Paul is calling on us to think, to reflect deeply on the implications of what he has just said regarding the remarkable blessings of salvation we have in Christ. He does it by asking four questions. But he doesn't simply ask them, he "hurls these questions out into space, as it were, defiantly, triumphantly, challenging any creature in heaven or earth or hell to answer them or to deny the truth that is contained in them" (Stott, 103).
1. God is your sovereign protector, or an answer to the question: "If God is for us, who is against us?" - v. 31
Paul's question, "who is against us?", does not mean to suggest that we have no adversaries. Vv. 35-36 describe all sorts of adversaries and enemies and opposition. His point is that no adversary or enemy is of any account when God is for us. Since God is for us, to use the words of v. 28, all things work together for our ultimate good, even those things which our enemies intend for our harm.
Who, exactly, is for "for" us? It is the God who foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us. If that God is for us, who can possibly hope to thwart our ultimate good?
* What "God" are we talking about? See Isa. 46:9-11; 1 Chron. 29:10-12; Daniel 4:34-35; Pss. 23:4; 27:1; 46:1-3; 56:3-4,8-11; 115:3; 118:6-7.
Paul is countering the fear we all face: fear of the forces that amass against us, fear of ridicule, rejection, hostility, disdain, even death. Paul is calling on us to make the kind of evaluation that Hezekiah made: "Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there is one greater with us than with them . . . with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles" (2 Chron. 32:7ff). Augustus Toplady put this truth in a hymn:
"A sovereign protector I have,
Unseen, yet for ever at hand;
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend,
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend."
2. God is your supreme provider, or an answer to the question: "How will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" - v. 32
If Paul had merely asked, "Will God give us all things?" we might have wondered. We might have said: "Well, you know, I need so many things, great and difficult things, . . . how can I be certain God will provide them?" But note how Paul asks the question: "He who did not spare His own Son . . . !" In other words, the God whom we ask to give us all things is the God who has already given us his own Son! Cf. the argument in Rom. 5:9-10. Cranfield:
"Since God has done the unspeakably great and costly thing, we may be fully confident that He will do what is by comparison far less" (436).
a. God has done the greater thing - v. 32a
1) negatively: He spared not His own Son
Parents spare their children when they refrain from inflicting the full measure of discipline. Judges spare criminals when they reduce or suspend a sentence. But this is not what the Father did with Jesus. "He did not withhold or lighten one whit of the full toll of judgment executed upon his own well-beloved and only-begotten Son" (Murray, 323). There was no mitigation or diminishing or suspension of the penalty.
2) positively: He delivered him up for us all
"Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy -- but the Father, for love!" (Octavius Winslow)
[THEREFORE . . . ]
b. God will do the lesser thing - v. 32b
Paul's assertion is designed to drive home the unshakeable assurance that whatever is necessary to guarantee the ultimate glorification of those whom God justified, called, predestined and foreknew, God will do it. If God spared not his own Son, the most precious and costly gift, how could he possibly fail to do all lesser things to guarantee that we receive everything essential for salvation?
There is a technical name for this kind of reasoning. It is called a majori ad minus, or "from the greater to the lesser." Piper explains its meaning:
"Suppose two tasks are motivated by the same desire, but one is very improbable because the cost is so high, and one is more probable because the cost is less. If I have the desire for both tasks, and somehow manage to accomplish the costly one, then it is virtually assured the less costly one will be accomplished. Overcoming the greater obstacles assures you that I will overcome the lesser ones" (Future Grace, 114).
This is the logic Paul used in Romans 5:6-11. It is the logic Jesus used in Matthew 6:30 when he said, "If God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?" The point of his argument is this:
" . . . it is highly improbable that God Almighty would waste his time clothing field flowers which last only a day. This high improbability is the 'greater thing' in his argument from greater to lesser. On the other hand, there is a small amount of improbability that God would neglect his Son's disciples and not clothe them. This small improbability is the 'lesser thing' in his argument. So when God overcomes the high improbability and clothes field flowers, he proves that he can and will overcome the small improbability and clothe the disciples" (ibid.).
Paul's reasoning in v. 32, therefore, is from the hard to the easy, from the greater to the lesser. Again, listen to Piper's explanation:
"The reason [God's sparing not his own Son is] the greater thing is that God loved his Son infinitely. His Son did not deserve to be killed. His Son was worthy of worship by every creature, not spitting and whipping and scorn and torture. To hand over his beloved son (Colossians 1:13) was the incomparably great thing. The reason for this is the immensity of God's love for his Son. This is what made it so unlikely that God would hand him over. Yet God did it. And in doing it he showed that he most certainly would do all other things --- all of which would be easy by comparison --- to give all things to the people for whom he gave his Son" (114-15).
John Flavel, Puritan pastor from over 300 years ago, put it this way:
"How is it imaginable that God should withhold,, after this, spirituals or temporals, from his people? How shall he not call them effectually, justify them freely, sanctify them thoroughly, and glorify them eternally? How shall he not clothe them, feed them, protect and deliver them? Surely if he would not spare his own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sakes all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal, which is good for them" (Works, Banner of Truth, p. 418).
The scope of the "all things" God guarantees includes "all those blessings -- spiritual and material -- that we require on the path toward that final salvation" (Moo, 583). Packer elaborates:
"Paul is telling us that there is no ultimate loss or irreparable impoverishment to be feared; if God denies us something, it is only in order to make room for one or other of the things He has in mind. . . . The meaning of 'He will give us all things' can be put thus: one day we shall see that nothing -- literally nothing -- which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing -- literally nothing -- that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we want than that?" (Knowing God, 246).
3. God is your spiritual protagonist, or an answer to the question: "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" - vv. 33-34
Again, Paul's point is not to deny that anyone will ever charge us or condemn us. His point is that all such accusations are to no avail. It isn't because we are perfect and innocent. Such charges fail because the penalty which they demand has already been paid!
Paul knows how easily the conscience of some Christians can become sensitive and condemning and insecure. So he speaks
"directly to the fear that present justification may be no more than provisional, and may one day be lost by reason of the imperfections of one's Christian life. Paul does not for a moment deny that Christians can fail and fall, sometimes grievously . . . But Paul denies emphatically that any lapses now can endanger our justified status. The reason, he says in effect, is simple: nobody is in a position to get God's verdict reviewed!" (Packer, 248).
a. our salvation - v. 33
1) we are elect
2) we are justified
If you fear that something in your life may some day render you unacceptable to God, ask yourself this question: "When did God justify me?" Was it not when you were as ungodly and sinful as you possibly could be (Rom. 4:5; 5:6-11)? God passed his favorable sentence on you in full view of all your depravity and shortcomings. Who, then, can challenge his verdict? God justified you with His eyes wide open. He knew the worst about you at the time when He accepted you, through faith, for Jesus' sake. What can anyone tell God about you that He doesn't already know?
b. our savior - v. 34
1) his crucifixion
How can anyone condemn (v. 34a) you when Christ has already been condemned in your place? What is left for you to suffer?
2) his resurrection
3) his exaltation
The "right hand of God" is a figurative expression denoting the place and position of sovereignty and dominion. "Since he has all authority in heaven and in earth, no adverse circumstance or hostile power can wrench his people from his hand or separate from his love" (Murray, 329).
4) his intercession
We have two divine intercessors: 1) the HS in our hearts (8:26-27), and 2) the Son in heaven. See Heb. 7:25ff.; 1 John 2:1ff.
"The argument is that no prosecution can be of any avail if Jesus Christ is our Advocate who pleads our cause, and if God the Judge has already justified us" (Stott, 104).
4. God is your sustaining preserver, or an answer to the question: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" - vv. 35-39
All the items in v. 35, except for the last, are also found in 2 Cor. 11:26-27 and 12:10. "All these, then, Paul himself has experienced, and he has been able to prove for himself that they are quite incapable of disrupting his relationship with the love of Christ" (Moo, 586).
The list of possible threats to our security unfolds in pairs:
Death / Life - Death can't sever our relationship with Christ. In fact, it can only enhance it (Phil. 1:21-23). Nor can anything life throws at us sever us from his affection.
Angels / Principalities - Most likely this refers to both good and evil angels. The point is that nothing whatever in the spiritual realm, no cosmic power, whether benevolent or malevolent, can separate us from God.
Things present / Things to come - Neither present circumstances nor any future events have the power to sever us from God's love.
Powers - This is the only item in the list that appears alone. It refers either to miraculous or supernatural phenomena, perhaps that come from Satan, or is another reference to demons (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21).
Height / Depth - This pair encompasses anything and everything above and below, i.e., nothing above the heavens or beneath the earth or anything in between can sever us from Christ. Cf. Ps. 139:7-12.
Some have found in these terms an astrological reference to the highest and lowest “stars” that people in the ancient world believed determined the course of events in a person’s life. If so, Paul would be saying that, contrary to widespread belief, stars neither determine our fate nor do they jeopardize our relationship to God. But whereas the terms are spatial, they should be interpreted metaphorically (cf. Eph. 3:18).
What about me? But note well that “tribulation” and “distress” and “persecution” and “famine” and “nakedness” and “peril” and “sword” (v. 35) are precisely the sorts of experiences that might be thought to cause a believer to renounce his/her faith and to apostatize. But “Paul is not only saying that Christ still loves believers when persecution arrives, . . . 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” (Schreiner, 466). Furthermore, anticipating the question, Paul quickly shuts the door on any loopholes. This final negation, nor any other created thing, is intended to cover every conceivable possibility: no being, no thing, not even your own self (you, being a created thing), can separate you from the love of Christ.
But what if God himself should choose to separate me from his love? But the whole point of Paul's argument in vv. 31-34 was to prove precisely the opposite. God has taken the most elaborate, sacrificial, personally painful and costly steps possible to embrace us in his love. Paul's argument is that rather than being against us, God is "for" us (v. 31), rather than taking from us, he "gives" all to us (v. 32), and rather than condemning us, he justifies us (v. 33). Furthermore, on what grounds or for what cause would God reject you or separate himself from you? "Well, my sins," you would most likely say. But Paul's argument is that Christ died for those very sins (vv. 33-34). Those sins which you fear might separate you from God were the sins for which Christ paid the penalty. That is why no one can bring a successful accusation against you (v. 33). What sin can you possibly commit that might separate you from God's love for which Christ did not already pay the penalty?