20. Comforting Questions (Romans 8:31-39)
About the only time I play golf is when we visit my family each year in Washington State. My dad and I try to play at least once each trip north. On one occasion, we were walking to the club house just before we were to tee off. Knowing I had not played for some time, my father offered me a word of advice: “Bobby, until you build up your confidence, why don’t you drive with an iron at first?” “Pop,” I responded, “I have all the confidence in the world. What I lack is ability.”
Confidence can be a very good thing. It can also be a mill stone around one’s neck. Being confident simply is not enough. The crucial issue is in whom, or in what, is our confidence. Ill-founded confidence is deadly. Well-founded confidence is proper and good.
Some Christians have no confidence at all, believing that with one slip, one sin, they are out of the faith. Agonizing their way through life, they hope no sin has gone unnoticed and unconfessed; if so, they fear they will not get to heaven. These Christians desperately need the confidence of which Paul speaks in Romans 8:31-39.
Other Christians have great confidence but in the wrong thing. The lyrics of a popular “Christian” song say something like: “I have determined … to be invincible …” This song writer has far too much confidence—in himself. The writer should spend some time in Romans 7 and 8 where the fallibility of the Christian is in view. When the reality of Romans 7:24 settles in on the believer, self-confidence is seen to be both foolish and sinful.
In our text, Paul gives us every reason to be confident, not in ourselves but in our salvation and in the sovereign God who is accomplishing it. Heed well Paul’s words here. They offer hope and confidence in the midst of a fallen world. To everyone who is in Christ by faith, they are words of comfort and reassurance.
We begin this lesson by making some general observations concerning the text as a whole. We will then look at the text a question at a time, exploring each question, along with Paul’s answer and the implications of his answer.
Structure of the Text
Paul makes two main points in our text which provide us with the key to the structure of his argument. In verses 31-34, the emphasis is on “no condemnation.” In verses 35-39, Paul stresses “no separation” from the love of Christ our Lord. The structure can be outlined in this way:
(1) No condemnation (verses 31-34)
(2) No separation (verses 35-39)
Beginning with some general observations of our passage as a whole will provide additional insight to our study.
(1) This passage is a conclusion. These verses are the final verses of Paul’s argument in Romans 5-8 dealing with the present and future outworkings of justification by faith. In Romans 9-11 Paul will deal with Israel and the Gentiles in God’s eternal plan of salvation. These final words of chapter 8 are thus the conclusion, not only to chapter 8 but to the first 8 chapters.
(2) The closing verses return to the theme with which Paul began chapter 8—“no condemnation.” Verse 1 began by assuring the Christian that there is “no condemnation.” Verses 31-39 close with that same assurance.
(3) The mood of the passage is that of confident praise.
(4) This passage is God-centered. Paul speaks of a confidence and assurance based in God.
(5) The confidence and assurance is for Christians, for those who are in Christ. “We” and “us” refer to Christians. Paul is writing to Christians concerning the confidence they have in Christ. No confidence or assurance is offered to the non-believer here or elsewhere in the Bible.
(6) Those things which are dreaded, and from which the Christian is delivered, are all the consequences of sin. Accusation, condemnation, and separation from God are all divine judgments for sin. Our text thus offers the Christian assurance that he is delivered from the consequences of sin.
(7) The cross of Jesus Christ is the basis for our deliverance and confidence. God’s love for us is evidenced at the cross. Our justification was achieved at the cross. Our confidence is in God and in the cross of Christ.
(8) Paul uses a question and answer format. Verses 31-35 all contain one or more questions. The questions are personal, “Who?” rather than impersonal, “What?” The confidence and comfort Paul wishes his Christian reader to experience results from the fact that there is no answer. The question, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (verse 33), gives great comfort because there is no answer. No one will bring a charge against us. This is true also of his other questions.217
What Then Shall We Say to These Things?
What things is Paul referring to by the expression, “these things”? Since verses 31-39 serve as the conclusion to all of chapters 1-8, we could rightly think of “these things” as Paul’s teaching on the sinfulness of man, the salvation of God, and the hope of the Christian. In the more immediate context of Romans 8, we could include the promise of no condemnation (8:1), the provision of the Holy Spirit (8:4-27), and the sovereignty of God in salvation (8:28-30). I personally believe Paul is referring primarily to the sovereignty of God in our salvation which he has just taught in Romans 8:28-30.
The question Paul asks here explores the implications of what he has been teaching to this point. It also conveys a very important inference: REVELATION REQUIRES MAN’S RESPONSE. Paul does not ask, “Shall we say something?” Instead, he asks, “What shall we say …?” In Paul’s mind, it is necessary for us to say something in response to what God has revealed through him. God’s Word is not information to be filed away. It is not given to us as an academic exercise. The Word of God is given to us to act upon and to obey. Romans 8:31-39 is the bottom line of the doctrines taught thus far.
If God Is for Us, Who Is Against Us?
The “if” here is not “iffy.”218 It could just as well be translated “since.” The New Jerusalem Bible renders Paul’s question this way: “With God on our side, who can be against us?”
The first part of the question is therefore the premise. The second part of the question is the conclusion. Let us consider the premise first.
God is for us. In the context, the “us” must mean, “those of us who are in Christ.” God is “for” His children. He is “for us” in the sense that He has chosen us, predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has called and justified us (Romans 8:28-30). He is at work, causing all things to work together for our good. Our “good” includes our present process of sanctification and our ultimate destiny in our adoption as sons of God. God is bringing about the good which He has purposed for us.
This statement, “God is for us,” cannot be interpreted or applied apart from His purpose (8:28). God is not “for us” in some nebulous, undefined way. We do not have the promise that God will deal with us in any way that we ask or desire. The prosperity gospelizers promise a God who is a kind of magic genie, as though we need but inform Him how He can serve us. God is “for us” in a way that produces the “good” He has purposed and prepared for us in eternity past. It is God’s prerogative to define “good,” not ours.
Based upon the premise that God is “for us,” Paul presses us to consider the implications. “If God is for us [as He most certainly is], who is against us?” Paul is not suggesting that we have no opposition. We all know that the Christian will have many adversaries. Paul’s question is designed to point out the puniness of any opponent in light of the fact that God is our proponent.
One of my favorite movies, “The Bear,” has in the final scenes a little grizzly cub being attacked by a mountain lion. The life of the little cub seems to be in great danger as the mountain lion moves in for the kill. Suddenly, the baby bear rears up on its hind legs letting out the fiercest growl it can muster. Amazingly, the mountain lion shrinks back! The camera then slowly draws back to reveal just behind the cub a massive grizzly, reared on his hind legs, delivering a fierce warning to the mountain lion. The cub’s enemy was great. But in the protective shadow of the great grizzly, that mountain lion was nothing. With the giant grizzly as its protection, who was this mere mountain lion? With God on our side, who could possibly be an opponent who would cause us to shrink back in fear? The sovereignty of a God who is “for us” provides a new perspective on anyone or anything which threatens to oppose or destroy us.
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
The certainty of God’s faithful provision for all of our needs is in view in this question. It is an argument based on the greater and the lesser: if God did not hesitate to give us the greatest gift of all, certainly He can be counted on to freely give us lesser gifts. The New Jerusalem Bible renders Paul’s words this way:
Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.
Mortal minds will never fathom the sacrifice which the Father made to bring about the redemption of His chosen ones. For the Son, it meant the rejection of the nation Israel, the physical agony of the cross, and the ultimate pain, the separation from His Father which was the penalty He paid for our sins. For the Father, it meant giving up His Son, allowing sinful men to nail Him to a cross, and having to pour out His wrath on His beloved One.
The Son willingly endured the agony of the cross in order to do the will of His Father and to bring glory to Him. The Father willingly gave up His Son so that by means of His sacrifice the Son might be glorified (see John 17:1-5; Philippians 2:5-11). Imagine the heart of the Father as He heard the plea of His Son in the Garden of Gethsemene. Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, My God, should die for me?
Contemporary theology, using the term loosely, tries to make the cross of Christ the measure of our worth to God: “We were worth so much to God that He sent His Son to die for us.” This misses the point altogether. It turns the spotlight, the focus, from God to man. The cross of Calvary is not the measure of our worth; it is the measure of God’s love. That is what Paul wants us to see here. The cross imputes worth to sinners who receive the gift of salvation. The cross is not the evidence of our worth but the source of our worth. We are worthy because Christ died for us. Christ did not die for us because we were worthy.
Having gone this far, allow me to question another popular, but erroneous, theme in contemporary Christian thinking. How many times have you heard someone say something like: “If I were the only one in the world to believe in Him, Christ would have died for me.” This is man-centered thinking. This is sentimental foolishness! It is not biblical truth.
We know from Romans 8:28-30 and other biblical texts that it was a sovereign God who purposed to save men. It was this God who chose some for salvation. Those whom He foreknew, these He called, justified, and glorified. Christ did not die to save an unknown group of people. Christ died to save those whom He chose. Thus, Paul writes here in verse 32 that God “delivered Him up for us all.” He died to save “all” those whom He purposed to save. For any Christian to think that God sent His Son to save only one is to give oneself far too much credit. God knew whom He would save, and when He gave up His Son, it was to procure the salvation of “all” those whom He chose. Let us realign our thinking with the Scriptures, and cease to rearrange the Scriptures to suit our self-centered preferences.
If God gave up His beloved Son, His precious Son, then it is not difficult to believe that He will “freely” give us “all things.” The “all things” must, however, be limited to all those things which are essential to bring about the “good” He has purposed for us. And these things are freely given “with Him.”
In a cafeteria, you may take any item of food you like and pay for each one. In a restaurant, various main dishes are listed, usually under a meat dish. Whether you order fish, pork chops, or a T-bone steak certain foods come with it. With your meat order, there is the choice of a salad or soup, some form of potato or rice, a vegetable, rolls or bread. You pay for the meat, as it were, and the rest is given freely.
That is the way it is with the blessings of God. The “meat” is justification by faith, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Along with Christ’s provision, God supplies every other need, “all things.” This He does freely. We dare not ask for the extras if we have not ordered the meat. We dare not expect God to bless us and provide for our needs unless we have received His gift of salvation in Christ. There are some who like their religion “cafeteria style.” They would like to pass up the meat, Jesus Christ, and take those blessings of God which fulfill their desires. It cannot be done. God will not allow it. We must, as our Lord said, seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, in Christ, and then all these things will be added (see Matthew 6:33).
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, FOR THY SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:33-39).
These verses have a distinctly judicial flavor. We are being taken into a court of law so that we may be shown that there is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ Jesus” (see 8:1). Imagine that we are in the courtroom as we attempt to grasp the message Paul conveys in these verses.
Most of us know what the courtroom is like from watching Perry Mason on television. At the front of the courtroom, the judge is seated. He will be the one who hears the testimony, views the evidence, and pronounces the verdict.219 To the left of the judge, the prosecution is seated. The task of the prosecutor is to make accusations against the accused and to prove that they are legitimate charges. To the right of the judge sits the defendant—the one who is to be accused. And at the side of the accused is seated the counsel for the defense, whose job it is to argue on behalf of the accused in his defense.
Before considering the courtroom scene Paul describes here, we must first be reminded of a fundamental truth without which Paul’s words fail to make their point. Just as God has ordained that there is no other Savior than Jesus Christ, so there is no other Judge than Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has two roles. The first is that as Savior. The second is that of Judge. All who receive Him as Savior need never fear facing His sentence of condemnation as the Judge of all the earth. Those who reject Him as Savior most certainly will be condemned by Him as their Judge. These two roles of our Lord—Savior and Judge—are both claimed by our Lord:
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17).
“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
“And He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).
And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
“And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:47-48).
At first it seems that our Lord’s words are contradictory. He did not come to judge, and yet He will judge. This difficulty is easily explained in the light of our Lord’s two comings. The purpose of our Lord’s first coming was not to come as the Judge to condemn sinners. The purpose of His first coming was to make an atonement for the sins of men. When He came the first time, He came to save. This is why He would not condemn the sinful woman caught in the act of adultery. But when He comes again, He comes to judge the earth and to condemn all who have rejected God’s salvation through His shed blood. The Lord is either one’s Savior or one’s Judge. If He is your Savior, He will not be your Judge, who will pronounce God’s condemnation upon you. If you reject Him as Savior, He will most certainly be your Judge. In fact, you are already condemned according to our Lord.
It is this truth—that God has made Jesus either one’s Savior or his Judge—that Paul builds upon in verses 33 and 34. Ponder this courtroom scene for a moment. Outside of faith in Jesus Christ, every man is a guilty sinner. When judgment day comes, he must sit in the defendant’s seat, the seat of the accused. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Judge, the One whom the sinner has scorned and rejected. The Lord Jesus is also the prosecutor. The accused sinner has no defense. He is, as Paul has said earlier in Romans, “without excuse” (1:20; 2:1).
But salvation changes all this. The courtroom scene becomes vastly different. The forgiven sinner need not sit in the defendant’s chair. This is because the prosecutor cannot press any charges. The Father, the Judge, has already pronounced us to be righteous, justified by faith. How could the Judge condemn us? Jesus Christ has already been condemned in our place. He was raised from the dead, and He now is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
The picture is something like this. The Father’s beloved Son, who would have been our prosecutor, has taken our place and has paid the penalty for our sin. More than this, having been raised from the dead, the prosecutor has left His seat and has seated Himself beside us, committed to our defense and pleading with the Father on our behalf.
The force of Paul’s argument now begins to emerge. The only One who could have accused us has resigned His post. The only One who could have condemned us as a righteous Judge has brought about our salvation. Our dreaded foe, viewed from the perspective of the unbeliever, has now become our beloved Defender. The only one who can mete out divine punishment has meted it out on His own Son so that we might be saved. Who, then, can accuse us? Who, then, can condemn us? No one can legitimately accuse us. No one can rightfully condemn us. The One who was our Judge has become our Justifier.
C. K. Barrett, in his commentary on Romans, has caught the force of Paul’s argument. It is reflected in his translation of these verses:
Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? God—who justifies us? Who condemns us? Christ Jesus—who died, or rather was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who actually is interceding on our behalf?220
Paul’s theology and terminology are hardly new and not exclusively New Testament. Note the similarity in thought of these words, found in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah:
The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient, Nor did I turn back. I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord God helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I shall not be ashamed. He who vindicates Me is near; Who will contend with Me? Let us stand up to each other; Who has a case against Me? Let him draw near to Me. Behold, the Lord God helps Me; Who is he who condemns Me? Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; The moth will eat them. Who is among you that fears the Lord, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God (Isaiah 50:4-10).
The important thing to notice in this passage is that the One who is the “disciple” is none other than Israel’s Messiah. His confidence in God is the basis for His boldness in enduring the rejection of men. Because God is on His side, he does not fear ill-treatment from men. He is willing to commit His life to the God who is His Defender. With God on His side, the Messiah was both willing and able to face a world that would reject and persecute Him. This confidence, which sustained our Lord, is that same confidence which is also able to sustain every saint.
In Deuteronomy 28, God tells Israel that the very things Paul has named are those which God has promised to bring upon His people, if they do not obey His Word:
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
Adversity in the life of the believer should stimulate him to some introspection, to give thought as to whether God might be disciplining him for some known sin. This, I believe, is implied in the New Testament as well:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him (James 5:14-15).
Even when God does bring adversity into our lives because of sin, it should not result in doubts concerning the love of God. Discipline is an evidence of God’s love as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear (see Hebrews 12:1-13).
But besides correction for specific sins, God has yet another purpose for affliction and calamity. It is a constructive purpose. It is a purpose designed to produce our good, just as Romans 8:28 says. God has not only purposed adversity for correction but also for the advancement of the gospel. Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44 in verse 36 emphasizes the role of the suffering of the righteous in the accomplishment of God’s purposes. Note the broader context of the verse which Paul has cited:
Psalm 44 (For the choir director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah.) O God, we have heard with our ears, Our fathers have told us, The work that Thou didst in their days, In the days of old. Thou with Thine own hand didst drive out the nations; Then Thou didst plant them; Thou didst afflict the peoples, Then Thou didst spread them abroad. For by their own sword they did not possess the land; And their own arm did not save them; But Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy presence, For Thou didst favor them. Thou art my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. Through Thee we will push back our adversaries; Through Thy name we will trample down those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, Nor will my sword save me. But Thou hast saved us from our adversaries, And Thou hast put to shame those who hate us. In God we have boasted all day long, And we will give thanks to Thy name forever. Selah.
Yet Thou hast rejected us and brought us to dishonor, And dost not go out with our armies. Thou dost cause us to turn back from the adversary; And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. Thou dost give us as sheep to be eaten, And hast scattered us among the nations. Thou dost sell Thy people cheaply, And hast not profited by their sale. Thou dost make us a reproach to our neighbors, A scoffing and a derision to those around us. Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my dishonor is before me, And my humiliation has overwhelmed me, Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger. All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten Thee, And we have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant. Our heart has not turned back, And our steps have not deviated from Thy way, Yet Thou hast crushed us in a place of jackals, And covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God, Or extended our hands to a strange god; Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Arouse Thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why dost Thou hide Thy face, And forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth. Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness.
In verses 1-3, the psalmist expresses confidence in God based upon His past deliverances. It was God who brought Israel into the land, drove out their enemies, and planted His people in their place. In verses 4-8, the psalmist expresses confidence in God to do the same in his own time. Verses 9-16 introduce the dilemma. The psalmist’s experience has not been that of his forefathers as described in verses 1-3. God has not delivered His people as expected (verses 4-8). Instead, Israel has been defeated and oppressed. Many of the calamities listed by Paul in Romans 8:35 have come upon Israel.
The psalmist’s great problem is now laid before God in verses 17-22. If Israel had sinned, then these calamities would be understandable. If Israel had rejected God and rebelled against His law, then the defeat of Israel at the hand of her enemies would be understandable. But Israel had not rebelled, for once. Israel was trusting in God and obeying His law. In spite of their trust in God, the psalmist described their condition:
But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered (Psalm 44:22).
The solution to the psalmist’s agony is to be found in the words “for Thy sake.” Suffering is not always for sin’s sake (discipline). Suffering is also for God’s sake. Suffering is one of the means through which God achieves His purposes. It must be so if God causes “all things” to work together for good. It was true for the Messiah. He must suffer much at the hands of His people in order to make an atonement for sin. The experience of our Lord was not an exception, but rather a pattern, an example:
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, (1 Peter 2:18-21).
Paul’s words in verse 37 of our text spell out the principle which underlies Psalm 44: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
It is a paradox, but it is true. It is consistent with the way God works. We save our lives by giving them up. We lead by serving others. We conquer by being conquered. Our Lord’s death at Calvary seemed to be a defeat, but in God’s wisdom it was the defeat of Satan, sin, and death.
Christians want to think of victory in terms of winning. We like to think that Christ’s power and purposes are most evident when we win, when we overcome our opponents. Paul simply underscores a principle which has always governed God’s work: God uses apparent defeat to produce ultimate victory. God uses the suffering of His saints to make them conquerors—more than conquerors.
We overwhelmingly conquer “in all these things”; we conquer through these things. We are victorious when we suffer the calamities of life, in faith, trusting in God, knowing that He is accomplishing His purposes through our affliction. If suffering was God’s will for His sinless, beloved Son, is it not also His will for His sons, the sons of God? And the very One who is giving us the victory is the one “who loved us,” who loved us through the suffering and death of His Son. Our confidence must not end when the going gets tough. The testing of our faith really begins here.
The expression “overwhelmingly conquer” needs to be pondered. The Bible does not promise to make “copers” of us, but conquerors. It is not enough to muddle through life merely enduring our adversity. God does not promise to take us out of our afflictions, but He does promise that we will emerge from them victorious. We will be victorious in the sense that we will grow in our faith, hope and love. We will conquer in that we will become more like Christ due to our sufferings. We will conquer in that God’s purposes will be achieved through us and others will see the grace of God at work in our lives.
But we do not just conquer; Paul says that we will “overwhelmingly” conquer. How does one overwhelmingly conquer? I think I have a small grasp of what this means. I believe we overwhelmingly conquer as the sons of God. When God created man, Adam and Eve, and put him on the earth, he was created to reflect God’s image. The fall greatly marred this image of God in man. God has purposed our salvation to restore this image. Paul has written in verse 29 that we are predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ. Man was originally to reflect the image of God by subduing the earth and ruling over it, in God’s name. We, as the sons of God, with Christ, will have a part in the conquest and restoration of the earth. This is that for which all of creation eagerly awaits (8:20-23).
Paul now tells us that no created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ (8:30). Creation will not overcome us, Paul is saying; we shall overcome it. Not only will we safely endure and grow in the midst of any opposition or suffering which part of this fallen creation imposes on us, we will eventually overcome it and have a part in ruling over it, with Christ. That is what I believe Paul means when he says “we overwhelmingly conquer.”
Verses 38 and 39 list some of the dimensions of created things which will not overcome us. The list is intended to be all-inclusive, and so it is. Neither “death” nor “life” shall overcome us.221 For some, death is the dreaded enemy. Christ came to deliver us from the “fear of death” which holds men in bondage (Hebrews 2:15). For others, life is the dreaded enemy, and death seems to be a door of escape. Those who think this way are tempted by suicidal thoughts.
The next category of created things is that of “angels and principalities.” If Paul is following the pattern he established above with death and life, then he is attempting to encompass the entire spectrum of celestial beings. He would especially be referring to those angelic beings which are fallen and which seek to destroy us. Satan would be included in this category.222
The next category of created things is that of events, whether “present” or future (“things to come”).223 It is interesting to think of events as something created, but in a very real sense they are. If God is sovereign, as He surely is, and He has mapped out history from eternity past then we must say that God created history. Prophecy is based upon this fact. Thus, in light of Romans 8:28, we must say that the events we presently face, along with those we shall face in the future, have been created by God for our good. And so it is that these things cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ.
The list of created things ends with “powers, height, depth, nor any other created thing.” There is considerable question as to what Paul meant by the term “powers.” It may refer to mighty works of power, miraculous works, or it may refer to powers. I am presently inclined to understand Paul’s words as Barrett does when he renders Paul’s words here,
For I am confident that neither death nor life, neither angels nor their princes, neither things present nor things to come, nor spiritual powers, whether above or below the level of the earth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.224
God is the Creator. He is also the sovereign ruler over all creation. Nothing happens but that which He has ordained to bring about His purpose. Nothing in all creation falls outside of His control, and thus we can be assured that His purposes will be achieved. We can have absolute confidence that we will be more than conquerors regardless of what may come our way.
This confidence is the possession of every Christian, of every one who is the object of God’s love. And this love of God is manifested only in and through Jesus Christ. We cannot be assured of His love apart from faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the evidence of God’s love. He is the sole expression of God’s love with regard to salvation. To reject Jesus Christ is to spurn the love of God. To receive Jesus Christ as Savior is to be confident that nothing in all the world can separate us from His love in Christ.
Having studied our text of Romans 8:31-39, let me leave you with some avenues for future thought, study, prayer, and application.
First, the sovereignty of God is the basis for our security. We dare not be confident in ourselves. This would be folly. We dare not doubt that we shall be more than conquerors. This would be to deny His Word and to distrust God. We, like Paul, should be absolutely convinced concerning these things, based upon the Word of God. Our security is rooted in God, in His sovereignty, and in His unfailing love.
Today self-confidence is looked upon as a virtue and lack of self-assurance as a vice. Even in Christian circles we are being told how we can raise our children so that they feel good about themselves, are self-assured, and confident. The Bible calls for humility, not pride; for dependence on God, not self-sufficiency. Let us beware of seeking that which God’s Word condemns. Let us look to God, to God alone. He is our refuge and strength. In Him, and Him alone, is our confidence.
Second, our security and confidence in God is the basis for our service. It is not doubt, nor fear, nor guilt which should motivate our service, but a confidence in God mixed with deep and abiding gratitude. Because we are secure in Christ, we may serve. We need not focus on ourselves but on Him. Since He is the “author and finisher of our faith,” we must “fix our eyes on Him” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Third, our security is never an excuse for sloppiness. Some would abuse the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and the believer’s security. They would sinfully suggest that since God is in control, it matters not what we do. This is just the opposite of the truth. God’s sovereignty is the basis for our diligence and obedience. If we trust in ourselves, this would be folly, because we will fail. But when we trust in God, we know that we ultimately cannot fail and that our efforts are not in vain.
Fourth, the Scriptures never raise any doubt that God will finish what He started at salvation (see Philippians 1:6). The question raised in Scripture is not, “Will the saints endure to the end?” The question is rather, “Are we sure that we are in Christ?” The security of the believer is never brought into question in the Scriptures. Whether or not we are a believer is a question which is raised, and rightly so.
Fifth, the basis for our salvation and our security is found in the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Did you notice that every fear, every dread, in this text is the result of sin? And did you notice as well that every cure goes back to the cross of Calvary? Here is God’s means of redemption. Here is the measure of His love. Here is the assurance and confidence that God’s purposes and promises will never fail. No wonder we must continually go back to the cross. We should never grow weary of going back to the cross. Here is where our salvation began. Here is where it was finished. That God sent Jesus to the cross is the measure of His love for us. That God would raise Jesus from the dead is the measure of His power. When such love and power meet, we, as sons of God, have every reason to be confident.
Finally, the security of the believer requires a response. Paul’s conclusion reminds us that biblical revelation requires a response. The security of the believer in the sovereign love of God should produce humility, gratitude, dependence, confidence, and praise. Let us ponder these closing words of Romans 8, especially in contrast to the agonizing cry at the end of chapter 7. Let us savor our security, and let us stand fast, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.
217 This is the basis for the title of this lesson, “Comforting Questions.” Usually we think of questions for which there are no answers as disturbing questions. That is not so here. The very lack of any answer is the basis for great comfort and confidence for every Christian.
218 The Greek language quite precisely indicates the degree of certainty or the “iffiness” of some occurrence by the uses of three different grammatical constructions. The “if” here is a first class condition indicating certainty.
219 I am assuming that this is not a trial by jury, since God’s judgment will not be such.
220 C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), p. 171.
Stifler expresses the more common view: “It is God that justifieth His own elect; can wicked men or lost spirits or Satan himself call again to account those whose case has been favorably decided in the highest place of judicature? Even to speak against God’s people impeaches the Judge and is contempt of court—Heaven’s court.” James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), p. 150.
221 It is interesting, is it not, to think of life and death as created things? But they are. God created life as we see in the Book of Genesis. God also created death as the consequence of sin.
222 It is noteworthy that Satan is not mentioned by name. Satan, I believe, is a publicity-seeker. Paul is not willing to give him any press here. In the final analysis, this angel who wanted to take God’s place is left unnamed, lumped in with all other created beings. Satan, the glory-seeker, must not like this at all.
223 Paul does not mention events of the past. This is especially noteworthy in the light of the present psychological emphasis on past events as the source of our present problems. I believe Paul does not mention the past because the cross of Christ has dealt with our past. Old things have passed away, and new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification