Romans 8:37 (ESV) … “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
There are three bases for the protection that the believer can depend on from God—protection based on precedent (8:31–32), based on legal standing (8:33–34), and based on the love of God (8:35–39).
8:31–32. Beginning in verse 31, there are five critical questions asked by the apostle that lend a sub-structure to the entire final section of verses 31–39. The first two questions deal with precedent:
Question 1: If God is for us, who can be against us? This question is a good theoretical one, but certainly a practical one for Christians living in Rome in the first century. Remember Paul’s ultimate mission to and through the Romans as laid out in the introduction and first chapter of this commentary. His heart was to see the believers in Rome partner with him to launch a missionary effort into Spain and the regions beyond. How successful could one man, even all the believers in one city, be in such an undertaking, especially in light of combustible Roman opposition? In light of the verses Paul has just written, it would seem clear that those whom God intends to save will be saved, the opposition of humankind notwithstanding. Since salvation turns on the will of God, not the will of man, opposition to God from the human realm is not really an issue (see also Exod. 3:12; Isa. 41:10; Hag. 1:13; Pss. 56:9; 118:6; Isa. 8:10; Jer. 20:11; Heb. 13:6).
Chrysostom pointed out centuries ago that even those who oppose God end up glorifying him: “Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us the causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turneth their plots unto our salvation and glory. See how really no one is against us!” (cited by Moo, p. 539).
Question 2: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? It seems hard to deny the background of the Abraham and Isaac story here as a model for Paul’s argument (Gen. 22:1–19). Because Abraham did not withhold his son, his only son, Isaac, God blessed him with everything else that he could be blessed with. The logical argument in that scenario could also have been Paul’s prompting: it is illogical to conceive that God would give his most treasured “possession”—his only Son—to secure the salvation of sinners, and then not also give all else that is necessary to bring that salvation to completion.
The precedents God has already established—by demonstrating in Paul and the believers in Rome that no one can thwart his salvific ends, and by giving the best he had to give—provide good reason for believers to rest in God’s protection. Precedent is critical in any legal setting, but Paul’s next two questions deal with the legal standing of believers before God.
8:33–34. Question 3: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? This question is raised as a defense of what Paul taught in Romans 3:21–5:21 concerning justification—the legal position of believers before God. All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God, but all (who believe) are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. As the judge, God was perfectly just in paying the penalty for and declaring “free to go” the unjust (Rom. 3:23–26). As a result, no charge can be brought against those whom God has chosen (foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified).
Should a Roman emperor seek to bring a charge against a believer in Rome for worshiping a king other than Caesar, that charge would have no effect in the eyes of God. Should Satan seek to bring a charge against the elect of God in order to discredit their faithfulness, such a charge would go unregistered. God has already brought all the charges which could possibly be brought against the believer to the bar of justice and declared them erased: “Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14, NASB).
Therefore, Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? (for the Old Testament background on God’s defense of his chosen, cf. Isa. 50:8–9; 52:13–53:12; Zech. 3:1–5).
Question 4: Who is he that condemns? If no charge can be brought against the elect of God, then certainly no condemnation can be brought against them either. Again, Paul is summarizing what he has taught previously: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” because of having been set free through Jesus Christ from the law which condemns us from our sin (Rom. 8:1–2). Isaiah spoke prophetically of a day when God’s elect would condemn those who accused them: “ ‘No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the Lord” (Isa. 54:17, NASB).
Continuing the legal motif which insures our freedom from charges and condemnation, believers have their own divine advocate who continually defends them before the bar of heavenly justice (1 John 2:1; Heb. 4:14–16).
8:35–39. Question 5: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? In this final section, Paul asks his final question in the first verse of the section and answers it in the last:
Q.: What can separate the believer from God’s love? (v. 35)
A.: Nothing can separate the believer from God’s love. (v. 39)
Paul (knowingly? unknowingly?) takes on the prophet’s mantle in verse 36 as he quotes from Psalm 44:22 to demonstrate that there will always be opposition to God’s people and the work of God in the world. The world is cursed; it is an antagonistic environment; it is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). There will be many natural and supernatural attempts made to convince the believer that he or she has been separated from the love of God. (Paul knows that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but he also knows that it can appear that we have been separated from the love of God. He wants to dispel both notions.)
Paul himself will become like a sheep to be slaughtered within a few short years under the brutal hand of the Roman emperor Nero. He could have included “Roman emperors” in the list in verses 38–39, but that would probably seem trivial to Paul—like a gnat bite or a speed bump on the high-way to heaven. Let us not consider trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword.… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.