This verse-by-verse study of Romans 8:16-39 was taken from my original paper titled, "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Ephesians Chapters 1 and 4; and Romans 8:16-39," which was published July, 2000. I was able to use bold, underlining, italics, and footnotes in the original paper and in the version that is available on my website (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). I always use the New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) to make them more obvious.
I suggest you read the Introduction to the study of Ephesians chapter 1 in Part 1 of that study as an introduction for this study. Romans 8:1-17, which are some of the most important verses in the Bible, are discussed on pages 116-123 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ."
"The Spirit Himself testifies [or, bears witness] with our spirit that we are [born- again] children of God [This is a very important aspect of our salvation. We can (and should) know in the depths of our being that we have become born-again children of God (cf. 1 John 5:13). We have been accepted (adopted) into the family of God through Christ Jesus and His atoning death.], (17) and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ [According to Heb. 1:2, Christ has been "appointed heir of all things." Compare Rom. 8:32.], if indeed we suffer with Him [[Compare Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41; Rom. 5:2-4; 2 Cor. 1:5-7; Phil. 1:29, 30; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 2:12; and 1 Pet. 4:13. In the following verses (Rom. 8:18-39), Paul speaks, at least for the most part, of the suffering that comes to us because we are disciples of Christ, not the suffering that we experience in common with all mankind. This suffering with Christ includes spiritual warfare, the necessary crucifixion of the flesh/old man, and persecution. We don't want to overstate the suffering of this age, or to go looking for trouble, but as Paul said, in 1 Tim. 3:12, for example, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."]] so that we may also be glorified with Him. [[Most of the glory that comes to the adopted children of God is reserved for the future, when we will be glorified with Christ (e.g., Col. 3:4), and the apostle is speaking here of that yet-future glory, but some preliminary aspects of glory are available to us in this age (e.g., 2 Cor. 3:18). We have already received the down payment/pledge of our inheritance (e.g., Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 1:22), and what a down payment, but we must wait for the return of Christ to enter into many key aspects of our inheritance/salvation (e.g., Rom. 8:18, 19, 23; Acts 20:32; Gal. 3:29; 4:7; Eph. 3:6; Titus 3:7; Heb. 1:14; and Rev. 21:7). What a privilege! What a destiny! To be "fellow heirs with Christ"; to be "glorified with Him"; to reign with Him. But, as this verse shows, we must be faithful to Christ Jesus and be willing to accept the suffering that comes to us because we are His disciples in order to be glorified with Him.
We may avoid a little suffering (and bring a little rejoicing to the kingdom of Satan) by living somewhere below holiness and godliness, but this is a dangerous place to live. To be out of the perfect will of God for us will always make things more difficult for us in the long run; and it won't work for the glory of God, for our good, or for the good of the kingdom of God.
We want to make sure that any suffering that comes to us isn't caused by our unbelief or ungodliness. As long as we're doing our part of trusting God and walking in His truth and righteousness through faith, we can know that our sufferings haven't come to us because of our sin, and we can know that all things - very much including our suffering - will work together for good (Rom. 8:28). As long as we're putting God and His kingdom first, even if we should miss it through ignorance, etc., or even if we should slip into sin, it's rather easy for God to show such Christians where they must change, or repent, and to fully restore them.
I'll list some of the good things that the New Testament says will come to believers through being willing to accept (to blast through) the suffering that comes to us in this age (some of these good things come to us during this age, but many good things are reserved for the future): We will grow and be improved; we will be more able to help others; we will find favor with God; we will be comforted and blessed; we will be proved genuine; we will be rewarded; we will be considered worthy of the kingdom; we will be glorified, and we will reign with Christ; and, significantly, we will glorify God (see Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41; Rom. 5:2-5; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:9-12; James 1:2-4; 5:10, 11; 1 Pet. 1:6, 7; 2:19, 20; 3:14; 4:12-19; cf. Heb. 2:10; 5:8). Also, God's chastening (which typically involves suffering), when rightly responded to, will always work for good (e.g., Heb. 12:4-17).]] (18) For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed [or, unveiled, manifested] to us. [Compare 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Col. 1:27; 3:4; Titus 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 5:1; and 1 John 3:2. The sufferings of this age are infinitesimally brief and quite small when compared with eternal glory.] (19) For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly [The NIV has, "the creation waits in eager expectation."] for the revealing [unveiling, manifesting] of the sons of God [cf. Rom. 8:14, 16]. [[We (the sons of God/the members of God's true Israel) will be revealed/unveiled/manifested when we are glorified at the end of this age. "The creation" here refers to the physical world with the animals, birds, fish, trees, plants, weather, etc. The creation waits in eager expectation for the manifestation of the sons of God, because it knows that our glorification will signal that it is time for the creation itself to begin its transition to the full glory of God's new heaven and new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; and Rev. 21:1). In Rom. 4:13 (cf. Matt. 5:3-9, especially verse 5) the apostle spoke of believers being heirs of the world. Before the glorified saints can fully inherit the world, it must be glorified.
Will the animals, birds, fish, etc. have a place in God's glorified kingdom? Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25 indicate that animals, etc. will (at least) be there during the millennial kingdom.
Paul didn't mention the conversion of the remnant of the nations here, but this would be a good place to briefly consider this topic. For one thing, Paul didn't have the benefit of having the important revelation on this topic contained in the book of Revelation, since he died some thirty years before that revelation was given to the saints. Revelation 15:4; 20:3 show that God will leave a remnant of the nations to enter the millennial kingdom, and Revelation chapters 21, 22 seem to show that the nations will have a separate existence from true Israel in the eternal state (as they will in the millennial kingdom).
As I understand it, true Israel embraces all the believers from Old Testament days and all true Christians, and although those called the nations in Rev. 15:4; 20:3 and in chapters 21, 22 (and other places) will be saved through Jesus Christ and His atoning death (cf. Rev. 21:27), they will not be part of the Christian church and they will distinct from true Israel. True Israel will be reigning with Christ (and God the Father) throughout the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:6) and forever (Rev. 22:5). These chapters in Revelation and the topic of God's salvation plans for the nations are discussed in some detail in my eschatological writings. For one thing, between my book ("The Mid-Week Rapture") and papers on my internet site (all the book of Revelation is discussed verse-by-verse; also see the paper, "More Regarding God's salvation plans for the Nations" and the eschatological papers dealing with Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.]] (20) For the creation was subjected to futility [see Gen. 3:17-19; 5:29], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope [God, because of the sin of man, subjected the creation to (temporary) futility. (It's also true, of course, that the rebellion and sin of Satan initiated the sin/corruption problems that exist in the world.) But the creation has "hope," knowing that its subjection to futility is only temporary (cf., e.g., Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25 [cf. Gen. 1:30]; Ezek. 47:3-12; Acts 3:21; Rev. 21:1; and 22:1-5).] (21) that [I prefer the translation in the margin of the NASB, "because." That is, the creation is able to have this hope "because" it knows that the futility is only temporary. It knows that it "will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." The KJV and NKJV have "because."] the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (22) For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. [[The end result of "the pains of childbirth" will be good - a birth will take place. The groaning and suffering of the whole creation won't last much longer. The whole creation will ultimately be born into the glory of God's new heaven and new earth that is pictured in the last two chapters of the Bible. Christ Himself (after His atoning death) was the first man (though He was/is much more than just a man) to be born into God's new creation (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5; Rom. 8:29; and 1 Cor. 15:20-28).
When Christ returns, all the members of God's true Israel who will have been converted before He returns will be born into the fullness of eternal life - they will be glorified (Isa. 66:7; Rom. 8:29; Rev. 12:5; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5; 12:5; and 1 Cor. 15:20-23). All these verses are discussed in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture; A Verse-by-Verse Study of Key Prophetic Passages." Some of them, very much including Rev. 12:5, which speaks of the transformation and glorification of the members of true Israel that will take place at the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week as a birth, are discussed in significant detail.
We can probably say that by the time the millennial kingdom begins all the members of God's true Israel (including those converted after the rapture) will have been born into the fullness of eternal life and been glorified (cf. Isa. 66:8; Rev. 15:2; and 20:4). Ultimately the whole creation will experience the birth into the glory of God's eternal kingdom - it will be glorified (cf. Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21). Those who will be removed by judgment will not, of course, be included (e.g., Rev. 19:20, 21; 20:9, 10, 14, 15; 21:8; and 22:15).]] (23) And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit [At the present time we just have the first fruits of the work of the Spirit. But what glorious first fruits; they include the new birth; the enablement for us to be righteous and holy; and the charismatic gifts, etc. However, much of the Spirit's work is reserved for the future (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:11). See under Eph. 1:13, 14 in the paper on Ephesians chapter 1 on this site.], even we ourselves groan within ourselves [[Compare Ezek. 9:4; Matt. 5:4; and 2 Cor. 5:2, 4. The creation isn't the only thing groaning. We Christians have some things to groan about too, referring especially to the sufferings we sometimes experience as disciples of Christ throughout this present age. The apostle isn't saying that we complain, whine, doubt, or pout; the groaning he's speaking about doesn't include these things. As Rom. 8:17-39 show, he's speaking of things like the spiritual warfare arrayed against us, and persecution. It involves suffering to be tempted; it involves suffering to see things so far from divine order in the world (with all the chaos, blasphemy, error, false gods, pain, corruption, hatred, strife, confusion, sickness, starvation, deformity, etc.); it involves suffering to see the Christian church so far from divine order; it involves suffering to see God being ignored, rejected, and/or blasphemed by those who owe Him everything and so desperately need Him, etc.]], waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. [[Compare Phil. 3:21. We have already been adopted as born-again sons into the family of God (Rom. 8:14-16; Gal. 4:5, 6), but as we have discussed, much of our birth (the birth into the fullness of eternal life and glory) is still future for us. We must wait for the redemption of our body (for the time of our glorification). When we have been fully redeemed (including our physical bodies), we will be beyond the all-too-real potential to live according to the flesh (the old man) that we constantly face during this age. It must be understood that the physical body itself isn't our primary problem.
The physical body can be a bridgehead for the devil (and demons), and it can lead to sin, but (in general) sin originates in the heart/soul/spirit/inner man, not in the physical body (e.g., Mark 7:17-23). The "deeds/works of the flesh" that Paul listed in Gal. 5:19-21 are sins that originate in the inner man. Some of those sins (e.g., idolatry, sorcery, disputes, dissensions, factions, and envying) have little to do with the physical body. Paul often uses the word "flesh" of the old man (everything that we were [spirit, soul, and body], including the influence of demon spirits, before we were born again), that still wants to live and express itself in sinful ways. Sometimes he uses the word "body" with comparable full meaning (cf. Rom. 6:6; 7:23, 24; and 8:10, 13).
When the apostle Paul speaks of our body being redeemed here in Rom. 8:23, he is speaking of the time when we have been glorified and the flesh/old man has been fully left behind, with no more potential to live and express itself in sinful ways. That sounds good, doesn't it?
The "flesh" (man in the flesh, without the Holy Spirit) is typically contrasted with the Holy "Spirit" in the Bible, not with the human "spirit." As we walk in the Spirit by faith, we have the authority and power to keep the old man (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; and Col. 3:9) from expressing itself in sin/the works of the flesh. As I mentioned, the old man won't be annihilated until we're glorified. We need to understand that we (very much including our inner man/spirit/soul) doesn't automatically become holy, or automatically stay holy, just because we have become born-again Christians (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23). We are holy only to the extent we stay aligned with the truth of the Word of God and with the Spirit of God by grace through faith.]] (24) For in hope we have been saved [Many aspects of our salvation are yet future (see under Rom. 8:17). We hope for those things that are yet future. Hope doesn't infer doubt (as the word hope typically does in English); our hope is based on the super-solid Word of God; but hope does deal with things yet future (cf., e.g., Col. 1:5, 27; 1 Thess. 5:8; and Titus 3:7).], but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? [People don't hope to get what they already have and can see with the physical eyes. We can hope for the things we do not see because we can see them with the eyes of faith, based on God's Word, being enabled by His Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1).] (25) But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. [We're waiting eagerly for the completion of our salvation when we will be glorified and begin to reign with Christ.] (26) In the same way [[These words, which are all one word in the Greek, apparently refer to the fact that the Spirit Himself groans too, along with the creation (Rom. 8:22), and especially along with us (Rom. 8:23). Why does the Spirit, who dwells within our hearts (Rom. 8:9) groan? He, the One sent to help us and who loves us, is so intensely involved with us and our affairs that if we have something to groan about so does He, as He intercedes for us. The Spirit knows the Father's love for us, and He knows the plans He has for us. God has ways of making all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Praise His holy name!]] the Spirit also helps [cf. John 14:26 ("Helper")] our weakness [Here the apostle is thinking especially of our weakness when it comes to praying right, in the will of God, but the Spirit is here to help us in other areas of weakness too.]; for we do not know how to pray as we should [[The main aspect of prayer that Paul is dealing with here, in this context, regards suffering. In general we tend to pray to avoid, or to very quickly get out of, all trials and suffering (which isn't totally wrong; we're not supposed to go looking for trouble), but sometimes these trials and sufferings are part of God's will for us; when they are, they will always work for good if we rightly respond to them, staying in faith. Compare, for example, 2 Cor. 12:7-10. When we bring trials on ourselves through sin (including the sin of not putting God and His kingdom and righteousness first place [which could include the sin of not knowing things about our salvation that we could and should know], and the sins of not trusting Him and doubt), we must repent. Our sins don't work for our good. (See under Rom. 8:28.)]], but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words [[What glorious news, to learn that the Spirit of God intercedes for us. The apostle informs us in Rom. 8:34 that the Lord Jesus Christ also intercedes for us. Furthermore, it must be understood that the Son and the Spirit are both interceding for us in perfect agreement with the plan and purpose of God the Father, who loves us and makes all things work together for our good. What a salvation! We can't, of course, abandon our responsibility to pray (the Spirit will enable us pray as we should; cf. Eph. 6:18) and to do everything else that we must do according to the will and plan of God. We must always do our part (by the grace of God in Christ through faith).
Is Paul speaking of the Spirit literally groaning in our behalf from within us with audible groanings? I doubt it. For one thing, the groaning of the creation and the groaning of the saints are mostly to be understood in a figurative (even though it's a very real) sense. I leave room, however, for there to be occasions when the groanings of the Spirit could become audible as He intercedes for us, or as He intercedes through us for others.
Many say that Paul is referring to speaking in tongues here, but that hardly fits. For one thing, the last four words "too deep for words" are all one word in the Greek. This Greek adjective ("alaletos") was formed from a word that means to speak, with an "a" prefix added that negates the meaning of the word (the letter "a" is used this way in many English words too, for example, atypical, asymmetric), that is, "not spoken." The BAGD Greek Lexicon, under this adjective, which is only used here in the New Testament, has "unexpressed, wordless...sighs too deep for words." Paul would have hardly used this adjective if he had been thinking of speaking with tongues (which typically deals with words that are spoken audibly), but it's true that the Spirit, who was sent to help us and is so involved with our affairs, can help us pray (including intercessory prayer) through the gift of tongues (cf. 1 Cor. 14:16-18).
I'll quote part of what Douglas Moo said under this verse ("Epistle to the Romans" [Eerdmans, 1996], pages 525, 526). "...it is likely that the groans are not the believer's but the Spirit's. While we cannot, then, be absolutely sure (and we have no clear biblical parallels to go by), it is preferable to understand these 'groans' as the Spirit's own 'language of prayer,' a ministry of intercession that takes place in our hearts (cf. v. 27) in a manner imperceptible to us. This means, of course, that 'groans' is used metaphorically. But vv. 22 and 23, with their references to the 'groans' of creation and the 'groans' of Christians 'in' themselves, has prepared us for such a meaning. I take it that Paul is saying, then, that our failure to know God's will and consequent inability to petition God specifically and assuredly is met by God's Spirit, who himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God. When we do not know what to pray for - yes, even when we pray for things that are not best for us - we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit's ministry of perfect intercession 'on our behalf.' Here is one potent source for that 'patient fortitude' with which we are to await our glory (v. 25); that our failure to understand God's purposes and plans, to see 'the beginning from the end,' does not mean that effective powerful prayer for our specific needs is absent."]]; (27) and He who searches the hearts [This speaks of God the Father here (cf. Psalm 139:1-6; Luke 16:15; and Acts 1:24; in Rev. 2:23 it is Christ who searches the minds and hearts). The Spirit is dwelling in our hearts.] knows what the mind [or, "way of thinking." The Father knows exactly what the Spirit is thinking.] of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [[The Father knows exactly what the Spirit is saying (the Spirit communicates with the Father) as He intercedes for the saints, even when the Spirit just groans (based on what was said in Rom. 8:26). The Spirit knows the Father's will for each Christian, and He always thinks, speaks, and acts in line with the perfect will of God the Father. He came from heaven to dwell in the heart of each Christian and to do His part [His gigantic, super-important part] in the full outworking of the good plan of God for our lives.
I'll quote part of what Thomas R. Schreiner said under this verse ("Romans" [Baker, 1998], pages 446, 447). "...since the Spirit intercedes in accord with God's will, his prayers are always answered. The prayer of believers is not always answered affirmatively since we do not always know what God's will is. [See 1 John 5:14, 15 (these verses demonstrate the important connection between praying in God's will and having prayers answered); also consider Matt. 21:21, 22; Mark 11:22-24; James 1:5-8 (these verses demonstrate the important connection between praying in faith and having prayers answered); and 1 John 3:21, 22 (these verses deal with the important connection between living in righteousness and having prayers answered).] Thus Paul prayed to have the thorn in his flesh removed three times and God revealed to him that this was not his will [at least it wasn't His will at that time] (2 Cor. 12:7-10). By contrast, the Spirit's prayers are always answered with a yes, precisely because he always prays in accordance with God's will.... The main point of the paragraph therefore emerges. Believers should take tremendous encouragement that the will of God is being fulfilled in their lives despite their weakness and inability to know what to pray for. God's will is not being frustrated because of the weakness of believers. [God's will, however, can be frustrated in our lives to the extent we fight against His will and demand our right to continue in things like ignorance regarding His Word, unbelief, other sin, and fleshiness.] It is being fulfilled because the Spirit is interceding for us and invariably receiving affirmative answer to his pleas. ... We can see how nicely this fits with the next verses, where Paul teaches that all things work together for good and that God has designed all things so that we are conformed to the image of his Son. No wonder all things are working out for our good - the Spirit is effectively praying for us so that the will of God will be accomplished in our lives." ((Schreiner has a footnote here, "The personality of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in this text. In both verses 26 and 27 he 'intercedes' for the saints and this is possible only for a person. His personality is evident also in the word "phronema" [mind], for only a person possesses a mind. The text also indicates distinctions between the Father and the Spirit.... The Spirit intercedes to the Father for the saints, and it is the Spirit's mind that the Father discerns when he searches the hearts of believers." The Father, of course, discerns more than the mind of the Spirit when He searches the hearts of believers.))]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Rom. 8:16-39 with Rom. 8:28, which is a very important verse, in Part 2 of this 4-part paper.