The following is my response to a question I received from a friend/student regarding Romans 8:31. We had discussed this section of Romans at our Thursday night “CounterCulture” group - a Bible study for high school and post-high school teenagers.
I appreciate your question and your inquisitive mind!
I’m going to try to be thorough without being long-winded. There is a TLDR; at the bottom of the email if you don’t want to read the whole thing.
If you’d like to sit down and talk this over some time, let me know. I know that some of this is difficult!
First, I want you to know this is a difficult and controversial part of the Bible. People really like to argue over what Paul means here. The ideas of “predestination” and “election”, “calling,” etc. cause a lot of tension in the church. Why? Because they involve the idea of God “choosing” people and not people “choosing” God. Ultimately, what people who think like me believe is that we were incapable of choosing God before being chosen by God first!
So, why does this cause tension? Because that would mean God has chosen some people, and not others. Some people view that as unfair, or unloving. However, none of us deserve salvation, so in God’s mercy it is amazing that God chooses anyone.
Romans 8:7-8 - “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (In other words, we were spiritually dead and unable to please God in our natural state. Something had to change us before we could even choose God, and we couldn’t do it ourselves).
Ephesians 2:8-9 - “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Faith itself comes from God - it is not from our own choices or desires. After all, we are spiritually dead without being called by him - ”hostile” to him and unable to please him).
John 6:44 - “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (These are words of Jesus - no one can come to Jesus unless God the Father first draws that person to Jesus)
Ephesians 1:4-5 - “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (This is one of many verses that shows God chose Christians from the very beginning).
These verses are in no way comprehensive. There is a LOT to know and understand regarding ”predestination” and “election”. However, I wanted to lay a simple groundwork for you based on how I understand the Bible. So, with that in place, let’s move on to the section of Romans in question.
So, these ideas of being chosen by God from the very beginning of time play a key role in understanding verse 31. Paul knew he had to explain this, so the verses leading up to v31 tell us that God chose us and that we have some exceptional benefits because of that:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
So, we see here that all things work for good for those who are called to his purpose. So, those who God has called for God’s own purposes can be assured that all things in life are working towards our good and God’s good will.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
This goes to further illuminate verse 28 - God foreknew those whom he called, and he predestined them to conform to the image of his son. And who are the people conformed to the image of his Son? Christians, of course! So, for Christians - people chosen by God before he even breathed life into them - all things work toward their good. Remember, since God is sovereign and all-powerful, he has the power and right to do this.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This verse progresses from “predestined” to “called”, and from “called” to “justified” (meaning they were made right in the eyes of God), and ultimately “glorified”. This is a reference to the glorification we receive when we are raised from the dead with glorified, immortal, eternal bodies like Christ.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
So, if all of these things are true, then God has us firmly in his control and we are firmly in his keeping. After all, the eternal, all-powerful, loving, merciful God of the universe has CHOSEN us. And, if we are chosen by him and he loves us and is in total control, then we can be sure that anyone who is against US is against HIM. And who will win in a battle with God? No one can ever overcome the plans God has. No one can ever defeat him. And, since he guides and directs us, and our wills are conformed to his over time, no one can stop us. No matter the battle or struggle, it all works towards our good and God’s glory, and no one can get in the way of God’s plan!
In the verses that follow, it says:
1) no one can “bring charges against us”, because those chosen by God are justified (aka “made right”) by God. Since he is truly the ruler of the universe, his justification over-rides any and all charges brought against us.
2) no one can condemn us because Jesus has already saved us and is at the Father’s right hand, arguing for us - even as sinners. And who can come to Jesus? Those called by the Father.
3) no one (or thing) can separate us from God. If we chose God, couldn’t we “un-choose” him, and separate ourselves from him? But, if WE are chosen first by GOD, then NOTHING can overrule what God has chosen. If HE chooses US, then we can rest in the knowledge that God has us in his hands and our lives are under his control. Nothing will be able to separate us from him!
1) God is sovereign (he has both the ABILITY and the RIGHT to rule over the universe and to do as he pleases).*
2) God is merciful, loving, and kind.
3) God the Father calls his chosen people to salvation in Jesus because of his mercy, kindness, and love. (John 6:44, Ephesians 1:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and many more!)
4) For those called by God the Father (and thus saved by the work of Jesus), all things in life work together for good. (Romans 8:28)
5) God foreknew his chosen people (before you were even born!) and predestined them (chose you for eternal life and faith in Jesus… before you were even born!) to be transformed into Jesus’ likeness. (Romans 8:29)
6) Since God loves us and has chosen us, NOTHING can separate us from his love. (Romans 8:35, 38)
7) Since nothing can separate us from his love, and because he is all-powerful, no one can stand against us. God is forever on our side. He has chosen us, and no one can do anything to change our path to Heaven and eternal glory with Christ. (Romans 8:31)
This is a lot of information, I know. I hope it wasn’t too much, but I felt the need to explain it as thoroughly as possible. Ask me any questions you like, and I will clarify if I can!