Sunday School Notes: Romans 8:31-39
31 What shall we say to these things? If God is on our behalf, who is against us? 32 Indeed, He who did not spare His own son but handed him over on behalf of us all, how will He not also freely give all things to us with him? 33 Who will bring charges against the elect of God? God is the justifier; 34 who is the one condemning? Christ [Jesus] who died, and moreover who was raised, and who is at the right [hand] of God, [it is] he who also intercedes on our behalf. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 Just as it has been written: “We are put to death the whole day because of you; we were reckoned like sheep for slaughter.” 37 But in all these things we completely prevail through the One who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor present things nor things to come nor powers 39 nor height nor depth nor other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God [that is] in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There’s such a lot in this passage, and I’m sure we only skimmed the surface on Sunday. For these notes, I doubt I’ll be able to discuss it even as deeply as we did on Sunday, but I’ll at least try to give you something to help you recall what was said if you were there, or an idea of the discussion if you weren’t. Please use the comments to add thoughts or ask questions.
Last week’s passage looked at the intercessory work of the Spirit in the life of the believer, and then moved on from that to God’s sovereignty in all things, and how He ordains all that happens for the good of His people. Paul further defined those who are God’s by the “Golden Chain of Redemption”–they are those He has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Paul’s point was that God is at work not just in the redemption of the believer, but in the life of the believer, and in the perseverance of the believer unto glorification.
In light of this, Paul asks “what shall we say to these things?” The “these things” can refer to the immediately preceding section, or to the whole of chapter 8, or even everything from chapter 5, where Paul asserts that because of Christ we have peace with God. In fact, everything from Romans 1 might be encompassed in “these things” because, it all comes down to the same conclusion: if God is operating on our behalf, who can oppose us? What possible opposition can successfully stand when God is so completely on our side? How invested is God in the believer? He didn’t spare His own son. There is possibly an echo of Genesis 22 here, where Abraham is commended for not sparing Isaac (the same term is used in the Greek Old Testament). Moreover, God handed over His son to the cross for “us all”–Jew and Gentile (remember the context and the in-fighting within the Roman church). In light of this, how can we think God will not be pleased to give us “all things.” We shouldn’t look at this as God promising to lavish material blessing on everyone. Rather, God will freely give us (the Greek verb charisetai comes from the same root as charis, “grace” or a “grace-gift”) all that is most important to us: justification, forgiveness of sin, a changed heart, and eternal life–everything Paul has been talking about up to now.
The passage then moves into the courtroom: who shall bring a charge against or accuse the elect of God? The implicit answer is “no-one”–but there are those that do accuse us, and indeed Satan himself is “the Accuser.” Perhaps we should understand this as “who shall successfully bring a charge against God’s elect?” The answer is in the second part of verse 33: God is the justifier. Some translations render this Greek participle (dikaiôn) in a more verbal sense: “God is the One who justifies.” This is perfectly legitimate, but I’m not comfortable with it for two reasons. First, this translation makes it sound as if the work of justification is continuous, when Paul has already made clear it is a work completed. Second, I think “God is the justifier” better answers the question. There is no authority higher than God, and there is no-one else with the authority to declare us just. So, if God the Justifier says we are just, we are just, end of all arguments. No-one can say otherwise.
Continuing the courtroom drama: “Who is the one who condemns?” This could be taken as an adjunct to “God is the justifier” (i.e., ‘God is the justifier–who is the one who condemns?”), but that leaves the statement at the end of verse 34 hanging, so I prefer to take it as an answer to the question. As Paul said in 5:1, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Paul reminds us why this is the case: Christ died, and moreover (the Greek mallon here I take in the sense of “not just that but also”) was raised from the dead and is at God’s right hand (allusion here to Psalm 110:1). Christ has paid the penalty on our behalf and risen from the dead so that we might have his righteousness and stand before God justified. And it is this Christ who intercedes before the throne of God for us.
But last week we said that the Spirit intercedes for us–how can Paul now say that Christ intercedes? The same Greek verb is used both in verse 27, and here in verse 34. Someone in the study group offered what I think is an excellent suggestion: Paul is talking about two different types of intercession. Christ pleads his shed blood for us before the Father, and that secures our justification. The Spirit intercedes from our side, taking our prayers and sanctifying them, conforming us to the image of Christ, as we discussed last week. Christ’s intercession is one of justification; the Spirit’s is one of sanctification.
We now leave the courtroom and come to Paul’s glorious summation: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” Notice, Paul says “who” not “what”–even though he is about to list a bunch of things, not people. Since the implicit answer is “no-one and nothing,” even though he doesn’t list anyone, perhaps he also has in mind “no accuser, and not even you yourself!” Paul then rattles off a list of things that could suggest God is withholding His affection: tribulation or hardship or persecution or famine (hunger) or nakedness or danger or sword? That’s literally how the list reads in the Greek. There’s an interesting parallel here with 2 Corinthians 11:26-27 and 12:10, where Paul talks about things he has suffered. Perhaps this list is not just a list of possible things one might encounter, but things Paul has actually endured–the sword being the final one that he would eventually meet as a martyr.
Paul then quotes Psalm 44:22. The essence of this Psalm is, “God, you made us promises, and you covenanted with us. We have been faithful to you, and yet all this trouble is coming upon us. Where are you? Have you forsaken us?” The Psalm ends with, “And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.” I think this Psalm fits the context here, because, like the psalmist, one might wonder in the midst of the calamities Paul listed whether God is keeping His promise, and whether He still loves us. And yet we know that God has indeed redeemed us, and He has done so in such a way that His love for His people is unquestionable.
“But in all these things,” Paul says, “we completely prevail through the One who loved us.” The Greek verb here is hupernikaô, sometimes rendered (especially in older translations) as “we are more than conquerors.” I think this sounds too much like a noun. This is a verb–it is an action we are doing through God. The Lord enables His people to prevail completely in the midst of all these terrible situations. And notice that it’s not just being victorious, but it is being over-victorious–victorious above and beyond what you might expect.
Paul goes on in verse 38 to declare that he is convinced (the Greek verb peithô usually means “to persuade,” but here it is in a perfect passive form which can have a stronger tone, as when you have been persuaded of something and come to a firm conclusion) that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The list Paul gives is intended to exhaust every possible thing: neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers (while both angels and rules can be either good or bad, in this context I think we’re talking about two types of spiritual forces, one good–angels–and the other bad–“rulers”) nor present concerns nor future concerns nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other created thing. “Present” and “future concerns” points to anything that may be happening in life now, or anything you might be concerned about in the future. Note also that “height” and “depth” are singular, so Paul is simply trying to express extreme dimensions. “Any other created thing” is more than likely Paul’s “catch-all” just to be sure he didn’t miss anything. He really means nothing can separate us from God’s love that He has bestowed upon us through the life, death, and resurrection of His son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Next week we plan to move on to chapter 9.