I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:
“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so….Romans 8:7
“[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”Romans 8: 20-21
Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.
But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.
Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.
If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?
The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.
The creation consists of time, space and matter – materiality. We intuit that God is not made of the same “stuff” as the creation He made because things don’t create themselves. Thus, we believe God is immaterial.
It seems elemental to conclude that a creation is less than its creator. We might call the greater-than quality of God compared to the creation He made perfection. God is the standard compared to which the creation is something less than perfect.
In that sense, it was part of God’s plan that we be not perfect. We could not be perfect, being merely material beings, unlike God, the supreme (immaterial) being.
This is the natural order of things. The natural world is our experience and existence in this life, and that is part of the plan as God intended. We are made of dust and will return to dust as the saying goes.
But God doesn’t intend that we remain in this material loop because His plan is for us to be like Him. He created us in His image,[iv] because He intended us to be like Him, but we aren’t like God in all respects, not the least of which is God’s immateriality and timelessness.
We are told that we are made of dust and will return to dust (Gen. 3:19), but that isn’t God’s ultimate plan for us. We are born of the material world; but God desires that we be born again… of the Spirit.[v]
From the beginning God determined that He would be a player in His own creation. John tells us that “the Word was with God” in the beginning, “and the Word was God”. (John 1:1-2) John tells us that all things were made through the Word, and “in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind”. (John 1:3-4)
Then, John says that Word, that light, came into the world that He made. (John 1: 9-10) He came as a human being to human beings. Paul says it this way:
“[T]hough he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”Philippians 2:7-8
God emptied Himself of His glory, which is immaterial and not “of this world”, to become one of us.[vi] He subjected Himself to His own plan, and He died as a man as part of that plan. Why?
The short answer is: so that He could rise from the dead, in material (bodily) form and show us what He desired for us – that we would be born again and, eventually, exchange our perishable body for an imperishable one. (1 Cor. 15:42-49)
We can’t be subject to (be part of) God’s ultimate plan as long as we are only material beings. Our material, natural, bodies cannot be like God if we remain only material bodies. This is not Gnostic ideology.[vii] These bodies are a gift, but there is a greater gift.
That greater gift is God’s Spirit… in us! If we are born again, born of the Spirit, we receive within us the Holy Spirt, the pledge or guaranty (2 Cor. 1:22) of that immaterial, imperishable “substance” that makes God greater than His creation.
Yet, we have that gift in earthen vessels, in “jars of clay”.[viii] God created these bodies with the ultimate intention that they would be filled with His Spirit, that we would “trade” these perishable bodies for imperishable ones.
We come to God to be filled with His Spirit, but we have to be born again, first. We can’t fill them with the “substance” of God’s Spirit; only He can do that.
This brings me to the point that God subjected the world to futility. But why?
The material universe is temporal. It didn’t always exist, and it won’t always exist (at least as we presently know it). The universe is subject to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which means that the universe is winding down, energy is dissipating; it will eventually not be able to sustain the dynamic energy that currently sustains life on earth.
We wind down also as we age. That is part of the futility to which God subjected the universe. Thus, we eventually die of “old age” if we don’t die sooner of some other intervening force.
But God has a bigger plan for us. He has a bigger plan than life on earth as we know it.
God created us in His image (likeness), and He intends for us not just to be like him in some earthly (material) respects. He intends us to become like Him in more “heavenly” (immaterial) respects. He offers us to be born again of the same imperishable seed that is the substance of God that separates Him from His creation!
We don’t do this ourselves, but we must be willingly complicit with Him. We must subject ourselves to the plan.
Jesus is the first fruits of this new “creation”.[ix] God became flesh in a man named Jesus. In Jesus, the Spirit of God was married with man. God dwelt fully in the body of the man named Jesus,[x] and that man was the very image of the invisible God![xi]
Jesus demonstrated God’s love for us by dying for us. He demonstrated his plan for us by rising again from the dead in bodily form. We know we can trust Him because He died for us. We have confidence in the hope He gives us because He rose from the dead.
Being born of the Spirit is the beginning: it is the “first fruits” of what is to come[xii]; being born again is how we enter into God’s ultimate plan.
We must also die to our “natural selves”[xiii] in this (material) world to allow God to fill us fully with His Spirit. We need to let go of one thing, which is good, but it is subject to corruption (decay), to grab ahold of another thing which is perfect and not subject to corruption or decay. This plan God has for us is described by Paul:
“It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”[xiv]
We were born into these earthen vessels, not willingly, but by God’s divine providence so that we might participate in being born again of God’s Spirit. That is God’s plan and intention for us, but we must participate. We have the ability to subject ourselves to this plan or to remain as we are, mere earthen vessels, subject to the futility and corruption (decay) of this world.
Built into that plan is the catalyst to encourage us to participate in God’s ultimate plan, rather than be content to remain dust to dust. God put eternity in our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) Thus, we long for something else. We long for that for which God desires us to seek – the imperishable seed, eternal life, to be like Him.
The futility to which God subjected His creation is designed to aid us in longing for and seeking for something more. At the same time, the sense or notion of eternity that God put in our hearts gives is the hope to pursuit it.
Having been born into a world that is subjected to futility, God desires for us to long for and enter into a world that God has planned for us that is not subject to futility. In order to grasp this gift that God offers, we must subject ourselves to God and His plan. And as we obtain our freedom from this futility that we experience all creation also will be freed from that futility!
“[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set freeRomans 8:20-21
[i] 5293/Hypotássō (from 5259/hypó, “under” and 5021/tássō, “arrange”) – properly, “under God’s arrangement,” i.e. submitting to the Lord (His plan). For example: “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject (hypotássō) to the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9 NASB); and “Submit (hypotássō) therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NASB). Hypotassō (“coming under the Lord’s arrangement”) in the NT means to voluntarily, willingly submit
[iii] 3153/Mataiótēs (a noun) – aimlessness because lacking purpose or any meaningful end; nonsense because transitory. Mataiotēs (“futility”) is used of the “fleeting allurements of worldliness; vanity, emptiness, unreality, purposelessness, ineffectiveness” (Souter); that is, “vanity” (KJV), “frustration”.
[iv] Genesis 1:27 “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them.” God created human beings distinctly different from the rest of creation (in the image of God). It isn’t the material body that is the distinction, for that we share with animals and the rest of creation. (What is the Image of God?)
[v] “’[U]nless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:3-8)
[vi] Jesus was fully man and fully God https://answersingenesis.org/jesus-christ/jesus-is-god/is-jesus-god/)
[vii] Gnosticism is a 2nd Century heresy that deviates from the teachings of Jesus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism
[viii] 2 Corinthians 4:7
[ix] “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGSI IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-28
[x] Colossians 1:19; 2:9.
[xi] Colossians 1:15 That Jesus is the image of God is a different concept than that we were created in God’s image. We were “created in the image of God”, but Jesus was the image of the invisible God. Jesus was God, emptied of His glory and born as a man. Jesus was fully God and fully man. https://answersingenesis.org/answers/biblical-authority-devotional/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-is-in-the-image-of-god/
[xii] “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the 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. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:18-23)
[xiii] “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
[xiv] 1 Corinthians 15:42-49