If God is for us, who can be against us? That’s quite a line. The problem that some will find with these words is that their experience tells them that quite a bit can be against them. Life with God, they might say, hasn’t made for easy sailing. The sufferings of life are still present, and there are times when suffering comes because of our allegiance to Jesus.
The key to this conundrum is to keep reading. In verse 35, Paul names some of the things that stand against us: hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, and sword. It’s important to know here that Paul isn’t just dreaming this stuff up. Instead, he has experienced these things first-hand. We find this testimony from Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
It turns out that Paul personally knew the difficulties that stand against God’s people. That’s one reason we can trust him as he helps us think about these kinds of things. You see, the question Paul asks is not, “Who among God’s children will face difficulty?” To that we could quickly reply, “All of us!” No, Paul’s question in verse 35 is more profound. He asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” That question changes the discussion entirely.
You see, when Paul asks who can stand against God’s people, he’s talking in final terms. Yes, hardship, persecution, and the rest might stand against us for a moment, but the ultimate victory is ours because we are held steady in the love of Christ. Think here of the final skirmishes in a war that has already been decided. Yes, struggle still exists, but it must eventually give way to the bigger reality that the war has already been won. Thus, warriors in such battles can view themselves as “more than conquerors,” not because of their performance in battle, but because they are on the winning side.
It’s kind of like that when it comes to the Christian life. All manner of things stand against us, but none of them can change the truth that God has already won the victory in Christ. It is that very sentiment that drives Paul to crow at the end chapter 8:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.