God’s Promise of Victory

| Romans 8:28-39

The Point:  God’s goodness and love overcome life’s difficulties.

God’s Everlasting Love:  Romans 8:28-39.

[28]  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29]  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30]  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [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.  [ESV]

Hope of Glorification [28-30].  The confidence and hope that belong to believers continue to be the theme in this small but weighty section. Verse 28 turns the corner in the chapter with the result that in subsequent verses God rather than the Spirit emerges as the subject. In verses 29-30 it is God who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies. And in verse 28 it is God who causes all things to work together for good. In saying that all things work together for good the focus is especially on sufferings and tribulations, but the all-encompassing character of the term, all things, cannot be ignored. What is remarkable, though, is that even suffering and tribulation turn out for the good of the Christian. It is correct to say that good is eschatological since the good will be evident and fully realized only at the end time. Yet by virtue of this promise believers know now that everything conspires to their good, and this knowledge fortifies them with courage in facing any situation. To say that everything works together for good for those who love God should not be understood as a condition here. Paul does not speak often of believers loving God and here the phrase is merely another way of denoting those who are believers. To say that everything works together for good to those who love God could be misleading, for one could derive the impression that the love of human beings for God is primary in the relationship between people and God. Thus Paul adds the phrase, for those who are called according to his purpose, to further describe those who love God. This last phrase is a clarification of the previous phrase so that the reader can accurately locate the roots of our love for God. The believers’ love for God is ultimately due to God’s purpose in calling them to salvation. The intention and purpose of God receive primacy rather than the choice of human beings. This is confirmed elsewhere in Paul, for the election, predestination, and calling of believers is according to God’s purpose [Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:9]. Moreover, calling must be understood as effectual. It is not merely an invitation that human beings can reject, but it is a summons that overcomes human resistance and effectually persuade them to say yes to God. This definition of calling is evident from 8:30, for there Paul says that those whom he called he also justified. Paul fuses the called and justified together so that those who have experienced calling have also inevitably received the blessing of justification. Now if all those who are called are also justified, then calling must be effectual and must create faith, for “all” those who are called are justified and justification cannot occur without faith [3:21-22, 28; 5:1]. This understanding is also vindicated by 4:17, where God’s call effectually brings into existence things that did not exist. The foundational reason why all things work for believers’ good begins to emerge: God’s unstoppable purpose in calling believers to salvation cannot be frustrated, and thus He employs all things to bring about the plan He had from the beginning in the lives of believers. For in verse 29 grounds or gives the reason for the main proposition in verse 28, that all things work together for good. Paul wants to clarify and emphasize the idea that was touched on in the last phrase in verse 28, so that believers will grasp that all things conspire for good because of God’s sovereign rule and plan for believers. The good realized is not due to fate, luck, of even the moral superiority of believers; it is to be ascribed to God’s good and sovereign will, which has from eternity past to eternity future secured and guaranteed the good for those whom He has chosen. This is the significance of “the golden chain” that charts the course from God’s foreknowledge of believers to their glorification. In each case God is the subject of the verbs, for it is He who foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. The good He has begun He will finish [Phil. 1:6]. At this juncture the individual links in the chain should be examined in more detail. Paul begins by saying that God predestined those whom He foreknew. One’s understanding of Paul’s soteriology is significantly affected by one’s understanding of the verb foreknew, for predestination unto salvation is limited to those who were foreknown. The background of the term should be located in the Old Testament, where for God “to know” refers to His covenantal love in which He sets His affection on those whom He has chosen. Thus in 8:29 the point is that God has predestined those upon whom He has set His covenantal affection. The purpose of God’s predestination is specified in the phrase, conformed to the image of his Son. The good of verse 28 now receives further definition: the good is achieved when believers are conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. The image of Jesus suggests His eschatological glory obtained at His resurrection [Col. 1:15] that believers will receive when they are raised [1 Cor. 15:49]. Paul teaches elsewhere that conformity to the image will be realized only at the day of resurrection [Rom. 6:5 and Phil. 3:21]. This does not mean that all reference to the present era should be excluded for the genius of Paul’s theology is that the eschaton has invaded the present evil age. The transformation into the image thus begins in this age but is completed and consummated at the resurrection. The purpose of this conformity is so that Christ should be the firstborn among many brothers. In the Old Testament Israel was God’s firstborn, but now we see that Jesus Christ is God’s firstborn, and one becomes part of God’s family through union with Him. After delineating the purpose of God’s predestining work, Paul resumes the chain of verbs in verse 30. Those whom God predestined He also called. Predestination harks back to God’s decision before history began to effect salvation for those whom He foreknew. The call refers to God’s work in history by which He summons through the gospel some to Himself. Those whom God called He also justified. This verb denotes God’s saving activity by which believers are made right with God. Finally, those whom God justified He glorified. The glorification posited here does not begin in this life. What is envisioned is the eschatological completion of God’s work on behalf of believers that began before history. The major objective of the text should be reiterated here. Believers are assured that everything works together for good because the God who set His covenantal love upon them, predestined them to be like His Son, called them effectually to Himself, and justified them will certainly glorify them. All the sufferings and afflictions of the present era are not an obstacle to their ultimate salvation but the means by which salvation will be accomplished.

Certainty of Hope in Suffering [31-39].  The these things in the question found in verse 31 harks back to all that is said in chapters 5-8. The theme of hope that permeates 8:31-39 connects back to 5:1-11, which propounded similar themes. Verse 31b functions as the answer to the question posed in verse 31a, even though it is phrased as a question, for the question is obviously rhetorical. The answer is comprehensive in that it sums up the gospel proclaimed in the book of Romans. The intention of the question is scarcely to say that no one is against us, for the enemies and opponents of believers are numerous. The point is that no opponent or enemy can successfully wage war against us because God is for us. He will vanquish any enemies that present themselves before believers. The He who introducing verse 32 should be understood as causal. How do believers know that God is for them and that nothing will defeat them? Believers have this confidence because God did not spare His Son, Jesus Christ, but instead handed Him over to death for their sake. Since He has done the greatest thing imaginable – sacrificing His Son to death for their sake – then it surely follows that the Father in His grace will grant them everything along with His Son. Thus, in verse 32, Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. If the Father has done the greater thing, sacrificing His Son to death, then the lesser thing of granting all things to His own is guaranteed. The verb, graciously give, emphasizes that all the gifts received are given by God’s grace and free generosity. The all things of verse 32 should be connected with the all things in verses 28 and 37. To be more than a conqueror over affliction, distress, persecution, and so on indicates that these enemies are actually turned to the good of believers through the power of God. This does not detract in the least from the fact that these are enemies that frighten believers, nor does it deny that they involve suffering. The point is that the love of Christ is so powerful that it turns our greatest enemies into our friends in that they are used by God to conform us to the image of his Son [29]. The main point of verse 33 is clear. Believers can face the day of judgment with confidence, for those whom God has chosen as His own will certainly not be accused on the day of judgment. God has declared them to be right in His sight, and thus those who would accuse believers will not successfully establish their case. As Isaiah 50:9 says, Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Verse 34 restates in other terms the question from verse 33. There may be many who condemn, but their case will not stand in the heavenly court. Paul answers this question with four assertions; each statement builds on the previous one so that the argument climaxes with the last assertion. The answer does not prepare the reader for verse 35 but constitutes the resolution to the question asked in verse 34. No one will condemn believers on the last day because the Messiah, Jesus, died for them. Here Paul assumes what he has stated in 3:21-26: the death of Jesus on behalf of believers satisfied God’s wrath [1:18] against them. Not only did Jesus die but He was also raised. His resurrection signified His vindication, indicating that His atoning work was completed. The first two statements hark back to the formula in 4:25: who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. The resurrection of Jesus was inevitably accompanied by His exaltation. Thus in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 He reigns at the right hand of God. Finally, He intercedes on behalf of the saints. This intercession should not be separated from His death on behalf of His people; rather, His intercession on behalf of the saints is based on His atoning death. God being for believers means that no legal charge will be leveled against them on the eschatological day [33-34]. Now in verses 35-39 Paul asks a relational question: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? In contrast to the previous questions the various troubles that could possibly detach believers from Christ’s love are detailed: tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. And verse 39 explicitly widens the net so that nothing is excluded in this list of various troubles: nor anything else in all creation. Thus anything that could possibly disassociate one from the love of Christ is contemplated. In verse 35 the troubles that could possibly strike believers and separate them from Christ’s love are designated. Now in verse 36 Paul refers to Psalm 44:22 to assert that these sufferings do strike believers. The Old Testament context of Psalm 44 is instructive because the psalmist laments the suffering of the righteous, who have not abandoned God’s name and yet are subjected to humiliation, defeat, and mockery. What Paul affirms in Romans is that such mockery and suffering are inevitably the lot of Christians. Having said that believers will unavoidably face suffering, Paul in verse 37 now answers the question of verse 35. Instead of believers being separated from Christ’s love through afflictions, the afflictions become the means by which believers are more than conquerors. The triumph is not ascribed to the will power and strength of believers but to the love of Christ: through him who loved us. That believers will certainly prevail is expressed by the verb I am sure [38], which represents Paul’s authoritative judgment on the matter. The items mentioned in verses 38-39 are in pairs, except for the term powers in verse 38. Affliction, persecution, famine, death, and so on are mentioned because these are the sorts of things that would cause a believer to renounce faith in Christ. Paul is not only saying that Christ still loves believers when persecution arrives, although that is doubtless true. He is also saying that the love of Christ is so powerful that believers will not forsake Him despite the sword, persecution, famine, and so on. None of these threats will succeed, for the love of Christ is stronger still and He will see to it that what has been started will be finished.”  [Schreiner, pp. 448-467]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How does for those who are called according to his purpose explain who it is that truly love God? In our relationship with God, what is the primary or foundational element: our love for God or God’s calling us according to His purpose?  Which comes first? Which one determines the meaning of the other? What does Paul mean by God’s calling? Look at 8:30 for a further description of this calling.

2.         What is the meaning of the key term foreknew? Does foreknew here mean the same thing as “foreloved”? How does the Old Testament help us understand the Biblical meaning of “know”? [Amos 3:2; Gen. 18:19; Ex. 2:25; Deut. 7:7-8; 10:15; Jer. 1:5; Hosea 13:5; see also Matt. 7:22-23; 1 Cor. 8:3; 2 Tim. 2:19].

3.         Who are the those in 8:28-30? What does Paul say happens to the those? Who causes these things to happen? What is the purpose of this activity? What is the good in 8:28?

4.         How is 8:31 Paul’s central theme of this passage? Explain Paul’s greater to lesser argument in 8:32. What is the main point of 8:33? Meditate upon all the hope and assurance 8:31-39 gives to the those. Do you have this assurance of being called by God?

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.