Paul seems to be infatuated with the idea of the new creation. He firmly believes that the family of God---the heirs of the covenant, through their implementation of suffering-embracing-and-alleviating kingdom principles, are new creation-bringers. In fact, he says that “the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God” (8:19). These sons of God are not is not a special class of super-spiritual beings. This is the justified, covenant-enfolded family of God, called into existence by belief in Jesus.
The creation itself, long “subjected to futility” (8:20a), awaits the advance of God’s kingdom, doing so “in hope” (8:20c). When we consider the nature of the hope of creation, it would be foolish for us to disconnect it from the cherished hope of the people of God, that being the general resurrection, so we acknowledge that God also intends to bring resurrection to His once good creation. This is precisely the point at which Paul reaches, writing “that the creation itself will also,” along with humanity, “be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:21). With this, Paul carries forward the words of verse fifteen, where he, speaking to the global family of God, said “you did not receive the spirit of slavery,” or bondage, “leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
Paul has also done something else with the words that he has here employed. Not only has he joined together the fate of humanity and the fate of creation, with both joyously experiencing the power of the Resurrection and the new age (the creation doing so because of the kingdom principles that have been adopted and are being employed by the family of God, in wise stewardship as tenders of God’s garden, like Adam and like Jesus, who was resurrected into a garden and was even mistaken for a gardener), but he has also called to mind the exodus, which, as we know, is the defining story of Israel (Passover, Israel’s most important holy day, which is the time of the crucifixion and the Resurrection, is forever and inextricably linked to the defining story of the renewed people of God, which is something to always consider). His use of “bondage” and “the freedom of God’s children” serve to bring the experience of the exodus into the frame.
In case we are not quite convinced that this is so, and if, for some reason, we have forgotten Paul’s extended effort to cause the believers to see themselves as an equal family before God, the previously defining barriers of covenant identification now removed, what comes next clinches the argument, as Paul writes “For we know that the whole creation suffers and groans together until now” (8:22). This language is borrowed from the second chapter of Exodus. There, we can read “During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of their slave labor” (2:23a). We note the groaning and the bondage. We also find that “They cried out,” much like all can now cry out to God as their Father, and much like the creation itself is able to cry out, “and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. God heard their groaning” (2:23b-24a).
What did God do for the people on whose behalf He was going to exercise His redemptive power, and with whom He was soon going to enter into covenant? As He has done, is doing, and will do for His new covenant people, the people who confess their trust in Him through their belief in Jesus and the fact of His Lordship, “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, God saw the Israelites, and God understood” (2:24b-25). He provided freedom, introducing them into a covenant-shaped life.
It is with thoughts of this defining story of a captive, groaning Israel now placed squarely in the midst of Paul’s words here that we now read “Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). God redeemed Israel from their slavery and delivered them into a land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, and so too is He going to do the same for His renewed Israel who call Jesus “King.” We know this to be true because the Spirit has convinced us of the truth of the firstfruits of that redemption, that being Jesus, raised physically and bodily into a world that was now forever changed, His physical body now a spiritual body because it is animated by the power of heaven. God redeemed Jesus’ body from its bondage to death, delivering it, renewed, remade, and re-created from the grave, and that same Spirit is now at work, renewing, remaking, and re-creating anywhere and everywhere a person engages in an activity that declares a belief in the Gospel of Jesus and the kingdom that said belief and Gospel entails. Israel’s small portion of good land was merely a signpost of the good land that would be the restored creation.
Like Israel out of Egypt, “in hope we were saved” (8:24a). It is hope because we can only catch glimpses of it, in the midst of the ongoing bondage that is to be observed all around us. Yes, this family of God is very much like Israel in Egypt, who groaned in hopeful expectation; and to this end, Paul writes “Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance” (8:24b-25). Israel hoped and God acted. We hope and God acts. We will continue to hope and we will continue to see God acting, through us, as those actions, which may entail suffering and shame, continually point us towards the consummation of all things and the glorious advent of the kingdom of God on earth.