Romans 8:33&34 “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? 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.”
Our text is in the midst of a series of direct questions, more than meets the eye at first glance. We are overhearing an interrogation. Paul is addressing both himself and the whole congregation in Rome. He wants to know if they have understood what the Lord Jesus Christ has done. It is a crucial question, whether they have grasped the implications of the mighty gospel. Do they realize the consequences? He addresses them with fifteen questions from verse 31. “QUESTION ONE. What, then, shall we say in response to this? QUESTION TWO. If God is for us, who can be against us? QUESTION THREE. 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? QUESTION FOUR. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? QUESTION FIVE. Isn’t it God who justifies? QUESTION SIX. Who is he that condemns? QUESTION SEVEN. Isn’t it 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? QUESTION EIGHT. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? QUESTION NINE. Shall trouble? QUESTION TEN. Shall hardship? QUESTION ELEVEN. Shall persecution separate us from the love of Christ? QUESTION TWELVE. Shall famine? QUESTION THIRTEEN. Shall nakedness? QUESTION FOURTEEN. Shall danger separate us from the love of Christ? QUESTION FIFTEEN. Shall sword?
What shall we say in response to these questions and the implied answers? “Hallelujah, what a Saviour!” What hammer blows of Holy Spirit, apostolic interrogation! Paul fires question after question first at himself, just like the psalmist did – “Why are you then cast down O my soul?” Then he addresses the entire congregation with this prolonged interrogation. He is driving these fifteen nails home making utterly secure in their thinking the complete and perfect salvation of every single Christian through what the Son of God has done. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the conclusion of the opening questions; “If God is for us who can be against us?” (v.31). If we have Omnipotence on our side then all the forces arraigned against us are confronted with inevitable horrible defeat. The enemy looks enormously intimidating; there are so many walking along the broad way. We disciples acknowledge that we’ve lost the numbers game; we are utterly outnumbered; we are a mustard seed, a little remnant, the ‘Wee Frees.’ They’re not like that. They have the media on their side; they’ve got the glamour and image and wealth and popularity; they walk the corridors of power, but in reality they are as weak as an army of newborn babies; God alone is mighty. We are just a few, but the God who in the beginning addressed nothingness and said “Let there be light” – and there was light – he is with us. The God who raised Jesus from the grave is with us.
Let all who rubbish our trust in God know that they are also opposing him. You sometimes hear an American church leader saying that if people oppose the state of Israel they are opposing God. Now we acknowledge Israel to be a brave island of democracy in a sea of tyrannies, but challenging actions that Israel has taken is not the litmus test of being in opposition to God. It is this, that if any Caesar opposes the disciples of Jesus in their witness and beliefs then let Caesar be assured of this that he is opposing Jesus too. If he defies the body he is also defying the Head. If he hates those who love the Name then he is hating the One who bears that name. When that Caesar, whoever he is, past or present, enters the lists to joust with the people of God he is doing battle with the living God himself. He has made God his enemy because God is for his people and will summon all the powers of the hosts of heaven and all the might of his creation to support his children. You have the great Servant Songs in Isaiah and in one the Servant cries out, “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me . . . I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he who will condemn me?” (Isa. 50:7-9). That passage must have been on Paul’s mind here while writing Romans 8.
The apostle goes on to ask, “If God did not spare his own Son but gave him up to the cross for us all shan’t he freely give us all things along with Jesus?” He who runs the universe and governs all in heaven has made the greatest sacrifice of all for an ordinary group of sinners like us. The Creator has loved inconsistent, limping, falling twerps like us. He has loved weaklings so much that he has given up his beloved Son to the nails through his hands and feet, to the horror and darkness of Golgotha, in order to make atonement for our sins. He did not spare the very one whom he loved the most – and he did this for us who were then hating him. He was so determined to save us. So we can expect much more from him! He has done the greatest for us, so we can expect the less. The beloved old uncle who once took your breath away by giving you a million pounds is never going to stop loving you. He is never going to turn mean and ornery and want his money back, or grumble at your ingratitude. No, he is going on adoring you and will give you far, far more. How do we see God’s other blessings, those that he showers upon us day by day? The gifts are the marks that we are ever on his heart, that he continues to love us. He will go on keeping us, protecting and providing, supplying all our needs, and ensuring that all things work together for our good. He did not spare his only Son from the cross because he has loved pathetic people like us. Then surely he cannot and will not refuse us lesser blessings? So Paul says, “God is for us. God gave Jesus up for us. God will graciously give all things to us.” Then we come to our text today . . .
WHO WILL BRING ANY CHARGE AGAINST GOD’S CHOSEN ONES?
‘Impeachment’ – what a word. The threat of impeachment of a U.S. president, Nixon or Clinton. Charges are brought against them that while in high office they committed grave offences. Paul asks, “Who shall impeach those whom God has made his own sons?” Impeaching the sons of the high king of heaven! What a thought! God himself will stand up for them, won’t he? Won’t God declare them, “Not guilty”? How can any prosecution succeed if God is their Judge and he surely accounts them as righteous in Christ? Here is this note of triumphant assurance. Who in the court of such a Judge will dare to take up the gauntlet and rubbish them, “They are as guilty as sin!”
The question throws down the challenge: “who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (v.33). Paul is employing a common word from the law-courts. It referred to bringing an accusation against a man in a court of justice. “The charge is this, that this man is a runaway slave.” The man is arraigned, and then hears the accusation. Who are those bringing a charge against him? There are plenty. His former owners, the lawyers they have employed, the witnesses who will say that he used to be a slave with them, and the bounty hunters who arrested him – they will all bring charges against the runaway slave. Now Paul takes that picture of a law court in action. He puts the people of God in the dock. They are being accused, but who is bringing the charge against them? Not simply all who are contemptuous of the Christian’s faith but one being in particular. It is Satan above all who brings the charge, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit now at work in the children of disobedience. He glares at these professing Christians and he cries J’accuse!
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament we find examples of Satan accusing believers. The book of Job presents to us an envious, hateful Satan in his character as the accuser. He is a creature who can speak personally to God, but it is God who takes the initiative when they converse. He looks at haughty, demeaning Satan and he asks him, “Have you considered my servant Job?” and God describes him in terms of the highest divine approval; “There is no one on earth like him.” Scour all five continents! That is what God claims, and immediately Satan answers, “Yes, but you know why don’t you? Does Job fear you for nothing?” And he begins to deride Job; he in turn claims, “Job follows you because he is filthy rich, and in good health and his family are also prosperous – that is why he believes in God. Who wouldn’t serve God if it brings such benefits into a life? Just test him. Take those benefits from him, and give him trouble and then he will curse you to your face.” Satan accuses Job of following God not for God’s own sake but for the stuff that he gets from God. That is one instance of the devil accusing the righteous.
Then we find Satan turning up again in the book of the prophecy of Zechariah (Zech. 3:1). The prophet sees Joshua the high priest in the presence of the angel of the Lord, and there is Satan standing at his right hand and again it is as an adversary and an accuser. He is resisting all that the high priest does and opposing what the high priest is. And as he begins to accuse Joshua something extraordinary happens, Joshua’s magnificent high priestly robes with all their gold and embroidery begin to disintegrate. They lose their colour and their texture and their newness. They become old and unclean; they appeared tattered so that soon Joshua is exposed as dressed in stinking filthy rags while standing before a holy angel bright, straight out of the present of God. What a contrast between the angel and the man! In other words, it is a picture of the servant of God being made conscious of his past with all its failures through the whispers and the stirrings of his conscience from Satan. Joshua is regarding his falls, and the sins of his inner life. What a mess! He might be clothed in fine priestly vestments. He might look like the Archbishop of Canterbury at a royal wedding – but all Joshua is conscious of is his stinking rags of failure. Satan is the being who accuses believing men and women. He especially accuses officers in the church – “Call yourself a preacher? You hypocrite!”
Then in the New Testament there is the apostle John and he too knows of the ceaseless activity of Satan accusing all the brethren. What the devil did to the Old Testament saints he was doing still. But John’s joy on the isle of Patmos knows no bounds when he hears a great voice crying to all heaven and earth this gospel: “Now has come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” (Rev. 12:10).
What a monotonous tune does Satan play on his one string banjo? He sings about our falls and failures which are, he sings, the proof – evidence that we’re not the children of God. In other words he is saying that unless we can maintain a consistent level of holiness then our status as the elect of God is in jeopardy. That is, Satan is suggesting that God will love me when my zeal reaches 9 on the Richter scale of spiritual enthusiasm, but God won’t love me quite so much when I know a winter time in my soul, and I am falling into sin. In order to keep my status of justification – “Not guilty” – then I must maintain a certain level of sanctification. It’s a bad attitude for a Christian to show. It reminds us of a marriage when a wife suspects her husband has lost interest in her and she is desperately trying to do something to win back his affection. She extravagantly cooks the costliest cuts of his favourite food; she fawns upon him as soon as he arrives home; she acts in her most alluring way, all to win him back, but it is not a happy atmosphere in the house, a spirit of mistrust and uncertainty abounds. How does God relate to us under the gospel? Is God’s love as fickle and unpredictable as Satan makes out? Do we need to earn his love again? Have we become the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son, thinking that all the service we give to God is little better than slavery, and he is being niggardly in how he treats us?
Satan is the one who turns our attention away from God and onto our sins. He wants us to do the opposite of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s advice and for every one look at Jesus take ten looks at our sins. This spirit is the fruit of Satan’s work. John on Patmos rejoiced that Satan’s doom was sure; ‘tis written by God’s finger. We know that Satan doesn’t lack material in his work of accusation. He can take us back to many a place and time when we behaved in some sub-Christian way; what regrets we know. We also know that God can’t condone what we’re ashamed of; even “the stars are not pure in his sight; how much less man that is a worm?” (Job 25:5&6).
Aren’t you scared when you hear that sins which have been done in secret shall
in the future be published from the house-tops? Is there no escape from our past sins? Aren’t we odd people? We don’t seem to mind that God – who has the power to put us in hell – knows about our sins, but we are sensitive to others knowing. I admit that I don’t want all of you to know how bad I’ve been. Our God is so good; he veils our sins from those who love us the most, but Satan has no tender spirit. He will destroy our peace and destroy our reputation, and end our usefulness in the kingdom if he can. He will bring every charge he can against us. All we can do is to leave our case in the hands of the Lord. Paul himself would one day be impeached in the presence of the Roman Caesar. What sort of justice could he expect there? Not righteous. But he could lift up his eyes from Nero to the Lord who as “the righteous judge” would resolve the charge (2 Tim. 4:8).
2. WHO ARE THE PEOPLE ACCUSED BY SATAN?
Who are these folk, accused of being guilty hypocrites by Satan before the judging eyes of God? Are they outlaws? Are they an underclass of no-good criminals chosen by mobsters and the mafia’s god-fathers? No. They are “those whom God has chosen” (v.33). Paul has just described them as those who were known by God in the beginning, that is, before Satan even existed in his unfallen state. They were men foreknown of God. He lovingly knew everything about them that was to be known, whereas Satan knows a selection of the things we’ve done. God is the one who predestinated them as sons. It was God who called them in mercy. It was God who justified them, and it was God who glorified them (vv. 29&30). They are described as God’s chosen ones, his ‘elect’ and that designation always has a ring of some sovereign decision of heaven: the choice belongs to God; the act is his alone. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
Satan is telling God what God knows already about these people and God knows far worse. He’s seen the file on them. He’s seen the CCTV camera video. Before they were born or had done any good or evil God had determined them to glory. So here are men and women who are absolutely safe. The security of those whom God has chosen is made clear in all kinds of ways. They are the flock of whom the Good Shepherd declared: “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish . . . my Father which gave them me is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28&29). They are those whom he will raise up and save when they cry to him for help: “And shall not God avenge his own elect which cry day and night unto him?” (Luke 18:7). And the comfort of our text is that God’s elect are safe from all Satanic accusation. The Lord of hosts is for us! The one who will pass sentence on us is the one who took all our guilt and condemnation in his body on the cross. He is the one who refused to come down from the cross until he had exhausted all the divine wrath on our sins, fully satisfying God’s just demands.
The Son of Man who was unique as God’s elect Servant could look his enemies and accusers in the face and could ask: “Which of you convinces me of sin?” (John 8:46). Not one man in a crowd of aliens and opponents opened his mouth to accuse him of anything wrong. But it is not like that with us. We wouldn’t dare ask our family or the world to point out our sins. We are deeply aware that sin has left its stain on heart and life in more ways than we think, and each stain may justly expose us to accusation before the bar of God. Conscience and memory may reproach us; sinners may deride us saying, “I remember when you were in school and there were these dirty things you did.” Satan may accuse us, but “those whom God has chosen” have nothing to fear, for the sins the devil accuses them of have been condemned on Calvary, and payment God will not demand twice at his Son’s hands and again at ours. The law finds they have nothing to answer for because the demands of the law have been fulfilled for them in Christ.
In our text what is Paul’s response to all the accusation that Satan can bring against us? “It is God who justifies” (v.33). “You miserably hypocrite!” says Satan. “It is God who justifies,” say I. “Look at the vile things you have done,” says Satan. “It is God who justifies,” say I. “He’ll never forgive a man like you doing things like that,” says Satan. “It is God who justifies,” says I. Always the answer to Satan pointing his finger at us, and our growing sense of failure, is to turn your eyes on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Return to the basis on which God accepted us in the first place: trust in a free justification through Christ received by faith in him alone. Paul is our example, that his place of refuge is the gospel; it lies in the finished work of Christ. This is what we must do; this is what a very humble Christian did many years ago. His name was David Dickson (1583-1662) did. At the end of his life he became extremely sick. When a friend asked him what had he been doing, he said, “I’ve been making a heap of all my good deeds, and I’ve been making another heap of all my bad deeds, and there they are, two heaps before the Lord, and I have fled from them both to Jesus Christ, and in him alone I find sweet peace.” God justifying always trumps Satan accusing. So now we are prepared for the other question in our text that Paul asks.
3. WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY TO CONDEMN US WHEN IT IS CHRIST WHO DIED, ROSE, ASCENDED AND IS INTERCEDING FOR US?
Here are Paul’s triumphant words. “Who is he that condemns? 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” (v.34). The answer to our guilt and getting mere justice from God – that would mean being rightly condemned as rebels – the alternative to that is mercy from Christ Jesus. Which Christ is this? The Christ Jesus who died. The Christ Jesus who was raised to life. The Christ Jesus who is at the right hand of God with all authority in heaven and earth. The Christ Jesus who is our great High Priest making intercession for us, saying, “Forgive, O God, forgive. . . for I made full atonement for them.” He is the total answer to our sin and shame. God loved us when we were still sinners. He chose us as his children when we were in unbelief. When we were ungodly Christ died for us. When we heard the gospel and believed it, then, at the very beginning, God accepted us completely when our faith in him was like a mustard seed. It was not when we had straightened out all our lives and gained the victory over the sins that were easily besetting us that then we felt we could look God straight in the eye and make a deal, shake hands with him, man to man. Never! Rather, we were like the tax collector in the Temple with our eyes cast down to the ground. We were beating our chest, and we were saying, “God be merciful to us sinners.”
Our only hope lay in the extraordinary love of God. We cast ourselves on his
mercy through Jesus Christ his Son. We were told that God had loved sinners, and that he had not spared his Son from the sacrifice of the cross in order that favoured sinners might be spared, and so we prayed, “Include me! Please spare me! I have no other name to plead for such forgiveness but Jesus’.” God’s free grace and pity, not my works and not my ability to justify what I’ve done. No. His immeasurable love for us was all our plea. God pronounces that sinners like me and the tax collector in the Temple who both plead for mercy will be declared righteous – as righteous as Jesus is – because of what God has done in Christ, through God crediting our sins to his Son and his Son’s righteousness freely being imputed to us. This is the gospel; it is entirely a word of declaration, a word of the great achievement of what God alone did – without man’s contribution whatsoever. God made Christ to be sin for us – the one who knew no sin, that we men and women – who have only known sin mixed with all that we’ve done – might be made the righteousness of God in him. In achieving this status, we contributed nothing but our guilt and need. Not even the faith by which we received God’s pardon was ours. Saving trust in the Redeemer, the Bible spells out clearly, is “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
So the great answer to the charges laid against us by Satan and the world and even our own conscience is the Calvary work of Christ as the blameless and spotless Lamb, and the throne work of Christ our great High Priest. He purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree. Do you see what Paul is making transparently clear? The basis of God’s love for you and acceptance of you has never depended on your good works – never, never, never! Not at the point of the conception of the Christian life. Not at any point during the continuance of the Christian life. Not at the point of the consummation of the Christian life. Not at the point of entry into heaven. It never hung on you and your achievements. It hung entirely and eternally on the achievements of the Son of God. That’s why he was promised as coming and bruising the head of Satan our accuser. Satan can’t say much against us when he’s had his head crushed by the Lord Sabaoth’s Son! But that is why Jesus entered the virgin’s womb. That is why he was born under the law, keeping the law, receiving the full condemnation of the law. That is what he was doing dying on Golgotha. That is why he rose from the dead. He went into heaven as the firstborn to prepare my entry after him. There in heaven he intends to introduce me to his Father. His accomplished salvation and applied salvation are the two hinges on which the doors of eternal glory swing. Satan’s accusations based on our failures will fall on deaf ears both in heaven and on earth. “Of course I am as bad as you say, and far worse. Old devil, you only know half! But my plea to God is the righteousness of Christ my teacher, my high priest and my king. God never loved me because I’d done enough for him to love me. Christ is the one who has done enough for God to love me and all his people.”
I should not mind dying for my wife and daughters. I should not mind dying for my sons-in-law. I should not mind dying for my grandchildren. I should not mind dying for my congregation for any member or for all of them. I do not think there is one I would not die for. Hilton Young from Wiltshire, serving on H.M.S. Iron Duke in the first World War looked longingly back to the people he had grown up with on the Wiltshire Downs around Marlborough and he wrote . . .
“I should not mind to die for them,
My own dear Downs, my comrades true;
But that great Heart of Bethlehem,
He died for men he never knew.”
That is not quite true. He did know us all right. While we were yet sinners, foul mouthed, godless, abusers and drunkards – he laid down his life for us. He took us to his heart and would not let us go until we were ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Who will bring an accusation against the man who once was slain for his sins on a cross? Yes. I was there in him when he died. Who will accuse the man whom God raised from the dead justified? Yes. I rose from the dead in Christ. Who will condemn the one who is not only in the presence of God but is sitting in the midst of the throne of God, for that is where in Christ I now am seated in the heavenlies? Who will condemn the man whose name is being whispered by God the Son into the ears of his Father saying, “Have mercy and help that sinner and bring him safely here”? He pleads the wounds he bears in achieving our redemption. Thus “if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Roms 5:10). Christ is there as our advocate with God. He ever lives to intercede for us. We know that he prays this prayer for us, “Father, I desire that [he or she] also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (Jn. 17:24).
Those four great facts, atonement, resurrection, ascension, intercession, are the immutable foundations on which rests these words; “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” Those joined to Christ cannot be condemned. It is absolutely impossible. They are irresistibly secure for ever and ever. Of course, not all who say, “Lord, Lord,” are safe. Not any who worship God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him – they are not safe. Not any stony ground hearer is safe, but all the elect of God who’ve received the anointing of these four truths, they are as safe from hell as Jesus Christ himself, because they are in him. They are in as little danger of being cast into the pit as God the Son being thrown out from the presence of God into the lake of fire.
Satan, our fierce accuser can come to us at the most inconvenient times, when we are weak and depressed, bowed down with our guilt. John Newton at such a time has told us what he did, that he faced the devil and he said one thing to him. What was it? “I am turning over a new leaf and from now on will be a better Christian?” No. “You’ve come at a bad time, but tomorrow I am going to do a lot more for Jesus.” No. “From now on I am going to do a lot more personal Bible study.” No. “I believe once saved always saved and I was saved on August 12 1998.” No. You say none of those things to Satan when he accuses you. Satan can turn all of those cobwebby defenses to our destruction and despair. That is not how John Newton answered him. He faced his fierce accuser and told him, “Christ has died.”
Jesus loves me, he who died heaven’s gate to open wide.
He will wash away my sin, let his little child come in.
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”
Can’t you see today what immense danger those of you are in who are not yet in Christ? There is but
one place of immense security, the safest place in all the universe, being joined to Christ, being in Christ, but you are not there. You are a wandering star, walking along and believing what all the rest believe who are on the broad way. You are going to destruction. Don’t go along that way one more step. It is time to stop and leave that path. It is time to turn around and head in another way. Christ is that way. “I am the way,” he says. Come to him. It is the set time. Take him as your Lamb. Take him as your Teacher. Take him as your good Shepherd. Take him as your King. Taking him is a movement of your heart and mind as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel of Jesus Christ (which you have heard) making you willing to turn away from all your idols and the sins you love in order to embrace him. Kiss the Son warmly, the one who has loved you enough to bring you to read this message who has worked in your heart enough to persuade you to turn to him. “Just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me and that Thou bid’st me come to Thee O lamb of God I come. I come.”
19th August 2012 GEOFF THOMAS