Summary: As a biological descendant of Adam he is heir both to the strengths and foibles of the first man; as one who is twice born, he is heir to the inheritance of the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15.45). As a new creation in Christ he is hopeful for what awaits h
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55.12).
The story of the Bible is largely an account of the progress of redemption. In between the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and the establishment of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21 is the history of salvation. The Christian is living in the last chapter of this divine narrative and as such he lives with an inescapable tension between the “already and the not yet.” As a biological descendant of Adam he is heir both to the strengths and foibles of the first man; as one who is twice born, he is heir to the inheritance of the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15.45). As a new creation in Christ he is hopeful for what awaits him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5.6-10). Paul captures something of this tension when he writes of both believers and the creation longing and groaning for what is coming.
Two weeks ago we noted the importance of suffering to the apostolic call of Paul (Acts 9.15-16), as well as its centrality to the New Testament. Obviously, it is evident in the passion of Christ, as well as in Jesus’ call to discipleship, which involves a willingness to suffer (Matthew 5.11-12; Luke 9.23-24). We observed that the power of the Holy Spirit was often exhibited through the suffering of the church: For we know, brothers 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 with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 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 (1 Thessalonians 1.4-6). Though Christians were often the objects of persecution and suffered many injustices, Paul contends that such suffering is insignificant compared to the glory that awaits them in the resurrection: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.17-18).
CREATION SUBJECT TO FUTILITY
Creation itself suffered the effects of God’s judgment on Adam’s sin. Paul writes that creation itself awaits the revealing of the sons of God that it might be freed from its bondage to decay and receive its freedom. The idea of the creation (non-personal, viz. not fallen angels, nor celestial beings nor any other sentient creature) being linked to mankind’s fall and, redemption is not an unfamiliar thought in the Old Testament (cp. Genesis 3.17; Psalm 96.11-13; 98.7-9; Isaiah 24.4-7; 55.12-13). Thus, it is natural for Paul to echo this sentiment. While the world suffers from the effects of sin, it awaits its own eschatological deliverance. The trauma of suffering is not permanent. As the prophet Jeremiah consoled the Israelites: For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men (Lamentations 3.31-33). So too Paul assures the believer that his suffering is a temporary thing (8.18; cp. John 16.20-22; Revelation 21.1-8) and, along with the believer’s redemption, creation will be restored (cp. Revelation 21.1). God has already begun the eschatological work of redemption by sending his Spirit to live in the hearts of believers (cp. John 14.15-17). It is the indwelling Spirit who creates a yearning for Christ’s glory to be revealed. So every Christian who walks in the Spirit has a hope for heaven (cp. 1 Peter 1.3-12).
While the believer has been justified by faith and is presently being sanctified by the inward working of the Holy Spirit, his body has not yet been redeemed. This will not take place until the resurrection at the last judgment (1 Corinthians 15.35-49) at which time the body will be redeemed. In the meantime the Christian longs to be free from the constraints of a body that is subject to sinful passions. That is the reason Paul cautions the reader not to let sin reign in his body: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (6.12-13). Paul’s rationale for this statement is based on the conflict between sin’s desire to gain a foothold in the believer’s life and the experience of the indwelling Spirit that constrains the Christian to consider himself dead to sin (6.11). However, the present reality is that of a world subjected to the futility resulting from Adam’s sin.