We spent our time last time on verses 31 and 32 of Romans 8. Paul wrote:
What shall we say in response to this?
What shall we say, considering all the wonderful things and all the precious promises that Paul has already written about from chapter 5 where he declared that since we’ve been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. What can we say, considering all the wonderful things we’ve been reading since and especially all the wonderful things Paul has told us in chapter 8 about the glory to be revealed in us one day and about the way the Holy Spirit helps us in the meantime? What can we say? Well, this is what we can say, and this is what Paul said:
If God is for us, who can be against us and succeed?
There’s no one who can be against us and succeed, because the Lord is for us and not against and he’s able to work all things together for our good.
And then, last time, we considered verse 32 and this most marvellous and conclusive proof of God’s love for us. He did not spare his Son. In other words, in order to save us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins, in order to save us from that, he showed his own Son, his Beloved Son, no mercy. In order to save us, he held nothing back, but he inflicted on his Son the full force of his wrath for our sins. He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. And since he was prepared to do that for us, then there’s nothing he won’t give us now which we need for our salvation.
I remember hearing a sermon preached by Sinclair Ferguson — a Scottish Presbyterian Minister who worked for a time in the USA — and he spoke about treating a text of Scripture like a sweet. Not a chewy, soft-centre sweet, but a hard-boiled sweet you suck. And you suck on it and suck on it and suck on it, moving it around your mouth, maybe letting it lie on your tongue for a minute or two, before going back to suck on it some more, getting all the flavour from it before swallowing it. And he said we should do that with the text of Scripture he was preaching on. Pop it in your mouth, as it were, and suck on it all week long. Well, Romans 8:32 is that kind of verse: the kind of verse we need to suck on and think about, over and over again: the greatness of God’s love and the wonder of his grace in that he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for me and for my salvation. And thinking on that leads to thanksgiving and praise, because of his goodness to us. And it leads to faith and hope, doesn’t it, because, since God has already done so much, we know we can count on him to give us whatever it takes to bring us at last into his glorious presence.
But we need to move on and think about the next verses. And the first time I preached on these verses was a big encouragement to me. A big encouragement to me. Whenever I’ve read these verses before at home, and whenever I’ve read them to people I’m visiting, I’ve never been too sure how to read them. In particular, I’ve never been too sure where the question ‘Who is he that condemns?’ fits? Does it go with what Paul said previously? That is, does it go with the statement, ‘It is God who justifies’? Or does it go with what follows where Paul outlines the work of Christ? I’ve never been too sure and so I’ve never been too sure how to read it and how to group the sentences together. And so, it was a big encouragement to me to discover that the Bible scholars aren’t sure either and in their commentaries they discuss the various options. In fact, one of them says that there are six possible ways to punctuate verses 33 and 34. I thought it was only me and I’m a bit of a dummy; but it turns out that even the scholars with their phds aren’t sure. Anyway, I think I’ve worked it out now, so let’s look at verses 33 to 39 now.
Verses 33 to 34a
And so, first of all, I think we’re to take the question, ‘Who is he that condemns’ with verse 33. So:
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?
Notice the future tense of the first question. Paul writes:
Who will bring any charge….
He’s thinking about the last day, the day of judgment. On that day, whenever the living and the dead — in order words, everyone — will stand before the Lord to give an account of our lives and what we have done, who will bring any charge against us?
There are lots of charges that could be laid against us. The Devil, the Great Accuser of God’s people, is well aware of our sins and shortcomings. He’s able to charge us with many things. God’s law also exposes our sins and shortcomings. It’s able to bring charges against us. All the people we have ever harmed or offended or hurt or sinned against know all about our sins. They’re able to point the finger at us. And so, what Paul means when he asks who can bring any change against us is similar to what he meant when he asked in verse 31:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
In verse 31 he meant:
Who can be against us and succeed?
And when he asked, ‘Who can bring any charge?’, he means:
Who can bring any charge that will be successful? Who can bring any charge which will be effective?
And the answer is no one. And it’s no one because God is the one who justifies his people. He’s the one who pardons all our sins; and he treats us as righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ which is now regarded as ours through faith. God justifies his people. And therefore: Who is able to condemn us, since God has justified us?
And notice one more thing here before we move on. Paul asked:
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
I’ve said before that people don’t like the doctrines of predestination and election and they wonder why Presbyterians believe in election and teach it. But notice again what the Bible says. Did we choose God? Well, even though we sometimes sing ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’, the truth is that we only decided to follow him, because he first chose us.
When did he choose his people? In Ephesians 1, Paul — writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — says we were chosen in Christ before the creation of the world. So, before the world was made, God chose his people. That’s when he chose them.
As Paul said earlier in verse 29, God foreknew them and he predestined them to be conformed into the likeness of his Son. And having predestined them, he called them and justified them. And since God has justified them, then no one on the day of judgment will be able to make any charge against them stick. God justifies his people; and therefore no one is able to condemn them.
Verses 34b to 36
Let’s move on. And I’m taking the rest of verse 34 with verses 35 and 36. You see, the word ‘justifies’ in verse 33 and the word ‘condemn’ in verse 34a go together. They’re both legal terms: since God the Father justifies his people, no one can condemn them. But the rest of verse 34 is about the Lord Jesus; and that fits better with verse 35 which is also about the Lord Jesus. So, take a look at the rest of verse 34:
Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Here’s a brief summary of the work of the Lord Jesus. Christ died. And, of course, we know from what Paul has already written in the rest of Romans that Christ died for our sins. So, he died. But he did not remain dead, because he was raised. Notice the passive verb. It’s not that Christ raised himself, but that he was raised. He was raised by God the Father. So, Christ died and was raised. He then ascended to heaven to sit enthroned at God the Father’s right hand side. He’s sitting at the place of privilege. And what’s he doing there? He’s interceding for us. He’s praying for us.
So, not only do we have the Holy Spirit who is praying for us with words we cannot hear — which is what Paul wrote earlier in this chapter — but the Lord Jesus is also praying for us. And that’s exactly what the writer to the Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 7:25 where he wrote that the Lord always lives to intercede for his people. And, the writer to the Hebrews explains that, because he always lives to intercede for us, then he’s able to save us completely. He’s asking his Father in heaven to supply us with everything we need to ensure that we will indeed come into his glory one day.
And Paul is saying something similar, because not only has Christ died for us, and not only was he raised for us, and not only did he ascend to God’s right hand for us, but now he’s praying for us. Though he’s gone away to heaven, he hasn’t forgotten us, but he remembers us and prays for us and seeks from his Father all the help we need. And since he’s praying for us, who shall separate us from his love? Though we may have to suffer trouble and hardships and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword, he’s praying for us through all of these things. And though we might look at these troubles and trials and worry that, because we’re going through these things, then Christ must not love us anymore, the truth is that in whatever we’re going through, Christ our Saviour is praying for us. And since he’s praying for us, nothing we endure in this life will succeed in separating us from his love.
In fact, look at verse 36. Paul is quoting from Psalm 44. And there’s a twofold purpose in quoting from this Psalm. First of all, it reminds us that it’s not unusual for God’s people to suffer. God’s people have always suffered. And so, we shouldn’t think it strange if it happens to us. And secondly, rather than regard our troubles as a sign that God is against us or Christ has abandoned us, we should note that we’re suffering for his sake:
For your sake we face death all day long.
Just as our Saviour suffered, so now we suffer with him and for his name’s sake.
Verses 37 to 39
In verse 37 Paul refers to ‘all these things’. Presumably he’s referring back to all the troubles he mentioned in verse 35. So, in all these troubles and hardships and so on, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. What does it mean to be more than a conqueror? Well, it means that not only do we overcome all these troubles, but in fact God turns them around and transforms them so that instead of destroying us, instead of crushing us, these troubles are turned to our good.
And look: Paul did not say:
In some of these things, we are more than conquerors.
In all these things, we are more than conquerors.
Victory over our troubles is always the case.
And we’re more than conquerors, not because we ourselves are strong, but because of Christ Jesus. Paul wrote:
In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
He loved us and gave up his life for us. And he stills loves us and is praying for us, that we will not be crushed, but will overcome and keep going, right to the end. He will not let any of his people stumble, but he will keep us for ever.
And then, right at the end of this marvellous chapter is the marvellous promise that nothing at all will be able to separate us from the love of God the Father that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And Paul mentions all these things — death and life, angels and demons, things in the present and things in the future, any powers there might be, things above and things below, whatever there might be — he mentions all of these things, only to dismiss them, because nothing will separate us from God’s love.
So, let’s think back over what Paul has been saying. We’ve been justified through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore we have peace with God and the hope of glory. That was back at the beginning of chapter 5. And so, that glory is what we’re now waiting for. It’s what we’re yearning for. We’re longing for the glory to come in the presence of God. And since the beginning of chapter 5, Paul has mentioned all kinds of things which might prevent us from coming into God’s glory. There’s death. There’s our sin. There’s the law. And then there’s all the suffering of the present time. But here’s the thing: God has dealt with it all. He’s dealt with everything that might have prevented us from coming into God’s glory. And so, at the end of it all, Paul can say with confidence:
I am convinced that there’s nothing that will be able to separate us from God’s love.
And so, we can count on our God to save us and to bring us at last into the glory to come. Nothing and no one will be able to stop us. Even those things which seem to be against us, will be turned to our good. And so, every day we should trust in our God to help us on the way to glory. And every day we should give thanks to him for his kindness to us.