33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
1901 ASV Translation:
33 Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth;
I. Paul's "For Us" Explanation.
A. The "major" issue: our vulnerability before the Law.
1. The issue of "laying" something "to the charge" of someone is the issue of having a legal case of wrongdoing against them.
a. The word "lay to the charge" is used seven times in the New Testament and every time it is used of "legal liability". It is only used by Paul and his understudy, Luke. Paul only uses it once; Luke uses it only in Acts in reference to either civil lawlessness, or the charges brought against Paul by the Jews before the legal system of Rome.
b. It is imperative that we understand that, for "us", the greatest "problem" we will ever face is our failure(s) before the expectations of God, the Almighty Disposer of the final affairs of man.
c. It is also imperative that we understand that, for Paul, there would have been no sense in which a person would be "accused" before the God of Justice without merit. In other words, Paul is not talking about "false accusations" when he raises the question of just "who" would bring an accusation toward "us" before the Almighty. His basic assumption is not that we are not "chargeable" in the sense of true guilt; it is that we are. Our "danger" does not rest in false accusations, if there are any foundations at all; it rests (if there is a "danger") in the truth of accusations that can be brought. Thus, he is not saying that we do not sin.
2. The issue of our "vulnerability" is precisely the issue of Paul's "gospel".
a. The Gospel of God is not a message about how God rewards the righteous with the fruits of their loving action.
b. The Gospel of God is a message about how God "justifies the ungodly".
B. Paul's "judicious" use of "God's elect".
1. There is a good reason for Paul's reference to "us" as "God's elect" in this question of our vulnerability before "Law": any reference to "our" action/character would have greatly compromised his point. We typically fail so that the potency of the declaration would have been undone by tying God's commitment to anythingwe have "done".
2. The only "problem" with the declaration as it was given is the question of who is included in the group called "the elect". This is no small problem -- Peter addresses the issue in 2 Peter 1:10 by urging the brethren to "make your calling and election sure" and John wrote 1 John for the express purpose of enabling the elect to "know" that they have eternal life (1 John. 5:13). The point here is not whether a person is "of the elect", or not, but whether a person knows whether he/she is such. If a person is of the elect, but does not know it, he/she can take no encouragement from Paul's enormously encouraging declaration in our text.
a. This "problem" is beyond human solution. Human beings always want to tie the question of their involvement to God's election to something they can do. It's a part of their sinful insecurity and self-absorbed fears. This invariably leads to the attempt to make "involvement" a matter of some human action/activity and the doing of that simply leads to despair or arrogance.
b. This "problem" is resolved by God Himself. It is the Spirit of God Who brings the conviction called "faith" into existence and it is the Spirit of God Who provides the "believer" with the comfort of knowing of God's love for him/her.
c. Neither Peter, nor John, gave the believers anything to "do" that would generate this conviction. Both simply urged their readers to maintain a close relationship with God so that they would not be confused by His dealings with them. A person who is under the disciplining hand of God can easily be confused about God's love for him/her. A person who is walking in the light as He is in the light has no such confusion. Those who walk in pride invariably tie their identity in respect to God to their performance; those who walk in humility simply reap the benefit of humility in respect to their identity in respect to God -- the quiet confidence that arises from the grace that God gives to the humble (James 4:6/1 Peter 5:5).
C. The "major" thesis: God justifies.
1. This thesis pulls Paul's doctrine of justification to the forefront. This is not about how much, or how little, Christian development in godliness occurs in a person's life. That issue is the issue of Paul's doctrine of progressive sanctification (not a gradual improvement of the "old man", but a gradual maturation of a "new man" that has been created within us).
2. In Paul's doctrine of justification, there are only two issues: what God does/has done; and what man must do.
a. Since Genesis 3, the "problem" between God and man has been man's penchant for calling God a liar by willfully refusing to accept His words as dependable Truth. For this cause, God has made "faith" the issue in the setting of His relationships with men.
b. Since every failure of man in overt, or even attitudinal, issues can easily be traced back to a "failure of faith", there are those who declare that God does not justify any who "fail" to believe Him. In that theology, God does not justify anyone who sins. However, since that consigns all men to Hell, the promoters of this confusion immediately "fall back" to a less threatening position: God does not justify anyone who sins and refuses afterwards to "repent". But, this "fall back" position is really nothing more than a denial of their entire position. Their position is that God only justifies those who "believe" in His "justification by continuous repentance". In other words, their position is not "justification by faith" per se, it is "justification by faith in the one promise of 'forgiveness upon repentance'". So, they say, the requirement of God for justification is "perennial repentance". But, even this position is compromised in their theology because, though they are adamant about the absolute necessity of some actions (like water baptism), they must admit their own lack of omniscience and, thus, their own failures to "believe all that God has said", and if God condemns those who are not perennially repentant, their own ignorance will condemn them for all of the sins that they commit in ignorance. Knowing this, they "fall back" even further: God "justifies" the "perennially repentant" who "repent" of the sins ofwhichtheyareaware. Thus, their doctrine is not of "justification for the perennially repentant"; in actuality it is of "justification for the ignorant, perennially repentant". But, there is even a greater problem at this point. It is the "problem" of the nature of "ignorance". If God "justifies" those who are perennially repentant of their known sins, ignorance is a blessed, and desirable, state. So, now, the doctrine is one of the "justification of the willfully ignorant". And then an even worse thing occurs: in order to recover from the "justification of the willfully ignorant", they dismiss "ignorance" as the sin of "rejecting the obvious" which, in their dogma, means "rejecting their infallible interpretations of the words of God". They adamantly declare that their grasp of the words of God is the only Truth and anyone who disagrees with them is being deliberately obtuse and, therefore, unforgivable. The tangled web of delusion just gets worse and worse.
c. In Paul's doctrine of justification, he holds to the issue of "faith" in one promise: God's offer to forgive any, and all, who "believe" that the actions of Jesus were a sufficient basis for a righteousness to be "granted" to any, and all, who come to God for that grace-grant. In Paul's doctrine of justification there is no teaching that the "faith" that "justifies" also provides for an inevitable motivation to never avoid Truth so that ignorance can be used as an excuse and to never commit the sin of refusing to repent when one is actually wrong, whether he/she believes he/she was wrong, or not. The doctrine is pure. It does not require the finite-ignorant one to grasp the purity of infinite omniscience in order to be saved. One who does not believe that he/she was wrong when, in actual fact, he/she was wrong is not, by Paul's doctrine, consigned to Hell because of this kind of a lack of faith. Understanding the real nature of sin and one's terrible entanglements in the deepest parts of a deceitful heart is not a requirement of justification by faith. The faith that justifies only needs two facts to be clear: I have sinned and God is willing to forgive me because of Jesus. If I "believe" these two realities so that I call upon Him Who makes this offer to apply it to me, Paul would say that I have been "justified".
d. Does this "justification by faith" solve all of the on-going problems of human frailty and sinfulness? No, but it does lead to God's response.
e. What is God's response to "faith" in the one promise (I will forgive) given in the one context (you have sinned)? He justifies.
1) This is Paul's point in the question he raised in our text: who can "accuse" any of God's elect so as to bring the legal ramifications of sin upon their heads? No one. Not because they have not sinned, but because their sins have been addressed under Law by the reality of Jesus' substitutionary atonement.
2) Paul, quoting David, said pointedly: How blessed is the man to whom God will not reckon his sin (Romans 4:8). It is fruitless to argue that he meant a "godly" man. God could not impute sin to someone who didn't do any. He had to have meant a man who was less than godly. Those are the only kind of men that God ever imputes sin.