NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXIX)
Bible scholar Charles Hodge offers his explanation of what he understands Paul’s purpose is here, by saying that the Apostle wants to show that in spite of any present adversity or persecution that may come our way, it is not inconsistent with being children of God. Therefore, we should not be overly troubled with thoughts of discouragement. In fact, while we may consider such things as bothersome and inappropriate, they are necessary. For in and through such sufferings, the work of salvation in all its fullness is being completed with the power of hope. That hope points to the future. And by being in the future, it follows that we must wait for it in patient and joyful expectation. As Hodge sees it while waiting for the day of salvation from this old world is necessary, why not let the anticipation of the blessings yet to come convert our expectations into a desire not to miss that glorious day? In this way, it will enable us to patiently endure all the trials and tribulations we must go through while we wait.1
Charles Spurgeon touched on this subject in one of his sermons. For him, it was a great lesson for us but seldom do we take it to heart and learn from it. Why can’t we see that our main duty in this present world is to wait with patience! Spurgeon uses a well-known proverb: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”2 Many people today do not quite understand what that means. But to explain it briefly, it implies you can’t have two things at the same time when one of them contributes to the other. For instance, how can you still keep the cake you baked and eat it at the same time? You must choose either to keep it or eat it, you can’t have both. So it is with our hope for what is yet to come. We can’t have hope and all that it promises simultaneously. That’s why we wait with patience for what is on its way.3
Spurgeon goes on to say that when we look at fruit that is not yet ripe, we let it hang on the tree until it ripens. Likewise, God has laid up in store some things for His people, and so He more or less says to us, “Wait patiently for it to ripen!” Then Spurgeon quotes what appears to be part of a poem or song when he said that some want “heavenly joy on earthly ground.” If that were to happen it would be an abnormality. Instead, since God is in charge of time and seasons, there is harmony in everything He does. Our song should be: You may have earthly sorrow on earthly ground, but you will have heavenly bliss on heavenly ground. All we need to do is wait; wait with patience and hope.
Albert Barnes also agrees with the concept of salvation being tied to the resurrection. He notes that it cannot be decreed that hope is the instrument or condition by which salvation is achieved. Many Bible commentators have proposed this to mean that since we have attained salvation only in hope, that we constantly live with the idea that we have arrived at the place where salvation is something we will only achieve in the future. Also, our attitude in waiting for that future includes our adoption as children of God. So Barnes suggests that the word “saved” is best understood as “kept,” “preserved,” or “sustained” during our trials by hope. With that in mind, even when our trials and tribulations become great suffering nothing but the expectation of future deliverance will sustain us. And with hope, the prospect is sufficient to enable us to bear them with patience. For Barnes, this is the proper meaning of the word “saved” as used elsewhere in the New Testament.4 The Aramaic Version of verse 24 renders this, “in hope we live,”5 and “we live in hope.”6 Hope, therefore, is what sustains the soul in the midst of difficulties, and enables it to bear them without complaint.7
Frédéric Godet continues this concept of salvation being present as a promise but will require the resurrection to be permanent. He writes that there is no doubt that Christ finished the work needed to secure our salvation. That why Paul says here, “we have been saved.” However, up until now, it has only affected the spiritual part of our being. It has not yet been fully realized bodily. That leaves room for a more complete realization to come.8 This is where hope comes in. We can look at it this way. When you make an order online or through the mail, you get confirmation that your payment has been received and that the item you ordered is now yours and on its way. Since you don’t doubt that it’s yours, you wait hopefully for it to arrive. The same with salvation. Christ paid the price, it is ours through faith, so we accept all the benefits promised to those who have been chosen. But, only when the resurrection occurs will our salvation from the death sentence imposed by God on sin be secured for eternity. If somebody says “I’m saved!” the question is: “Saved from what and for what?” Paul has answered those questions for all of us.
Charles Ellicott has an extensive homily on this subject called, “The Saving Grace of Hope.” In his conclusion, he says that we must consider what value there is in the present life for holding out hope for what we expect in the future. If we keep hoping for things we can’t see, then it will take a lot of patience to keep on hoping. Ellicott says there are three ways we can test the value of a truth for this life. One of them is to carry our burdens; another is victory over our sinful tendencies, and the third is serving God for His kingdom sake. When we apply these three tests to bolster our hope for what’s coming, it makes it easier to keep going on. But we must ask, can bearing the burdens of this life with its weariness, its monotony, its discomfort, its sorrows be worth it? It will be if we bear them like the person who believes in the coming glory of liberated children of God. Such faith makes our burdens lighter, especially when we are yoked together with Christ. By having such hope for what is yet to come, we bear our cross with a glad heart. We know that one day that weight will be taken off our shoulders and we will be forever free.
Ellicott then suggests that we must take the time to inquire as to whether fighting to maintain our purity is a good investment in the future. It is for the person who believes that purity is ordained to determine the destiny of every created thing. The person who believes this way knows that purity means our ultimate, unfathomable glory with Christ. Any hope of glory should condemn the impure heart. It should burn like a blazing fire in the bones of the people who do not keep their garments white. And the person with this hope will work toward their spiritual goals with glowing enthusiasm. Who would not work with such greatness of purpose, and might of heart, and strength of arm, as the person who believes in this glorious future. The person who has hope believes that all Christians are destined for a wonderful place designed by God for His new creations in Christ. When we look around at our fellow believers, we see men and women, boys and girls who are children of God. They are bound for the dazzling center of a new creation in a world of everlasting glory? This is the hope that fills us with inspiration. For Ellicott, the light we have brightly illuminates the way before us, and when we finally see the blessings of the future they will be vast and glorious.9
John Stott found that in his day many believers were unable to wait patiently and, therefore, lost their enthusiasm for what was to come. That’s because it’s hard to stay balanced between what we endure now for what we can have in the future. He says that there are some believers who say we overemphasize the call for patience. That’s because they lack interest and easily lapse into lethargy, apathy, and pessimism. It seems they have forgotten God’s promises, and have stopped believing that what He said was true. Others grow impatient while waiting. They are so excited about what is yet to come that they almost try to force God’s hand. They are determined to experience now what God has not yet made available. No doubt this is understandable because they are anxious to get out of any painful suffering and groaning them must cope with before they get there.
Stott believes they are disappointed that it’s taking so long for the resurrection to happen. They are tired of their body being subject to discomfort, disease, and decay. They are constantly praying for it to be over because they see no value in the testing and trial of their faith and faithfulness. What they don’t realize is that such impatience is a form of presumption. It’s another way of rebelling against the God of history. He already acted decisively to secure our salvation, and we know He will most assuredly complete what He has begun when Jesus returns. God will not be rushed into changing His plans just because we get upset with our waiting and anxiety. Stott believes that our daily prayer should be for God to give us a patient eagerness and an eager patience as we wait for His promises to be fulfilled!10
Jewish Bible commentator David Stern also writes concerning our future inheritance. He says that it will involve an ecologically ruined world that must one day be restored.11 It has been subjected to frustration because of Adam’s sin12 This made the physical world around us difficult to manage or govern. It was not part of God’s original intent for mankind, so one day it will end for good. Stern suggests reading the imaginative fictional portrayal of such a phenomenon in the final two chapters of C. S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle” in his, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” One thing for sure, we have a certain hope, for which we are waiting eagerly, but with patience. This then puts whatever suffering, discouragement, and doubt we experience in context – the context of hope.13
Puritan preacher Charles Simeon preached that our hope of eternal happiness is as an anchor to the troubled soul especially during the storms of life. It helps the believer from getting carried away by the heaviest of hardships. Seeing the rocks along the shore that could smash their hopes might cause the believer to faint if it were not strengthened from above. God, therefore, communicates His Spirit to His people during their trials. With the assistance of His Spirit, He enables them to sail on toward their heavenly goal. Simeon says that many Christians are discouraged by the difficulties they experience in their prayer life. If they don’t feel that God is listening, they doubt whether or not their prayer will be answered. But God notices the groaning of His people.14 Such groaning may be more pleasing to Him than the most fluent prayer: they are, in fact, the voice of God’s Spirit within us. No one should allow themselves to feel dejected because there is no immediate response from God. Let everyone choose to follow the advice of the prophet Habakkuk: “It is not yet time for it to come true. The time is coming in a hurry, and it will come true. If you think it is slow in coming, wait for it. For it will happen for sure, and it will not wait.”15
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 428
2 This phrase was first found in a letter on 14 March 1538 from Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, to Thomas Cromwell, as “a man can not have his cake and eat his cake.” Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 1: January-July 1538 (p. 189 ref. 504)
3 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Matthew 8:25; 16:25; Mark 3:4; 8:35
5 John Etheridge English translation 1849
6 James Murdock English translation 1852
7 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Acts of the Apostles 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:23–28; Hebrews 2:8–11; Revelation 21:1
12 Genesis 3:16-19
13 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Note Psalm 38:8-9
15 Habakkuk 2:3