Last week we saw that Paul has begun concluding his argument here in chapter 8 regarding the work of the Holy Spirit, namely, that the Holy Spirit is working within our trials and our suffering to produce good in us that are called by God and love God. Paul explained to us the depth of comfort and hope that we have the reality that our salvation is utterly secure, and that even on our worst day, we still hold the hope of glory in our hearts because God’s purpose to ultimately conform us to the image of His son.
Paul now puts a capstone on that train of thought, and indeed on the entire argument of the book up until this point.
So with that in mind, let’s look at Paul’s poetic conclusion to the doctrinal portion of his argument in Romans.
The Introduction: What Shall We Say?
The Introduction: What Shall We Say?
The sense of Paul’s opening question here is one of inference. Paul is asking for a response. What is the outcome of these things?
Now, the inquisitive mind should be asking what “these things” are. A survey of commentary and teaching on this passage yields three basic views on the identity of the things.
RC Sproul proposes that these things are the golden chain doctrines mentioned in verse 30. I think the golden chain doctrines are part of these things, but do not comprise the whole, as it were.
John Calvin argues that these things are the same things of verse 28, namely the suffering, corruption, futility, and groaning explained in verses 17-25.
Others contend that these things are all the doctrines Paul has taught up to this point concerning man’s sinfulness, God’s wrath and justice, his demonstration of love in the sending of Christ, the work of Christ on the cross, the work of the Holy Spirit as paraklete, and all the rest.
I believe that in order to be most faithful to the text, we need to trace Paul’s line of thinking back to the last place he mentioned “all these things,” which was in verse 28, and there we contended last week that all things there was referential to the sufferings of the Christian in this life.
Therefore, I think we can rightly deduce that Paul has in mind the sufferings of this life, which would correspond with Calvin’s view.
Paul’s question then is “What shall we say in response to the suffering of this life? What shall we say as God conforms us to the image of his Son in his suffering?”
Paul’s answer to that question forms the thesis statement for these verses:
The Thesis: God is for Us
The Thesis: God is for Us
Paul now gives a thesis statement, in two parts: first, God is for us, second, nothing is against us.
Paul is emphatic here: God is for the believer. This is a punchy, pithy phrase, and it is one that is built on the teaching of the Scriptures over the centuries.
Paul thus relies on the historic teaching of the Biblical writers to make this claim that God is for us. So what does it mean that God is for us? Let’s look to Paul’s Scriptures.
Genesis 15:1 “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.””
Deuteronomy 33:29 ““Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, Who is the shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, And you will tread upon their high places.””
Joshua 10:42 “Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one time, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.”
Psalm 27:1-3 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident.”
Psalm 46:1-7 “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.”
Paul speaks of God’s being for his people with the full authority of Moses, Joshua, and David.
Paul’s understanding of God is directly pegged to the Old Testament understanding of God, and every part of his statement here in these verses is reflective of Old Testament teaching.
God is for us as our shield. He is for us as our sword. He is for us as our fortress. He is for us as our refuge, as our strength, as a very present help in time of trouble.
John Piper says this: “O how precious are those two words, “for us.” There are no more fearful words in the universe than the words, “God is against us.” If infinitely powerful wrath is against us, annihilation would be a sweet gift of grace. Which is why those who try to persuade us that annihilation is what judgment means, not hell, are so far from the mark. Annihilation under the wrath of God is not judgment, it is deliverance and relief (see Revelation 6:16). No. There is no annihilation of any human being. We live forever with God against us or with God for us. And all who are in Christ may say with almost (!) unspeakable joy, “God is for us.” He is on our side.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God is entirely for us, and never against us. None of our sicknesses is a judgment from a condemning judge. None of our broken cars or failed appliances is a punishment from God. None of our marital strife is a sign of his wrath. None of our lost jobs is a penalty for sin. None of our wayward children is a crack of the whip of God’s retribution. If we are in Christ. No. God is for us, not against, in and through all things—all ease and all pain.”
But Paul’s thesis has a second component, phrased in the form of a rhetorical if/then statement: if God is for us, who is against us? The emphasis of the rhetoric implies that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us.
The compelling part about this statement is that, as we have seen, much trouble stands in the path of the believer. We walk a road of suffering in this life.
And yet the powerful, majestic, holy love of God poured out to and on us so far surpasses the sufferings we face in this life that it is almost as if they do not exist. They cannot stand against the believer in the face of the all-powerful love of God.
The Proof: God Sent His Son
The Proof: God Sent His Son
Paul has introduced his thesis and delivered his thesis and now he proves his thesis.
The proof is in the reality of the incarnation. The proof of God’s pre-eminently and emphatically being “for us,” as believers, is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as orchestrated by the sending power of God the Father and predicated upon His saving love.
Paul is saying in essence here, look at the cross. Look at the death of Christ. Look at the willingness of God, on your behalf, to call His son to leave the throne of glory in heaven, take on human flesh, live as a man and die as a criminal, in our place, on our behalf, as Paul says even here, for us.
Need your weary heart any more proof than that, friends? What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul? For your soul. For all our souls. It cannot be fathomed. It cannot be described adequately.
The play on words here is incredible. God did not spare His own son, that He might spare his own sons from the wrath to come. He delivered His son over for us all, that we might be delivered from wrath and into grace.
Further notice the argument from the greater to the lesser. Paul is saying God gave the most precious thing He could give: His only begotten son. If God loves His elect so much that He would give His son, how could He not give us all things? How could he not fulfill his promises to us, down to the very jot and tittle? God gave us Christ, therefore there is no doubt that He will also give us Christ’s benefits. God gave us His Son, there can be no doubt that He will sanctify us to glory. God gave us His Son, there is no doubt that He will work all these things together for good.
Paul follows up the proof of his thesis with three supporting statements, keyed to three additional rhetorical questions:
Who will bring a charge?
Who is the one who condemns?
What will separate us?
Let’s look individually at these rhetorical questions and their connected responses.
Support #1 - God's Work
Support #1 - God's Work
Paul’s first rhetorical questions is this: who will bring a charge against God’s elect? What does this mean? This is essentially a legal accusation, a charge of a guilt. And this charge is, at least in this hypothetical, rhetorical framework, against God’s elect, against those whom He has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and will one day glorify.
In other words, Paul is searching for someone who can accuse God’s church.
Now many people misinterpret this verse to cover up all manner of wrong and immoral and unbiblical behavior. They essentially infer that no one can bring a charge of any kind against the Christian. That basically all Christians are above wrongdoing. This often results in tenuous situations because that is roundly untrue. So someone will accuse a fellow Christian or a Christian leader of wrong or immoral behavior, and that person will be castigated because “no one can bring a charge against God’s elect.”
That is false teaching and an abuse of God’s Word. So what is Paul’s meaning?
I believe Paul is alluding to the Accuser, namely Satan. By way of linguistic note, Satan is not a name. Satan is the Hebrew word for accuser. A good category to think about the devil Biblically, is in terms of a prosecuting lawyer. His goal is try to prove the guilt of the defendant, or at least convince the judge and jury that the defendant is guilty.
In this case then, the devil is seeking to prove the guilt of God’s elect. And we know this to be true from other Biblical teaching regarding the actions, mission and motives of the devil. I want to draw your attention to the clearest teaching on the the devil, arguably in all of Scripture, from Revelation 12:7-10
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.
So we can safely say that one of Satan’s roles throughout history is that of an accuser. Satan, therefore, is the one who brings a charge against God’s elect.
But here is the pastoral brilliance of Paul’s rhetoric. He implicitly acknowledges that the Accuser will accuse, but in the very same breath also implicitly declares that the accusation is irrelevant. Not even Lucifer himself, that serpent of old, can bring a charge against God’s elect. His accusation will fall short. There is no validity to his declaration of guilt.
And what is the Accuser’s accusation? That we are guilty. That God’s wrath rests upon us. That our sin is greater than the grace offered in Christ. That the atoning blood of Jesus is not enough to buy us back and reconcile us to God through Him.
Have you felt that in your own heart? Have you heard a tiny hissing voice in your head telling you that your sin is simply too much? That you might lose your salvation? That you might walk away from Christ? That you might commit apostasy? That you’re simply too bad for God to forgive you?
Paul is clear: that’s the devil talking, and his talk is worthless. His words mean nothing.
And why is that? Paul makes it clear in his response to the rhetorical question. God is the one who justifies. What glory! What grace! When the devil comes sneaking around, telling you that your suffering is in vain, telling you that you’re going to fall away, causing you to question your standing before God, let this truth ring loud in your ears: God is the one who justifies! Satan says that you are guilty. Satan says that all the wickedness and evil produced by your own heart, all the deception and lies, are simply too much, but Paul says, emphatically, you are not guilty! The gavel drops, the decision has been made. How then has this come to pass? You are not guilty because God has made it so. You are not guilty because God has justified you, imputed Christ’s righteousness to you. You are not guilty because you are foreknown of God, part of His plan, predestined and called to justification and glory. God has declared you, legally and forensically, in His sight, righteous, and therefore you are not guilty.
On that ground and that ground alone Paul can speak with confidence in the face of the accuser: your accusations are nothing. You cannot bring a charge against me. Why? Because God has done all the work. By bringing a charge against me, you bring a charge against God, and and what God has decreed, no man or demon or creature can reverse.
This is why the doctrines of grace that Paul espoused in verse 30 are so critical. If we play any part in our own calling and in our own salvation, there is a chink in the armor. If our salvation were in our own hands, we would never obtain it, and if by a miracle we could obtain it, we would lose it as quickly as we found it. If we bring something to our salvation, even one part per million, as it were, our salvation is based on our work, and if our salvation is based on our work, when the Accuser brings a charge, that charge is valid, and we are declared guilty. But if our salvation is fully and absolutely a work of God, received only by faith which is by definition a lack of any work on our own part, then we are no longer assessed by our own merits but only by the merits of our perfect savior Jesus Christ. And when we are assessed by His merits, the only outcome of any charge brought against us by the accuser is “Not guilty.”
This justifying work that blocks all charges and accusations against us then is fundamentally what it means for God to be for us.
Support #2 - Christ’s Work
Support #2 - Christ’s Work
But not only does God the Father work for us, Christ also works for us.
Paul asks another rhetorical question: Who is the one who condemns? This is connected back to the word charge in the previous verse. The charge is the accusation, the condemnation is the sentence handed down to the one who is guilty. The logical inference then is that if the charge falls short, there can be no condemnation. There is no handing down of a sentence based on guilt if there is no guilt. Why?
Because of the fourfold work of Christ, in His death, in his resurrection, in his ascension, and in his intercession.
Jesus died an atoning death, a death that satisfied justice, a death that we deserved. Therefore there is now no condemnation.
Jesus was raised, conquering death and devoiding sin of it’s power. Therefore there is now no condemnation.
Jesus ascended, and is now exalted at the right hand of the Father, reigning over the nations as every knee bows before Him. Therefore there is now no condemnation.
Jesus intercedes, pleading the merit of death, resurrection, and ascension in the courtroom of heaven on our behalf. Therefore there is now no condemnation.
In the same way the Spirit intercedes for the church on earth, Christ intercedes for the church in heaven. When a Christian sins, when one of God’s elect falls prey for a moment to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the devil enters the courtroom as a prosecuting lawyer, and he says to God “You know your law. You know your holiness. This person is in violation of those things. They deserve to die. Kill them. Now.” In that moment, Christ steps forward, shows his head, his hands, his feet, and says “It is finished. It is I who died. I bore his griefs. I carried his sorrows. I was pierced for his transgressions. I was crushed for his iniquities. I was chastened for his well-being. I was scourged, that he might be healed. He has no more guilt to carry, for I finished his work on the cross.”
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. His labor of love has accomplished our redemption. His work of salvation renders us guiltless. Let the devil accuse, for he will never condemn, Christ is mine and I am his, held fast by his unchanging love.
The Conclusion - Nothing can separate
The Conclusion - Nothing can separate
Paul concludes his magnanimous argument with a final rhetorical question: What can separate us from the love of Christ? Love that bleeds, love that dies, love that rises, love that intercedes. Paul is emphatic: it is not possible for that love to be broken.
Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword. All these sufferings, all these trials, cannot pull us away from Christ.
Paul is not denying that these things will occur, in fact he is abundantly certain that they will come to pass. He quotes the text of Psalm 44, affirming that the faithful will be afflicted. The faithful will endure hardship. The faithful will be slaughtered for the sake of Christ.
The Apostle Paul: imprisoned, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, beset with a thorn in his side, lived long enough to see most of his disciples walk away from the faith.
The Apostle Peter: crucified upside down.
The Apostle John: imprisoned.
John Calvin, the great Reformer, preacher, and theologian: a refugee from his home country, buried his only son only days after he was born, buried his wife after only 9 years of marriage, suffered from at least a dozen diagnosed diseases, had to be carried to the pulpit for the last 3 years of his ministry, died of tuberculosis.
John Bunyan, the Puritan preacher in Bedford, England and author of Pilgrim’s Progress: lost his first wife, lost a child in miscarriage, had a daughter born blind, imprisoned for 12 years for preaching the gospel.
Jonathan Edwards, the greatest mind in American history: thrown out of his own church, suffered the loss of his dear friend David Brainerd, lost two of his children in infancy and another at age 18.
Charles Spurgeon. the Prince of Preachers: at 22, a prankster yelled fire while he was preaching, causing a stampede that left 7 dead and 28 injured, suffered from gout, rheumatism, arthritis, and Bright’s Disease, suffered from clinical depression.
William Carey, missionary to India and the “Father of Modern Missions”: lost his son within four years of arriving in India, bore with his wife’s mental illness for 14 years leading up to her death, lost 20 years of Bible translation work in a fire.
These men suffered tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword.
Yet what was their unifying cry? In all these thins we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
The love of Christ, poured out in his dying, rising, ascending, interceding work is the anchor in the storm of suffering. It was so for these historical followers of Christ and it must be so for us.
Paul closes his argument, and really closes the great doctrinal portion of this book with a brief word of prosaic poetry that rivals the best that King David and the Sons of Korah ever produced.
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, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As we close, I want you to think of a tribulation, distress, persecution, or peril that you are facing today. Draw it up in your mind and think on it for just a moment.
Hold it right there, and then know this in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul: it cannot separate you from Christ’s love.
A pandemic. High gas prices. Plummeting retirement funds. A King of Babylon on the throne of the US and on the throne of California. The suffering and unbelief of family members. Lymphoma. Leukemia. Cancer. Homelessness. Poverty. Depression. Death. Life. Angels. Principalities. Past, present, future. Powers. Heigh. Depth.
There isn’t a thing in your mind, there isn’t a thing on that list that stands in the way of the all-conquering love of Christ for His church.
Let us close with the words of S. Trevor Francis:
O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free, rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me. Underneath me, all around me, is the current of thy love; leading onward, leading homeward, to thy glorious rest above.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Spread his praise from shore to shore; how he loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore; how he watches o'er his loved ones, died to call them all his own; how for them he intercedeth, watcheth o'er them from the throne.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Love of ev'ry love the best: 'tis an ocean vast of blessing, 'tis a haven sweet of rest. O the deep, deep love of Jesus! 'Tis a heav'n of heav'ns to me; and it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to thee.