Romans 8:And Not Only Creation...

“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.” – Romans 8:23

Paul brings us now to what is one of the key components to his whole system of theology, an idea which is crucial to understand if Christian’s are to walk faithfully in this fallen world. The idea is not unique to Paul, it’s something we find through the entire New Testament, and it’s this: that Christ’s death and resurrection inaugurated the last days. For Paul, we are now living in an age characterized by a now-and-not-yet ethos. All the promises of the Gospel are both ours now and yet, at the same time, still future as we await the fullness of their reality.

You can see this immediately in verse 23 when Paul says we, as Christians, wait eagerly for adoption as sons. Now hold on, Paul - you had just told us in verse 15 that all believers are already adopted as sons to God in Christ. How can it be that we’re now awaiting that reality? Either we’re adopted now or we’ll be adopted later, but it can’t be both, can it? Well, according to the New Testament it is both!

So, for instance, Jesus can say, on the one hand that the Kingdom of God was present in his earthly ministry (Matthew 12:28); he told the Pharisees, who asked when the Kingdom would come, “behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). And yet, on the other hand, Jesus could also say that the Kingdom would come in fullness far later in the future. In Luke 19, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, his disciples thought that he would enter into the Davidic city as the long-awaited King, ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven, but Jesus “proceeded to tell a parable… because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, ‘A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return’” (Luke 19:11-12). In other words, Jesus is going back to heaven and will be gone for quite some time before he returns to establish his kingdom in power and glory. Make no mistake, says Jesus, the coming of the kingdom is still future!

This is what’s known as the now-and-not-yet aspect of Christ’s kingdom. Paul can say that God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). We are in the Kingdom now, if we are in Christ. And yet, Paul can also say that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me [in the future] safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). The inaugurated nature of Christ’s kingdom allows a believer then to both enjoy present realities as well as anticipate and look forward toward future realities.

The go-to example is that of WW2 where the end of the war was officially VE-Day on May 8, 1945. But in a very real sense the war in Europe was over on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day. From the clear-sighted hindsight of history, almost every historian agrees that there was no way Germany could have stemmed the tide of the war after the success of D-Day. It was the beginning of the end. And yet, as Fred Zaspel astutely notes, things probably looked very differently for those soldiers down on the ground. “They were still dodging bullets and all manner of military force. They were bleeding and wounded, many were still dying, and there were still many harrowing days of the war yet to be endured, even some setbacks. It’s not that our soldiers in France were unaware of the significance of Normandy. I’m very sure they understood it well, and this understanding doubtless gave them great encouragement. But from the day-to-day experience of things, this war was still very much in full swing. The dangers were many — and they were everywhere.”[1]

Anthony Hoekema helpfully defines this way of understanding the Christians participation within God’s Kingdom by pointing out how “we may say that in the possession of the Spirit we who are in Christ have a foretaste of the blessings of the age to come, and a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of the body. Yet we have only the firstfruits. We look forward to the final consummation of the kingdom of God, when we shall enjoy these blessings to the full.”[2]

This is exactly what Paul is getting at in Romans 8:23. We Christians, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, look forward to the final consummation of salvation, our adoption, which is seen in “the redemption of our bodies.” Do you see? We’ve been redeemed already in Christ, at least spiritually speaking. We have new hearts and we’ve been spiritually renewed and we even have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But physically we are still decaying, we’re still dying, and so as Paul tells us, we’re also still groaning.

It’s a groaning though which looks forward to a reality that is not yet realized, namely our physical resurrection. To be clear, all Christians have already been spiritually resurrected. This is what Jesus refers to as being “born-again” (See John 3:1-8; 1 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 2:5-6). But this spiritual resurrection is only a foretaste, or the firstfruits, of a fuller resurrection to come, namely our bodily resurrection into glory! And it’s then, in that future moment, when our adoption as sons (something we really do enjoy now in Christ) will be more fully revealed to the entire cosmos. What is invisible now will be visible then; we will, says Jesus, “shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father” (Matthew 13:43; cf. Daniel 12:1-3).

How does this truth encourage us now as we remain in a world still marked by sin, suffering, decay, and death? Listen to Paul’s application of this truth in his second letter to the Corinthian church. “Do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light 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 4:16-18).

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.


[1] Fred Zaspel, “D-Day and VE-Day”, Credo Magazine ( September 13, 2013


[2] Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 67


Stephen Unthank