ROMANS 8:26-39. AN OVERVIEW
This much beloved passage celebrates that God is always present and always willing to help in our hour of need (v. 26)—that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (v. 28)—that, if God is for us, it really doesn’t matter who is against us (v. 31)—and that there is no power strong enough or circumstance dire enough to separate us from the love of God (vv. 35-39).
ROMANS 8:31b-34. IF GOD IS FOR US, WHO IS AGAINST US?
31bIf God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things (Greek: panta—all things)? 33Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). This is a rhetorical question. The setting is a courtroom where God, predisposed in our favor, sits as judge/advocate. We should not imagine, however, that “us” means all people. Paul is talking about “those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28). He is talking about those whom God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified (vv. 29-30).
The first question (“What then are we to say about these things?”) signals the importance of what follows (Gaventa, 421). The second (“If God is for us, who is against us?”) is Paul’s way of announcing that, if God is for us, it really doesn’t matter who is against us. Christians in Paul’s day faced many opponents, but none of those opponents, even operating jointly, had the power to thwart God’s purposes. Christians in our day face opponents too, but Paul’s assurance applies to us as well. God is for us too. As the abolitionist Wendell Phillips said on the eve of the Civil War, “One on God’s side is a majority.”
“He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (v. 32a) alludes to Genesis 22, where Abraham obeyed God, even when God required the sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac. God’s angel stopped Abraham at the last minute, drawing his attention to a ram caught in a thicket—a sacrifice provided by God to take the place of Isaac on the altar. The angel then communicated this blessing from God to Abraham:
“Because you have done this thing,
and have not withheld your son, your only son,
that I will bless you greatly,
and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the heavens,
and like the sand which is on the seashore.
Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies.
In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed
because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18).
In the Abraham story, God’s angel noted, “have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12). Then the angel drew attention to the ram caught in the thicket and gave Abraham permission to withhold his hand from sacrificing his son. However, God “didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (v. 32). God required more of himself than he would require of any of his servants.
“how would he not also with him freely give us all things?” (panta—all things) (v. 32b). Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has given the greatest thing (his Son), will he not also give us lesser things (all things) as well?
When Paul asks if God will not also give us “all things,” he “may have had in mind simply those things necessary for salvation, …(but) it is more likely that he had in mind the ‘all things’ of creation” (Dunn).
“Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who justifies” (v. 33). Again this is a courtroom setting with God in charge—the same God who elected and justified us. Paul’s words remind us of Isaiah, who said, “Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me; who is he who shall condemn me?” (Isaiah 50:9). Who can hope to overturn God’s judgment?
“Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (v. 34). Again, we have a courtroom scene, but this time it is Christ Jesus who intercedes for us—who acts as our counsel, our defender. “The Judge’s ‘right-hand man’ is on our side” (Dunn). Paul mentions Jesus’ death and resurrection. If by his death and resurrection Christ reversed our condemnation and effected our salvation, who can undo his work? If Christ serves as our advocate, who can expect to win a judgment against us?
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bartow, Charles L., in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Gaventa, Beverly R. in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8, Vol. 38A (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)
Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1988)
Wright, N. Thomas, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Copyright 2008, 2011, Richard Niell Donovan