The Groaning of the Believer
Bible Reading: Romans 8
Romans 8:22, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-4, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
I’ve witnessed the slow but sure digression of the health of a hospice patient as they’ve approached death. A physician had already determined that there was nothing medical which could be done. The patient was then sent home, or to a care facility. Sometimes at the start of hospice care, a patient is still ambulatory and able to converse. Yet as time goes on, body functions fail. In the end, most are in bed, immobile, unable to take food, or water, or to converse. That slow digression of health is usually accompanied by pain, and sometimes that pain is vocalized. Though hospice nurses do a great job of working to manage their pain, it is still not uncommon to hear a patient groaning. The earthly tent which has been the patient’s home is in the last steps of destruction. And there’s nothing which can be done to stop it.
I’ve shared 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 with such folks. It speaks of two main truths: 1) our earthly bodies are like earthly tents; they are temporary dwelling places; 2) when a believer dies, his earthly tent is exchanged with “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). As long as we are in these earthly tents—whether we are healthy now, or dealing with end-of-life issues—we groan with the desire to be released from earthly tents to put on our heavenly dwelling.
It is the Spirit, the first fruits, who keeps us looking forward to that beautiful day. The first fruits speak of the pledge of the harvest which is to come. Just like that, the Spirit’s presence is a pledge to the believer of the fulfillment of God’s promise regarding the redemption of the body. It is because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in us we groan and to the extent we are filled with Him, we groan all the more. It is as Charles Spurgeon has noted: “Even this first point of what the saint has attained will help us to understand why it is that he groans. Did I not say that we have not received the whole of our portion, and that what we have received is to the whole no more than one handful of wheat to the whole harvest, a very gracious pledge, but nothing more? Therefore, it is that we groan. Having received something, we desire more. Having received handfuls, we long for sheaves.”
How essential then is hope? And how necessary is it for believers to fix their hope on that which is assured to us in the promises of God? Hope, in the Bible, refers to possessing a confident expectation regarding some unseen future reality. We are all dying, some sooner than others. We groan now, longing to receive what God has promised–to be released from our earthly bodies to put on our heavenly dwelling. We groan, longing for freedom, and we hope, confident in the promise of the unseen reality that awaits us. That hope is what works to keep us persevering amidst our sufferings. May the God of hope fill us with hope (Romans 15:13)!
Robert M. McCheyne, “When you lay down this body, you may say, ‘Farewell lust forever, fareful my hateful pride, farewell hateful selfishness, farewell strife and envying, farewell being ashamed of Christ. O this makes death sweet indeed. O long to depart and be with Christ!”
LONGING FOR HEAVEN
Sure ’tis in vain to seek for bliss,
For bliss can ne’er be found,
‘Till we arrive where Jesus is,
And tread on heavenly ground.
There’s nothing round the spreading skies,
Or on this earthy clod;
Nothing, my soul that’s worth thy joys,
Or lovely as thy God.
‘Tis heaven on earth to taste his love,
To feel his quickening grace;
And all the heaven I hope above,
Is but to see his face.
Why move my years in slow delay?
And why this fear to die?
Death’s but a guide that leads my way,
To a superior sky.
Dear Sovereign, break these vital strings,
That bind me to my clay;
Help me to rise and stretch my wings,
And mount and soar away.