“What Shall We Then Say To These Things?”
Each year Jewish people the world over observe the feast of Passover. The dinner on the first evening of the seven-day observance is very special. It is called the “seder.” And, for the children especially, it is a time of great excitement. One of the youngsters, not more than 13 years of age (the time of bar mitzvah, when a boy becomes legally and morally responsible for himself), is called upon to ask “the four questions.” Often, he has been preparing for this as part of his religious training. The questions are designed (if you will permit contemporary expression) to be fastballs right down the center of the plate – to allow the father to “hit a home run” as he speaks of the omnipotent power of his God who redeemed his ancestors from enslavement down in Egypt.
The origin of the custom can probably be traced back to the scriptural injunction which God gave to Israel: “And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:8).
One day a great teacher in Israel also asked four questions. His name was Saul of Tarsus, later changed to Paul the apostle. His questions were of a different kind than those asked by the youngsters. They were rhetorical questions -with self-evident responses. They,too, came out of a context where the power of God to redeem from sin had been presented (Rom. 1-8). The Apostle Paul prefaced his four questions with what can be termed an introductory question. It,like the questions to follow, is rhetorical. He asked, “What shall we then say to these things?” (Rom. 8:31a).
A proper understanding of what “these things” were to which Paul was alluding required a sweeping review of all the apostle had shared to that point (Rom. 1:1-8:30).
LIVING UNDER THE PLIGHT OF CONDEMNATION (Rom. 1:1-3:20)
ln this first section, Paul reveals the absolute and utter helplessness of man. Acting as a prosecuting attorney, he takes the entire world before the supreme judge of the universe. Paul will indicate that “when they [men] knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21- 22). Three times he will indicate that because of man’s rebellion and wickedness God gave them up. The solemnity and awesomeness of this giving up cannot be overstated. God gave them up to “uncleanness” (Rom. 1:24); God gave them up to “vile affections” (Rom. 1:26); God gave them up to a “reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28) -not a very attractive picture of unregenerate man.
Paul will conclude that both Jew and Gentile (the former, a covenant people with a God-given law system and the latter, with a revelation of God in creation) had come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23); that “There is none righteous [Jew or Gentile], no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Therefore every mouth is stopped, and all the world is guilty before God (Rom. 3:19). To man’s protestings, But I lived a moral life, I’m not as bad as my neighbor, I did some good things, I’m religious by nature, there comes the divine response, Silence, Keep quiet, Be still. Every mouth is stopped; all the world is guilty before God.
Unsaved men are living under the plight of condemnation. It is not simply a future prospect – it is a present reality. And if men die in that state, their destiny is sealed forever. But Paul quickly moves on to a second great doctrine.
REJOICING IN THE POSITION OF JUSTIFICATION (Rom. 3:21-5:21)
Paul begins the second section with the glorious declaration, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested” (Rom. 3:21). Nobody will ever care about “the righteousness of God” until they first realize that they have none of their own. Paul had just stated that the whole world is guilty before God (Rom. 3:19). Someone has suggested it is not difficult to get a man saved. The difficulty is in getting him lost. Of course, he is lost, but when he realizes his lost and hopeless estate, such a man will become very interested in a righteousness that God has provided for him. Paul continues in this section to demonstrate that justification is a gracious act of God whereby the sinner is perfectly accepted in the Beloved One. Justification is a legal declaration made in the highest court in the universe and rests upon the finished work of Christ. The patriarch, Abraham, is used to illustrate justification by faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Since justification is a legal declaration made in the ultimate court of the universe, properly understood it is a position. Justification does not necessarily have anything to do with feelings – it is a legal position. The Son’s atoning work at Calvary allows the Father to remain righteous (see Rom. 1:16-17) and declares sinful man, who has trusted Christ, justified. Saved men rejoice in the position of justification. But it doesn’t end there.
GROWING DURING THE PROCESS OF SANCTIFICATION (Rom. 6:1-8:27)
Sanctification literally means to be set apart. Those who have been justified are set apart from the unsaved world. They are called upon to be in the world but not to be of the world -to be a peculiar people, separate, distinct, unique – to show forth God’s glory. So Paul opens this third section with the question, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that [God’s] grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). The answer given is “God forbid” (Rom. 6:2). That is a Hebrew idiom which could be translated, Don’t even think such a thought. Paul reminds his readers that they are literally identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection with a view to living a holy life (Rom. 6:3-6). But there was a problem – Paul knew it firsthand – even for a believer who had been justified. The apostle noted the problem this way, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:18-19). As a believer, Paul was frustrated. He often did what he should not, and did not do what he should do. And so in agony he cried out, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). From this prison house of sin and defeat he finds victory – glorious victory – triumphant victory. It comes not from himself but from the empowering Holy Spirit. Amazingly, no less than 20 times in the eighth chapter of Romans Paul refers to the Holy Spirit of God who gives the victory.
So then the process of sanctification is advanced to the degree that the believer yields to the indwelling Spirit of God, as the child of God grows in grace and in knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. But sanctification in the life of the child of God is not the end of the process. There is one more important step.
HOPING IN THE PROSPECT OF GLORIFICATION (Rom. 8:28-30)
In the Word of God hoping is not the balancing of probabilities. Rather, hope is something that is certain, sure, absolute, inviolable. And the ultimate hope is the glorification of every believer. One day this mortal will put on immortality – this corruptible will put on incorruption. The believer will be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. He will be like his blessed Lord.
When that occurs, he will have become an eternal manifestation of the Potter who fashioned him. The Potter took a piece of clay that deserved destruction (living under the plight of condemnation, Rom. 1:1-3:20), and sovereignly chose to justify it -or make it usable (rejoicing in the position of justification, Rom. 3:21- 5:21). He then began the process of molding and shaping that piece of clay (growing during the process of sanctification, Rom. 6:1-8:27). When God completes the process, the believer will be glorified or perfected (hoping in the prospect of glorification, Rom. 8:28- 30). It is in that context that Paul’s words, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) are to be understood. The truth being conveyed is that the Master Potter will use everything that comes into the life of a believer in that process of molding, shaping and designing. When the Master Potter is done, that living, breathing, dynamically vital masterpiece will be glorified and thereby bring glory to the Potter. The ingredients that transform a piece of marred clay suited for destruction to ultimate perfection and sonship are enunciated by the apostle. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate …whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).
And now back to Paul’s earlier question, “What shall we then say to these things?” (Rom. 8:31a). The apostle was overwhelmed at what God was doing in the life of the believer and wanted to be sure that they had the same heart response. God takes a piece of clay that has rebelled against his Creator and deserves destruction. At infinite cost – the death of His Son – God is able to justify and make it usable. He then begins the process of shaping and molding and making something beautiful from something ugly. And when He completes the task, it will be a masterpiece. And He alone has done it all -from A to Z – from alpha to omega – from beginning to end. Redeemed saints are totally and undeservedly a product of His grace, from enmity to sonship, from deserved eternal separation from God to eternal presence with God, from Hell and torment to Heaven and bliss. “What shall we then say to these things?” NOW Paul asks his four questions, the answers being self-evident to all those who comprehend what he had just finished teaching (Rom. 1:1-8:30).
“IF GOD BE FOR US, WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?” (Rom. 8:31b)
The Sovereign of the universe is for you, child of God. Therefore, no weapon formed and no adversary, however great, can be successful against you. It is not a question of opposition against you -there may be plenty of that. But it will never prosper. And of this be certain -God is for you. That obvious fact is underscored by Paul’s commentary, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). That God was willing to give His Son at Calvary to redeem you is the strongest possible evidence in the universe that God is for you. It is well never to forget that fact amidst the great adversities of life. But even more, Paul continues, “how shall he not with him (Jesus] also freely give us all things?” The word “freely” means without a cause. There is no merit on our part. But never mind, God is so strongly for you that one day He is going to give you all your heart desires. But for the immediate moment there is a second question.
“WHO SHALL LAY ANYTHING TO THE CHARGE OF GOD’S ELECT?” (Rom. 8:33)
It is not a question of whether or not charges are leveled against the child of God. Indeed they are – sometimes by men – constantly by Satan. He is the “accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10). His very names indicate that fact: “Dragon” means crafty or cruel; “Serpent” means subtlety; “Devil” means accuser; and “Satan” means adversary (Rev. 12:9). But charges, however numerous, however strongly argued, cannot succeed, for God alone is the Sovereign of the universe. And He, in perfect righteousness, predicated on the fact that Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21), has justified us. That justification is final, fixed and irreversible. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect successfully? No one and nothing. The hymnist has it right: “More secure is no one ever, Than the loved ones of the Savior.” But Paul hastened to a third question.
‘WHO IS HE THAT CONDEMNETH?” (Rom. 8:34)
Listening closely, one can almost hear the intonation in the apostle’s voice. Who would dare – who would have the audacity -who would be so brazen as to think that they could successfully condemn one whom God has justified. Once again, it is not a question of will some try but can they succeed. Paul’s comment is succinct. He says, “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us?” (Rom. 8:34b). The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is passed over quickly to get to the point at hand. The Savior has ascended and is now enthroned (seated) at the right hand of His Father. The right hand of a monarch is the place of honor, power and prestige. Jesus is seated at the right hand of His Father with a specific purpose in view. Predicated on His death, burial and resurrection, He is enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on high as our great High Priest -there to make intercession for us. So that every time the believer is accused of sinful deeds (after justification), Jesus, based on His sacrifice which is infinite and eternal, simply addresses His Father and says, But I died for those sins. No one can successfully condemn the child of God.
But Paul is not yet finished. He has a fourth and final question.
‘WHAT SHALL SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST?” (Rom. 8:35)
Here and now the great apostle reached the zenith of all he has been teaching. No one and nothing anywhere or at any time can separate the believer from the love of Christ. To be sure, life is filled with a myriad of obstacles. The child of God may face tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword (Rom. 8:35). And as Paul reminds us, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:36). The thought is this: Life may be hard, obstacles may be large, suffering may be acute, there may be no let up – but the problems of this life do not abrogate the eternal promises of God for the life to come. Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ. No, “in all these things [the problems of life] we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). And once again sensitive souls can almost hear the absolute confidence of Paul, not in himself, but in his Sovereign, as he proclaims, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Rom. 8:38- 39). This latter phrase, “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord,” is an interesting one. It simply means that the love of God, the Father, for lost and sinful men is “showcased” or manifested through God, the Son.
The four questions posed by Paul at the conclusion of his unequaled doctrinal discourse, Romans 1:1 through 8:39, parallel very closely the four doctrines that had been discussed in the first eight chapters of Romans: ( 1) living under the plight of condemnation (Rom. 1:1- 3:20) and Paul’s question, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31); (2) rejoicing in the position of justification (Rom. 3:21-5:21), and Paul’s question, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” (Rom. 8:33); (3) growing during the process of sanctification (Rom. 6:1-8:27), and Paul’s question, “Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:34); and finally(4) hoping in the prospect of glorification (Rom. 8:28- 30), and Paul’s question, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
What an indescribably glorious salvation. If you are saved, why not voice the words of the songwriter when he wrote, “Heaven came down, and glory filled my soul. When at the cross, the Savior made me whole. My sins were washed away; my night was turned to day. Heaven came down, and glory filled my soul.” If you are lost, run – don’t walk – to Calvary. Delay is the height of folly. There by faith alone in the finished work of Christ find eternal rest for your soul.