Romans 8:31–32 (ESV) — 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
This is the second verse from Romans 8 that is ripped out of context on a regular basis.
- The first, of course, is verse 28.
To convey the severity of this problem, let’s look at a couple of examples.
Joseph Prince (prosperity Gospel preacher) said the following about this verse:
- “Beloved, God sent His Son to die for you. And Jesus gave you a blood-bought right to an abundant life full of meaning and purpose! He gave you a blood-bought right to walk in divine health all the days of your life! He gave you a blood-bought right to His supply even when the economy goes down!” – Joseph Prince
Ray Lewis (of the Super Bowl XXV Champion Baltimore Ravens) said this when asked about his win:
- “It’s simple: when God is for you, who can be against you? It’s no greater way as a champ to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates, and you looked around this stadium and Baltimore, Baltimore, we coming home, baby. We did it!” – Ray Lewis.
N.T. Wright gives some needed perspective on such misuses.
“The claim in verse 31 that ‘God is for us’ sounds glib when we think of armies going to war and claiming divine protection for their side [or prosperity Gospel preachers and atheletes]. It sounds very different when made by an apostle who has faced hardship, persecution, danger and death” – N.T. Wright.
- This is a helpful way of reminding us of the context.
So to avoid mistakes like these, we need to keep this verse where it belongs.
- Context, context, context.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In order to properly mind the context…we need to answer 3 questions about verse 31.
- (1) What are “these things”?
- (2) How is God “for us”?
- (3) And, the oft overlooked, who are the, “who can be against us”?
What are “these things”?
- The answer usually goes something like this:
- It is certainly verses 28-30…
- But more than that, it is all of Romans 8…
- But even more than that, Paul is thinking all the way back to Romans 5.
Doug Moo says as much:
- These things “should not be confined to what Paul has just said in vv. 28–30, or even in chap. 8 as a whole, but embrace all the blessings ascribed to Christians in chaps. 5–8” – Douglas Moo.
So at a minimum “these things” include Roman 8’s:
- Work of Christ
- Spirit mindset
- Our adoption and status as heirs
- Indwelling of the Spirit
- Glorification – Future glory
- Our new nature
- Our new status
- The predestined and foreknow plan the Father had for putting us right with Him
And then continuing backwards…
- It includes all of the “new address” stuff.
- All the grace stuff…
- And all the Gospel indicatives.
Personally, I think “these things” center on the assurance of our “future glory” from Romans 8:28-30.
- What we called the Triad of Assurance.
John Piper agrees:
- They very well might refer to Paul’s larger context, “…but especially 8:28-30”.
Now we know what “these things” are.
- This obviously sets some boundaries for understanding our text.
It is clear then that…
- Paul is not talking about money, health, football or military victories.
- Paul is not trying to comfort us with an assurance of comfortable circumstances.
- This is not Paul’s Gospel.
- And what a flimsy, cheap Gospel it would be.
God Is for Us:
Moving on, then, Paul asks about the “these things” we just talked about.
- What are we to say of them?
- “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
- Let’s unpack the “God is for us” bit.
It seems fairly straightforward that the “these things” are what convey to Paul that…
- “God is for us”.
This means that “God is for us” is a recognition of all the Romans 8 stuff:
- From the “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – 8:1.
- To the, “…those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” – 8:30.
So we can paraphrase 31a “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us…” as follows:
- What follows from the truth that God is with all those who are in Christ Jesus…
- And so receive all the benefits of Union with Christ…
- Such as justification and future glory?
- “Who can be against us?”
Or to paraphrase Paul’s answer:
- Who can be against “us” and the truth that we have and will receive “these things”?
The answer that Paul wants to illicit:
- Nobody can thwart “these things” – NOBODY.
In other words…
- Because our Union with Christ puts us positionally in receivership…
- Of all the Romans 8 blessings (like justification and future glory)…
- There is no “who” that can successfully “be against us”.
Jesus says this in the Gospel of John:
- John 10:28–29 (ESV) — 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
This is easy enough to understand.
- But who are the “who”?
- Both Paul and Jesus talk about the who.
Who Can Be Against Us:
Paul and Jesus speak as if there is some type of warfare or kidnapping threat to the believer.
- Are there really “whos” trying to “be against us”?
- Are there really “whos” trying to thwart God’s purposes for us?
- Are there really “whos” trying to steal us away?
The answer is, “yes”.
- And Paul refers to them in verse 38 – “nor angels nor rulers”.
We will pull on this peculiar, and awesome, thread when we deal with verse 38.
- And it is a huge thread!
For now, we will tease with this:
- Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) — 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
- “Paul considered these beings real and dangerous” – Michael Heiser.
Paul says God is for “us”.
- “Us” clearly being those Paul has just described in vs. 28-30.
- “those who love God” – vs. 28
- “those who are called” – vs. 28
- Those part of God’s plan to make us like Christ – vss. 28-30.
- The justified – vs. 30
But, does this mean that God is against everyone else?
- Or, is He “for” everybody but in different ways?
I love how John Piper deals with this question (4:00 in):
- “God is for us in a way that he is not for everybody” – John Piper.