by Mike Ratliff
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. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)
We are preparing to work our way through Romans 8:18-39. I listened to John MacArthur preach through these verses at the Shepherd’s Conference last week and from that I learned two things. It is vital for each Christian to grasp the truths therein in order to stand firm in the midst of every conceivable attack our enemy can use against them. The second thing I learned is how these truths in this passage are like a dividing line. Those who come down on the side of God’s Sovereignty and the security of the believer within it have it right, while there are many who call themselves Christians who ignore these truths and teach the opposite leaving those who follow them in the bondage of fear and doubt and even believing in the sovereignty of Satan and his demons. There is another group of course, that would be all in the liberal camp who take the name of Christian for whatever reason, but believe in no historical Christian doctrines. No, they only believe in their own man-made “god” and “jesus” made in their own image. These magnificent truths are meant only for genuine believers not those who have never bowed the knee to the Lordship of Christ and are now walking in repentance having been saved by grace through faith as a gift from God himself.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:18-25 NASB)
In v18 Paul writes looking forward to the resurrection of the body (v23) and the subsequent complete Christlikeness that is the believer’s eternal glory (Philippians 3:20, 21; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:1). I find it quite shameful in our present time how the majority of Christians would rather maintain a false peace rather than stand firm, be bold and confront error in the Church. However, there are some who have discernment and wisdom and are used by God to do those very things. I assure you that those who do so find it to be costly and there are inherent sufferings that come from that. Jesus warned us that that all who are publicly identified with him would suffer and be hated as he was hated. What I have surprised about over the last several years though is how the majority of that abuse has come from professing Christians. However, as Paul shared here what we have awaiting us in glory far outweighs any of this and I will gladly continue to do so for the glory of my Lord as long as he will have me to do so.
In v19 Paul states that even God’s creation anxiously longs or awaits for the transformation from the curse and its effects, which will happen when the “sons of God” are revealed. What does that mean? This happens when our Lord returns for his church. God’s children will share his glory.
Carefully read v20. Those who deny the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 must ignore this verse. The futility Paul was talking about in v20 refers to the inability to achieve a goal or purpose. Because of man’s sin, God cursed the physical universe (Genesis 3:17-19), and now, no part of creation entirely fulfills God’s original purpose. However, now we have the promise of v21 in which creation itself will be delivered or set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (cf. 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:4, 5).
In v23 we are given a picture describing our positional condition and promise contrasted with our physical reality. Just as the first pieces of produce to appear on a tree provide hope of a future harvest, the fruit which the Spirit produces in us now (Galatians 5:22, 23) provides hope that we will one day be like Christ. Yes, we have enough discernment to groan and mourn within ourselves over our sin while eagerly awaiting our adoption as sons. This adoption began with God’s choice (Ephesians 1:5) and included our actually becoming his children at salvation (Galatians 4:5-7) will culminate with our glorification—the full realization of our inheritance (Romans 8:29, 30). This redemption of our bodies is part of our resurrection, but this does include just our physical bodies, but all of our remaining fallenness. In v25 Paul speaks of hope. This is not equivalent to the English word hope, but carries with it no uncertainty. It speaks of something that is certain, but not yet realized. In other words, all these promises for the believer as assured because God makes them.
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:26-39 NASB)
The groanings in v26 with which the Holy Spirit interecedes for us because we do not know how to pray as we should refers back to the groanings of v22. We do know how to pray for our Lord gave us his Lord’s prayer and we know how to pray for our needs and for the salvation of others, et cetera. What is Paul talking about? These are prayers within the Trinity that cannot be expressed in words, but carry profound appeals for welfare of every believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11). This work of the Holy Spirit parallels the high priestly works of intercession by the Lord Jesus on behalf of believers. We see this verified in the next verse (v27).
Some who have false view of God and insist that he would never allow suffering in the life of anyone have a problem with v28. However it does mean what it says. In his providence, God orchestrates every event in life-even suffering, temptation, and sin—to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit (cf. Deuteronomy 8:15, 16). Of course, this is referring to those who are truly God’s children, those whom he as effectually called according to his purpose. That means that all in Christ are called by God for the purpose of God. No one comes to Christ outside of these parameters. In v29 we see that all whom God foreknew, he chose to set his love upon and establish and intimate relationship with. This is his election. These whom he foreknew and loved, he predestined or “marked out” or “appointed” or “determined beforehand” to destine for his chosen end—that is, likeness to his son who is the preeminent one, the only one who is the rightful heir, who is, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In v30 we see that all who are predestined, he also called, and these whom he called, he also justified and these whom he justified he also glorified. In every case, Paul used the past tense in these verbs for a future event to emphasize its certainty (cf. Romans 8:18, 21; 2 Timothy 2:10). However, what I find utterly wonderful about this verse is how it explains God’s purpose. It s a plan of sovereign saving grace, entitling all who now believe to trace their faith and salvation back to an eternal decision by God to bring them to glory, and to look forward to that glory as a guaranteed certainty. The destiny appointed for believers (conformity to Christ and glorification with Him) flows from divine foreknowledge. Here it is persons, not facts or events, that God is said to foreknow. Yes, God does foresee events, but Paul’s point is that God has of his own initiative chosen the objects of his active, saving love.
In vv31-39 closes this magnificent teaching about the believer’s security in Christ with a crescendo of questions and answers for the concerns Christians might still have. It begins with, “If God is for us, who is against us?” In the Greek it is better translated, “Since God is for us…” Who can overpower God? In v32 Paul’s point is, “Would God do less for his children than he did for his enemies? In vv33-34 we know who accuses the elect don’t we? It’s Satan, but Paul makes sure we know that God is the one who justifies and there is nothing Satan can do about that. There are four reasons the believer can never be found guilty: 1) Christ’s death; 2) His Resurrection; 3) His exalted position; and 4) His continual intercession for them.
Carefully read vv35-39. Here we have a list of experiences and persons that cannot separate the believer from God’s love in Christ. Paul knew this was not just a theory because this was his personal testimony. In any case, when I finish reading those verses I want to go to all those who profess to be Christians, but demand a theology that believers and lose their salvation, read this to them slowly and then say, “Case closed!” It is closed and those who refuse to believe what God’s Word says here are in unbelief because they have a theology based upon presuppositions that man is not fallen and God is not Sovereign. Sorry, God’s Word does not support that, case closed.
Soli Deo Gloria!