More Than Conquerors

January 30, 2022 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Romans: Real Hope for the Righteousness of God

Scripture: Romans 8:31–8:39

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 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. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

      “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
      we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

The winter Olympics are about to begin and one of the things that interests me about athletic competition are the various ways athletes get themselves in the proper mindset to compete. Although these athletes come from different cultures, it seems that many have in common the techniques they employ. For example, we often see an athlete with headphones on listening (presumably) to music. Have you ever watched a weightlifting competition? Right before the lift, you’ll usually see the athlete smack themselves and, as they lift, they’ll usually let out a loud yell. This is what they do to get themselves “pumped up” for the competition.

While most of us are not professional athletes, we still must get ourselves ready to face the day, to get “in the zone” to go do what it is we need to do. I would like to help us all this morning get ready to face the competition. As we end our study of the eighth chapter of Romans, perhaps the greatest chapter in all the Bible, I’m reminded of these words from a commentator I read some time back.

The task of teaching Christian people to think and live on the basis of a unique event that happened in the first century, but that was the turning point of cosmic history, is therefore, hard though it may seem, one of the most Pauline tasks facing a preacher and teacher today.[1]

So, here’s what I hope to do this morning. I hope to demonstrate that the incomparable love of God for his people—for you and me—gives us the assurance that we belong to the invincible family of God. And this is the kind of Christian assurance that is the fruit of saving faith. I want every Christian, especially in this church, to see Romans 8, and these last ten verses in particular, as their own. I want every Christian to know, as one of the historic Christian confessions says, that they “may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”[2]

These verses point the way forward toward Christian assurance, and help prepare us for the jobs we are called to do in this life, by reminding us that God is for us, that Christ died for us, and that the Spirit has united us, forever, to the one true God.

God Is For Us

So we begin with verse 31. “What then shall we say to these things?” Paul is speaking here not only of the last few verses, though if Romans 8:28 is true, then it by itself is enough to lead us to what Paul says next. These verses are the conclusion to what Paul has said in Romans 5-8. His thesis has been, “If we have been justified by faith, we are at peace. We are at peace with God (Rom 5:1), and we have so much to look forward to—'we rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Rom 5:2). And our sufferings in this life cannot take us down because even they become fruit-bearing tools in the hands of God whose love for us has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5). All of this Paul has unpacked for us in the last four chapters, and if we miss it, we will undoubtedly not have the same assurance Paul has when he says, next, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Is God for Us?

Of course, to say that God is for us is the ultimate claim of confidence. If we’ve got God on our side, we know we are on the winning side every time. There simply is no one or no thing that can succeed in opposing us. But how can we be sure that God is for us?

But how do we know that God is for us? Plenty of Christians are tempted to doubt this, especially when the circumstances of life make us wonder if God is angry with us or maybe just doesn’t really care all that much about us. This is a problem that comes from being near-sighted. The previous verses, verses 28-30 in particular, are meant to keep our focus on the whole scheme of God’s work. All things work together for good, but this does not mean all things are inherently good. God is up to something, and verses 29-30 make it plain what exactly it is he is up to, so don’t conclude prematurely that God has failed or has turned against you. While plenty of us will be tempted to do such a thing, countless other Christians have found strength to endure great struggles and trials of their faith with the purpose of God described in Romans 8:29-30 in view. We best learn to do the same.

But Paul says more. Here in verse 32 he reminds us of the clearest evidence we have that God is for us. He uses a little Greek word to put the spotlight on what he says first, literally, “He who even his own Son did not spare but for us all gave him up.”[3] The language is reminiscent of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22. That story, as shocking as it is, demonstrated the extent of Abraham’s love for God; he was willing to give to God his greatest treasure on earth. Now just consider how God feels about his people, the genuine love that he has for them, that he has not withheld even his own Son from us. God gave us his all when he gave us his Son. This is how we know that God is for us. What greater evidence could there be?

Love, Not Tolerance

Let me tarry here for a moment. Do not see in the sacrificial language used here the idea that God felt obligated to give his Son for us. There is no doubt from the biblical text that Abraham loved his son, Isaac, as much as any father could love his son. The comparison to that story in God’s own giving of his Son is to put a spotlight on God’s love for us.

The story of the gospel is not seen in all its glory if we think of it as our rich Father paying an exorbitant sum to get his prodigal children out of jail; the real problem in that story being our profligate living. Rather, the story of the gospel is our gracious God torpedoing the compound of our cruel taskmaster because he wanted us for himself. Again, remember the exodus theme that lies behind so much of Romans 8. God is for us; he does not merely tolerate us. The gospel must be understood as a love story in which God, whose love for his own Son cannot be questioned, displays the enormous scope of his love precisely in saving sinners like you and me. God is for us because God loves us. I mean, he really loves us.

The Coming Glory

And if God really loves us, then the story is not over. There is a glory coming that we simply cannot comprehend. The argument in verse 32 is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already given us his greatest gift, we can expect he will not withhold from us the lesser things, like, you know, everything.

God has held absolutely nothing back from us. He gave his own Son to us, not just “for” us: it is “also with him” that he will certainly, graciously give us all things. Yes, the knife went through the Son of God; he died for us. But this was not because God chose us over Jesus; God raised Jesus from the dead. The extraordinary love of God for us is not that God loved us more than Jesus. What assurance would we have if God was a Father who would kill his own Son so he could have us instead? No, God also raised Jesus (as Abraham assumed God would do for Isaac if he had gone through with the shocking sacrifice, Heb 11: 19) and with him brought us into his royal family.

Again, now, see the heart of God for you, Christian. The “all things” must certainly be comprehensive. Because we possess the Son of God himself, crucified and risen, everything in our lives is turned for our good, for our benefit and even enjoyment, in our union with him.[4] Jesus is not simply the debt paid for our sins but also the source of our everlasting joy and freedom. We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” verse 17 said. This is the gospel promise. Believing it gives us the assurance that no one could possibly stand against us.

Christ Died for Us

But now, moving on to verses 33-34 we see another way Christian assurance will grow. God is for us, yes, and remember what it means that Christ died for us. It means that there can be no charge against us, and there can be no cause of condemnation for us, either.

Notice the Accuser

These two verses put us back into a judicial setting, the one most of us are most familiar with when we think of the gospel story.

In this setting, God clearly takes up the role as the Judge and you and I and all humanity are the ones on trial. But what Paul has emphasized in this scene in Romans is something we don’t tend to see. If I’m correct, we usually think of how we are, in fact, guilty and deserving of wrath and condemnation, but that Jesus pays the penalty in our place, and we are declared not guilty.

Without denying this, Paul’s emphasis is elsewhere. Notice in our passage that Paul does not say, “What can be against us?” or “What can condemn us?” or “What can separate us from the love of Christ?”. The question is about who rather than what. This demonstrates, as we’ve been saying all along, that it is a personal entity, not impersonal circumstances, that is our enemy.[5] The problem that has been resolved is the silencing of the accuser in the court.

The Accuser Condemned

The announcement that opened this chapter (“there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) has been expounded and explained throughout the rest of the chapter. In particular we noted verse 3: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” On the cross, in the flesh of the Messiah, it was our Accuser, sin personified, that mysterious, dark power we know as Satan, the accuser, or the devil, our adversary. The sly Serpent in the Garden of Eden has had his head crushed by the offspring of the woman, just as God had promised in Genesis 3:15.

And just like the woman taken in adultery, Jesus has turned the tables. There is no question that we, like the woman, are guilty. But when the stone has hit our accuser square in the head, like David’s missile fired at Goliath, we find ourselves standing there alone with Jesus, and we hear his words.

“Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
And we reply, with the woman, “No one, Lord.”
“And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (Jn 8:10-11).

Kingdom Come

This is the astounding promise of the gospel. There is no one left to bring a charge against us, since God has justified us. This God whose own righteousness has now been vindicated has justly vindicated you and me (v. 33). So there is no one left to condemn us given the scope of what the Messiah has done for us: not only did he die for our trespasses, but, even more, he was raised for our justification (v. 34; Rom 4:23). Where, then, is he? He is “at the right hand of God” and is presently “interceding for us,” verse 34 says. With this one on our side, representing us, there simply is no one left to accuse, no one left who can condemn.

And what this means is that, yes, we do have "heaven” to look forward to when we die. That is true and good, and a great comfort for us and our brothers and sisters in Christ when our time to die has come. But the hope we have is not “heaven” but “heaven on earth,” a resurrected life in the full enjoyment of the kingdom of God, life in God’s created world as full human beings that God has always intended for us to have.

But get this. The fact that sin—Satan—has already been condemned means we have the privilege of experiencing tastes of the kingdom of heaven on earth now. If Jesus has in fact brought condemnation on the dark power of evil, the sinister power of sin, then this means that the promised future has already broken in on the present. And this provides even more assurance in our Christian faith.

The Spirit Unites Us

So we see, lastly, that Christian assurance grows because it is God’s own Holy Spirit who has already united us to the love of God in Christ. We are united to the Triune God by God. And what God has joined together, no one can separate. So, verse 35 asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” and verse 39 answers with a resounding, “Nothing!”

Where Is the Spirit?

I say that the Spirit is in view in these verses, even though none of these verses say anything about the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit has been a predominant theme throughout the present chapter. And Romans 5:5 says it is “through the Holy Spirit” that God’s love has been poured into our hearts. If we understand the Spirit to be in view in these verses, we see the Trinitarian shape brought to completion: God is for us, Christ has died for us, and the Holy Spirit now binds us to the love of God so that there can be no possible way for us to be separated from the love of God.[6]

The present reality of what has been done for us in Christ Jesus has been emphasized throughout Romans 8 as our now living “in the Spirit,” in the promised eschatological age of the new covenant where God and man are reconciled, and God dwells once more with us. The Shekinah glory of God has returned to his temple—and that temple is us, his body, his church. It is in the church where we are primarily meant to experience (and not just hear about) the love of God. How do we experience it? How does the Spirit help us experience it? In the corporate worship of God and in the communion we share with his people. It’s why we simply must come together each week for worship and why we must gather regularly in the homes of our brothers and sisters for fellowship. These are the primary means by which God intends to grow us in the assurance of his love for us. We ignore these means to our detriment.

Living by the Spirit

As the beloved children of God, we live by the Spirit. The children of God are those who, according to Romans 8:14, are led by the Spirit of God. And living by the Spirit, we become more and more assured of God’s love.

But what about the sufferings we still endure? Look, the celebratory tone with which Romans 8 ends is not without the realism of what that old Serpent still tries to fling in our faces. The list of sufferings in verse 35 come from Paul’s own experience. He knows of what he speaks.[7] And his citation of Psalm 44:22 in verse 36 reminds us that sufferings such as these and plenty of others are inevitable for all Christians.[8] You know it’s coming. Jesus said so, too. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

The Victory of the Spirit

Even our sufferings will be transformed by the Holy Spirit so that in the purposes of God we might become increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. You see, the citizens of the kingdom of God will be Christ-like citizens, reflecting to the world the greater power of love and peace and joy that are found in Christ, in the Messiah. It’s a love and peace and joy that cannot be found anywhere else or explained by anyone else.

And here we see the practicality of these closing verses in chapter 8 to the daily life of the Christian. We are all tasked, in the providence of God, with a vocation, a sacred calling that is ours as his chosen and redeemed people. We have work to do, a mission to carry out. It will be challenging. There will be opposition. But, given the reality of the gospel of Jesus, we can face the challenge with the assurance that all will be well. The gates of hell will not prevail against the offensive move of Christ’s church. We are, as citizens of the kingdom of God, invincible. “More than conquerors,” Paul calls us in verse 37. Where sin abounded, grace super-abounded. The gift of grace does not merely match and restore what was lost but makes the final state better still.[9]

Now we live in a time and place where it can be hard to believe this. The growing secularism in the West appears to be setting Christianity on its heels. Are we actually losing the battle? If we think we are, we shall not be surprised if we find ourselves tempted to fight in a way other than the way Jesus called us to fight, with the redemptive power of the cross. We cannot advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom with the weapons of the world. That is a recipe for disaster, and our Lord will not bless such strategies. He doesn’t need us, after all, to see his work brought to completion.

Nevertheless, he has chosen to do his work through us, and this is a glorious privilege we must not take for granted.

_____

[1] N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 478.

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith, 18.1.

[3] The Greek particle γέ (not translated in most English versions) puts the spotlight on the words “his own Son.”

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 461.

[5] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 221.

[6] Wright, “Letter to the Romans,” 610.

[7] Ibid., 614.

[8] Schreiner, Romans, 464.

[9] Wright, “Letter to the Romans,” 528.

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