A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

United with Christ

United with Christ by Elizabeth Wang (used by permission)

Pentecost +8 – United with Christ
Rev. Doug Floyd
Romans 8

In the summer before my Junior year in High School, I got a job working in construction for a friend of the family. He required a physical for the job, so I went to my doctor. My blood pressure was so high that they admitted me to the hospital that day. For the next month, they ran test after test trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I didn’t want my family to tell people, which was a bad idea. I ended up spending day after day alone experiencing what I considered to be various tortures.

Eventually, they determined I had kidney disease and removed a kidney that appeared to have never grown. It didn’t solve my problem. I began a regimen of medication and diet. At first, I was like a typical teenager: resentful that I was undergoing this dramatic life change. Over the years, I faced varying health problems because of my kidney problem and finally in the early 2000s, my remaining kidney began to fail.

Facing serious health issues for much of my life caused me to think more about death and the transience of life. In that since, it was a gift. I thought I had experienced a great deal of suffering in life, but as I grew older, I came to see that while I have had some affliction, it can only be considered minor in the grand scope of things. All people suffer in this life and some people suffer in horrible and inexplicable ways.

Sometimes we hear the question, “How can bad things happen to good people?” Other times we may wonder, “Where are you God in the midst of my struggles?” Or “If God loves me, why would He allow me to suffer so much?” The truth is life is filled with all kinds of struggles and pains and challenges. All humans suffer. It does not mean that we are somehow separated from God.

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us of who we are in Christ. The word “spirit” appears more times in Romans 8 than any other chapter in the Bible. We are spirit people in Christ. In fact, Paul contrasts spirit people with flesh people. Flesh people are not bad Christians or worldly Christians. Flesh people are not Christians.

Flesh people live for self. They are enslaved to sin. They are ultimately opposed to God and other people. When a person comes to Christ Jesus, they become a spirit person. The Holy Spirit dwells in them, reveals Christ in them, begins the grand process of transforming them into the glory of God.

We must be clear here: Paul is not saying that Christians go back and forth between the flesh and the Spirit. He is saying Christians are “spirit people.” When we read passages like “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” [1] Paul is talking about two different kinds of people and not one person who is sometimes set on the flesh and other times set on the Spirit. Thus Paul will go on to say, You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”[2]

We are spirit people because we have been adopted by God the Father as sons of God. This sons of God refers both to men and women. We have been adopted by the Father in heaven. Our faith in Jesus Christ is a sign or a token of this adoption. Though we may struggle with wrong attitudes and wrong actions, we are spirit people not flesh people. We have been freed from the death of sin and the Spirit of God is enlivening us now and, in the days, to come.

The Spirit of God unites us to Christ Jesus. We can properly say that Christ dwells in us and we dwell in Christ. We are united with Christ. That union cannot be broken by an outside force. No suffering, no struggle, no demons or angels, no past memories, no glaring failures can separate us from Christ. Instead of dwelling upon our weaknesses, we look to Christ who is our all in all. We are growing up into Christ. Or as Paul says in Ephesians, Christ is christing us christward.

With this in mind, let us go back to the idea of suffering. We all suffer in this life. All creation has been subjected to the corruption of sin and death. When Paul speaks of suffering in Romans 8, he is not specifically speaking of persecution though it is part of suffering. But we suffer with health problems, financial problems, emotional problems, work problems, and more. Life is filled with all kinds of suffering.

Suffering cannot separate us from the love of God. As Christians, we identify with Christ in our suffering. Since we are united to Christ all that we go through in this life is bound up with Christ. Paul links our suffering with Christ’s suffering and with glory. If anything, in our suffering we turn more deeply into the unshakeable love of God. Yes, we will face struggles and tribulations and sometimes famine and even nakedness, but we will never be separated from the love of God in Christ. We are united to Christ. We are bound up with Christ. His Resurrection is our resurrection. His glory is our glory.

Our minor afflictions awaken in us a longing, a yearning for the world to be put to rights. We sense glimmers of a glory to come in waking and sleeping, in stories and in desires. This yearning, this longing is in tune with a longing, a groaning that reverberates in all creation. And this groaning in creation is in tune with an even deeper groaning or longing of the Spirit of God. There is a triple groaning or yearning: within creation, within us, and within the Spirit of God.

Last week, Isaiah 55 hinted at a reversal of the curse in creation when he says, “ Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” [3] This week we read in Romans 8, For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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. [4] Finally, it is the Spirit of God who is working in and through us in this great prayer of redemption. Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”[5]

Let me back up slightly. Your faith in Jesus Christ is a sign that God has already taken hold you. You have been joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit. That bond of love is unshakeable. No matter what you feel or suffer or struggle through, the love of Christ surrounds you and ultimately makes you more than a conqueror. When you face the daily struggles of life or you encounter serious problems, look to Jesus Christ. Count your suffering with Christ, trusting that this suffering is leading to glory. That is glory in Christ.

You are moving to glory and all creation is moving to glory. The glory in our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is all in all and will be all in all. One way we participate in this movement toward glory is through yearning, longing, groaning for the unveiling of the Lord.

Today as you look at your own life, you may see things you don’t like. As you look at our world, you see things you don’t like. Turn those frustrations into prayer. Let the longing for the new creation flow through you. This week as I sat with Kelly in the emergency room, I looked at all the people waiting for treatment, and I silently prayed for the people. When I go to the mall or sit in the dialysis clinic or even go to the movies, I want join in the great prayer of the ages for God to touch these people and these places with His love. May Christ work through each of us to join in the great prayer of redemption for all creation.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:6.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:9.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 55:13.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:19–23.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:26.


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