Romans 8:19-22 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 8:19
  • Romans 8:20
  • Romans 8:21
  • Romans 8:22

All of God’s creation desires for God to finally restore it to a perfect, harmonious state. One day God will do this, and all of creation will be freed from its corrupted state and will once again be as God originally designed it. And believers who receive the reward of reigning with Christ will take their proper place as joint-heirs, or “sons.” But for now, we’re looking forward in hope to this day, despite whatever pains we experience.

In verse 19, Paul continues this line of thought: For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. This refers to those who receive the reward of being adopted as a “son.”

Likely Paul is referring to a custom his Roman audience would have been familiar with as a coming-of-age ceremony. There were two stages of Roman adoption: 1) To be placed as a “son” at age fourteen, with voting rights then; 2) to be placed as a mature son at age twenty-five, with property rights. The analogy applies to believers in that all believers have “voting” rights now (free to choose Sin or Righteousness, Romans 6:16-19); but those who suffer with Christ will have “property rights” in the world to come (inheritance in His Kingdom, Romans 8:17b). This can be confusing because as children born of the Spirit, we are born into God’s family as children, and we tend to think of that as the only sort of adoption. But Paul uses the term both to describe becoming God’s child, which comes with unconditional benefits all believers enjoy, as well as gaining a reward as a mature believer that is conditioned on faithfulness.

This idea of adoption for adults as a means of reward was not limited to Roman culture. In Hebrews 1 there is a rather elaborate description of Jesus being adopted as a “Son” over all humanity, largely quoted from Psalms. This is patterned after a common practice for eastern rulers to “adopt” a faithful servant into the royal family as a reward for faithful service.

All believers are God’s children, but only the believers who suffer with Jesus receive the reward of the inheritance that comes with authority over the New Earth. Right now,  creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. All of God’s creation is agonizing and waiting for a restoration, groan[ing] and suffer[ing] in the pains of childbirth together until now, with the hope that one day it will be overseen by servant kings who serve in harmony and create harmony.

The “Him” in verse 20 is referring to God, who cursed creation along with man, after Adam brought sin into the world (Genesis 3:17-19). Paul discusses the hope that creation has, along with believers, of redemption from God. For creation, this redemption looks like re-creation, when God will make the new heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21:1). This “new creation” is the same sort of language, referencing re-birth, renewal, and so forth that is used when Paul talks about believers as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Romans 6:4).

So, just as we long to be given new bodies and the glory that is to be revealed to us (verse 18), so does creation. It longs for the redemption and re-creation in the new heavens and New Earth. Creation will be set free from its slavery to corruption (verse 21) when it is created anew, as Revelation 21 talks about. We too will be made anew when we are freed from our mortal bodies and sin nature (verse 10), and given new bodies, which Paul talks about in the next verse (23).

When we, as believers, are received into heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18) we will be with the Lord forever, but heaven is not the final destination of believers (Revelation 20). Think of it as a train stop on the way to our true destination, the New Earth (Revelation 21). God’s original design, which we find in Genesis chapters 1-3, was for man to rule over a perfect world. But man and the earth/creation were cursed when Adam brought sin into the world. Our redemption through faith in Jesus is how God offers to restore us and all of creation to that original plan, serving with Jesus ruling over earth (Philippians 2:8-11). (This inheritance of Jesus for His sacrifice on the cross and the opportunity we have to be fellow heirs with Him, is further explained in the commentary for verses 15-19.) So, just as creation was cursed alongside man, it will be redeemed with us (believers) through faith.

Biblical Text

19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Check out our other commentaries:

  • Obadiah 1:17-21 meaning

    While Edom will be crushed by God’s judgment on the day of the LORD, Israel and Judah will be restored.......
  • Genesis 8:1-5 meaning

    The rain stopped, and the underground waters were closed. God caused a wind to dry up the flood waters. The ark came to rest on......
  • Genesis 17:12-14 meaning

    God gives further instructions about circumcision; Male babies who are 8 days old, even servants either born or bought must be circumcised. Anyone who is......
  • Exodus 30:1-5 meaning

    The LORD describes how the altar of incense was to be built. The rings and the poles, used to carry the altar of incense, are......
  • Deuteronomy 19:11-13 meaning

    Moses then addressed the issue of someone guilty of premeditated killing (murder) fleeing to one of the cities of refuge. The murderer must be brought......