Paul pictures someone in Rome responding to his gospel this way: As I listen to you I hear you assuring me that God has provided all the resources I need to live a life that pleases God, but Im such a weak person and the forces that want to pull me away from Him are so strong that I dont feel confident that Ill make it to heaven. Paul, you sound so sure of your salvation, you talk like you already have it. Why are you so confident?
In this magnificent passage Paul tells us why hes so confident and why we should be too. He shows us how to answer the doubts that come to erode the inner certainty that we are, and will stay, saved. Whether these doubts arise from the devil or our own flesh, every Christian remains painfully aware that we continue to sin, and wonders whether Gods patience with us has run out. And we also wonder how we would respond if faced with severe persecution. So nagging doubts try to pursue us. Have I sinned so much that when I stand before Him at the judgment He will find me guilty? Am I so weak that sooner or later the hardships of persecution will break down my resolve until I deny Him? Is it possible that someday I might encounter demonic forces powerful enough to tear me away from Him?
In these nine verses Paul raises and answers six questions that sooner or later every Christian will ask. He tells us what to say when the winds of self-doubt and condemnation blow.
Question #1: Is God strong enough to save me? (v31)
Here is the foundational principle which is the ultimate answer to every such doubt: If God is for us, who is against us? When the most powerful Being in the universe wants to save you, who can stop Him? Yes, the devil and our flesh are strong opponents but they are nothing compared to the Creator of the Universe
the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God who loves us like a father. No one can outsmart Him, nothing can overpower Him
and Hes on our side.
Question #2: Does God want to save me? (v32)
Something inside us (our flesh) assumes that God wants to judge us, not save us, that He is looking to find something wrong with us. This is why Paul immediately turns our attention to Jesus. He wants us to be absolutely certain that God wants to save us and has committed all His resources to keep us saved. Our salvation is His idea. Hes not a reluctant participant. By sending His Son to die for us, He proved His will in the matter beyond the shadow of a doubt and demonstrated how far He will go to help us. After all, if He would send His Son, the most precious gift He has, then surely there is no lesser gift He would withhold. By sending Christ He has proven He will freely give us all things.
Question #3: Is there a sin He wont forgive? (v33)
Can the devil, or anyone else for that matter, accuse us of a sin thats not covered by Christs blood? When we stand before God on the judgment day is it possible that He might not accept His Sons death as payment for every one of our sins? Might there be an unforgivable sin? Paul answers this doubt with simple, straightforward logic. He reminds us that God is both the Judge who will decide our case, and the Justifier who designed our salvation. Sending His Son to the cross was His idea and when He resurrected Him from the dead He proved that He accepted Christs atonement. Had there been one sin not forgiven Christ would have stayed in the grave. And Hes the one who said in his Word, but to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Ro 4:5). Seen in this light, what doubt can there be that the Judge will accept those whom He has justified (Ro 3:26, 28; 5:1, 9)?
Question #4: Will He keep forgiving me for sins I cant seem to stop? (v34)
I think all of us struggle with areas of ongoing sin, compulsive behaviors in which we promise God well stop, but find ourselves doing it again. After a while our promises sound hollow. We dont believe them anymore and were suspect God doesnt either. We wonder how long it will be until He runs out of patience and leaves us.
Until we walk in the victory of Romans 8:1-14 we can easily slip back into condemnation as we struggle in the frustrating cycles of failure described in Romans 7:14-25. And even at best every Christian is painfully aware of falling short of Christs example, so doubts may come to any of us. But Paul tells us what to say when these doubts arise. We are to look at Jesus, both His cross and resurrection, and then see Him standing at the Fathers right hand continually interceding on our behalf (Heb 4:14-16; 7:24-28). Then we are to say to the voice which tells us we have fallen from grace that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1Jn 2:1) who is faithful and rightous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1Jn 1:9). We are to declare that God has provided an intercessor for our ongoing sins (Heb 7:25).
Questions 5: Will I have the courage Ill need if Im persecuted, or might I deny Him? (vs 35-37)
The doubts addressed above concern Gods faithfulness to us, but here Paul turns to the question of our faithfulness to God. Sooner or later every believer asks himself or herself: Would I continue to confess Christ if faced with severe persecution? Would I find the strength I need in that hour to endure to the end (Mt 10:22; 24:13)? Or will I grow weak and deny Him before men with the result that He will also deny me before the Father (Mt 10:32-39)? Paul words the question this way, Who will separate us from the love of Christ meaning, in this case, our love for Him rather than His love for us. His answer might be paraphrased this way, Will I deny Him? Absolutely not! No matter what adversity might come (tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword), God will give me grace in the moment, and not just enough to survive, but so much grace I will be overwhelmingly victorious. Men and women of faith have always been persecuted and the Bible portrays it as a badge of honor (Ps 44:22). When the time comes I will be given more than enough divine help to withstand whatever attack may come.
Question 6: Will I ever encounter a spiritual force powerful enough to drag me away from Him? (vs38-39)
In these last two verses Paul addresses any remaining fear that my salvation might somehow be taken from me. He lists every possibility and tells me he is personally convinced by the facts that he has presented that there is no power anywhere that can tear my salvation from me. There will be no surprises waiting on the other side of death, or later on in life. Ill never encounter a demon or even a fallen archangel able to deceive me or carry me away. Nothing in this age of earths history or the next. No one will be allowed to exercise magical power over me, or can cast curses on me, or pray against me. Theres no spirit in the heavens above or dwelling beneath the earth, nothing in any of Gods creation that can stop His foreordained plan (Ro 8:28-30) from being fulfilled, except of course, my own refusal to stay attached to Christ. Gods power to preserve me is vastly greater than any power that might try to separate me from Him.
So, nothing can take me out of His arms, but that doesnt remove my responsibility to stay in those arms. Its not my power that will preserve me, but neither can I be passive and ignore His power. In this passage Paul lists every kind of external force that might try to take away my salvation including my own sins. He tells me what to say when doubts come to erode the assurance of my salvation. But his words should not be used as an argument against my own responsibility to tend my heart. Paul and Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament warn me against letting my faith grow cold or walking away from Him. Im told to stay attached to the Vine (Jn 15:4), to not present my members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness
( Ro 6:19), to set my mind on the things of the Spirit (Ro 8:5, 6), to keep oil in my lamp until the Bridegroom returns (Mt 25:1-13). Doing this is not difficult. Its easily within the reach of any believer, but it does require me to regularly exercise my will: to keep my conscience clean by confessing, repenting and trusting that Jesus has paid for my sins; to have my fleshly thinking corrected by reading His Word and hearing it preached; to keep my heart from hardening by refusing to harbor bitterness and regularly forgiving; to choose eternal life over the pleasures of this world; and to love Jesus more than life itself (Rev 12:11). None of which I could possibly do without His constant care.
Once more, lets practice answering the doubts: What shall we say to these things? (review questions 1-6).
1) Have you been tormented by one of these doubts? Which one? What will you say the next time it comes? 2) Share with us some of the practical ways you tend your own heart (see suggestions in the section entitled, Staying attached).