RPM, Volume 12, Number 48, November 28 to December 4, 2010

The Anchor of Assurance

A Sermon on Romans 8:31-39

By D. Patrick Ramsey

If you were to take a tour of the city of Louisville, you would eventually come across a private Roman Catholic university called Bellarmine University. It is named after Cardinal Robert Bellarmine who was a leading Roman Catholic apologist in the late 16th and early 17th century. When you read the Puritans you quickly discover that they all address Bellarmine's writings against the Protestant faith because he was one of, if not the best Roman Catholic theologian of his day and his arguments needed to be answered. On one occasion, Bellarmine identified what he thought was the greatest of all Protestant heresies. What do you think that might have been? Well, we might guess the doctrine of faith alone, that is, the teaching that we are made right with God by faith and not by our works. Or perhaps we might guess the doctrine of Scripture alone, that is, the teaching that the ultimate rule of our faith and practice is Scripture alone and not Scripture plus church tradition as interpreted by the church. And if we made such guesses, we would be wrong. For Robert Bellarmine wrote that the greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance. 1

This answer makes perfect sense from a Roman Catholic viewpoint. For Roman Catholicism teaches that justification is a process that is partly dependent upon a person's works and is not complete until glory. Since there is always something to be done by us for our justification, full assurance is impossible, unless God himself reveals it to you by special revelation. Moreover, assurance is not even desirable because then motivations for good works would be removed and lawlessness would set in.

Well, if assurance is the greatest of all Protestant heresies, then it must be said that it is also the greatest of all Pauline heresies! For the Apostle wants you to be fully assured that you are saved and will be saved on the Day of Judgment! He has been hammering home this point throughout Romans 8, which now comes to a rousing climax in these final verses. Full assurance of faith is most certainly possible because of God's golden chain of salvation (Rom. 8:29-30). Those whom God foreknew, he predestined, called, justified and glorified. God is the one who saves us from beginning to end. We do not save ourselves or add to the work of Christ in any way. We do not work for our salvation; rather, we work out our salvation.

Assurance is not only possible, it is desirable. Far from destroying incentives to persevere to the end, it actually encourages and motivates you to keep on keeping on. Knowing that God is working in all things for your good; knowing that you will be glorified on the day Jesus returns; knowing that no one can snatch you from Jesus' hand; sustains you through the pain and suffering that you must endure before the end (cf. Rom. 8:17).

So assurance is possible and desirable. But here is the rub. How can I personally be assured? How can I know that I am saved and will be saved? You might answer: "I know I am saved because things are going so well for me. I am experiencing God's blessings, which assure me that God is with me." But then what do you do when things are not going well? What about when you fall into sin, even grievous sin? Or what about when your circumstances take a turn for the worse and it seems that not only the whole universe is against you, but God himself is against you?

What is the anchor of assurance that remains steadfast night and day, rain and sunshine? What can you hold on to when God gives and when He takes away? Well, Paul tells you what that anchor is in Romans 8:31-28. In verse 31 Paul asks, "What then shall we say to these things? "These things" refers to back to the golden chain of salvation of verses 29-30, to the rest of chapter 8, and indeed all the way back to chapter 5. What shall we say in light of God's incredible salvation for us by Jesus Christ and in us by the Holy Spirit? Paul answers his own question in verse 31 with a rhetorical question: "If [or since] God is for us, who can be against us?" This is the anchor of assurance: God is for us. Paul then expands upon this point in the remaining verses of the chapter.

God is for us.

Paul of course is not saying that since God is for us, no one or nothing opposes us. The fact of the matter is that we do have adversaries; we do have people and things against us, not the least of which include sin, death and Satan. The road to glory is paved with suffering, temptation, and hardship, all of which conspire against us. Just as Israel faced the fierce Egyptians, the Red Sea, thirst, hunger, giants, temptations to go back to Egypt and walled cities on the way to the Promised Land; and just as Paul faced beatings, stonings, heartache, and imprisonment on his path to the heavenly Jerusalem; so we have our particular temptations, trials and tribulations in this fallen world as we make our way to glory. And they all stand in the middle of the road blocking our way. The point, however, is that these obstacles cannot actually block our way. Our adversaries, whoever and whatever they might be, cannot triumph over us because God is for us. God is on our side and so we will be victorious.

In Psalm 118, the Psalmist speaks of calling out in distress, persecution and danger. Yet in the midst of such trials, he is confident and will not fear because as he says in verses 6-7: "The Lord is on my side...What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me." In Psalm 56, the Psalmist is continually oppressed and trampled by his enemies; and yet he will not fear because his trust is in God. He knows that God keeps all of his tears in a bottle and boldly proclaims in verse 9: "This I know, that God is for me…" When the mighty king of Assyria invaded Judah with the purpose of taking Jerusalem, Hezekiah immediately began to prepare for the invasion. As he did so, he encouraged the people with these stirring words: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles (2 Chron. 32:7-8)."

If God is for us, no one and nothing can stand against us! But again you may question whether God is on your side and is for you in particular. How can I know that God is for me in the midst of my sins, fears, doubts and difficulties? Well, the answer is in verse 32: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Paul is using a very powerful argument here, arguing from the greater to the lesser. If the big thing is true then it must follow that the smaller thing is true as well. If I own the house then it follows that I own the shingles on the house as well. If God did not spare his one and only son then it follows that he will give to us anything and everything that we need both in this life and on the Day of Judgment. There is no greater gift than his Son, and therefore since God was willing to give us the greatest gift, he will certainly give us lesser gifts to ensure our salvation.

God did not spare his own son. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that his son was pleading with tears to be spared. In the garden of Gethsemane, and deeply troubled in the very core of his being, Jesus cried out to his Father, asking if the cup could be passed. But the Father did not take away the cup but let his son drink it all, down to the very last drop.

But why? Why did the Father not spare his own son? He did it for you! Verse 32: "But gave him up for us all…" Paul is undoubtedly echoing the words of Isaiah 53: He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…it was the will of the Lord to crush him…he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." Jesus took our place and died for our sins so that we would live forever. He is the Lamb of God who took away our sins. God sacrificed his own Son for you! Octavius Winslow rightly said: "Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy;-but the Father, for love!" 2

So how do you know that God is for you? Look to the cross! Don't look at yourself, your sins, your good works, your circumstances, what you have or what you don't have! Look to the cross and be assured that God is for you. Romans 5:8: "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." But again, you may cry out, "How do I know the cross is for me? How can I be sure that Jesus died for me?" The answer is simple: believe. Believe what God has said in his Word.

In the remaining verses of chapter 8 Paul elaborates how God is for us in two different ways: judicially and relationally. And both are important. Consider for a moment a husband and his wife. The man dearly loves his wife and looks forward to spending the rest of his life with her. But then one day the cops show up at his door, arrest his wife and haul off her to prison, where she will spend the rest of her life. Unbeknownst to him, she had committed a serious crime prior to their marriage, and now justice is finally but rightly being meted out. Yet sadly, justice is also separating the man from his beloved wife. God is just, and therefore there is the possibility that justice will separate us from God.

Or consider another scenario. The wife commits serial adultery, causing the husband to grow cold towards her and divorce her. Or the wife simply leaves him for another man. Or she remains faithful but is killed in a car accident and thus is taken away from her loving husband. A loving relationship can be destroyed in many ways and for various reasons. What about our relationship with God? Although a relationship may be secure from a judicial standpoint, it still could be broken. Nothing and no one, however, will tear us from God because God is for us judicially and relationally.

God is for us judicially.

Any family with more than one child knows what it is like to have an accuser. "Mom, Johnny is not cleaning! Mom, Johnny is playing Gameboy, and not doing his homework!" Any Christian, whether he has siblings or not, also knows what it is to have an accuser. The Scriptures tell us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He stands before God pointing out our sin, calling for justice and our separation from God. Our enemies and even our friends may point out our sins. Indeed, they may even do this on the Day of Judgment, crying out to God that it is not fair for them to be punished when you have done the exact same thing. There is also our own conscience, which often, perhaps daily, accuses us.

Now any and all accusations would be meaningless and not troublesome if we were innocent. But we are not innocent! We are guilty as hell! And that is why the accusations don't just bounce off us but pierce deeply into our hearts. When Paul says in verses 33-34, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? Who is to condemn?" he does not mean that no one will bring any charges against us or call for our condemnation. At the very least, Satan will demand our downfall on the Day of Judgment.

But there is no need to worry or fear. You will stand on the Day of Judgment. Although you are a sinner and the accusations are true, they will not stand up in court. Every charge will be silenced by the upraised, pierced hands of our Advocate! 3 Your sin and guilt have been taken care of judicially. God has justly removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west by means of Christ's death, resurrection, ascension and intercession (vs. 34).

God is for us relationally.

While our sins are no longer a judicial barrier to a relationship with God because of Jesus' death, resurrection and intercession; what about all those others things that can destroy relationships?

George Matheson was born on March 27, 1842 in Scotland. He was the eldest of eight children, graduated from the University of Glasgow with honors and became a minister of the Gospel. Before his twentieth birthday, George was told that he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do for him. When his fiancée learned of his fate, she left him saying that there was no way she could go through life with a blind man.

George's younger sister took care of him in his blindness for many years until she married. On the eve of his sister's wedding, the wound on George's heart was reopened and the floodgates were once again unleashed as he reflected upon the woman he had loved but who had deserted him in his time of need. It was then that he penned the famous hymn, "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go."

Verse 35: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" The list Paul gives is somewhat autobiographical as it includes most of what he had to endure. But the list, of course, is not to be exhaustive. We could add our own troubles to it: shall blindness, heartache, cancer, HIV, or bankruptcy separate us from the love of God?

Believers will have their troubles. Paul quotes Psalm 44 in verse 36 as biblical proof of this fact. Becoming a Christian does not mean that you will have a trouble free life in this life. It does mean though that you will have a trouble free life in the life to come. But in the meantime, you will face troubles, and so the question is this: will any trouble or anyone separate you from God? Will it destroy your relationship with Him? Will it prevent you from entering the new heavens and new earth?

Paul's question in verse 35 is obviously rhetorical. But in order to emphasize the point, he answers the question in verse 37 and with his own personal conviction in verses 38-39. Paul the Apostle is persuaded that nothing, absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, either now or in the future. Nothing can break the love that God has for you. He will not let you go. No created thing or person will snatch you from his hand; and that includes you. Our grip on Jesus may loosen and our love may fade, but Jesus' grip on us never loosens and his love always burns brightly. If we are faithless, he remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).

When Satan afflicted Job, he did so with the intent of getting him to reject the Lord. The same is true for all of your afflictions and troubles. Satan means it for evil. He wants you to forsake the Lord. But your suffering will not separate you from Christ because of Christ's love for you. Indeed, far from it separating you from Christ, Christ uses your suffering for your good (vs. 28). This is why Paul says in verse 37: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. We do not just conquer, we more than conquer!

Ravi Zacharias tells a beautiful story of how God keeps his people in the midst of persecution, even when our love for God begins to die out. God will never forsake us, especially in our darkest hour. Here is the story in Ravi Zacharias' own words:

Of all the stories I've told after thirty years of traveling, this one is nearest to my heart, probably the most moving to me. In 1971, I preached in Vietnam. I was in my mid twenties; my interpreter was seventeen years old. His name was Hien Pham. We covered the length and breadth of the country. The American troops carried us around or we went by motorbike. How our lives were rescued, I don't know. But we came back safely. A revival broke out in the country through the preaching of these two young men.

Hien was my interpreter. In the city Natrang, I held him close, embraced him, and said, "Goodbye, Hien. I'll probably never see you again." I flew to Saigon and on back where I was living at that time in Toronto.

Seventeen years later, my phone rang. I was in Vancouver speaking and the phone rang at 11:00 p.m. The man said, "Brother Ravi." There's only one person who called me with that intonation that way. I said, "Hien, is that you?" he said, "Yes." I said, "Oh my word! Where are you?" He said, "California." I said, "What are you doing here?" He said, "Have you got a few minutes?" I said, "Yes."

He said, "After Vietnam fell, I was imprisoned by the Viet Cong because I'd worked with the Americans, worked with people like you. They put me behind bars, they took away all English from me, took away my Bible from me, tried to knock faith out of me. I was only allowed to read Marx and Engels in French and Vietnamese. After about a year in there, so worn out, I said, ‘Maybe you don't exist, God. I'm giving up all hope. I don't believe in you. Tomorrow when I wake up, I'm not going to pray.'"

That morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines. He said, "Brother Ravi, it's the dirtiest place on earth you'd want to be. I bound a handkerchief around my mouth cleaning the wet floor, and I saw a little bin with dirty pieces of paper, with human excrement in it. But something told me as I looked there, there was one paper, a piece of paper with English." He said, "I hadn't read English for so long. I washed it off, put it in my hip pocket, waited for everybody to go to bed, to sleep. Lights were out.

I took out my flashlight under my mosquito net. I flashed it. On the right hand corner it said, Romans chapter 8." He said, "I started reading and cried. ‘Oh, my dear Lord, you didn't leave me one day without you.' ‘For all things work together for good to them that love God; to those that are called according to his purpose. For who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither things present, nor things to come, nor life nor death.'"

Hien said, "Next morning I went back to the commanding officer. I said, ‘Do you mind if I clean the latrines again today?'" He went there every day. He found another page from the New Testament. The commanding officer had been given a Bible a long time ago. He was tearing out a page every day using it as toilet paper. Hien was washing it and using it for his devotions every day.

I said, "Where are you now?" He said, "I'm at Berkeley doing my business degree." I said, "I can't believe this, Hien." He said, "I'm in America."

I said, "How did that happen?" He said, "I was released and I built a boat with 52 others. Four days before my release, before our escape, four Viet Cong came armed to the teeth and grabbed me and said, ‘Are you trying to escape?' I lied and said, ‘No.' They said, ‘Are you telling us the truth?'" He said, "Yes."

They let him go. He got on his knees, and said, "God, I lied. I'm running my own life. I lied. If you really want me to tell them the truth, let them come back again." He said, "I sincerely hoped that prayer would never be answered. Hours before we left, the four of them came with their machine guns, grabbed me by the collar, rammed me against the wall. ‘You're lying, aren't you?'"

Hien said, "Yes, I'm escaping with 52 others. Are you going to imprison me again?" They said, "No. we want to go with you.'"

"Brother Ravi, if it weren't for them we would never have made it. They knew how to navigate the ocean on that boat, get us safely to Thailand. I was then listed as a United Nations refugee. I'm here in America now doing my business degree." 4

God is for you. Who can be against you? Who shall bring any charge against you? Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? Absolutely nothing and no one for you are more than conquerors in Christ. So be persuaded with all of your mind and heart that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Blessed be God, our God


Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

1 BLESSED be God, our God!
Who gave for us His well-beloved Son,
The gift of gifts, all other gifts in one ---
Blessed be God, our God!

2 What will He not bestow,
Who freely gave this mighty gift unbought,
Unmerited, unheeded and unsought ---
What will He not bestow?

3 He spared not His Son!
'Tis this that silences each rising fear;
'Tis this that bids the hard thought disappear ---
He spared not His Son!

4 Who shall condemn us now?
Since Christ has died, and risen, and gone above,
For us to plead at the right hand of Love,
Who shall condemn us now?

5 'Tis God that justifies!
Who shall recall the pardon or the grace,
Or who the broken chain of guilt replace?
'Tis God that justifies!

6 The victory is ours!
For us in might came forth the Mighty One;
For us He fought the fight, the triumph won ---
The victory is ours!


1. Sinclair Ferguson, "The Greatest of All Protestant Heresies"?, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/greatest-all-protestant-heresies (accessed, September 13, 2010). See also Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 149.

2. Cited by John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 1:324.

3. R. Kent Hughes, Romans (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 170.

4. Ravi Zacharias, National Day of Prayer Address, http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/10018/cbmoduleid/881/default.aspx (accessed September 13, 2010). See also Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 191-194.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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