If we are not living in a constant state of disappointment we are not living by faith. We are led to this Truth by Paul’s exposure to his shame in Romans 7. “Wretched man that I am” is not about the guilt of doing something wrong but the shame in not being able to do anything about it. He can’t help himself. That is the power of the flesh. In his weakness he asks a good question, “Who will deliver me?” He knows he has to look outside himself for hope and help. He knows that his problem (himself) doesn’t need a program, a procedure, or a plan, but deliverance. His aid rests in another beyond himself. And it’s a delivery from a condition, not a circumstance. “The body of this death” is the locus of his deep need. It points to a prisoner who has, shackled to his ankle, another prisoner who has died. And it’s now up to him to carry death from then on. This is a fitting picture of the flesh. Dead but attached. A heavy load. But we keep going back to try to find life in this dead body, apart from God. We are looking for life in something that will only bring more death, helplessness, and hopelessness. “There is a way that seems right to a person but the end therein is death.” Yet Paul goes on to answer his question with “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
A posture of desperation can lead to a life-giving, life-gripping perspective of dependency. This informs the very next verse whose context is unfortunately ruined by the words “”Romans 8” which follows. The continuity and context is marred with that addition. It disrupts a most beautiful flow. We go directly from helplessness in ourselves to hope in God through Jesus to “there is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” No condemnation! Free from the penalty, and now the power, of the flesh. This means, by the way, we have no right for guilt or regret.
Walking in the Spirit as opposed to walking in the flesh provides very interesting differences. The Greek for “walk” is the word Greek word “peripateo.” We use the prefix “peri” for words like “periscope” and “perimeter” which means “around.” “Pateo” is the word for “path.” We get “patio” from this. Its root is “pat” which literally means “to strike” or “make an imprint.” When we march around and around beating that path it creates a deep rut. The “pat” becomes a “pit” over time from which there is no escape. Psalm 40:1-3 comes to mind. The desperation for deliverance is now more clearly understood. “In waiting, I waited for the Lord. He turned to me and heard my cry.” David was then lifted out of the “pit of destruction.” He didn’t, couldn’t, climb out on his own. There’s no ladder for him. Helpless and hopeless in himself.
Walking in the Spirit on the other hand implies movement (Spirit is “pneuma” means wind, direction, movement) and rather than getting stuck, beating that path frees us to move with intentionality and purpose. There’s no being stuck demanding life in that which doesn’t give life, only death. Psalm 40 again: “He set my feet upon a Rock, making my footsteps secure.” On that Rock (Jesus) I can walk, I can move forward.
And from a free heart I can praise God. Verse 3, “He put a new song (the old song is the crying) in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” Now the freedom from the flesh releases us from demanding comfort from our false gods, expecting life from “that which I would not do” as Paul exclaimed. And since there’s also no condemnation for having gone there, we can view our stories of idolatry, immorality, and individualism (the three lusts) honestly. So what do we do now with the existential reality of pain from unsatiated hunger and unquenched thirst that our lusts and false gods had relieved?
We groan. Just groan.
Anticipating pushback; groaning is not grumbling. Grumbling is groaning apart from faith. Grumbling and griping is our reaction to God not feeding our demands. It’s believing that He owes us. He does not. There are two ditches on each side of the road of faith: demand and denial. Both give us the illusion of control, relief. To believe we really have no hunger (anorexia) or that we have a right to anything that provides relief (gluttony) is actually faithlessness. Faith is this: even though we experience unsatiated hunger for life to work and unquenched thirst for deep relationship and even God seems far off, we trust anyway that God is there for us (YWHW), that He is good to us (Love), and that He is in control over us (Sovereign).
And so, we are led through Romans 8 to much groaning. Groaning is merely our spiritual stomach growling. We are hungry, without guarantee of being fed; not completely, not in this life. But as we groan, like the earth itself is groaning, something deeper is occurring. Paul describes it like “childbirth.” That produces, in the end, life. So the route to life is death. The pain is worth it, in other words. Even the Spirit Himself groans for us as He intercedes for us.That pressure, that crushing sorrow we experience in growing faith, ultimately gives birth to seeing God’s goodness. We go from groaning to birth in Romans 8:28. “All things work together for our good.” The goodness (love) of God produces, in His sovereignty, value to our stories. “All things” (our stories) “work together for our good” (redemption). In other words, our disappointment that the world, as it is, is not even close to the world as it was intended to be, causes us deep and profound pain (spiritual, social, somatic) that God then uses to actually benefit us. He has conquered that sin and shame. In essence He says to the enemy, “I see your evil and I’m not getting rid of it, it doesn’t threaten me. I’m actually going to use it for their benefit. So I see your evil and I raise it a redemption.” We are experiencing crushing, disappointing, hunger. If we don’t eat “satisfaction” from our idols, God will then reveal Himself as YWHW Jireh (the God Who is there and Who provides) and gives our pain value.
He is worth the wait.
And that will inevitably lead us to love others. If I’m not using them to feed my gnawing distress, I can then give to them out of the redemption of my story. Back to Psalm 40: “many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”Let others see this movement of yours as you walk in the Spirit. Don’t hide your light under a bushel as it’s not your light to hide. It’s His. Your story, whatever the sorrow, sin, or shame, is arranged by God to glorify Himself and give to others. And that is love. That is how we move from being our own demanding, denying, story to the story of the Gospel particular to us. We are the contextualization of the Gospel, a redeemed story.
And at the end of this process we start to taste, even feed on, the very “fruit” we were hungry for in the first place: the fruit of the Spirit. It’s counterintuitive to the flesh but when we trust Him we’ll eat from that fruit of love, joy, peace, etc.
Psalm 40:4 then, and only then, reveals, “blessed is the man who puts his trust in the Lord.”