d) Rom 8:21–22: After noting that nature has been subjected to futility as a result of human sin (Rom 8:20), Paul wrote, “Even creation itself will be set free from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that all creation groans and travails together until the present time.”

Paul declared the content of creation’s hope: that it “itself will be set free.” God has set his people free from the slavery of sin and death (Rom 6:18, 22; Rom 8:2; Eph 1:3–11). So shall he liberate creation from its bondage.[1]

Christ’s death and resurrection ensures this eventuality (Col 1:15–201 Cor 15:20–23, 50–58).

Even nature shall undergo redemption. God will not rescue us from it.[2]

The apostle’s choice of “will be set free” (eleutheroō) [3]—rather than “undone” (luō) [4] or “destroyed” (apollumi)[5] counters the notion that the world shall end in destruction.

Thus, this passage contradicts the Greek dualism and the spirit/matter dichotomy which remain prevalent in our churches.[6]

Note that in 2 Pet 3:6–7, “the world” (kosmos) which God annihilated by the flood refers to the ungodly people inhabiting the earth during the time of Noah, not to the planet itself (Matt 13:24–30, 36–43).[7]

We await the renovation of the earth when the new Jerusalem descends (Rev 21:1–2), not its replacement.[8]

“The slavery (douleia) of corruption (phthora)” alludes to the inevitable decay of all created things.[9]

This is consistent with Greek thought, with Paul’s earlier writing in 1 Cor 15:50,[10] and with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

John Calvin noted, “We may…infer from this how dreadful is the curse which we have deserved, since all innocent creatures from earth to heaven are punished for our sins (Jer 12:4). It is our fault that they struggle in corruption.”[11]

In Greco-Roman society, the strict dichotomy between slavery and freedom accentuated the radical nature of the transformation envisioned by Paul.[12]

The Old Testament (OT) depicts Israel’s exile as a reversal of creation order into chaos (Jer 4:23–27).[13]

However, due to the Lord’s justice,[14] he assures us of a return to the conditions of Eden in the new Adam (Gen 2:8–14; Gen 1:31Rom 5:12–21).[15]

God will overturn creation’s systemic deficiencies due to the curse upon the ground (Gen 3:17–18), so that nature may enter “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Jer 31:10–14; Hos 2:18–23; Rom 8:19).[16]

Then people will say, “This land which was desolate has become like the garden of Eden” (Ezek 36:35).[17]

The Lord shall banish evil and his elect will enter into complete harmony with our creator.[18] At that time, God shall at last achieve his original intention for our planet.[19]

This theme of the spread of God’s kingdom throughout all of creation appears in the Assumption of Moses, a Jewish apocryphal book dating from the time of Christ’s birth:

And then his [God’s] kingdom will appear throughout all his creation, and then Satan will be no more, and sorrow will depart with him…

For the Heavenly One will arise from his royal throne, and he will go forth from his holy habitation and his wrath will burn on account of his sons. And the earth will tremble: to its confines will it be shaken. And the high mountains will be made low and the hills will be shaken and fall…

For the Most High will arise…and he will appear to punish the gentiles, and he will destroy all their idols. Then thou, Israel, wilt be happy, and thou wilt mount upon the neck[s and wings] of the eagle, and (the days of thy mourning) will be ended.

And God will exalt thee, and he will cause thee to approach to the heaven of the stars, and he will establish thy habitation among them.[20]

Of all the OT prophets, Isaiah delivered the most complete picture of the state of the universe after Christ announces, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Isaiah 11 describes “the root of Jesse” (v. 1) who shall destroy all evil (v. 4), leaving even a little child to lead a lion who will lie down with a lamb (v. 6). God said, “For they shall not cause evil nor ruin in all my holy mountain because the earth [shall be] filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters cover the sea” (v. 11).

Other passages with such end-time promises include Isa 51:3–11;[21] Isa 55:6–13; Isa 65:17–25 and Isa 66:22–23.[22]

Since redeemed people must inhabit a fitting environment,[23] the reclamation anticipated by believers shall extend to the created order.[24]

Indeed, the resurrection of people without the restoration of creation bears little resemblance to the gospel preached by the apostle (Eph 1:9–10; Col 1:15–20).[25]

The God-focused perspective of the mandate in Gen 1:26–28 states our commission not in terms of domination but of stewardship. It does not give people license to abuse the environment.

In fact, we should fashion the model for our own rule of the earth after Jesus’s charge to his disciples (Mark 10:45). When a man asked Christ to name the greatest commandment, he responded with two of them (Matt 22:34–40). Currently, we face ecological crises all around us. Can we adhere to the command to “love our neighbors as ourselves” without caring for the environment in which they live?[26]

Our desire to love and honor the Lord affects the way we interact with what he created. God calls his people to align ourselves with his plans (Rom 12:1–2; Col 1:9–10).[27]

Since the Lord intends to redeem creation rather than to annihilate it, this has profound implications for how we view and care for the environment. We must seek to limit the damage we inflict upon both the inorganic and the living creation by behaving in ways which anticipate the age to come.[28]

As co-heirs with Christ, our destiny conforms to his image (Rom 8:29). By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord calls and enables us to live as he originally intended for those created in his image (Gal 5:13–25).[29]

Thus, we must seek that his “will [be done] on earth as [it is] in heaven” (Matt 6:9–10). God commissioned Adam and Eve with cultivating and serving what he had created (Gen 2:15, 18). Now that charge extends to us (Ps 8:5–10).[30]

Even as in first century Rome, we see the effects of sin almost everywhere we look: destruction, decay, and despair.

As those who wait expectantly for the ushering in of the new age, we must fully engage ourselves in the advancement of the cause of Christ, seeking the righteousness, justice, and true life which God intended from the beginning.[31]

Nevertheless, we must remain cognizant that, although they are not in vain, our own efforts cannot bring an end to the groaning around us: the Lord himself will accomplish that at the dawning of the age to come (Ps 96:7–16; Ps 98:4–9).[32]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Rom 8:21–22. What clues did Paul give to indicate that the Lord will not destroy this world? Why does God plan to redeem our planet? How does knowing that the Lord desires to renew the earth affect the way you live? What are some specific things you can do differently to enhance your care for the environment?

 

 

 

Go to A Return to the Ground (Gen 3:19); or Go to Introduction to Chapter 10 (Gen 4–11)

[Related posts include Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); Stewards of the Earth (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); God Evaluates His Creation (Gen 1:31); A Well-Watered Garden (Gen 2:8–14); Serving and Keeping (Gen 2:15); Not Good! (Gen 2:18); Thorns and Thistles (Gen 3:17–18); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); Dead in Adam but Alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–23); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55); Blessings from the Father (Eph 1:3–4); Adopted as Sons (Eph 1:5–6); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); The Summing up of All Things (Eph 1:9–11); The Firstborn of All Creation (Col 1:15–18); The World Destroyed by Water (2 Pet 3:5–6); Reserved for Fire (2 Pet 3:7); God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8); The Lord has Patience (2 Pet 3:9); The Day of the Lord Will Come (2 Pet 3:10); Hastening the Day of God (2 Pet 3:11–12); A Return to Paradise (Rev 22:1–5, 20); and Ancient Literature]

 

[Click here to go to Chapter 9: Painful Toil (Genesis 3:17–21)]

[Click here to go to Chapter 9: A Covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:20–9:17)]

 

[1] Osborne, Romans, 212.

[2] Dunn, Romans 1–8, 471.

[3]Danker, et al., “ἐλευθεροω” (eleutheroō), BDAG, 317.

[4] Danker et. al., “λυω” (luō), 607.

[5] Danker, et. al., “ἀπολλυμι” (apollumi), 117.

[6] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 450, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[7] Danker et. al., “κοσμος” (kosmos), 562.

[8] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 455, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[9]Frank J. Matera, Romans (PCNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 201.

[10] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 452, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[11]John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians (ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. Ross MacKenzie; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 174, https://archive.org/stream/commentaryonepis00calv#page/330/mode/2up.

[12]Ceslas Spicq, “δοῦλος” (doulos), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (TLNT), Vol. 1, (James D. Ernest, trans., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 380.

[13]Ciampa, “The History of Redemption, 273.

[14] Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 25.

[15] Matera, Romans, 201.

[16]Ciampa, “The History of Redemption,” 273.

[17] Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 34.

[18] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 456, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[19] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 81–2.

[20]R. H. Charles, trans., “The Assumption of Moses,” in The Assumption of Moses (Edinburgh; London: Black, 1897), 10.1–9, 38–43, https://archive.org/stream/assumptionofmose00unknuoft#page/38/mode/2up.

[21]John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 564–5.

[22]Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 16.

[23] Dunn, Romans 1–8, 471.

[24] Schreiner, Romans, 437.

[25]Ciampa Roy E., “Paul’s Theology of the Gospel,” in Paul as Missionary: Identity, Activity, Theology, and Practice (ed. Trevor J. Burke and Brian S. Rosner; London: T & T Clark, 2011), 187.

[26] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 458–60, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[27] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 460, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[28] Hahne, “The Whole Creation has been Groaning,” 24–5, http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/106707.pdf.

[29] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 459, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[30] Hahne, “The Whole Creation has been Groaning,” 25, http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/106707.pdf.

[31] Ciampa, “Genesis 1–3 and Paul’s Theology of Adam’s Dominion in Romans 5–6,” 113.

[32] Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 460, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.