My sisters and I grew up in a household in which family was a priority. Our parents were adamant that we were to support one another and be loyal to the members of our family. Many times when I was upset with my sisters or we were arguing about something, Pop would say: "You'd better remember that all you have in life is each other. That's your sister, son. Family. Work it out."
We were blessed beyond measure to have parents who provided for us and protected us. There were several memorable times in my life when I saw my dad step forward and defend his family. Those actions said, loudly and clearly, "I will not let you or anyone else hurt or mistreat my family."
Can you imagine the confidence this gave us? We were backed and supported.
This is the feeling, the spirit, of what Paul is saying in Romans 8:33-34:
Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
The key expression is "God's elect." The word elect means "chosen one." We did not choose God and place ourselves in His family. No, God chose us and placed us in His family. He did it by purchasing us with the blood of His dear Son.
He sought us. He found us. He saved us. He sustains us. He will bring us into His presence. We are members of his family, and He lovingly and tenaciously watches over us. To be a member of the family of God means to be secure and confident. We take bold steps of faith because we know who is with us, who supports us, and who fights our battles.
But there is something more specific that Paul wants us to understand and embrace. As God's elect, we are not guilty, we are not condemned. The charges cannot stick. Here he is referring to both our sinful condition and the sins that we have committed, both of which had not only separated us from God but assigned us to eternal condemnation. But now, through faith in Christ, we are not guilty. Thus, the guilt-erasing, soul-liberating statement in Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Formal charges can no longer be made against God's elect. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are not condemned. We are free to enjoy Him, to live for Him, and to confidently trust Him to meet our every need.
The shrapnel of doubt
As a pastor, I have counseled countless people who struggle with that assurance of their salvation. And the shrapnel of doubt is embedded in their entire approach to the Christian life, leaving gaping holes in their confidence and their ability to have a certain, sure walk with Christ. Typically the angst and uncertainty tends to fall under the banner of one of two questions. The first is, "How can God ever forgive me for the awful things I've done?" This is self-punishment and the refusal to accept the unconditional forgiveness of God secured once and for all through the death of Christ on the cross.
The second question is something like this: "How do I know that I really, sincerely placed my faith in Christ?" This question launches people on an agonizing downward spiral of one negative "what if" scenario after another, sometimes leading to depression and a paralyzing hopelessness. Again, obviously, without assurance there is no confidence and no possibility of exercising life-transforming, event-altering faith.
So what do I tell them? Often I point them to this very passage of Romans 8:33-34, for it speaks to our guilt and the nature of our salvation.
Pay close attention to the short, powerful answer Paul gives to the question of who shall bring a charge against God's elect: "It is God who justifies." To be justified means to be declared righteous. Paul refers to this declaration of righteousness when he says in Romans 5:1, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." When we turn to Christ, we are declared righteous in the sight of God, and that brings peace between us and Him.
That does not mean that God somehow ignores our sin, that He is living in denial about what we are really like. He knows and has seen every nasty, filthy thing we have done. He is very much aware of our selfishness and sinful actions. He knows the sinful secrets of our hearts and the dark cracks and crevices where we not only have allowed our minds to visit but to take up residence. We have angered Him. We have hurt His heart. We have willfully and willingly disobeyed Him. God knows this and more.
Yet He justifies us. Why? Because He loves us and He knows that we are utterly helpless and completely powerless to change our condition or even come close to meeting His standard, which is perfection. So God provided His own solution to our sin and guilt, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God could declare us righteous because His own Son satisfied the requirements of His holiness.
You see, when we understand that we did not provide for or participate in our salvation, but that God did it all for us, we are filled with wonder, worship, and a sense of profound gratitude. Yes, we were guilty, but He paid the price to declare us righteous.
What God has said and done stands. Don't be distracted by the accusations from Satan, others, or even yourself. Dismiss them. They are empty and cannot alter in the least our eternal destination and position in Christ. The moment we turned from our sin to Christ, we were declared righteous.
This means that our sin has been expunged from our record.
A friend told me that his daughter had been caught speeding. She was going 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, and the officer had no mercy on her. Her driver's license was suspended. However, she was told that if she went to driving school, she would get her license back, and if she didn't get any more speeding tickets for a year, the ticket would be expunged from her record. That was a no-brainer. She went to the classes. She got her license back. She drove within the speed limit. Now, there is no record anywhere of her speeding violation. It cannot be found.
When Christ died on the cross, that's what happened to our sins. No one can condemn us, because Christ died for our sins. When Christ died, our sin and guilt were transferred to Him. I love the description in Colossians 2:13-14: "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."
What does this mean? When we trust Christ, we experience full forgiveness, the complete removal of our offense and guilt. Not only that, the Bible teaches that Jesus currently stands before God the Father as our Advocate, declaring that His death on the cross has paid for our sins (I John 2:1). We are clean and we are free.
This means that we are free to trust God. We are in His family and He is our loving heavenly Father, who cares for us and has promised to meet our every need. We can take bold, confident steps of faith.
The relationship question
So, then, we have another question: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35). This is the relationship question. In other words, "Will I be abandoned?" The answer is a resounding, emphatic no. Nothing or no one can separate us from Him.
These verses are like the grand climax of George Frideric Handel's Messiah. I'm convinced that when Paul wrote these words, he intended for them to be read with passion, volume, and great confidence—just as Handel intended for his "Hallelujah Chorus." God's love through Christ holds us permanently in his family. Believe it. Declare it. Celebrate it. And live confidently based upon it.
Literally nothing or no one can separate us from the love of Christ. Death cannot and will not affect the love of Christ for us because we have the gift of eternal life. Death has been defeated at the cross and through the resurrection. Therefore, death is not final, but merely the transition into the presence of God (Philippians 1:21-23).
Likewise, life cannot affect the love of Christ for us. This refers to the tragic twists and turns in life. In other words, nothing we will ever encounter in life is strong enough to pry us away from the eternal grip of God's love through Christ. It cannot happen.
Supernatural powers cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Romans 8:38 says, "nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers…" We are followers of Christ and members of his family. There is no power, no devil or demon, no "powerful" person, no set of circumstances, no issues in life that can separate us from the love of Christ. Whatever happens tomorrow ("things to come") or next year, for that matter, cannot change or affect in any way the love of Christ for us.
Because we are secure ("God is for us"), because we are no longer guilty ("Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?"), and because we will never be abandoned ("Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"), we are confident. The assurance question is taken off the table. God is with us, so we are free to exercise focused, believing faith.
Content taken from Unshaken by Crawford W. Loritts Jr. Copyright © 2015. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187.
1. Dennis Rainey’s life was once riddled with questions that he couldn't answer. Read “My Struggle With Unbelief.”
2. Listen as Pastor Crawford Loritts challenges FamlyLife Today® radio listeners to live fully for Christ, confident in God and his unshakable promises. And read his book Unshaken.
3. Learn how one couples’s marriage was set on the right path at a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. Read “The Difference God Makes in a Marriage.”