Romans 8:31–39 is better sung than commented upon. It’s a thrilling, ecstatic hymn of boisterous assurance that God’s purposes will be accomplished. Yet, I will attempt to comment on them. If we sing Paul’s hymn, let’s make sure we sing with understanding.
Given the character of these verses, it’s easy and understandable that they, like Romans 8:28–30, are often cited apart from their context. But these verses form the climax of Paul’s discussion of the gift of the Spirit and the hope of new creation that he has been talking about throughout the chapter. Paul’s excited confidence is a confidence that God will accomplish His purpose of bringing the sons of God to glory, and His purpose of renewing His creation through those sons. Though Christians in Paul’s day (as in ours) suffer affliction, those afflictions are the birth pangs of new creation.
This, as N. T. Wright points out, is the great climax of Paul’s teaching on justification. He notes that what justification by faith produces in us is not ultimately justification itself but assurance. That is, the psychological, moral, cultural effect of God’s justification is confidence that God holds nothing against us and therefore the world holds no terrors. In a word: Justified people are fearless people.
As many commentators point out, the theme of these verses is stated in verse 31. “These things” are the things that Paul has been talking about in chapter 8, and throughout the first eight chapters of the epistle. In the light of God sending His Son as a propitiation for sin, in the light of our being delivered by the Spirit from the bondage of Sin and Death, in the light of God doing what the Law was incapable of doing—in the light of these events and actions of God, what is our response to be?
All “these things” are summed up in the proposition implied in the protasis of the second sentence in verse 31: “God is for us.” That is the sum and substance of the gospel. God has not left humanity in wickedness and sin; He has not delivered His world over to death. He has determined to put His righteous power and His powerful righteousness to work in order to bring about the fulfillment of the creation in His chosen people, those who have been predestined before the foundations of the earth. As Barth emphasized, God has determined not to be God except as He is “God for us.” The Father has sent His Son for us; the Son has died and risen again for us; the Spirit indwells us and intercedes for us. All of God has put Himself to work for us.
Paul completes the thought with a rhetorical question: If God is for us, then who is against us? This does not imply, as Paul makes clear in the following verses, that no one opposes the church. On the contrary, there are many who stand “against us.” Paul’s point is that such opposition is wholly ineffectual if God is for us, since God is for us. All the hosts of the earth can ally against the elect of God, but the Divine Warrior has taken our side in that conflict. And He will scatter His enemies like mist, like chaff before the wind. With this champion on our side, all opposition is nothing and less than nothing. Immanuel is the name of Jesus. It is also the experience of the church of the justified.
The great sign of God’s being “for us” is His action in Christ. Paul’s reasoning in verse 32 is from the greater to the lesser. God, a Father greater even than Abraham, has made the greatest sacrifice, offering His only Son, His beloved Son, “for us all.” “Delivered up” alludes to Isaiah 53:6, 12, where the LXX uses the same verb that Paul uses to describe the death of the Servant of Yahweh. This is the greatest gift that the Father can give, the gift of His own Son, the gift of Himself in His Son. If He has given that gift, then we can be confident that He will with Jesus also give us all things (Greek, panta).
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