A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 8:20-39
When we accept by faith that Jesus is Lord, God gives us his Spirit to dwell in us and help us. In the remainder of Romans 8, Paul tells us the benefits of a Spirit-filled life and the ways the Holy Spirit helps us.
Hope for Something More
Beginning at verse 20, we read what seems like, at first glance, a complex verse. This verse tells us that God subjected his creation to a curse, and when the word curse comes to mind, it might lead us to believe that God has cursed us with suffering and death because of our sin. Yet while suffering and death are natural consequences of sin, this is not what Paul is expressing.
The New King James Version (NKJV) offers a translation that can better help us understand what Paul meant:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope;”
The word futility means “pointless or useless” and it was translated from the Greek word: mataiotes. The best translation for this word is vanity. Vanity can have two meanings: “excessive pride or admiration of oneself” or “the quality of being worthless or futile“. Paul intends to use the second definition in this verse, and this seems like a very different meaning from the word curse. Or at least, it’s more specific.
God’s Original and Perfect Plan
With this new definition in mind, let’s take a second look at this verse. To understand how creation has been made useless or pointless, we need to understand how we were originally created. Man was created for God. He made us in his image, and he made us to have a relationship with him. But then sin entered the world, severing our relationship with him. Man is incomplete without God and there is a basic emptiness in man apart from God. And we desperately try to fill that void.
But God wanted there to be a void. Why? He wanted us to seek him and find fulfillment and purpose in life. Rather than being subjected in futility, God wants us to be subjected in hope. Where there is a void, there is HOPE to fill it.
Creation Eagerly Awaits
Verse 21 tells us what we are eagerly hoping for in Verse 20: All of creation, including mankind who feel this void, are eagerly awaiting to be free from the bondage of sin which has only caused death and decay.
And Verse 22 tells us that all of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth up until now.
There are two important key points in this verse:
1. All of creation, including all of mankind, is aware on some level that we are in the bondage of sin and that we have a gaping void within us that can’t be filled other than with God Himself.
2. The interesting use of words: ‘as in the pains of childbirth’, tells us that creation knows something good is coming! You would think Paul might say that we are groaning because of our suffering and death. But he chose the words “birth pains”. A mother goes through terrible pains in childbirth, but something amazing and wonderful results: a new baby – a new life! Paul is telling us that all of creation is groaning in pain in anticipation of being freed from the bondage and the possibility of new life.
The Groan of Anticipation
Verse 23, tells us that believers also groan. We are, for now, part of a world that is in bondage. Although spiritually, we are set free, our bodies still suffer. We still see and feel the impact of sin in the world. But we groan in anticipation for the guarantee of new life. We have hope for the day when God will give us the full rights as his children.
In verses 24-25 it seems as though Paul is contradicting himself. It sounds like he is saying we have hope but we don’t need hope. But the word hope, here has two meanings. He is saying that we already have hope – we were given hope – when we were saved.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the hope Paul is talking about here, is an expectant certainty. But the second time he uses the word hope, he means “wanting or wishing for something to happen“. We don’t have to wish for something we are already expecting with certainty. But in verse 25 Paul does say that we must still wait patiently, yet confidently.
How the Holy Spirit Helps Believers
Verses 26-27 are fascinating verses. In verse 26 Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. And he does this in all kinds of ways. He empowers us, he strengthens us, he gives us courage, he comforts us and so much more. But in this verse, it says that he speaks to God on our behalf. At times we might not know what we need, or truly want.
Sometimes things that cannot be expressed in words. There may be aspects about God and his ways that we cannot consider because there are no words to express them in our language. But the Holy Spirit knows our deepest thoughts and feelings and desires.
Have you ever heard the expression “knowing someone better than they know themselves”? That is the Holy Spirit for us. And he talks to God about our needs on our behalf. Verse 27 tells us, not only that, but what the Holy Spirit prays for aligns with God’s will.
Not everything we want or think we need is part of God’s will. But the Holy Spirit is God, and he knows the best and perfect plan for our lives. This is amazing news and such a relief! It’s not up to us to figure out what options we should consider and then ask God about them! God knows what his perfect plans are, and the Holy Spirit prays for them on our behalf.
God Wants to Hear from Us
Now just because the Holy Spirit is doing such a great job praying on our behalf, this doesn’t mean we should stop praying! Remember why God has done all that he has in the first place: he wants a relationship with us. What we pray for is not as important as simply talking to God. God wants to hear about our desires, needs, and the things that are causing us worry and anxiety. 1 Peter 5:7 says, ‘Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you’.
We Can Trust that God is in Control
Verse 28 is another great verse worth memorizing!
‘And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.’ (NLT)Romans 8:28 (NLT)
This verse is all about God’s sovereignty, which means that God rules over all. He is in control of all things. God can manage every aspect of our lives and he is able to make all things (good and bad) work together to cause a good outcome – his intended outcome. Though we must face suffering in this present time, God is able to make that suffering work together for our good and his good.
But this verse is often misinterpreted. There are churches that teach a ‘prosperity’ doctrine that teaches people that only good things can happen if we believe enough. But God is not primarily concerned about whether we become rich or successful, but rather He is concerned about our character, and things which bring Him glory and furthers the spread of the gospel. God’s cares about that which has eternal value, not just earthly. But God also cares about our suffering. And he wants us to experience joy and peace in this life.
If God is For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?
Verses 29-30 speaks of God’s omniscience – that he knows all things. God knows each person that will accept his gift of salvation and follow him. God knew each one of us even before we were born, and he knows who of us will answer the call of salvation.
I love what is says next in verse 31: ‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ . This verse alone should give us all the confidence in this life to take us to the next! Knowing the God we serve, we have no reason to fear any thing or anyone!
Verse 32 says, that If God didn’t even spare his own Son for us, is there anything he won’t give us?
And verses 33-34 says that no one can accuse us of anything because God has already given us a right standing with himself. The highest Judge has already declared that we are “not guilty”. No one can condemn us because Jesus was already condemned to death and resurrected for us. And it says that he is seated in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading on our behalf. Not only have we been proclaimed, “not guilty” but Jesus advocates on our behalf, promoting our benefit.
Can Anything Ever Separate Us from God’s Love?
Romans is packed with amazing passages and promises to the believer. And here is another one in verses 35-39. Take some time to read this powerful passage. But in a nutshell:
Nothing can separate us from God’s love!
In verse 36 Paul is quoting Psalms 44:22, which is referring to persecution and martyrdom for Jesus’ sake. This has been a reality for many and continues to be a present reality. Those who have the freedom of religion are truly blessed!
But in verse 37, Paul is saying that even in death nothing can separate us from God because of Jesus’ work on the cross! ‘Victory is ours through Christ who loved us.’ This passage is an incredible promise of hope for the believer. Never lose sight of this promise. We are more than conquerors!
All Things for Good by Thomas Watson – This entire book is dedicated to Romans 8:28, in which Watson explains how both the best and the worst experiences work for the good of God’s people.