Romans 8:31-36 Five Unanswerable Questions


Anyone who has studied the Bible with care knows that there are times when we come to some soaring pinnacle of revelation and are left nearly breathless by the view. This is what happens when we come to the last great paragraph of Romans 8. This is a mountaintop paragraph. It’s the Everest of the letter and thus the highest peak in the highest Himalayan range of Scripture. We have made our way up the steep ascent of doctrine in the first half of this great letter. We are able to look out over the beautiful but somewhat lower vistas of the book’s second half. Yet now, for the time being, we are on the peak, and the experience is glorious. We have looked at the undeniable affirmations and they are: foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. We will now look at the five unanswerable questions. These questions alone make this a mountaintop paragraph.

The first question is in verse 31: If God is for us, who can be against us?” The second half of this question is not at all unanswerable. Who can be against us? Why of course, many people and many things. Yes, there are plenty of enemies out there who are against us, and there is even an enemy within. But what are these when they are put into a sentence containing the verse’s first half, “If God is for us…”? Who can stand against God? The answer is “nobody.” Nothing can defeat us if the Almighty God of the universe is on our side.

“But what if God should grow weary of us, forget about us, and move on to something else?” Paul deals with this speculation in verse 32, asking, “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?” Paul is challenging us to look at the cross and reason as follows: If God did that for us, sending His own Son, Jesus, to die in our place, is there anything He can possibly be imagined to withhold? Clearly, if God gave us Jesus, the greatest of all possible gifts, He can be counted on to give us all the lesser gifts. The cross proves God’s generosity.

The third of these questions moves into the legal area, as if we were now in a court of law, asking whether someone might exist somewhere to accuse us and thus bring us into final spiritual condemnation. The question is in verse 33, “Who will bring any charges against those whom God has chosen?” Who could do that, Paul asks, since “it is God who justifies”? Apart from the work of God in Christ there would be many to condemn us – the devil, of course, and others, even our own hearts. But consider Paul’s counter: “It is God who justifies,” indeed, has justified us (see v. 30). Who could possibly secure our condemnation when we have already been acquitted by the highest court of all?

The fourth question is so closely related to the third that some have considered them to be asking the same thing. Yet there is a difference. Verse 34 asks the question: “Who is he that condemns?” It answers, “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” The Bible teaches this truth in a striking image, using the word paraclete (or lawyer) for both the Holy Spirit and Jesus. A paraclete is “one called alongside another to help,” which is also the exact meaning of the word advocate, the only difference being that one is derived from Greek and the other from Latin. This is a picture of a divine law firm with two branches, a heavenly office and an earthly one. On earth the Holy Spirit pleads for us, interpreting our petitions correctly. In heaven the Lord Jesus Christ pleads the efficacy of His shed blood to show that we are saved persons and that nothing can rise up to cause our condemnation by God.

The final, all-embracing, and climactic question is in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul does what we have been trying to do with his other four questions. He looks around for a possible answer. He brings forward all adversaries he can think of, which might be thought to separate us from Christ’s love. They are real sufferings, painful and perilous and hard to bear. But can they separate us from the love of Christ? No! Verse 37: far from separating us from Christ’s love, “in all these things” – in these very sufferings, in the experience and endurance of them – “we are more than conquerors.”

Jesus was the prototype – the true sheep fit only “to be slaughtered.” He was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). But He was also a super-conqueror, and we are more than conquerors through Him.

Romans 8:31-36 Reflection Questions:

What do you say to “these things”? What is your response?

Do you see these verses the pinnacle of Scripture? Why?

How do these verses encourage you in your Christian walk?

Romans 8:30 God’s Call, Justification, and Glorification


The word “called” is the next link in the great golden chain of salvation by which God reaches down from eternity into time to save sinners. The point of this word, the third link, is that those whom God calls not only hear His call but actually respond to it by turning around and by believing on Jesus Christ or committing their lives to Him. Remember there are two types of calls; external, general, which is itself ineffective for salvation, and a call that is internal, specific, and regenerating.

The first call is an open invitation to all persons to repent of their sin and turn to Jesus. This call flows from every true Christian pulpit and from who bear witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The difficulty with this external, universal, and (in itself) ineffectual call is that if people are left to themselves, no one ever actually responds to it. People hear the gospel and may even understand it up to a point. But God who issues the invitation is undesirable to them, and so they turn away. Jesus declared, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44). But this is where the second kind of call comes in, the kind that is actually spoken of in Romans 8:30. Unlike the first call, which is external, universal, and (in itself) ineffective, this second call is internal, specific, and entirely effective. In other words, it effectively saves those – and all those – to whom it is spoken. It is a call that unites us to Jesus Christ, bringing us into fellowship with Him, and sets before us a holy life in which we will be sure to walk if we have truly been called.

We have stressed that the necessity of the special, or internal, call of the individual to salvation by God is important. However, we need to remember that the effectual or specific call comes through the general call. That is, it is through the preaching the Word by God’s evangelists and ministers and through the telling of the Good News of the gospel by Christians everywhere that God calls sinners. He does not call everyone we Christians call. Our call does not regenerate. God alone is the author of the new birth. All must be born “from above.” Nevertheless, the way God does, that is through the sowing of the seed of His Word, which is entrusted to us.

We have been studying a long-range plan, in fact, the longest-range plan that has ever been devised or could be devised. It’s a plan that has its origins in eternity past and will find its consummation in eternity future. It is all-embracing. Of course, I’m speaking of the plan of God outlined for us in Romans 8:28-30. The plan begins with God’s foreknowledge and predestination, expresses itself in time in the calling of individuals to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, includes justification, and ends in glorification, when these foreknown and predestined persons are made entirely like Jesus. We come now to the last two steps of the plan.

The first term we need to look at is justification. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. When a person is in a wrong relationship to the law and is condemned or pronounced guilty by the judge, condemnation does not make the person guilty. The person is only declared to be so. In the same way, in justification a person is declared by God to be in a right relationship to His law, but not made righteous. In a human court a person can be declared righteous or “innocent” on the basis of his or her own righteousness. But in God’s court, since we humans have no righteousness of our own and are therefore not innocent, believers are declared righteous on the ground of Christ’s atonement, in other words, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Glorification, the fifth and final term of Romans 8:29-30, is a term we met as early as Romans 5:2 (which anticipates Rom. 8:28-30), where Paul spoke of Christians as rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God.” What does Romans 5:2 mean? It means that we know that one day we will be glorified and that we rejoice in this certainty. That is, we know that we will be like Jesus. We will not become God, of course. But we will become like Him in His communicable attributes: love, joy, mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, goodness, self-control and other such things (see Gal. 5:22-23). In that day sin will no longer trouble us, and we will enjoy the complete fullness and eternal favor of God’s presence.

The teaching of Romans 6:2 and 11 explains how it is that we have “died to sin.” You cannot go back; there is no place for you to go but forward. The eternal purpose of God in saving us, unfolded in the five great acts of God described in Romans 8:29-30, makes that plain. But just as it is important to say that we cannot go back, so is it also important to say that we are going forward. God’s foreknowledge of us is followed by His predestination of us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. His predestination of us to be made like Jesus is followed by our being called to saving faith. Our calling is followed by our Justification. Our justification is followed by our glorification. Therefore, it is as certain that one day we will be with Jesus, and be completely like Jesus, as it is that God exists and that His long-range plan is realistic, effective, and unchangeable. This is God’s great plan. So let’s get on with our part in it and be thankful that His grace has drawn us in!

Romans 8:30 Reflection Questions:

Can you recall your personal external and internal calls?

What is the effect and means of our justification?

Paul’s mention of glorification in Romans 8:30 is that it is in the past tense, so when do you think glorification takes place?

Romans 8:29 Foreknowledge and Predestination


This study is about foreknowledge and predestination. This is the first place in Romans at which Paul introduces these two terms. God’s foreknowledge of a chosen people and His predestination of them t be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ lies behind everything Paul has been teaching in the seven and a half chapters. But Paul has not discussed these ideas until he has first presented our desperate condition due to sin and God’s remedy for sin through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, where do we start in discussing this doctrine? We have already made a start in the last study, showing that foreknowledge and predestination are two of five great doctrines described as a golden chain by which God reaches down from heaven to elect and save a people for Himself. Paul wrote in verse 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Since the word “called” also occurs again as one of the five doctrines in this chain, we are alerted to the fact that the chain of divine actions merely explains how God achieves this purpose. In other words, it’s not foreknowledge or predestination that is primary but the purpose of God itself. What is that purpose? Clearly, it is that from the mass of fallen and perishing humanity God might save a company of people who will be made like Jesus. Or we could put it this way: God loves Jesus so much that He is determined to have many more people like Him. Not that we become divine, of course. But rather that we might become like Him in His many communicable attributes: things like love, joy, peace, holiness, wisdom, patience, grace, kindness, goodness, compassion, faithfulness, mercy, and other qualities. In order to do that, God selects, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies this people. That is, verses 29 and 30 tell how God accomplishes the purpose of verse 28.

In the flow of these verses, we are told that God: (1) has a purpose to save certain people, and (2) does something to those people as a first step in a five-step process of saving them. As soon as we begin to look at the word foreknowledge carefully, we discover that it is used in a very specific way in the Bible. And for good reasons! When we use the word “foreknowledge” in relation to ourselves, to refer to knowing beforehand, the word has meaning to us. We can anticipate what a person we know well might do, for instance. But that sense of the word is meaningless in relation to God. Because God is not in time, as we are, He does not know things beforehand. God simply knows. He knows all things. That is what omniscience means. But even if we think in time categories, which is all we can do as creatures locked in time, we have to say that the only reason God can even be said to foreknow things is because He predetermines them. No, the word foreknowledge has quite a different meaning in relation to God than it does in relation to us. It means that God “sets His special love upon” a person or “elects” a person to salvation.

This is a characteristic use of the word in the Old Testament (Amos 3:2). We see the same idea when we examine the use of “foreknowledge: (or “foreknew”) in the New Testament, where the references occur seven times. Two of these occurrences are of man’s foreknowledge, five are of God’s foreknowledge, and they are the determining passages (Acts 2:23, Rom. 11:2, 1Pet. 1:2 & 20, Rom. 8:29). The fifth New Testament reference to God’s foreknowledge is in our text, and the meaning is the same as the other verses. Romans 8:29 means that God set His special or saving love upon a select group of people in order that His good purpose, namely to create a people to be like His Son Jesus Christ, might be achieved.

The second of our five golden terms is predestination, the one that bothers most people, though what bothers them is more accurately included in the word foreknowledge. That is, that God should set His love upon a special people and save them while overlooking others. Predestination means that God has determined the specific destiny of those He has previously decided should be saved and be made like Jesus.

This is a good place to look at the objections people have to this doctrine, whether described by the word foreknowledge or predestination. (1) If you believe in predestination, you make salvation arbitrary and God a tyrant. In other words, does predestination make God a tyrant, crushing justice by some willy-nilly saving of some and damning of others? Anyone who has studied the Bible (or even just the Book of Romans) knows how wrong this is. What will happen if we seek only an even-handed justice from God? The answer is that we will all be lost. In order to be saved, we need mercy and not justice, which is what predestination, is all about. It is God showing mercy to whom He will show mercy (Rom. 9:18). As far as being arbitrary is concerned, we must admit that from our perspective we cannot see why God chooses some and not others or even some and not all, and therefore His foreknowledge and predestination do seem arbitrary. But that is only because we are not God and cannot see as God sees.

(2) If you believe in predestination, you must deny human freedom. This is a common objection, but it is based on a sad misunderstanding of the freedom we are supposed to have as fallen human beings. What does the Bible teach about our freedom in spiritual matters? It teaches that we are not free to choose God (Rom. 3”10-11, Rom. 8:7). Predestination does not take away freedom. It restores it. It’s because God foreknows me and predestines me to be conformed to the image of His Son that I am delivered from sin’s bondage and set free to serve Him.

(3) If you believe in predestination, you will destroy the motivation for evangelism. For why should we labor to save those whom God has determined to save anyway? Suppose God does not elect to salvation and thus, because He has determined to save some, does not commit Himself to create new life within them that will break down their hard hearts and enable them to respond in faith to the message of the cross when it is made known. If God doesn’t commit Himself to doing that, what hope do you and I as evangelists have of doing it? If the hearts of men and women are as wicked and incapable of belief as the Bible teaches they are, how can you and I ever hope to present the gospel savingly to anyone? To put it in even more frightening terms, if salvation depends upon our efforts to evangelize rather than the foreknowledge and predestination of God, what if I do something wrong? What if I give a wrong answer to a question or do something that turns others away from Christ? In that case, either by my error or because of my sin, I will be responsible for their eternal damnation. I don’t see how that can encourage evangelism, on the contrary, it will make us afraid to do or say anything.

But look at the other way. If God has elected some to salvation in order that Jesus might be glorified and that many might come to Him in faith and be conformed to His image, then I can be both relaxed and bold in my witness. I can know that God will save those He has determined to save and will even use my witness, however feeble or imprecise it might be, if this is the means He has chosen. Far from destroying evangelism, predestination actually makes evangelism possible. It makes it an expectant and joyful exercise.

Romans 8:29 Reflection Questions:

How does it make you feel knowing that God’s special love elected you to salvation?

What type of responsibility do you feel to God knowing that He created you to be like His Son Jesus Christ?

How do you feel about evangelizing (sharing the gospel)? Do you feel it to be a joyful exercise?