pursue the “mind of the Spirit.” 

Our Goal: What are we waiting expectantly for? “The adoption to sons, the redemption of our bodies,” “For, in this hope we are saved.” 

The Spirit’s work: Building this hope to be our anchor in the groaning of the curse. The Spirit wants to apply the truth of God until you feel as Paul does: “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

How does he do it? 

  • Know the “hope” in which God subjected creation (vs 20).
  • Hope in God’s glory—not just our glorification. 
  • Rejoice in our suffering—knowing it focuses our hope.  
  • Receive the love God “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  

Application: You need these parts of salvation to overcome the gloom of the curse, and the futility of so much of life.  

  • Our hope in the future glory of God—and being adopted into it, through the everlasting redemption of our bodies into the freedom and glory of God and in a redeemed creation.  
  • The work of the Spirit applying this whole hope to our hearts, even in suffering 
  • So we can be waiting eagerly even as we are groaning inwardly.  

How do we really practice “groaning inwardly yet waiting eagerly” as a Spiritual practice of the heart?  

The Spirit is our help against the Curse’s confusion and weakness. 

Groans make it hard to lift our face and talk to God. 

Main example: Not being able to pray “as we ought” or “in God’s will” weakens our ability to express our groanings well, and confuses our ability to know God’s will and pray from a heart that is united with his will.  

Rom. 8:26-27 “in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” 

“In the same way”: as God helps us wait eagerly for the hope of glory, he also helps us cope in the present with our weakness of heart.

The Spirit: “intercedes for us” 

  • Intercedes through wordless groans 
  • Combines our “hearts” with the “mind of the Spirit”
  • Helps us feel and pray in “accordance with God’s will” 

What are the “wordless groans” of the Spirit? A connection to creation and our groans under the curse—the Spirit makes his own groaning in us that are our right groan toward the Father.  

In Romans 8:22, creation groans, and in Romans 8:23, we groan wanting our bodily redemption. In verse 26, the Holy Spirit groans as a way of interceding for us to God.

God doesn’t just hear our audible prayers—he also searches our hearts. The content of our heart is what is or isn’t in line with his will, and is a communication of faith to him. It is the place out of which we pray. By coming into the place of our heart’s groanings, the Spirit both aligns our hearts with God’s will and helps us pray as we ought—though his presence is inarticulate in a formal sense.  

The main effect is that this aligns us with God’s will, and allows us to express our groaning to Abba in love—but also appropriately. 

This is our help in our weakness of expression and need of present comfort; the help we need to embrace God’s will, so we can participate in his working things for our good and ultimately our glorification (our great hope).

What is “God’s will”? (Romans 8:28) 

Romans 8:28 “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God forknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called, those he called, he also Justified, and those he justified he also glorified.” 

That is: God will glorify those he has chosen. We can hold unswervingly to our hope in Christ. because God is intent on his glorification of those who are heirs in Christ. We were his elect long ago, and those whom he has brought to justification, he will take to glorification. There is no slackness or shakiness in his promises.  

“Slap me so I don’t do something petty.” – My daughter 

I think the reason she comes to me in those moments is because she knows that she can groan with her dad, and that she is safe in her groaning when she is in my arms. I will let her feel, but I won’t let her fall into what she fears: pettiness, resentment, hopelessness, and all the reactions that indwelling sin stirs us when the curse bites us in some way. 

I know my goal is to give her hope and to help her groan. I want that because I love her; I want her to know that there is no condemnation with me, and that I want to help her be more than a conqueror as an adult. 

Conclusion: How do we do it?  

So how do we have this kind of relationship with the Spirit to receive God’s hope and help?  

The Spirit’s power is in our participation with him, and with the content of the gospel (the “hope in which we were saved”).

  • Believe in Jesus work as the Christ and High Priest in breaking the debt and power of sin in his life, death, and resurrection.  
  • Believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit as an heir—a fully legitimate child.  
  • Seek the Mind of the Spirit, and put to death the Mind of the Flesh 
  • Seek the Mind of the Spirit especially in our boast in the hope of future glory. 
  • Embrace the dynamic of: “Groaning inwardly while waiting eagerly.” 

Rom. 5:1-5 NIBO Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  

 

High Point Church Leadership Development Blog