NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XLIV)
We read in the Book of Revelation that John is talking about the same One Isaiah spoke of: “See my Servant, whom I uphold; my Chosen One in whom I delight. I have put my Spirit upon Him.”1 And just as Christ was chosen, so are all those who follow Him are the called and chosen.2 And their being chosen is justified by the work of Christ. Therefore, since He and His followers are one, just as He is One with the Father, they too will enjoy and participate in all the gifts and glory that God the Father will bestow upon Him. Such faith gave the prophet Isaiah the courage to announce: “Because the Lord God helps me, I will not be dismayed; therefore, I have set my face like flint to do His will, and I know that I will triumph. He who gives me justice is near. Who will dare to fight against me now? Where are my enemies? Let them appear! See, the Lord God is for me! Who shall declare me guilty?”3 This was Paul’s message to the believers in Rome. When we read Church history and see what Christians went through that included persecution, torture, and death, no doubt Paul’s words were read again and again for motivation to remain true and faithful until the end.
John Calvin sees this parallel between an earthly judge and God in what Paul is saying. Paul has emphatically concluded that the children of God will not be subjected to false accusations. God is the one who decides the guilt, not the accuser. In Paul’s mind, the court is adjourned because the great Judge Himself has pronounced the accused as exempt from any request for punishment brought by the accuser because the sentence has already been served and the price paid for forgiveness.4 This does not mean that the individual is innocent of the charges. But such charges no longer are examined under the Law but under grace. Calvin goes on to say that we have a second buffer against such charges because the One who saved us is standing at the right hand of God as our advocate, and by His intercession, He not only abolishes death but also erases our sins so that they cannot be added back to our account.
Robert Haldane says that charges being brought against believers may involve their response to temptations that confront them along the way. These may come from without, others may be from within. When they come from within, they are alarms of the conscience brought on by the fear of God’s wrath. When they appear from without, they are often brought by adversity and affliction. For believers, unless they can overcome the accusations of conscience from within, they cannot be victorious over the accusations that come from without. That’s because believers find it impossible to have any patience or confidence in God during times of trouble when their conscience labors under the dread of God’s anger.
Haldane notes that because of this the Apostle Paul, in the fifth chapter of this Epistle, describes the co-occurrence of justification rendered by faith. First, he speaks of having peace with God. Next in seeing the honor that can be had during times when faith is being tested. In this 8th chapter, he observes these in the same order. Here Paul speaks of believers being able to triumph being tested and tried when they first fortify their conscience against any fear that they will be found guilty as long as they feel secure against external temptations brought on by hardships. Haldane goes on to say that if anyone brings a charge against a believer that turns out to be true, the price for that charge has already been paid, all the believer needs to do is access it through faith and prayer so the IOU can be canceled through forgiveness.5
Charles Hodge accepts the way this verse is translated in the King James Version. Nevertheless, he feels that the impossibility of any accusation being sustained against the elect of God can be better expressed when said in the affirmative. By that he means, it is God who is their Justifier. If He justifies, who can condemn? In addition, according to the way this is written here, God must be seen as the Judge, not the accuser. The way God justifies the believer is to declare any call for justice has already been satisfied. There is no such thing as double jeopardy in God’s judicial system. When God, the Supreme Judge, declares that this is so, then it must be true. God does not lie or cover up mistakes. So when He says the price has been paid it should stop every mouth.
For Hodge, no rational creature, no enlightened conscience, would think of calling for God to punish those He justified.6 Neither Hodge nor the Apostle Paul, are intimating that believers need not fear being convicted or ashamed of bad conduct. Believers must repent immediately upon being convicted by the Holy Spirit through their conscience that they have sinned, and receive forgiveness from God through Christ. But for the believer being given no choice but to be found guilty under the Law is wrong theology. They are under grace because the Law cannot issue any forgiveness.
In one of his devotionals, preacher Octavius Winslow wrote on the subject of God being the one who justifies. He eloquently states that it would appear there are two links in this marvelous chain – the purpose of God, and its final consummation. Both of these seem so far out of man’s realm of reason and comprehension, that it would be impossible to calm the believer’s anxiety by asking them to have firm belief in certain doctrines in God’s Word that are still buried in the deep things of God’s mind.7 However, while these two extreme links in the chain of divine truth remain invisibly locked in God’s hand, we are left with certain visible links which the perplexed and inquiring reader can take hold of. In doing so, they will be saved, although so much more to see and learn remains wrapped in profound mystery.
And just like its Divine Author, access can only be had in the presence of His unapproachable grandeur. This is not to our detriment because it is not essential to our salvation. We are not required to lift the veil off awesome mysteries and penetrate the depths of what God has predestinated concerning our future glory in order to have assurance. The only thing we need to know now is that our salvation depends on our being chosen by God and that through Christ we are justified with God. We may arrive at heaven’s gates without really knowing the amazing truths yet to be revealed, but we cannot get there without the Spirit’s grace and Christ’s righteousness. So grasp them by faith, and receive them into your heart. These two central and essential truths will continue to lift you into a sunnier region, where all we should know stands clear and transparent, bathed in the noontide splendor of heaven’s own glory.
Winslow continues to explain that we already believe that the cardinal doctrine of God’s justification is not fully understood by many, although they have seen its results. The lofty position of security in which it places the believer, the liberty, peace, and hope, into which it brings them are as stars in the sky. Many believers see them from afar, but not up close in detail. This is caused by the fact that so many of the weak, sickly Christians are suffering to a large degree from the unrefined and foggy conceptions that were formed in their minds by not being taught properly what God’s Word has to say about them. They also have no clear view of the work that was done and the effort that was made by God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the great matter of our justification. Once we trace the act of our justification to God, and connect it to Christ’s work on the cross, and then track its operation to the Holy Spirit, it will place us on much higher ground from which we can offer a strong defense of our faith against all our enemies.
Winslow then concludes that we should stop for a moment and consider the following: Oh God! Against whom have we sinned? Taking a cue from what King David confessed, we can exclaim, “Against You, You only, have I sinned.”8 So, having sinned against God, then it is from God we would expect to receive condemnation. We have violated His law, and from the lips of the Lawgiver, we await the sentence. When suddenly, He declares Himself on our side. Descending down from His tribunal, He calls us forward to kneel at His feet. Then we hear Him say with assurance, “I am your Justifier.” So he reaches down to us, the wrongdoer, the wretched sinner, and grabs the cloak stained with sin and pulls it off our shoulders. Then, He reaches for a clean, white robe and covers us completely. This robe belongs to all who believe.9 And then He takes us by the hand so we can stand as fully justified by His grace.
So here’s the question, will we then be unmoved by the great effort our heavenly Father put into answering the great question of our acceptance? Instead of seeing Him as a warm, gentle, and forgiving Father, will we continue to carry around a hesitant and suspicious idea of who God is? Will we continue to think that if we infringe upon His holiness by pleading for His mercy He will look coldly at us as unworthy of an answer? Oh, no! Throw away such thoughts of God! It is He who gladly announced your acquittal. From His lips you heard the sound of His glorious words, “I find no condemnation in those who are in Christ Jesus! Go and sin no more!”10
Charles Spurgeon gives his response to Paul’s words with a poetic flavor:
“Ring out the challenge in heaven itself;
trumpet it through all the caverns of hell;
let the whole universe hear it:
“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?”
None can, for “it is God that justifies,”
and His justification blocks every charge
that is brought against His people.
Who shall the Lord’s elect condemn?
‘Tis God that justifies their souls;
And mercy like a mighty stream,
O’er all their sins divinely rolls.”11
Frédéric Godet also weighs in on whether the opening phrase of this verse should be taken in the affirmative or interrogative sense. He tells us that since the time of St. Augustine several commentators take the statement in this verse in an interrogative sense: “Who will accuse? Would it be God? How could He do so, He who justifies?” But by arguing it this way, Paul would be using an argument that is basically absurd. The meaning of such a debate may be imaginative because at first glance it seems persuasive. But how can God ever be considered an accuser? His position is much higher than that. As Godet sees it, “He is the rock against which every wave of accusation breaks.” We can compare what Paul says here by comparing it to Isaiah, Chapter 50, which speaks decidedly in favor of the affirmative form.12
1 Isaiah 42:1
2 Revelation 17:14
3 Ibid., 50:7-9
4 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 412-413
6 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 448
7 1 Corinthians 2:10
8 Psalm 51:4
9 Romans 3:22
10 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.