23 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.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 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. (ESV)
Why is it that God does not take Christians to heaven immediately at the time of their conversion? The passage in Romans cited above tells us that waiting in faith is a necessary to develop spiritual maturity. Perseverance here on earth has a required role in our sanctification. We become more and more conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ as we face trials and temptations. We all have weaknesses which we learn to overcome through time and testing. The time we spend here on earth as Christians is a step in our learning to trust fully in God.
But notice that we are not left alone in facing our weaknesses. Romans 8:26 tells us “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.” (ESV) What kinds of weaknesses does Paul have in mind here? I think he is talking about physical weaknesses – sickness, disease, pain. I think he is talking about emotional weaknesses – grief, loneliness, anger. I think he is talking about moral weaknesses – succumbing to temptation. And I think he is talking about spiritual weaknesses – doubt and fear.
When we adopt this view of patience in working out our sanctifications, we can understand Romans 8:28 in a new light. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for I those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV) God is working out everything that happens to us for our sanctification. Not everything that happens to us is good, but God is causing all things to work together for good. And what is the greatest good? Romans 8:29 tells us “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (ESV) The greatest good that God is working out in our lives is to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, God is using all the events of our lives to:
• bring us to repentance, to the point where we hate sin;
• bring us to contrition, to the point where we hate self-righteousness;
• bring us to humility, to the point where we hate pride;
• bring us to faith, to the point where we hate doubt.
I am sure there are other items we could add to this list. The point is that God is working out all things in our lives in order to bring us to greater and greater conformation to His Son Jesus Christ.