The 8th chapter of Romans is on everyone's favorite list. The paragraph just read in our hearing is among the greatest passages not only in that chapter but in all of the Lord's word. I have copied down some of the things others have said of this chapter. One observed that this is "a great cry of victory." Another says, "Here is the vision to take away all loneliness and fear." And another observed that this is the "highest rung on the ladder of comfort." Victory and comfort and encouragement are here, but there is so much more in the power of what this passage says. It is also a very important challenge to us in our lives.
Observe first that Paul begins by saying, "What then shall we say to these things?" The "these things" in the larger context of his epistle to the Romans refers to what God has accomplished through the gospel. The power of God to salvation is the good news of what he has done for us in Christ. Paul has written of the fact that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that the wages of sin is death. But then, he has emphasized that God has, through Christ, offered for all of us righteousness, which is accomplished in forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And Paul has emphasized that anyone who places faith in what God has done for us in Christ should then begin to serve righteousness in his life and to live for the Lord. In the more immediate context, the "these things" in this passage has to do with the spirit of life in Christ, and what God does for us through his Holy Spirit to give us the hope that we need to have, and to intercede for us in things that challenge us until he finally brings us home to glory.
"These things," Paul says, require a response from us. What shall we say to these things? The gospel is not something that is just to be spoken and admired, but a personal response from each one of us is called for. Surely, if God has done so much for us in his Son, then we ought to have something to say about it. There ought to be some response that comes from our lives.
That is the point Paul is emphasizing here in this passage. He says that the answer should be from all of us an overwhelming sense of well-being. If these things are so, then who can prevent us from having the home in heaven, from having the eternal life, from having the blessings of love that God wants his children to have?
I want to call your attention to the four questions that Paul raises in this passage, all of which he says need to be answered in our lives. First he says, "Who can be against us?" at the end of verse 31. "If God is for us (which is the conviction that all of this is based on), who is against us?" Well, in another place it is interesting that Paul says, "There are many adversaries." (I Cor. 16:9). What he is saying here is not that there won't ever be anybody who will try to be against us. There certainly were people against Paul. There were difficult circumstances; there were enemies; there were persecutors; there were physical problems; there were friends who failed him. So when he says, "Who is against us?" he isn't saying there will never be any opposition.
What he is saying is that there won't be any successful opponents if God is for us. And the reason is that God has already demonstrated that he will give whatever it takes to enable his children to be at home with him. He did not withhold even his own son. And since this is an argument from the greater to the lesser, the thought that Paul is stressing is, "He therefore will not withhold anything else that is necessary."
There is a great Old Testament background to Paul's argument in this passage. It comes from the experience of Abraham. In Genesis 22, after all of the years that God had promised to give Abraham a son, God called for that son to be taken three days' journey away and then to be offered up as a sacrifice. Even though God had never called for anything like that before, Abraham loaded up and headed out on the journey to do it. He was ready, if you will remember, to offer Isaac. In his mind, the deed had already been done when God stopped him. In Genesis 22, verse 12, the Lord said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." Paul is reasoning here in Romans 8 that if you would think about the greatest gift that any man could give to God, and then remember that a man who would give that would give anything else, that if you will apply that same reasoning to God, you will see how much for us God is and that no one can be against us. In I John 4, verse 4, John says to people who are in the Lord, "My little children, you have overcome them, for greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." First, who can be against us if God is for us? The answer is no one, successfully.
The second question Paul raises to his readers in this passage is "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?" (Verse 33). And once again, the answer is not that nobody will ever accuse any of God's children. That thought is not what he is getting at. Satan, for example, is the adversary. He is the slanderer. If there is any charge that he can bring, he will do so. And if there is any way the world can point at a Christian and call everybody's minds to the flaw or the weaknesses of a child of God, the world will do it. In Rev. 12, verse 10, the devil is mentioned as the accuser of the brethren. That is what he does.
The story of Job has the scene where Satan arrogantly appears before the throne of God with the Sons of God as if he is in control of the whole earth. He has been going up and down through it. And God said, "Have you considered my servant Job?" And the devil slandered both Job and God. "Does Job fear God for nothing?" He is saying God is so pitiful he has to pay a guy off to get him to be loyal, and that Job is only in this for what Job gets out of it. That is the only reason anybody would ever serve the God of heaven. And both of those statements are slanderous accusations that the devil used and will use still.
There are two things Paul mentions here that make all the difference. One is that these that might be accused are "God's elect." They are his chosen in Christ. He has already chosen to give life to us in Christ Jesus. The other point is that "it is God who justifies." It is like a courtroom scene in which God is pictured as the one who is already pronounced the person accused as having a clean slate. And for anyone to try to proceed further in such accusations would be foolish indeed. In Isaiah 50, verses 8 and 9, you see something of this same picture. "He who vindicates me (that is God) is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up togther. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold the Lord God helps me. Who will declare me guilty?" The answer is "nobody."
There is a wonderful picture of this in Zechariah, chapter 3, in the Old Testament. There is a scene in that passage where the high priest (the representative of the people) stands before the throne of God, and he is clothed in filthy garments. No priest should ever appear with garments that are less than holy, but here stands Joshua the high priest. At his right hand is the devil to accuse him. But God takes that man, has the filthy garments removed from him, has him clothed with holy, pure garments. And significantly, in that passage, the devil never gets to say a word. No accusation is brought against God's chosen - at least not successfully - because God justifies.
The third question is in verse 34 - "Who is to condemn?" To condemn or to pronounce sentence is, of course, the sole right of the judge in any case. But, the New Testament teaches that God has given that right of judgment into the hands of his son (Acts 10:32; Acts 17:31 - both emphasize that point). James said in James 4:12, "There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy." Only the Lord, then, would have the right to condemn in this sense. And there certainly will come a day when all nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will say to those on the one hand, 'Come, you who are blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' And then he will say to those on the other hand, 'Depart from me ye cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" (Matt. 25:31-33, 41). But Paul presses home the truth of the gospel here. The one who has that right to condemn has already acted for us. Look what the passage says he has done. He is the one who died, not merely in our place, but for our sins. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The one who would have the right to condemn already has died for us. More than that, he was raised for our justification, having reconciled us to God now to justify us. And now he is at the right hand of God, far above everything where he rules over the church (Eph. 1:20 and following). And indeed, at the right hand of God, he is interceding for us. He is acting as our defense attorney, we might say. If you saw a court of law in which the judge was also acting as a defense attorney, what chance of condemnation of the accused do you think there would be? Paul is emphasizing that here. What does the Lord think, then, when anyone else besides him would assume the right to condemn those that he has purchased for his own. That must be particularly offensive to him. Who will be against us? Who will lay any charge that would stick? Who will condemn the Lord's people?
And then, the fourth question is, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (v. 35) Being loved does not mean that we will not face any tough circumstances, does it? Nor does it mean that deep commitment will not be required of us in living for the Lord. This passage which is so full of comfort drives home those two facts. Verse 35 mentions tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. All of those things are the very things that the Lord's people did face in the first century, and, in fact, faced because they were Christians. Paul stresses that in I Cor. 4:11 of himself and of his co-workers, and then in II Cor. 11:26-27 he again points it out. If I begin to follow Jesus thinking "This is going to be so easy and comfortable - nobody against me, no charge against me, no condemnation. This is going to be nothing but fun and games," I need to take another look at it. This is not saying that I will never face any hardships. It is saying that no hardship will separate me from the love of God.
Being a Christian takes commitment. In verse 36 Paul quotes from Psalm 44 at verse 22, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." That statement was written in a background when someone was living for the Lord and when he was in danger because of it. But his commitment was such that it was not going to scare him off and it wasn't going to cause him to give up or to quit. The kind of peace that this passage is speaking of requires commitment from God's children for it to be real and for it to be enjoyed.
What being loved does mean is that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Isn't that a beautiful statement? How can you be more than a conqueror? From everything I can gather, the idea in that phrase is that we conquer by going through something. And that, in fact, what the enemy intended to cause you to stumble and fall, becomes instead the very thing that enables you to grow and to come out stronger. He meant it to cause you to be destroyed and it turned out, with God's help, that you passed through it and came out more in love with the Lord and more dedicated to him and a stronger, more mature child of God than you were before the hardship came. We are conquerors in these things - not beyond them or not without them, he is saying. And we are conquerors through him who loved us. It is in his strength that we find the ability to endure and to overcome. It is through Christ who strengthens us that we are able to do all things.
Paul says that he was persuaded, that he was sure (some versions say) that nothing would be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And the list he gives is there in order to make that point abundantly clear. He discusses, first of all, death or life. Any of the experiences that might come our way can't separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Then he mentions things in the spirit world - angels or powers or rulers. No spirit being out there can cause us to be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Then he mentions time. Neither things that are present nor things to come. Then he mentions height or depth. And interestingly, those were terms that were used by astrologers in ancient days. It is taking about the forces of fate supposedly by the way the planets line up or the way the stars are there. No such thing can separate a child of God from the love of the Father. And then he says, "Nor anything else in all creation." All of that is saying that in Christ and in the love of God in Christ we are able to be secure.
That teaching sets the background for what turns out to be one of the most difficult and controversial thoughts that has ever been connected with the study of the New Testament. It is so interesting to think about and important to be aware of. With those four questions in mind, will you please notice two things from this passage?
First, Paul is discussing here God's love for us. Our love for God may turn out to be another story. Here in this passage which is so stressing for us that nothing can separate us from God's love, we ought to be aware, as Paul was, that we may choose to not respond to God's and that we may, in fact, depart from him.
The Lord's word warns us against falling. Again, from this same apostle in I Cor. 10:12, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Hebrews 3, verses 12 and 13 encourages us to exhort each other so that none of us be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The Lord's word tells us how to keep from falling. It tells us that if we are adding to our faith, then we will never fall. These things will keep us from stumbling. (2 Pet. 1:5-11). The Lord's word tells us what to do when we have fallen. In Acts 8, verses 22 and 23, we read about praying to the Lord that these things might be forgiven. Now, certainly all of this would be without any meaning if it were true, as some have supposed, that a person who is in the love of God could not fall. Why issue the warning? Why tell us how to keep from it? Why tell us what to do if we find that we have strayed if it were not even possible for us to depart from the Lord's grace? This passage is emphasizing God's love for us. Nothing can separate us from that.
On the other hand, notice also from this text that all the things mentioned here are from without the person, things that may come upon us from the outside. Nothing is said here of what corrupting influences may do on the inside of the person in his heart. No powers of persecution can force a person to stop loving God. If he quits, he does it of his own accord. Nobody can make him. That love, though, that can't be destroyed from the outside can grow cold on the inside. Some even depart from their first love, according to Rev. 2:4. While no evils coming on us from outside can destroy the love of God and while not even we ourselves can keep God from loving us and wishing that we would repent and be saved, we still are called upon to keep our hearts in love with the Lord (Jude 21).
Paul's statement, "What shall we say to these things?" needs to be continually answered in my life. We have been trying to do that in several of the songs that Jon lead us in this morning. The depth and the riches of God's saving grace that flowed down from the cross for me. Why should he love me like that? But if he did, I am mine no more. He loved me; then I will henceforth live for him. That is the lesson of this great passage, too. There is so much assurance and security and comfort here. Nothing separates us from the love of God. But there is the call for us to keep ourselves in God's love. This passage says "It is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
Romans 8 begins in verse 1 by saying there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And it ends in verse 39 by saying that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Paul in his writings in the New Testament uses that phrase "in Christ" 169 times. It is the theme of all of his letters. It is saying that is the relationship that needs to exists in our lives if we are to have hope. This morning if you are in Christ, remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God that is there. If you are not in Christ, examine the need for that and answer the question, "Don't you want to be?" The Bible says that a person who will place his faith in Christ Jesus can then be baptized into Christ for God will make him his son, his child. (Gal. 3:26, 27) Maybe you are here today ready to do that. Maybe you are a Christian who did indeed leave your first love, and you need to let your brothers and sisters in Christ pray with you about that. God will run out to meet you and accept you back home. If we can help you this morning, won't you answer that question "What shall we say when the gospel is applied?" Do something about it now as we stand and sing together.