Romans 8:35-37, “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Justification, in which God imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ and declares us righteous in His sight, deals primarily with legal categories. The change that occurs when we are justified by faith in Christ alone is not ontological; that is, justification does not change who we are in terms of our being. We are still fallen, and will remain so until we are glorified. Instead, the change that justification brings about is a change of status. Our standing before the Lord’s heavenly tribunal is one of righteousness. We do not become inherently righteous in justification; rather, we become positionally righteous, so righteous that Paul can refer to us as the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).
We cannot, however, view the legal change brought about by our justification in isolation from the other aspects of God’s work of salvation. The Lord puts us in a new relationship to Him via the new legal status He grants to us freely and apart from our works in justification (Rom. 4:1-12). Paul says that peace characterizes this new relationship between God and the believer, but this relationship goes beyond a permanent cessation of hostilities (5:1). Our Creator also adopts as His children all those who are justified in Christ (8:15). He is our Father who loves us with a perfect, persevering love (vv. 35-39).
The Apostle shifts his focus from the legal aspects of salvation in Romans 8:33-34 to the relational in verse 35, asking whether sufferings of various kinds can separate us from the love of Christ. This question remains vitally important for the Christian, given the temptation to believe that the Lord does not love us or that we have fallen out of His favor simply because we endure tragedies of various kinds. Before answering the question, Paul quotes from Psalm 44, specifically verse 22 (Rom. 8:36). In this psalm, the psalmist cries out to God for the alleviation of the suffering he endures for the sake of his faithfulness to the Lord. By quoting this verse, Paul means to tell us that suffering for the sake of Christ should not take us by surprise, for it has always been the lot of God’s faithful servants.
Our suffering for Christ’s sake does not mean the Lord has stopped loving us; it is an opportunity for us to reveal ourselves as “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). God is with all who suer for His name, and we are still more than conquerors even if this suffering leads to death because, having been raised with Christ, we will live forever (6:5). Let our enemies do their worst—they cannot overpower our living and loving God.
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage: “We are conquerors by virtue of Christ’s victory. We have nothing to do but pursue the victory, and to divide the spoil, and so are more than conquerors.” Because we are in Christ, we share in His victory over all that opposes God and His people. We enjoy the firstfruits of this victory now—justification, the Holy Spirit, many physical blessings—and we will share fully in its consummation in the new heavens and earth.