I can’t think of a more descriptive, honest, insight-giving and hopeful description of the present state of the world you live in and how it affects areas of life such as human sexuality than Romans 8:18-39.
The apostle Paul assumes that suffering is the universal experience of everyone living between the already and the not yet. If you begin to pay attention, you will realize that you and I never live a day without experiencing suffering of some kind. Suffering is not an indication that something alien or weird is happening to us. Suffering is not a sign that we have been singled out for abuse or a sign of the failure of God’s rule, His plan or His promises. Suffering is the natural experience of everyone who lives where you and I live. Rather than being shocked when trouble and difficulty enter our lives, we should be surprised how well this world works, given its condition.
If suffering is every person’s experience, then you should expect suffering to impact your sexuality. You will suffer the reality that right here, right now, sex doesn’t function the way that God intended. You will face the redefinition, distortion and misuse of sex. You suffer the temptation to take your sexual life outside of God’s clear boundaries. You will suffer being blindsided by sexual temptation at the mall, on your computer, when watching Netflix or, sadly, even when you’re doing a Google search on your phone. You will suffer women exposing their bodies in public or men treating women like they’re little more than physical toys for their pleasure. Some of us will suffer sexual abuse, and others of us will suffer the exhaustion that comes from trying to keep our hearts pure. You will suffer misunderstanding and mockery as you try to stay inside God’s boundaries in a culture that laughs at the thought of sexual boundaries. Paul assumes that we will suffer, and if he’s right (and he is), that suffering will include our sexuality.
Why does Paul assume we will suffer?
He assumes suffering because he understands the condition of the world in which God has chosen us to live (vv. 19-25). With graphic and provocative terminology, Paul wants us to understand that God has chosen to keep us right now in a terribly broken world, one that does not function in the way He intended. Our present address is not an interruption or failure of God’s plan for us.
Paul’s way of capturing the brokenness of our world is to say that “the whole creation has been groaning.” Picture the old man whose body is aged and broken, where even something as simple as getting out of a chair, bending to pick something up or taking a few steps makes him audibly groan. That’s our world. Everything is affected by brokenness. There is no location or situation or sector of the world that does not groan.
But Paul says that this broken world is waiting for redemption. Governments can’t fix this brokenness, institutions of higher learning can’t fix it and physicians can’t fix it. This world and all its brokenness cry out for one thing: a redeemer. That redeemer is Christ, whose forgiving and transforming grace is the only hope for us, our world and our sexual brokenness.
Our “loud” need for redemption
There are maybe few areas of our lives that preach more loudly to us of our need for redemption than our constant struggle with sex. When it comes to sex, the promises we make to ourselves and others tend to be short-lived. Our commitment to purity of heart and hands tends to weaken in the face of temptation. It doesn’t take much for our eyes and our desires to wander. In the sexual arena we are confronted with the truth that we will never be righteous on our own. Sex preaches to us all that we deeply and desperately need grace.
Thankfully, in this passage it’s not the brokenness of the world that dominates Paul’s discussion, but grace. In a powerful and practical way, Romans 8:18-39 points us to the only place where we can find help and hope for our sexual brokenness. Grace offers us what we cannot do for ourselves. Grace offers us what changes of situation, location and relationship will never give us. There is grace for every aspect of the sexual brokenness in and around us, and that really is the very good news of this passage.
God for us
The question begged by dark honesty about our present address — identified in Romans 8 — is this: What does God give us to face our inevitable struggles and sufferings? The resoundingly glorious answer of Romans 8 is that God does not give us this thing or that thing to help us. No, He gives us the only thing that can truly provide the rescue, wisdom and strength we need. God’s best and most precious gift to us between the already and the not yet is the gift of himself.
He doesn’t promise a life free from struggle. He doesn’t promise us that we will not suffer. He doesn’t promise that our sexuality will be free from distortion and temptation. No, He promises us that in all these situations He will be with us, in us and for us. God is the grace He offers us.
In fact, this passage carries with it one of the most powerful and concise definitions of God’s presence and grace that you will ever find. It’s there in verse 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Where can hope for a healthy, godly and morally pure sexual life be found? Here is the answer in three wonderful words, God for us. Let these words shape the way you think about how to live God’s way sexually in a world that ignores Him and rejects His wise and loving plan. Let these words give you courage in the face of confusion, misunderstanding and temptation. Let them give you hope when you feel defeated by sexual temptation. It’s never us against the giant of seductive sexual allure, because by grace God really is for us.
The many facets of God’s grace
So Romans 8 doesn’t just alert us to the broken, groaning world we live in, but it points to God’s presence with us and the grace He offers us. Let’s examine this grace.
1. God’s grace is often uncomfortable grace (vv. 18-25).
The difficulties we face in the here and now are not a sign that God has forgotten or abandoned us. He knows where He has placed us. He has placed us here because He is not after our ease; He is after our hearts. It is important that we embrace the theology of uncomfortable grace, because between the already and the not yet, God’s grace comes to us in uncomfortable forms. God uses the sexual brokenness around us to expose our wandering hearts. He is able and willing to turn what is broken and groaning into a tool of his grace.
2. God’s grace is intervening grace (vv. 26-27).
At times the battle is so great, so discouraging, and so emotionally taxing that you don’t even know how to pray. You’ve fallen again and focused your eyes on what God prohibits or used your body for what God has forbidden, and you feel so defeated. This passage says that in those moments, when the weakness is so deep, and you’re distraught and confused — so much so that you don’t know how to pray — God does not turn His back on you. The Holy Spirit, who lives inside you, carries your intelligible cries in words of grace to the Father. He intervenes for you when you have no strength or ability to intervene for yourself.
3. God’s grace is unstoppable grace (vv. 28-30).
It is a cruel lie of the Enemy that God would ever give up on one of His blood-purchased children. Because my sex life exposes what a wandering heart I have, I need to know that the heart of my Redeemer will never, ever wander. This is exactly what these verses tell us, that God will absolutely finish the work of grace that He has begun in each of us. Here’s the vital message of these verses: the grace you are receiving today is the present expression of a plan that was firmly set in place before the foundations of the world were laid. Nothing or no one can stop the move of this grace.
4. God’s grace is providing grace (vv. 31-32).
I love the logic of these verses. If God went to the extent of harnessing forces of nature and controlling the events of human history so that at just the right time His Son would come and live, die the death we should have died, and rise again, conquering sin and death, would it make any sense that God would abandon us along the way? The cross is our guarantee that in all our struggles with sex, no matter who we are and what those struggles may be, God will give us everything we need. If He willingly gave us His Son, we can rest assured He will gladly supply what we are not able to supply for ourselves.
5. God’s grace is inseparable grace (vv. 33-39).
Finally, in case any doubt still remains about the presence and reliability of God’s grace, Paul assures us that we will never encounter or struggle with anything that has the power to separate us from the love of the One who so generously blesses us with His presence and His grace. This world, with all its sexual distortion, confusion and seduction, can’t separate you from God’s love. Your darkest moment of sexual wandering and defeat can’t separate you from God’s love. Your pride in your independent self-righteousness, where you take credit for what only God can produce, can’t separate you from God’s love. His love is eternal.
Romans 8 is stunningly honest in its description of the groaning world we live in and wonderfully hopeful about the realities of God’s presence with us and grace for us. The honesty of Romans 8 doesn’t negate its hope, and the hope doesn’t weaken its honesty. And this is the way it should be. If what the Bible says is right about who God is and what He has given us in Jesus Christ, then we should be the most honest community on earth, because we know that whatever is known or exposed about us has already been fully covered by His amazing grace.
Content adapted from “Sex in a Broken World: How Christ Redeems What Sin Distorts” by Paul David Tripp, copyright 2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.