“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
Who is he that condemneth? 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.”
Our salvation is complete and perfect! And this is true because all our salvation is the work of God!
This great truth the apostle has set forth in that well-known passage which has sometimes been called, “the golden chain of our salvation.” “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate. . . . Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them, He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”
As the apostle contemplates this glorious truth, he asks a series of questions, questions which echo in the hearts of the people of God who ponder this truth with him. What shall we say to these things? The answer is obvious and clear: If God be for us, who can be against us? But then more questions: Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? And, finally, triumphantly: “I am persuaded that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?
It would seem to the beleaguered child of God in this world that everyone is always condemning. The wicked world in which he lives condemns him constantly. This is not surprising. This same world condemned Christ—He Who had never committed any sin, but went about preaching and doing good. They condemned Him to death though He had done no wrong. And He Himself warned His people that even as the world hated Him, so also they would hate us. And so it has been throughout all time. The prophets were killed; the people of God were hunted as wild dogs upon mountains; Paul himself experienced the condemnation of the world; the church has been condemned throughout history. Always charges are brought that the people of God oppose all that the world stands for, that they never fit in with the world, that they march to a different drumbeat, that they are misfits in history. And so their place becomes narrower as time goes on and as the world casts out those who confess the name of God. Even the apostle, a few verses later in the chapter, complains, “For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” We might surely respond to the apostle’s question: “Why, Paul, how can you ask such a question? All men bring charges against us and condemns us? What can you possibly mean?”
But this is not the whole story. Behind the wicked world stands Satan himself and his host of foul demons who also bring their charges against God’s people and condemn them. He is even called in Scripture, the accuser of the brethren. In the Old Dispensation he even had the brazen audacity to come into heaven with his charges. He brought evil charges against Job and he disputed with Michael over the body of Moses, claiming that Moses had no right to be in glory. At every opportunity he stirs up the world to hurl accusations against those who are faithful to God.
But perhaps worst of all, Satan brings his charges and accusations against us in the forum of our own consciences. He never ceases to remind us that we are sinners, and he tries in a frenzy to rob us of all our hope and comfort. He reminds us that we are no better than others, that we sin in all that we do. And if we try to plead that we do, after all, pray, go to church, give to the poor, he is quick to respond that our prayers are usually mere empty words, that our worship is often lip service, that we give to the poor grudgingly and to be seen of men. How our consciences can themselves accuse us! How we can be robbed of whatever peace and comfort there is by the incessant reminder of our evils which we constantly commit.
These accusations are not empty words either. We have only to take a cursory look at our lives to see that whatever charges may be brought against us, they are usually true.
We have fallen in Adam our head. And we must understand that this involves a state of guilt before God. Before the tribunal of God’s justice we are guilty—guilty for what Adam did; and therefore worthy of hell. But we are ourselves sinners as well. We are born in iniquity and come into the world with a sinful nature in which is no good thing. This very nature is God’s punishment upon us for our involvement in Adam’s sin. It is the just sentence of God’s condemnation. And the result is that we multiply our guilt every moment until it is a mountain so high that it reaches to the heavens.
God condemns us! That is the worst of all. God cannot tolerate sin, for He is holy. He cannot wink at sin, overlook it, act as if it does not exist. We may try to dodge the frightening implications of this, but ultimately this is impossible, for we know that God is God, holy and righteous in His own perfect being. He must condemn sin and punish it in His wrath. He would not be God if He did anything less than this.
And so we lie under the penalty of sin, for death is our lot. Every step nearer the grave is God’s Word of judgment upon the sinner. And when the grave swallows us up and opens the way into hell, it is only because God punishes the sinner.
What possibly can Paul mean when he dares to stand in the midst of the world and shout the challenge: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?” We are almost inclined to wonder a bit whether Paul knows the stark reality of life.
Yet the apostle means exactly what he says.
You must understand, of course, that these questions which the apostle asks are really rhetorical questions; i.e., they are questions which have no answers—need no answers; and they need no answers because the answers are so obvious. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth? Why, no one; no one at all; It is impossible.
Can you understand, people of God, the tremendous power of these questions? Standing in this present world, surrounded by the enemy, plagued by Satan, burdened with a condemning conscience, dying a bit every day, the believer confidently shouts for all to hear: No one, ever, can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect. It is impossible. It can never happen. Let anyone come forward with his accusations if he can. Who anywhere, both now and forever, in this world and before the judgment seat of Christ, can possibly bring any charges? None! It cannot be done.
What can be the reason for this?
Fundamentally, the reason is in that simple statement: It is God that justifies.
There are a few truths which are implied in this.
In the first place, other than verses 29, 30 of this same chapter, this is the only passage in Scripture which directly connects election and justification. Whatever, for the moment, justification may mean, it is rooted in the sovereign decree of eternal and unchangeable election. It is, after all, against God’s elect that no one can bring charges.
Secondly, the reference both here and in verse 30 is to the truth of eternal justification. In the history of the post-Reformation church there has been considerable controversy, in years gone by, over the question whether justification is eternal or temporal. We need not be detained here by this question. Scripture is clear that justification is an eternal reality. In God’s counsel, before the foundation of the world, God’s elect people stand before Him as justified. They are never anything else but a justified people.
In the third place, this means that before God the elect are seen by God as without any sin whatsoever, as completely free from guilt, as innocent entirely, as worthy of God’s richest blessing. Can you imagine this?
Perhaps the way to understand this the best is to consider the evil plot of wicked Balak and Balaam. Balak, king of Moab, was frightened by Israel and knew that he could not withstand Israel’s armies. He understood, in his pagan unbelief, that this was because God fought for Israel. The way to defeat Israel therefore was to persuade God to abandon and curse Israel. To accomplish this evil goal, he hired a wicked prophet of Jehovah to curse Israel. Balaam was his name. You know the history. After one attempt failed, Balak took Balaam to a height overlooking the camp where Balaam could see only the outer edges of the camp where the mixed multitude lived. This was that wretched multitude which was the cause of all Israel’s rebellion—and grief. It was Israel at its worst. Surely here Balaam would be permitted to curse. What were the words which God put in Balaam’s mouth? You can find them in Numbers 23:21. Read them and rejoice. “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” Imagine. That wicked and rebellious people. God sees no iniquity in Jacob. That is the meaning of justification.
Finally, God causes the truth of justification to be preached throughout the world. He wants everyone in this world to know that whatever the world itself may do and whatever Satan may say, He never sees any sin in His people. He causes this to be proclaimed for all to hear, and when Christ comes again, He will announce this as the final verdict of history upon all His elect.
But how can this be? How can God declare a wicked sinner without sin?
We have to know this. How can it be, in the light of the righteousness of God, that we are declared righteous? We have to know this so that we can make this bold challenge of the apostle our own. God is holy. He cannot overlook sin. Yet he declares us to be without sin. How is it possible?
The apostle gives his answer. It is Christ that died! That is the answer.
Christ’s death was not an ordinary death, for He died in our place. He died in our place because all our guilt and sin were put upon Him so that He became guilty for us. He assumed responsibility for our guilt and took it all away by His suffering. He went to hell while He hung on the cross so that when He died, all the debt of sin was paid for.
But that is not all. He arose again. Never would our righteousness be accomplished if He had remained in the grave. But when God raised Christ, God put the seal of divine approval upon Christ’s work. He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.
Now He is in heaven. He rules at God’s right hand over all our enemies and over all who condemn us. He rules to bring us eternal salvation and He gives to us all the blessings which He has earned for us by His Spirit in our hearts.
And in heaven He prays for us. Not once in a while does He pray, but every moment, bringing our needs before the face of God, perfecting our prayers, holding before the Father His blood as the perfect covering for our sins.
And so there is a firm ground for this verdict of God that we are innocent, a ground which we appropriate by faith. By faith we lay hold on Christ and make Him our own. And by faith we know then that our righteousness is perfect and complete.
So we can make this daring and seemingly impossible challenge our own. Does the world condemn? Does Satan plague us with his evil whisperings? Do our own consciences rob us of peace, of hope? By faith we must tell the world—and Satan—and even our own consciences: be quiet. I know that what you say is true. Oh, how well, I know it. But be quiet. I have Christ! I belong to Him! Now then. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?
Put your trust in Christ. Do not look at yourself or at your own works. Do not try to build your hope of salvation upon what you have done. Do not plead your cause by your life of goodness. This will only make your poor and troubled consciences toss about on the stormy seas of doubt and despair. But look to Christ. In Him is all your salvation for time and for eternity.
(Editor’s note: Prof. Hanko graciously consented to write the meditation for this issue as substitute for Rev. M. Schipper.)