We’re going to read together from Romans chapter 8, verses 31 to 39; the very end of this chapter. Before we read it, let’s pray.
God, we ask that You would come, and more than anything else now, Lord, we ask that Your Spirit would come and meet with us, that we would experience You, that we would know You, that we would know Your presence, that we would be changed because of the power of Your Word. So we ask that You would open the eyes of our heart to see, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Romans chapter 8, verses 31 to 39. This is the Word of the Lord:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake, we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We’re in a series right now on Romans chapter 8 and this is the very end of the series on Romans chapter 8. It has been a detailed argument, so far, that Paul is making and it has lots of nooks and crannies and there are a lot in this passage and we can’t get to them all. But the main idea in Romans 8 is this – that God will finish what He has started. Or in other words, Romans 8 tells us that salvation is not just the forgiveness of sins and it is not just hell prevention, but it is actually total transformation. It’s total transformation; it changes everything. It makes all things new. It is the restoration of the entire cosmos. And there are phrases in the chapter that we’ve read – just listen to some of them. Verse 2, this is what salvation means, verse 2, you are set free. Verse 13, you will not die but you will live. Verse 15, you become a son or a daughter of God. Verse 17, you are an heir of God. Verse 18, you are glorified with God. Verse 21, you are a son of God – I read that one! Verse 21, you are set free from bondage to corruption. Verse 28, salvation is the ultimate good. And that was only a few of them; there are lots. And so when you read Romans 8:1-30 you expect it all. You see the totality of salvation that’s been put on display in Paul’s language and it’s the restoration of the entire cosmos that he’s been talking about.
And you get to 8:31-39 and Paul, in this passage, is dealing with a problem, and that problem is right now, right now, it doesn’t always feel that way. Did you read the list at the end? Naked and famine and persecution and sword. There’s circumstances that we are facing on every side, all around us, and that Paul is feeling in the 1st century. And sometimes, because of our circumstances, God can feel absent, like we’re not experiencing the reality of who we are and who we are becoming – the reality of salvation. And so the question that’s underlying the end of this chapter is this – “Is God for me? Is God for me, because sometimes I struggle to believe it.” Now that’s to put it in the negative. Let’s now put it in the way, in the genre that Paul puts this passage, which is not negative at all. You see, if you read it closely with me, you’ll notice what the commentators say and that’s that the style of Romans 8:31-39 is highly poetic. It’s highly stylized. It’s a song even. It’s a song. He ends this great chapter on what salvation is with a song, and one commentator calls it “the Christian’s triumph song.” And it’s there because we’re just supposed to read about what salvation is in Romans 8 and then sit back and enjoy it with Paul and use it; sit back and just treasure the gift that he’s been talking about in all of Romans 8.
And so ultimately, this is a song, and it’s a song of assurance. We see that in verse 38. He says, “for I am sure, I am convicted, I am certain.” He’s telling you what he has come to learn, what he’s come to be sure about. This is about assurance. And the question then, to put it in Paul’s genre – “Can we, can I, can you sing a song of triumph in the midst of circumstances that look like the lists that Paul includes here at the end of the passage?” And Paul says, “Yes!” Paul says emphatically, “Yes, you can! Yes, the Christian can!” And so the question is, “Why?” The question is, “Why?” and “How?” And so we’re going to look at that, ask that question in three ways, or look at three lessons that you can be assured, why that assurance is so sure, and at the end deal with one problem that might get in the way of it.
You Can Have Assurance
Okay so first, that you can have assurance. The point of this passage is really simple, actually. There is a one, overarching answer to the fact of how or why you can have assurance in this passage and there are two sub-answers, two forks that come out of this one overarching answer. And the one overarching answer is this – you can have assurance because God loves you. And you see that in verse 32 – The Father, the Father spared not His own Son for you. Implication – because He loves you! And not only the Father, but the Son, in verse 35 – Who can separate you from the love of the Son, from the love of Christ? Answer – nobody! Meaning the Son has an inseparable love for you. And so the passage is that simple, really. The answer is, “How can you be assured, how can you have assurance, can you have assurance that you are being saved?” And his answer is, “Yes, because God loves you and He’s put it on display.” So we can close now and pray!
I’m going to take some more time than that, just a little bit. There are two sub-answers to that fact, the point that God loves you, and that’s why you can have assurance; there are two answers underneath that in the passage that add a little nuance to it. And they come from two sets of questions. There are two groups of questions in this passage and the first set it in verses 31 to 34. And he first says, “What shall we say to these things that I have been talking to you about – salvation and the glories of it?” And then he gives us four questions in a row and these four questions are progressive meaning that they are four different questions but they’re also one question. They’re four different questions but they’re asking and getting at the exact same thing.
Who Can be Against Us?
And just look at the first one in verse 31. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" In the Greek text, there are no verbs in that question and I think it sounds even better to say it without verbs. "If God for us, who against us?" You see, that's how it literally reads. Now, of course, all four of these questions are rhetorical and I wasn't going to do this, but this morning David Strain gave me permission, implicitly, because he broke the third barrier! In other words, when you read these questions and it says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" what is Paul expecting you to say? "Nobody!" Right? He wants you to say, "Nobody!" "If God is for you, who can be against you? Who can bring a charge against you?" Nobody, right? But you've read Paul and you've read other parts of the Bible and you know that at the very same time when Paul says, "If God is for you, who is against you?" as soon as you say, "Nobody" you also have to say, “Everybody.” All sorts of persons and places and things; all of the nouns. "If God is for you, who can be against you?" Everybody. And we know at least the world, the flesh, and the devil, none of which are insignificant enemies. And then these lists at the end of the passage – what's against you? – and he lists things like the sword, which is a reference to state-sponsored execution of Christians. There's all sorts of things against you if God is for you.
Who Will Bring Any Charge?
And so what do we say to this? Verse 33 – see question three to deal with this – “Who will bring any charge against the elect?” And again, the first answer that you’re supposed to give to that – “Nobody. Nobody will bring a charge against the elect.” But at the same time, we know from other parts of the Bible that it’s a fact that there are some who bring charges against God’s people. And the Bible teaches us specifically two persons bring charges against God’s people. And who are they? Theologians talk about the subjective accuser and the objective accuser that brings a charge. Well to put it in another question, “Who is he that condemns?” The same thing. Who? And we know from experience and from 1 John chapter 3 verse 20 that when we sin, our hearts condemn us. And so the first answer is – “Who can condemn you? Who tries to condemn you?” And the answer is, “You do.” We do. When you sin, your heart can sometimes attempt to condemn you before God. We call this subjective condemnation. If you’re a Christian tonight and you’re growing and you are sanctified in Christ and you’re growing up into who you are, you know that there are still dark places. And sometimes they come out in surprising ways and you don’t even know who you are in that moment. The thoughts and the actions and the words. And subjective condemnation, this is what it says. It’s when your heart, your conscience says to you, “How could you? How could you?” It says, “You can’t be one of them. There’s no way that you can do that and be in Christ with them.”
But it’s not only subjective accusation, subjective condemnation. There’s also objective condemnation – the true source of the condemnation that we might experience in our hearts. And we all know who is the one who is the one who condemns. The first time we see it clearly in the Bible is Job chapter 1 when he comes and he accuses. It’s not only the self that condemns, but it’s Satan that condemns our hearts. And he comes in Job, and literally the word “Satan” and “devil” means literally, “the accuser; the adversary.” He occupies the office of accuser. He accuses; he condemns. And you see, “Who can bring any charge? Who is trying to bring any charge against you?” And the answer is, there are some – self and Satan. And how do you know the difference when the Holy Spirit is convicting you of sin versus when self or Satan is trying to condemn you? How do you know the difference?
Convicting versus Condemning
And I think the simple answer is that to be convicted by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit drives us in our conviction to repentance, back to Jesus. When Satan or self condemn us, it doesn’t drive us to repent; it paralyzes us. It forces us to doubt and it paralyzes us and it keeps us away from God. Here’s the point, the point of these four questions that we’ve got – Who brings charges? Who’s against you? Who can stand up against you in God’s court? – and the answer is, lots of things – Satan, self, world, circumstances, persons, places, things. And that’s true. The Bible teaches that. But if you notice the grammar, “condemn, charge, against,” all these words, this is legal language; this is legal language. And we know that especially in verse 33 when it says, “God justifies.” He’s the one who justifies. In Greek, the word “justification” or “to justify,” the verb, and “to condemn,” they’re opposites; they’re courtroom opposites. And to condemn means to pronounce guilty in the court. And to justify means to pronounce innocent. And what this is saying is, “Who can condemn you?” Well, there are so many that are trying, but if God justifies, in other words, if God is the Judge who speaks the pronouncement about you, how can condemn you really? And the answer – well, let’s put it like this. If God the Judge is for you, judicially, who can be against you and make a case judicially? And that’s the rhetorical question. Nobody. Nobody can if God’s the Judge, and He is, even though some are trying, even yourself. Not even you can stop it, you see.
Why Your Assurance is Sure
Okay, secondly – why your assurance is so sure. There’s even more to say about this – why your assurance is not only there, because of God’s verdict, but it’s also so sure. And there’s two things in this text that tell us more about it. And the first is in verse 32, the most beautiful verse of the passage. “He who did not spare His own Son, He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us.” Now commentators will say that Paul here is alluding to, working with a phrase from the Old Testament when he writes this. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, this very similar phrase appears and it appears in Genesis 22:16, and that’s the story of Abraham called to sacrifice his son, Isaac. And in Genesis 22:16 it says this. God is speaking here, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and not spared your only son, and not spared your only son, I will bless you.” In Genesis 22, God called Abraham to sacrifice his only son on the mountain. And Abraham went and he traveled and he went to the mountain and he put the wood upon the back of his only son and he marched his son up the hill called, Moriah, a hill that is found in the city of Jerusalem now. And he took the knife and he put it to the throat of his only son, Isaac. And the angel of the Lord came and said, “Stop!” And there was a substitute, you remember, in the thicket.
Now here’s what you’ve got to know. In Jewish eyes, Abraham is everything. In the eyes of a Jewish reader reading this letter, Paul has used him a lot already in this book, in Jewish eyes, Abraham’s faith and Abraham’s love for God exhibited in Genesis 22, the Jewish reader sees as the pinnacle of what it means to be faithful and to love God. That moment in Genesis 22 when Abraham took the knife, it’s the greatest moment of love in Jewish eyes; and the New Testament holds that up too in Hebrews 11. And Paul is alluding to it when he says, “The Father did not spare His own Son.” Why? What is he saying?
In other words, “Oh reader, oh Jewish reader in the 1st century, if you think that Abraham’s willingness to give up his own son for God is the greatest act of love you’ve ever seen, oh man, you haven’t seen anything; not yet, you see.” And he’s saying Abraham was willing, but Abraham didn’t have to spare his own son. He never actually had to do it. God spared Abraham’s son for him. And why? And that’s because Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 are a shadow; they’re a shadow. They were a shadow; they were a shadow of a greater reality. They were a drama of a better Father and Son, of a better Father who had to give up His only Son. In other words, what he’s saying is, “Look, Abraham loved God in a way that none of us will ever have to go through – the call to give up your only son. He went to take him, to sacrifice him; he went through something and he showed incredible love and faith but he did it, he did it for God, the Creator, the Giver of gifts, the One who rescued him out of paganism, the One who had given him a land of plenty, the One who gave him the son in the first place. He did it for God, but you see why Paul’s alluding to this?
God’s Love for You
Here’s what he’s saying. The Creator of the world, He did not spare His only Son for those who, as Isaiah 50 put it, spit in His face after He created them. He did what Abraham never had to do and He did it for creatures who did not love Him. And so the point is, “How can you be so sure that God is saving you? How can you be so sure that God loves you?” And He’s saying you need to look at the cross and see the radicality, the prodigality of God’s love, that it can’t be explained; it’s immeasurable. It’s a love that goes beyond anything humanity has ever seen, well beyond the faith of Abraham. “Oh Jewish reader, God is so much greater than even our father, Abraham,” he’s saying to these Roman readers, “so you can be so sure because of the radicality of His love.”
Servant Songs of Isaiah
Now there’s one more thing. He did not spare His own Son for us, so He clearly loves us, but is He saving us? Where’s the assurance that He will bring it to completion, that He will bring us to the restoration of the cosmos as Romans 8 has been talking about? And another thing that the commentators say is that the list of questions that we’ve been reading is likely a paraphrase, or Paul’s working with Isaiah chapter 50, and particularly verses 8 and 9. And Isaiah 50 is one of the great servant songs of Isaiah, from Isaiah 40 to 55. And this is what it says in Isaiah 50. The servant speaks, “I gave my back to those who strike and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard. I hid not my face from disgrace and from spitting and I know that I will not be put to shame.” And then he asks these questions, the servant does. “But who will contend with me? Who is my adversary? Who can declare me guilty?”
And you see, these questions that the servant is asking in Isaiah 50 are incredibly similar to the series of questions, this series of legal questions that we get here in Romans chapter 8. Now for 2,000 years, Christians have read the servant songs as prophecies about the Servant Himself, Jesus Christ, about the true Servant. That the Son of God is the one who is speaking here in the Servant songs about Himself. And what is the Son of God well before He ever came in flesh to this world say about Himself? Here’s what He says. “I hid not,” or, “I will not hide my face from disgrace and from spitting. They will pluck out my beard.” Now that makes prophetic sense to us because we know He gave Himself up to humiliation and to condemnation. He was condemned by the Pharisees, He was spit upon by the Roman soldiers, He was condemned by the scribes and the Roman government. He was condemned by the people. In Acts chapter 2, Peter says, “You crucified Him,” and that “you” is in plural and it’s referring to people who weren’t even there for it, meaning “all of you, for all of time crucified Him; you condemned Him.” And He was even condemned by God at the cross.
But then these rhetorical questions of Isaiah 50. You see, He was condemned, but then in Isaiah 50 the servant says, “But who can condemn me? But who can stand up as my adversary in the courtroom and declare me guilty?” And it’s rhetorical there because just like Romans 8, Paul’s using it. I mean, what are you supposed to say? Just like you were supposed to say in Romans 8 when the servant himself says, “Yes, they will spit upon my face but who can condemn me?” You’re supposed to say, “Nobody can!” And how? You see, He was condemned, yes, but how? How so? He was condemned as our representative. “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” What does that mean that He became sin? He didn’t become sin in any actuality; He became sin by representation. When He was condemned He was only condemned by representation. So when He says, “Who can stand up against Me? Who can be My adversary?” what is He saying? He’s saying, “When I stand up in the court of God’s justice, I’m not guilty. I was condemned at the cross but I’m justified, I’m innocent. See, He was so good and He was so worth it, He was so justified in all of His works that sin could not hold Him down, that we condemned Him but He stood up. The accusations couldn’t stick. You see?
And so look, here’s what Paul’s doing. Here’s what Paul’s saying. How can you be so sure that God is saving you? And the reason you can be so sure that God is finishing His work of salvation is because of verse 32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not” – and here it is; two little words – “with Him give us all things.” With Him. You see, the reason Paul is using the questions of Isaiah 50 and Romans 8, the questions that were true only for the Servant – who can stand up and condemn the Servant? Nobody. Who can stand up and call you guilty? Nobody. Why? Not because you actually are innocent but because you are with Him, and He, for you. In other words, this is what salvation means. Salvation is when God identifies you in every way with the suffering Servant Himself. He looks at you and He sees the Servant. So the questions of Isaiah 50 are now your questions. The questions of Romans 8 are yours only because they were first His, you see. Let’s put it this way. You can only be found guilty to the extent that He is guilty. And He’s not, and so you can’t be. And that’s how we can be so sure. Let’s put it more simply; that’s a complicated way. Let’s be more simple.
Don Macleod, Donald Macleod, the great Scottish theologian, who’s alive in his old age in Edinburgh right now, he tells of an encounter he had in sub-Saharan Africa – I can’t remember the country – with a local African man, a tribesman who had almost no English. But Donald tried his best to convey to this man the story of Jesus. And at the end of it, he asked him, “Do you understand? Can you comprehend what I’m saying? Do you believe it?” You know, questions like that. And the man responded and said this, in the only English he had, you know. “He die. Me no die.” “God for me, who against me?” “He die. Me no die.” So wrong grammatically, but so right in every other way, you see.
How do you know, how can you have assurance? Faith has to look back at the cross. And when it looks at the cross, here is what it must see. The cross is God’s pronouncement to you that He will not leave you in your sins. Not the sins that you have committed in the past, not the sins that you will commit in the future. The cross is God’s pronouncement that you are forgiven the past and you will not be a prisoner of the things you have done; that you are no longer a prisoner of your own heart. So who can charge you? Who can stop this? And the answer is, some try but nobody can.
One Problem that Might Get in the Way
Now let me just close very briefly with a third thing. And I just want to deal with, in a couple of minutes, something that might get in the way, because that’s what Paul does at the end of the passage. This is a song of triumph. This is a song of triumph and so we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy it – it is a song – and use it. But the end of the passage, this list of circumstances that are incredibly difficult, are here for a reason. And that reason is, it’s difficult for us to just simply enjoy this reality and this assurance. We know, we know God is doing all this stuff intellectually. We know it as a matter of fact, but it’s a different thing to experience it and feel it. And for us moderns, actually, I think it’s even more difficult because we have a harder time seeing God in everything in our day to day lives. For one reason because of the technological sciences. As we master creation more through technology, it becomes more difficult to be enchanted with awe in our day to day life with the experience of God in the ordinary. And it’s harder for us moderns to see God in everything like pre-modern people did, in some ways. And so we forget about God. James 4 talks about forgetting God in your day to day life. And so we have circumstances in our life and then we struggle deep down in the subconscious in our hearts. “Am I experiencing God? I don’t feel like I’m growing. I don’t feel myself to be saved all the time. I am struggling with accusation. What I do know is that I’m experiencing hard circumstances all the time and does God love me?” And that’s what Paul’s doing at the end of this passage with the second set of questions. “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?”
Put on the Cross
And the reason he has to ask that question is because he then lists off all sorts of things that might make you feel like you’re separated from the love of Christ. The list, just to mention one of the lists because we don’t have time to look at the other one, nakedness – literally Paul is probably thinking of his own life. Nakedness here refers to the fact that you do not have clothes to wear and you do not have the means to get them; so it's utter poverty. Famine – you're hungry. Sword – you're standing up in the face of state-sponsored execution. And in the latter list, he's saying all the domains of creation are all opportunities for circumstances that can pull you down and make you low and crush your heart and make you feel like God's not there. And in the middle of these two lists, he sticks Psalm 44:22 that says that the follower of Christ is a sheep, readied for the slaughter. And his point, his point is this – the Christianity does not promise that life gets easier when you believe, not yet. And even more than that, Christianity actually promises that you are called to put on the cross, to put on the sufferings of Christ in some way yourself. In other words, this is not a sales pitch. We’re not offering anything easy except for justification! But the call of Christianity is the call to take up your cross and follow.
Result of Faith
And so what he’s saying here is that there are circumstances in your life that might be hard and bearing you down, and some of these in his life were directly because he had believed in Jesus. They were a result of his faith. Not a few years after this, some of the Christians that will read this letter, that will be reading this letter in the first century, will be rolled up in pitch and hung in the Emperor Nero’s gardens and burned alive to serve as torches for Nero’s evening walks. The very readers of this letter, some of them. He’s saying, “Has Christ cost you anything? Have you had to lose something precious, even if that’s just the idols of your heart, and give it up?” And if you have, that circumstance, that hurts, that’s painful – it’s not saying that you’re separated from the love of Christ. It’s saying, “Be assured because this is in the invitation of Christ. You’re following in the way of Jesus. Christianity costs.”
Now as we close, literally, I promise, let me just give a disclaimer, this is not a call to feel guilty about not undergoing state-sponsored execution or anything like it or anything that Paul lists here. In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul prays and says to Timothy, “I want you to pray” – I think it’s 2:2 – “I want you to pray for the kings and the authorities and the rulers that the church may be at peace.” So he wanted peace for us; not that. But he is saying that Christianity costs at the very same time. And that doesn’t mean separation from Christ; it means assurance. It means that God is doing a good work in you and growing you up and there’s a “not yet.” And so here it is. Verse 34, “Christ died” – we have to look back at the cross; faith looks back at the cross. “But more than that, but more than that,” Paul says, “He was raised.” Faith must look at the resurrection for assurance in this world. And here’s what it must see. The resurrection is God’s pronouncement to you that the tragedy-ridden reality of the state of this world, that your imprisonment to this body of death, he says to you, “I will not have it so forever.” And so faith has to look there for assurance in the midst of hard circumstances.
One theologian in Great Britain, Oliver O’Donovan, talks about the relationship between Church and state. Now I know that as soon as I say this, it’s dangerous, because he’s an Englishman! Some of you aren’t getting it, the relationship between Church and state, but I think this is going to be okay! He says this. “The job of the state, in at least one way, is to imprison the criminal because justice demands that it be so. And at the very same time, justice also demands that the job of the Church, one of its jobs, is to come to the prisoner who the state has imprisoned and say to the prisoner, ‘It need not always be like this.’” And in the same way, the curse that God laid upon this world that makes circumstances so hard, a just curse, a merciful curse in fact, says to us that and shows us that our bodies and the bodies of this world are in prison for a time and the resurrection comes just like the Church and says, "It need not be so forever.”
And so one of my favorite verses in John’s gospel, Jesus at the Last Supper, it says this. “Having loved His own, He loved them all the way to the end.” And so He is still doing for us, all the way to the end. Let’s pray.
God, we ask that we would know the assurance that comes through the justification purchased and won for us in Christ and the fact of the redemption of the cosmos in the fact of resurrection. Teach that to our hearts, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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