The Groaning of The Children of God:

Nature of Groaning

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 38a of 83

23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. 24For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? 25But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Romans 8:23-25).

In the previous tranche of articles, we studied the first of three groans which the apostle Paul brings to our attention. The first groan was the groan of creation. We saw how the whole Creation is groaning and travailing in the pain of childbirth. It is groaning with expectation of better days to come. It is groaning with the hope of delivery from the bondage of corruption and from vanity.

It is, as it were, looking forward to the revelation of the children of God. It is waiting for the children of God to be released to play. It knows that only when the children of God are ready to be released will it be renovated. It desires to be renovated. It desires to be used by the children of God to enjoy and glorify God.

The apostle is, of course, speaking about God’s plan for Creation. He is not saying that Creation has feelings. Creation is said to be groaning because it is not yet restored and perfected.

But Creation is not the only thing that is groaning. We ourselves, who are the children of God, are groaning within ourselves! Paul says:

23And not only they [ie. the whole creation], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,…

1.   What is it to Groan 
Within Ourselves?

We all know what it is to groan. To groan is to make a deep moaning sound in our throat. It is a sound we make spontaneously in reaction to something that evokes strong feelings.

If someone you love dearly dies, you will groan. If you fall down the stairs and injure yourself, you will groan. If you are a child you may cry, if you are an adult, you groan. If you are driving and you knock the car in front accidentally, you will groan. If you fail your exams, you will groan. If a good friend disappoints you, you will groan.

But Paul is not really talking about the groaning that escapes from our throat when something happens to us. He is talking about groaning as something that the children of God do by their new nature. He tells us that as the children of God, we are constantly groaning within ourselves. He is not telling us to groan. He is saying that we groan. We groan constantly. Groaning is a characteristic habit of the children of God!

Have you ever seen a baby mynah that has just learned to fly? Next time you see a congregation of mynahs, observe them carefully. Very often you will see the baby mynahs following their parents. How do you know they are babies since they look very much like the adults? You know they have just learned to fly because they look like the adults and yet have a persistent baby call. That call is a characteristic of baby mynahs.

Now, Paul is speaking of groaning as a distinguishing mark of those who have the first fruits of the Spirit, namely, the children of God. Now, of course he is not saying that Christians are a moany people.

In fact, we must understand that he is not speaking about a literal groaning. Just as Creation does not literally groan, we do not necessarily groan audibly. Paul is not concerned about the noise that our throat makes. He is concerned about the feelings in our heart.

But what kind of feelings is he talking about? He is talking about the feelings that make us groan – whether audibly or not.

But what are the feelings that make us groan? Well, generally two kinds of feelings: (1) feelings of grief or sympathy; and (2) feelings associated with a desire to be freed from some present suffering.

The Scripture confirms this fact.

In Mark 7, we read an account of a man who was deaf and had an impediment of speech. This man pleaded with the Lord Jesus to heal him. We are told that our Lord put his fingers into his ears and spit and touched his tongue. And then He looked up to heaven and sighed and said Ephphatha, that is ‘be opened’ (Mk 7:32). The word translated ‘sighed’ is the same word as ‘groan’ in our text. Our Lord sighed or groaned because He was touched by the plight of the man. His groaning speaks of a deep feeling of grief in His heart.

So the first reason why we groan is grief in the heart.

But grief in our hearts is not the only reason why we groan. We often groan because we desire relief from our pain. In Acts 7, Stephen tells us of how the children of Israel were held in bondage of slavery for 400 years. Then we are told that God heard the ‘groaning’ of His people and came down to deliver them out of Egypt (Acts 7:34). The people of God were groaning because they were being oppressed. But they groaned also because they desired to be delivered from their bondage.

So likewise, when Paul speaks of our groaning within ourselves, he is speaking of the deep feelings that well up in our hearts. He is speaking about the feelings associated with our present sufferings and our longing to be delivered from them.

But what pain are we feeling? And what are we longing for?

Let us consider first what causes the pain in our hearts that makes groan within ourselves.

2. What causes the pain that makes us groan?

Everyone knows what it is to groan under suffering. Many, many things make us groan. Illnesses, accidents, loss of property, broken relationships, failures, etc.

All men – believers and unbelievers, – know what it is to groan under such circumstances. Believers are not spared from providential suffering. So we groan because of the suffering that we have to endure today.

But is Paul talking only about groaning under such circumstances? No, no; Paul is talking about the groaning of the children of God indwelt by the Spirit of adoption.

And if you are a child of God, you will have more occasions to groan. Why? Because, as we noted previously, you will suffer for Christ’s sake. When you choose Christ and lose a friend, you will groan. When you choose Christ and lose a job, you will groan. When you choose Christ and therefore decide to suffer in silence, you will groan. The children of the world will never groan for such reasons.

And not only so, but as a child of God, you will groan because of sin. No one else in the world will groan on account of sin. But as a child of God, you will. Why?

Because the Spirit of Adoption has made you aware of your present bondage!

Were you without the Spirit, you would not groan, because you would not feel that you are in bondage!

But the Spirit has changed your heart and He dwells in you. You have been made aware of your sin. You have begun to see sin the way God sees it. You have been made sensitive to sin in and around you.

By nature you have pig’s hearts. You loved to wallow in sin. But now you have been given sheep’s hearts. You now hate sin and want to keep your wool clean.

Sin, which never used to trouble you, now grieves you.

No true child of God can be indifferent to sin. If you can see sin, whether in yourself or in others, and it does not bother you, then it must be that you are being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, or you are still in the bonds of iniquity.

The child of God who is indwelt with the Spirit of Adoption and is faithfully following His leading, will be grieved by sin. As a child of God, you will have a deep longing to be delivered from all sin. You will groan unto God for deliverance as the children of Israel groaned for deliverance during the 400 years of bondage.

You will cry out “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

You groan because you are not happy. You are not happy because of sin and suffering. But you will groan also because the Spirit of Christ indwelling you has whetted your appetite for better things to come. You have the first fruits of the Spirit.

The term “first fruits” in the Scriptures speaks not only of priority, but also of guarantee. Thus, Christ is called “the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor 15:20). This does not only mean that He is the first to rise, but that His resurrection is a pledge of the resurrection of His people (Rom 11:16; 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15; Jas 1:18).

Thus when Paul speaks of the first fruits of the Spirit, he is speaking of the Spirit as a guarantee, pledge or earnest of future glory (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14). The Spirit is God’s down-payment for our eternal inheritance.

Were we without the Spirit, we would not groan for deliverance, because we would not only be insensible to sin, but we would be ignorant of what we can expect. Like as a man born blind does not understand the glory of the sun, so by nature we do not understand what glory awaits the sons of God. But the Spirit has opened our eyes. He has made us aware of what glorious liberty awaits us (cf. v. 21).

He has given a peek of the glory what shall be revealed in us. Indeed he has allowed us a sip of the refreshment that awaits us. By this sip, we have become excited at the prospect of drinking from the full cup of God’s glory.

Thus, our groaning is partly in pain because of sin and suffering, but it must be characterised by hope (v. 24-25) because we know what to expect.

But what exactly are we expecting for that makes us groan within our heart?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim