It Is God Who Justifies!
From Gospel Translations
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.
Imagine that week after week during the preaching of Romans 8 you are sitting there unregenerate, that is, without being born again by God’s Spirit through the gospel of Christ (1 Peter 1:3, 23). You sit there with no new spiritual nature, but only the old fallen, sinful nature. You don’t really love Christ; you don’t cherish his fellowship and long to know him and follow him more closely. Instead you love pretty much what the world loves and trust what the world trusts. You love looking cool. You love being in control and not letting anybody dictate to you how to sit or walk or dress or talk or drive or work or play or study or spend your money. You love doing things in a way that will show nobody tells you what to do. You especially love to be made much of by cool people and to be thought pretty or strong. And you love physical pleasures like sexual stimulation and foods and drink and crawling inside the skin of a TV soap sister, or sitting through a violent, suspenseful, mind-hammering movie and walking out of the theater supremely unaffected.
Something keeps you coming. A girlfriend, or boyfriend. The music. Fear. Curiosity. Surprising glimpses into your own soul. I have pondered often: What becomes of Romans 8 in the mind of a person who keeps on listening but not believing? I suspect that for some the goodness of God in all this good news may make them feel like everything is OK. It may make them feel safe in their sin and pride and rebellion and love of the world and indifference to Christ.
You recall that this is exactly the way some of Paul’s listeners responded to his gospel. You can hear what they were saying by listening to Paul’s response. Romans 6:1, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?" Romans 6:15, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" In other words, Paul knew that as he preached the glorious good news of grace some were misusing it. They were liking what they heard. They were not moved by it to love Christ, but to feel safe loving sin. And I don’t doubt that happens every Sunday in this room.
A Warning, a Reassertion, and a Prayer
Why do I mention as we start this morning? Two reasons. One is to warn those of you who feel better in your life of unbelief because of the goodness of God that you hear in these songs and messages of this service. The warning is this: the saving, powerful promises of God to work all things together for your good belong to those "who love God and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). You can’t earn these promises. They are a gift. But you can prove that you don’t have them because you love others things above Christ. Loving the giver is not the same as earning a gift. Loving the giver simply means the gift has had its saving effect. You have seen in the gift the glory of the giver, and loved him above all the world. So be warned. In the end God will not be merciful to those who prefer the praise of men to the glory of God.
The other reason for saying these things here at the beginning is to give me a chance to assert that, in spite of all the misuse that is made of the gospel of sovereign grace, I will not try to make it less free or less powerful or less sweeping or less absolute or less God-initiated, or God-sustained, or God-empowered or God-glorifying or anything short of all encompassing. I will not make the almighty, saving, keeping, blessing covenant mercies of God sound less stunning for believers just to make them a little harder for unbelievers to misuse. Week after week, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that these things belong to those who have faith in Christ, not those who don’t.
My prayer is that the breathtaking goodness of the good news in Romans 8 will not comfort you on the path to destruction, but lead you through faith to the path of life. Lord do it.
Where Paul Is Going
In verse 33 Paul continues marveling at the security and joys of the believer. He is not doing this only for himself, but for you and me. He wants us to be stunned and humbled and satisfied by God’s massive promises to be for us and do for us all we need. Why? Because when he gets to the end of these first 11 chapters he wants us to join him in saying and singing: "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36). God saves us in a way that mill maximize our joy and his glory. That’s what Romans 8 is about.
But he also writes like this because he is aiming to write chapters 12-16 which are about the radical way we must live if we believe these things. He pleads: In view of these massive, free, almighty mercies – to save you and keep you and make everything work together for your good, and bring you to everlasting joy – be transformed in your values, don’t be conformed to the world. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Outdo each other in showing honor. Be patient in tribulation. Give to the needy. Don’t return evil for evil. Bless those who persecute you. Weep with those who weep. Don’t be haughty. Make peace. Feed your enemy. Overcome evil with good (Romans 12). That’s where Paul is going. And Romans 8 is how to get there.
Who Will Bring a Charge Against God’s Elect?
So here he goes in verse 33, the almost unspeakable good news, saying again and saying another way: "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" Answer: Nobody. It’s the same way he spoke in verse 31: "If God is for us who is against us?" We said, "Well, lots of people are against us, but none successfully." We know that from verse 35. People can bring against us tribulation, distress, persecution, nakedness, peril, sword. But we have seen in Romans 8:28 that what men plan against us, God designs for us. So even when they think they are succeeding in ruining us, they are refining us. Even the devil himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
That’s the same way Paul is thinking here in verse 33: "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" Answer: Nobody. Well, yes, the devil accuses us in our own conscience, and even at times in heaven (Job 1:9; Revelation 12:10). Jesus promised us that people would speak evil against us falsely, and that we should rejoice when they do (Matthew 5:11). It was false witnesses and accusers who brought about the death of Stephen (Acts 6:13; 7:57-60). So what does Paul mean?
He means nobody can make any charge stick against God’s elect in the court of heaven. The chapter began with the words, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." And it is coming to an end with the words, "For God’s elect no charge against them can stand."
The Remedy for the Paralyzing Effects of Charges Against You
O hear this, all you who grew up in homes where there was only charge after charge after charge against you, and almost never an encouraging word. Hear this, all you who are so burdened by your own self-indictments – who seem to be wired to bring constant charges against yourself with oppressive and paralyzing effects. Hear this, you who rarely if ever say a positive, praising, thanking word, but criticize and murmur and grumble and gripe and complain till no one wants to be around you. Hear this: Romans 8, especially verse 33, is God’s remedy, God’s medicine, God’s cure for the paralysis that comes from charges against you – whether from yourself or from other people or from Satan, and for the ugly, sinful side effects of being a cynical, self-absorbed, whining, critical person.
The remedy is the utterly undeserved, freely given grace of never being charged successfully with any fault before God. Who can make any charge stick against God’s elect? Nobody? Let yourself feel the force of that freedom! Feel the clean, clear, morning air of: All charges dropped. You’re in a courtroom. You know you are guilty. You are awaiting a terrible sentence. Your future is over. Then, to the gasps of the courtroom, the judge says, "All the charges against you have been dropped." This is not meant to make unbelievers in this room comfortable on the way to destruction. It’s meant to help all of you love the one who bought your freedom.
Who Is This For?
Who is it that can count on no charges? God’s elect. "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" Why does he use that phrase to describe believers here? Because his whole design is to deepen our sense of unshakable security in the face of horrible suffering (vv. 17, 18, 35-36). So he uses a word that will call up all the glory of verses 29-30.
Who is it that that has no charge against them? Those who are foreknown – that is fore-loved, chosen, elect – and who are therefore predestined to be like Jesus for Christ’s sake, and who are therefore called from darkness to light and death to life and proud unbelief to humble faith, and who are therefore justified – counted righteous in Christ – and who are therefore glorified. This is what is true of God’s elect. God has chosen them and planned and performed their salvation. The point is unshakable security in the face of terrible suffering.
The God Who Justifies
Then after using the phrase "God’s elect" to call up all that unshakable saving work in verses 29-30, Paul focuses on one great act at the end of verse 33: "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies." Out of all the five acts of salvation in verses 29-30 (foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, glorifying) Paul picks one to emphasize here: justification.
But, no, that is not quite right. In fact he does not focus on justification. He focuses on God who justifies. Notice carefully. It’s as clear in English as it is in Greek. "God is the one who justifies." He could have said, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" and then answered, "No one! We are justified." That’s true. But that is not what he said. He said, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" Then he says, "God is the one who justifies." The emphasis is not on the act but on the Actor.
Why? Because in that world of courts and laws where this language comes from, the acquittal of our judge might be overturned by a higher one. So what if a local judge acquits you when you are guilty, if a governor has the right to bring a charge against you? So what if a governor acquits you when you are guilty, if the emperor can bring a charge against you? So here’s the point: above God, there are no higher courts. If God is the one who acquits you – declares you righteous in his sight – no one can appeal, no one can call for a mistrial, no one can look for other counts against you. God’s sentence is final and total.
So hear this, all who will believe on Jesus, and become united to Christ, and show yourself among the elect – hear this: God is the one who justifies you. Not a human judge. Not a great prophet. Not an archangel from heaven. But God, the Creator of the world and Owner of all things and Ruler of the universe and every molecule and person in it, God is the one who justifies you.
The point: unshakable security in the face of tremendous suffering (vv. 17, 18, 35-36). If God is for us, no one can successfully be against us. If God gave his Son for us, he will give us everything that is good for us. If God is the one who justifies us, no charge against us can stand.
The Weeks Ahead
Before I give a closing application, let me tell you where we are going in the next weeks. Next week I will focus on verse 34 and the work of Christ to secure our freedom from condemnation: He died, he was raised, he sits at the right hand of God, and he intercedes. Paul is piling work upon work that God in Christ has done to secure us in the face of suffering.
Which will bring us to September 8, the Sunday before the first anniversary of 9/11. We will craft the Sunday morning service with a view to ministering to people that you might invite to service for the occasion. We will have a leaflet by Joni Earickson Tada to give you to next Sunday called "Why?" about 9/11, and we hope you will use it to minister the gospel to people in this season of reflection. I will stay here in these glorious words of Romans 8:35-39 next week. Then we will have special prayer service on Wednesday evening September 11. Be praying earnestly that God will use this time of seriousness in our culture (no ads on one TV station), to waken us to the reality of sin and futility and frailty and death and eternity and our need for the Savior.
Whose Approval Do You Want?
I close with this: Whose approval do you want? God says, "In Jesus Christ, my Son, I approve you. I count you righteous. I affirm you and love you as my holy child." How should this affect our feelings about the approval or criticism of others because of our faith? The answer is: it should make us free from fear. Free from craven people-pleasing. Free to need the approval of none and love the good of all. Free to forget about ourselves and be thrilled with God and a life of humble service and love – no matter the cost.
Remember: God is the one who justifies. Fear the accusation of none. Love the good of all.