Our adoption into God’s family, however amazing and comforting, is not the end of the story. For to be children is also to be heirs: to be still waiting for the full bestowment of all the rights and privileges conferred on us as God’s children (Rom. 8:17); see especially Gal. 4:1–7, with an argument quite similar to that in Rom. 8:1–17. As the Son of God had to suffer before entering into his glory (1 Pet. 1:11), so we sons of God by adoption must also suffer ‘with him’ before sharing in his glory (see also Phil. 1:29; 3:20; 2 Cor. 1:5). Because we are joined to Christ, the servant of the Lord ‘despised and rejected by men’ (Is. 53:3), we can expect the path to our glorious inheritance to be strewn with difficulties and dangers (Rom. 8:18–30).
Believers, facing the necessity of ‘suffering with Christ’ in this world can nevertheless be confident and secure, knowing that God has determined to bring us through to our inheritance (Rom. 8:18–22, 29–30), that he is providentially working on our behalf (Rom. 8:28) and that he has given us his Spirit as the guarantee of our final redemption (Rom. 8:23). Paul never minimizes the fact or severity of Christian suffering in this world. But it is still to be seen as insignificant in comparison with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).
In the OT, ‘glory’ denotes the ‘weight’ and majesty of God’s presence. Paul applies the term to the final state of the believer, when we have been transformed into the image of God’s son . For Christ has already entered into this state of glory (Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4), and the transformation of our bodies will bring to light in the last day our share in that glory. 1
Paul follows OT precedent (Ps. 65:12–13; Is. 24:4; Je. 4:28; 12:4) in personifying the entire sub-human creation: it groans in frustration (Rom. 8:20, 22) and anticipates eagerly the day when our status as God’s children will be finalized and made public (Rom. 8:19, 21). What makes it clear that Paul does not include angels and human beings in his purview is the fact that the frustration now experienced by the creation did not come about by its own choice (Rom. 8:20). It came, rather, by the will of the one who subjected it (Rom. 8:20), i.e. God, who decreed a curse on the earth as a result of Adam’s sin (Gn. 3:17–18; cf. 1 Cor. 15:27). But the decree of subjection was always accompanied by hope that God would one day make his creation what he originally intended it to be, a place where ‘the wolf will live with the lamb’ (Is. 11:6). 2
We Christians share creation’s groaning and hope (Rom. 8:23), for we possess the Spirit as the firstfruits, the downpayment and pledge of our final redemption, and this causes us all the more to long for the finishing of God’s work in us. What is often called the NT ‘already—not—yet’ tension between what God has already done for the believer and what he has yet to do is very evident when we compare (Rom. 8:23, 14–17). For the ‘sonship’ we are there said to possess is here tied to the redemption of our bodies and made the object of hope and expectation. Such hope is the very essence of our salvation. We must, therefore, wait patiently for what God has promised (Rom. 8:24–25). In Rom. 8:26–30 Paul gives three reasons why we can wait with patience and confidence for the culmination of our hope. First, the Spirit assists our ignorance about what to pray for (Rom. 8:26–27). In this life we are necessarily uncertain about what we ought to pray for. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with God, praying on our behalf that prayer which is always in perfect accordance with God’s will (Rom. 8:27). Paul is not here describing the gift of speaking in tongues; it is not even clear that he denotes an audible process at all, since the Spirit’s groans may be metaphorical — see (Rom. 8: 22). Rather, he is probably describing an intercessory ministry of the Spirit in the heart of the believer that occurs without even our knowledge. A second basis for the believer’s confident expectation of the future is God’s constant working in all things for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28).
Nothing that can touch us lies outside the scope of our Father’s providential care: here, indeed, is cause for joy and a rock-solid foundation for hope. We must, however, define the good that God is working to produce for us in his terms and not in ours. God knows that our greatest good is to know him and to enjoy his presence forever. He may, then, in pursuit of this final ‘good’, allow difficulties such as poverty, grief and ill health to afflict us. Our joy will come not from knowing that we will never face such difficulties—for we certainly will (Rom. 8:17)—but that whatever the difficulty, our loving Father is at work to make us stronger Christians. Paul describes those for whom God so works from the human point of view (those who love him) and the divine (who have been called according to his purpose, (Rom. 8:28). God’s ‘call’ is not simply his invitation to people to embrace the gospel, but his effectual summoning of people into a relationship with himself. See e.g. (Rom. 4:17; 9:12, 24). This calling takes place in accordance with God’s purpose, that purpose being ultimately to conform us to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:29).
God brings each of us to that goal through a series of acts on our behalf. First, he ‘foreknows’ us. Some scholars think that proginōskō (‘foreknow’) here means what it often does in Greek literature—‘know something ahead of time’. But Paul says that it is we Christians whom God knows, and this suggests the more personal idea of ‘knowing’ that is sometimes found in the OT: election into personal relationship (e.g. Gn. 18:19; Je. 1:5; Am. 3:2). God’s ‘foreknowing’, his selection of us to be saved from ‘before the creation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2, 20), leads to his ‘predestining us’, his appointing us to a specific destiny. This destiny is that we become like Christ, a final event that God accomplishes by ‘calling’ us (see Rom. 8:28b), ‘justifying’ us (see Rom. 3:21–4:25) and ‘glorifying’ us. It is significant that this last verb is, like the others in Rom. 8:30, in the past tense, suggesting that, though the attaining of glory may be future, God’s determining that we shall attain it is already accomplished. 3
1, Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994),