NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XLI)
Verse 31: What can we say about all these things? Since God is for us, who can be against us?
The first thing we notice is that Paul asks a question. He is not making a doctrinal statement. Then he offers a possible answer. So it is obvious, to begin with, we must find out what Paul is inquiring about. That takes us back to verse 1 where Paul talks about those who live freely in the Spirit by faith instead of those who are bound under the Law. However, those who live in the Spirit by faith are told they will encounter hard times. That such suffering will cause pain, the type of pain a woman has while giving birth. This may cause us to become weak so that we’re not sure what to ask God for. But don’t worry because the Spirit will speak to God for us. And don’t get discouraged because everything is going to work out for our good in the end.
That’s when Paul has an “Elisha moment!” Elisha found himself encircled by the king of Aram with all his horses, chariots, and a huge army. When Elisha’s servant saw they were surrounded he panicked. That’s when Elisha said: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”1 This may have been the inspiration for Paul to say the same thing to the Roman believers in the form of a question. This then leads to a series of questions for which he will give definitive answers.
After laying out all the reasons for our claims for being redeemed, called, chosen, justified, and in line to be glorified along with Christ, Paul senses that perhaps even some Roman believers might have doubts, let alone the unbelievers who would hear it. So in his segue from offense to defense, Paul ties them all together with a very strong motivational statement to the effect that God would stand with us and defend us when we make such claims. Paul would not dare to make an assertion like that if he wasn’t sure that this was already part of God’s way of dealing with unseen things because of His foreknowledge and predestination plan.
For instance, After his battle to free Lot and his family from the kings of the Dead Sea Valley, God spoke to Abraham and told him: “Don’t be fearful, Abram, for I will defend you. And I will give you great blessings.”2 Also, when the ten spies gave a dire report on what they found in the Land of Canaan, yet Joshua and Caleb felt there was nothing to fear and they should go forward, they told the doubters: “Do not rebel against the LORD, and do not fear the people of the land. For they are but bread for us to eat! The LORD is with us and He has removed His protection from them! Don’t be afraid of them!”3 And when Moses gave his blessing to the leaders and children of Israel right before his death, he ended with this: “Happy are you, Isra’el! ‘Who is like you, a people saved by Adonai, your defender helping you and your sword of triumph? Your enemies will cringe before you, but you will trample down their idol temples.’”4
No doubt, Joshua took this to heart. For when he conquered most of the Promised land, the keeper of the records said: “This was all accomplished in one campaign, for the LORD God of Israel was fighting for His people.”5 Later, when King Saul’s son Jonathan was on a reconnaissance mission spying out a Philistine garrison, he decided to get closer. But his aide cautioned him. However, Jonathan said: “Perhaps the LORD will do a miracle for us. For it makes no difference to Him how many enemy troops there are!”6 And that’s exactly what happened. After the Philistines spotted them and challenged them to a fight, Jonathan and his aide were able to kill twenty of them before they escaped to safety. And David, who became best friends with Jonathan, remembered that lesson well. For when he faced Goliath the Philistine giant, he told him: “You come to me with a sword and a spear, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of the armies of heaven and of Israel – the very God whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you.”7 So Paul had plenty of evidence to make his claim: If God backs us up when we say we are part of the Chosen who are Justified and soon to be Glorified, who can possibly succeed in proving us wrong and keep it from happening?
As mentioned before, Jesus put His own stamp of approval on this when told those who opposed His message of redemption and salvation and questioned His being the Messiah: “The proof is in the miracles I do in the name of my Father… My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else so no one can kidnap them from me. I and the Father are one.”8 Later in one of his letters, the Apostle John had this to say: “Dear young friends, you belong to God and have already won your fight with those who are against Christ because there is someone in your heart who is stronger than any evil teacher in this wicked world.”9
On this declaration of having God on our side, early church scholar Origen says that Paul makes it quite clear in the verses leading up to this one, and those that follow, on how we can know that God is for us. It is because the Spirit of God dwells in us and the spirit of Christ is with us.10 Therefore, since we act in the power of God’s Spirit, and since we have received the seal of adoption, and because we are children of God, heirs and fellow heirs of Christ, only a power greater than this could tear us apart. And we know that no such power exist11.12 Another commentator agrees that no one would dare attack us when the Judge Himself has foreknown us and pronounced us to be suitable for Him?13
Then early church preacher Chrysostom preached on what he hears Paul saying here. The Apostle is telling the believers in Rome that he doesn’t want to hear any more about the dangers and evils swirling all around them. Even if some have trouble believing in the things to come, they have no reason to complain about all the good things which have already taken place. For instance, God’s friendship toward them from the beginning, His justifying work, the assurances He has given, and so on. Yes, the world is against us, but in spite of it being our enemy, God has used it as a source of endless blessings. So in reality nobody is against us!14 And Pelagius is certain that Paul wants to show that nobody can keep those who love God and who are loved by God from attaining the glory which has been promised. His perfect love for them should dispel any fear of not making it all the way15.16
Martin Luther takes Paul’s question for the believer and formulates one for those who oppose them to ask themselves: “If God is against us no one can be for us.” In Luther’s mind, since God is the final judge of all things that cannot exist without His permission, no one can be against that which He has created to benefit those who love Him.17 Then fellow reformer John Calvin sees these as exclamations that amplify the generosity of God becoming a shield for the faithful. So even when in the midst of calamity their enemies urge them to give up their faith, yet they trust in God to see them through.18
But Calvin goes on to say this about God being our shield, this is the primary and the only support needed to sustain us in every temptation. If it wasn’t for God’s favor overshadowing us, even if the whole world smiled at us, only His care and protection are enough to meet our needs in times of trouble. That’s why His favor alone is a sufficient consolation in every sorrow, a protection sufficiently strong against all the storms of adversities. We can find plenty of testimonies in the Scripture to show that when saints rely on the power of God alone, they dare to disdain whatever opposes them in the world.19
Adam Clarke has a similar view. He asks what other conclusions can we draw from what Paul has said up until now? From all that was already said in the previous chapters, but especially in the verses 28-30 here, we are the redeemed, the called, the chosen, and the justified according to His purpose. What other words of comfort do we need to derive from these doctrines? Hasn’t God called us all to holiness? And isn’t to love Him the main principle of holiness? Isn’t it true that when we are persecuted and despised, that we take comfort in the fact that all things will work together for good because we love Him and He loves us? So if we continue to possess that faith which works by love, will it not bring us, both body and soul, into His eternal glory where our bodies will be made like unto His glorious body?20 In other words, they may overwhelm us from time to time in battle, but they will never win the war. What God has promised is not invested in things here on earth that can be affected by their hatred, but in heaven’s treasure chest where they remain untouchable and incorruptible.
Robert Haldane also addresses this oft-quoted verse 31. He says the expression “if God,” should not denote any doubt, but a conclusion, or consequence, or affirmation. It signifies the result of something. It’s as though Paul said: “Since we see by all these things that God is for us, who then can keep us from reaching our goal?” It is quite evident that God is for us since He sent His Spirit to be with us and in us. This gives us the permission to cry out to Him, “Abba, Pater,” in times of need. And since the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; and since all things will work together for our good; and since we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, what more blessed assurance could we ask for? For Haldane, while we were still alienated from Him, nevertheless He called us. Yes, and while we were still living in sin He died to justify us. That will make it possible then for us to finally be translated from this earthly scene of trouble and afflictions so He can confer on us a crown of immortal glory. So then, since God thus favors us so much, who can possibly keep it from happening?21
1 2 Kings 6:16
2 Genesis 15:1
3 Numbers 14:9
4 Deuteronomy 33:29 – Complete Jewish Bible
5 Joshua 10:42
6 1 Samuel 14:6
7 Ibid., 17:45-46a
8 John 10:25-30
9 1 John 4:4
10 Matthew 18:20; 28:20
11 See Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7
12 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 15
15 See 1 John 4:18
16 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 133
18 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Calvin, ibid (Cf. Psalms 3:6; 23:4; 56:11; 118:6
20 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 161-162
21 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 409