NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XLIX)
Verse 37: Not one! In all these circumstances we have been able to gain a surpassing victory because of the One who loved us.
Now Paul leaves no doubt as to the answer to his challenge in verse 31. In his mind, nothing could ever overcome us to the point that even though we may think that God had forsaken us because of something wrong we had done, it still would not cause Him to withdraw His love from those He has chosen. To the contrary, His love will be the reason we conquer our fears and doubts. In fact, when Paul thought about all that God had brought him through during his years of missionary ministry, he told the Corinthians: “How we thank God for all of this! It is He who makes us victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord!”1 And in his second letter Paul makes this statement: “Three different times I begged God to make me well again. Each time He said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need.”2 Paul was more or less saying that in our Christian walk we will encounter difficult times and circumstances, but do not fear because Christ is walking with us. Our Lord did not promise us smooth sailing in life, but He did say we will a safe landing on heaven’s shore.
In fact, Paul says that we will be more than just conquerors in our circumstances, that we will be able to go on to even greater heights of victory. There is no reason for a believer to live life as though defeat is inevitable. Jesus promised that we can have a victorious life. That doesn’t mean that all a believer’s problems will go away. But it does mean, that before the problem gets the best of the believer, the believer gets the best of the problem. While there are many explanations of what Paul meant by the phrase, “more than conquerors,” it certainly doesn’t mean being an “overachiever.” Instead, it means not only winning the victory but being able then to keep the peace and prevent any further uprising no matter how much extra effort it requires. Years ago, I heard of an incident where the Bible was being translated into an African language, and they did not have a phrase in their tongue that adequately expressed, “more than conquerors.” After the meaning of what Paul said was explained to those helping the missionary do the translating, one of them suggested the following: “We fight twelve, but conqueror thirteen!”
As Paul told the Galatians: “When the Messiah was executed on the stake as a criminal, I was too; so that my proud ego no longer lives. But the Messiah lives in me, and the life I now live in my body I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”3 In other words, it is not you that is living your Christian life alone, but it is Christ living in you, building up your Christlike character Paul told the Ephesians to let Christ be their example on how to live. In fact, he said that Christ’s love for us was like a sweet perfume to God.4
The early church bishop of Caesarea says that a person is considered more than a conqueror when they not only exert the force necessary to win the battle but willingly accept the pain and suffering that comes with the endurance required.5 And Pelagius also said that all these troubles we can count as very insignificant because someone loved us so much that He even died for us. His name was Jesus. So even if we died for His name sake we triumph because what He did for us, our sacrifice is a small thing compared to His.6
Martin Luther makes an important point here by saying that it is the love of Christ for us that makes us triumphant through our love to Him. Remember, we did not love Him first, He first loved us. Not only that, but He still loves us first whenever we let anything come between us and Him. Furthermore, our love for Him is not only because He loves us, rather, His love for us is what brings our love to Him. As the Apostle John said: “This is love! It is not that we loved God but that He loved us.”7 It is important to note that Luther does not say our love “for” Him, but our love “to” Him. Love is not an emotion, it is an act of the will. Just saying we love Him is not enough, it must be validated with what we bring to Him in the form of expressions of love. This then makes us more than conquerors. We not only have been made free from the bondage of sin under the law, but we are now kept free to serve God because He freed us.8
Robert Haldane has this to say about believers being more than conquerors. It is a powerful expression, but when fully understood it is proven true. When believers successfully pass through the worst of their trials, they not only avoid the traps laid by persecutors but, thereby, conquer the ones who put them in their path. For many people, they may swim hard and long against the stream, but end up getting nowhere. In fact, they may consider it a failure, not a win. But believers need not swim against the tide because God will bring their intended prize to them. All they have to do is learn to wait, remain faithful and steadfast.9 By doing so, believers not only overcome the force against them but deny the force a victory. In that light, it is better to be fighting battles than doing nothing at all. When believers are called to serve Him, they are also called to suffer for Him.
Haldane also said believers should think of themselves as warriors, not just winners. As God tries and tests believers, it’s like bringing them out of the furnace as refined gold.10 That’s why Paul called them “light afflictions.”11 Because when we compare ourselves to what we will be it is a small price to pay. Haldane said that the term conquerors should remind the believer that life sometimes is a battle, in which they are called into combat against inner doubts and outer criticism. Haldane feels that we should know the difference between the judgment of God, and the judgment of people when it comes to the victory of believers. As the world sees it, persecutors and oppressors are judged as the conquerors. But Paul turns the tables here and says that those who are oppressed and persecuted are the victors. That’s because they are the servants of Him whom the world put to death on the cross, but who said to His disciples, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.12”13
Albert Barnes sees us as more than conquerors because we have not only gained the victory over sin through Christ but because of Christ, sin cannot gain power over us again to subdue us, to alienate our love and confidence, to produce apostasy. Barnes notes that in the process our faith is not destroyed; our love is not diminished; our hope is not blown away. But it is more than a simple victory. It’s also more than carrying on, as usual, continuing to do what we’ve done before. It is also more than a single victory. We grow in faith, increase our spiritual strength, enlarge our capacity to love our Lord. This then prepares us for bigger victories. The word “conqueror” used here is a strong, emphatic expression, which the Apostle employs only once. But he uses it with great force and appropriateness here.14
Charles Spurgeon says that Paul’s reference to all these things, meaning the afflictions and obstacles that believers must deal with, have made us stronger and closer to the Lord instead of separating us from Him.15 As we find in Foxes’ Book of Martyrs, while their persecutors thought they were triumphing over them, it was the martyrs who were the victors in the end. And Frédéric Godet points out that instead of Paul saying that we are conquerors through the love of the Lord, he says that through the Lord that loved us we are conquerors. For Godet, this is because Christ who lives in us is the one who fights the battles. And not only is it His love that keeps us going, but this love is more than a simple thought of our mind; it is a force we sense and feel.16
Verses 38-39: For I am thoroughly convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love – not death, life, angels, or ruling spirits. I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us – nothing in the whole created world – will ever be able to separate us from the love God has shown us through Jesus the Messiah, our Lord.
At the end of the chapter Paul concludes by saying that he is persuaded: There is nothing, no calamity known to man, no conceived force or torture, no power in, on, or out of this world that can claim the title of “Who” in Paul’s question of “Who can separate us from God’s love?” Nothing, not anything, can separate a believer from being in the grasp of God’s love because it is not only their holding on to God but God is holding on to them. But some make the mistake of putting all the emphasis on God’s responsibility to keep that promise and ensure that His love is never removed from their grasp.
When reading this whole chapter, it suggests that what Paul is really saying is that despite his temptations and trials, he is so sold out and committed to God’s love, that come what may he will never let go of God because God will not let go of him. Ask yourself, who is facing the test of allegiance, you or God? Who is dealing with the distress, you or God? Who is enduring the persecution, you or God? Who is fighting the famine, you or God? Who is like a sheep being led to slaughter, you or God? We can go on and on with who is coping with life’s issues, you or God? Who is subject to death, you or God?
After what God did to show His love by giving His only Son to die on the cross for our salvation, we need never think or surmise that God will cancel the love that was given while we were yet sinners because that would be unthinkable now that we need it more than ever. But we do have to let God know that we are just as committed to keeping our part of the relationship, and out of sheer gratitude and thankfulness, we will never renege on our promise to love Him to the end.
But Paul is not finished. He has more to say about his confidence in God’s faithfulness in keeping His part of the covenant, and that this will help him to keep his part so that after being chosen and justified to be called a child of God. The fact he was chosen means he may enjoy the glorification God has prepared for all those who remain true and faithful to the end. In fact, while languishing in jail Paul wrote to young Timothy: “I know the One in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to safely guard all that I have given Him until the day of His return.”17
1 1 Corinthians 15:57
2 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
3 Galatians 2:20 – Complete Jewish Bible
4 Ephesians 5:2
5 Basil the Great: Homilies 22
6 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 1 John 4:10
8 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 134
9 Exodus 14:14
10 Job 23:10
11 2 Corinthians 4:17
12 John 16:33
13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 422
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 2 Timothy 1:12