“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:35–37

One of the great comforts of the Church Age is the promise of victory. For long periods of time the Church has appeared to be anything but victorious. The graph of successes and failures of the Church may be tracked in the letters of the Savior to His seven churches in Revelation 2–3. I believe the seven letters are both literal letters to seven ancient churches as well as seven “mini-ages” within the Church Age. To be sure, there are good times (“I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name”) and dire times (“be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God”). But in each letter there is a final encouraging word to those who overcome!

The first promise of victory is found in a passage regarded as the premier passage foreshadowing the coming Church Age found in Matthew 16:16–19. Peter declares that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord commends Peter, a name which means “small stone,” and then He declares Peter’s words to be a “Rock.” The Rock in Peter’s words is the fact that Jesus is “the Anointed One, the Son of God, the living One.” This Rock is the foundation upon which Jesus will build His church (His assembly of called-out ones). Of note is how He concludes this startling announcement. Jesus declares that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” In other words the Church has a militant aspect to it. It is to be laying siege to Hades and even storming its gates to conquer and gain victory. The Church’s job is to be winning souls and transforming lives, by the grace of God. Never is it to be hunkered down, itself under siege, and quaking in its boots. Rather, it is the world that ought to be afraid of what God can do in and through His people who are dedicated to His service. That is the correct Christian attitude.

Our text taken from Romans 8 seems to paint a slightly different picture. Victory is assured, but couched right in the middle of the passage in specially chosen words, is verse 36: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” It seems out of place alongside phrases such as “If God be for us, who can be against us?” and “It is Christ who…also makes intercession for us” and “We are more than conquerors” and “[nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” Paul chose his quote carefully, but it really seems out of cadence with the context—until you look at the Psalm from which he quoted.

Psalm 44 does not give us any historical context. It is a lament psalm meant to be sung antiphonally between the Jewish king and his people. Its content leads you to think Israel has suffered a punishing military defeat. In defeat they turn to the Lord and resolve even more to place themselves in the service of God. With pure hearts they petition God for victory.

In the first section of the psalm (verses 1–8) the people remember that past victories have come from the sovereign choice and grace of God. “Through You we will push down our enemies; through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us.”

In the second section (verses 9–16) the people are nursing their wounds reflecting upon their retreat (verse 10), being plundered, and devoured (verse 11). They have taken a severe drubbing.

In the third section (verses 17–22), the section from which Paul takes his quote in Romans 8:36, we read the resolve of the people to keep faith with God despite the outward circumstances. With pure hearts and clean conscience, they declare that they have not forgotten God, have not broken covenant with Him, and they have not gone astray. Verses 21 and 22 are actually an “appeal to heaven” (much as the American colonists avowed on the Pine Tree Flag, one of the America’s earliest flags). The faithful Jews declared their fealty to God, no matter what came their way, from His sovereign hand. They declared their innocence and declared that no amount of trial would dissuade them from their faithfulness to Him.

The psalm closes (verses 23–26) with a deeply emotional cry to God for help. God is appealed to on the grounds of, and for the honor of, His mercy.

Paul’s quote is now seen as greatly relevant to the context. It serves to remind us that though our momentary struggles may appear grievous defeats, we must never lose confidence in God and we must never allow our faith to wane! He will prevail and He will cause us to prevail (Ephesians 6:13). “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors [gain a surpassing victory] through Him who loved us” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Heaven awaits, victory is assured, and the best is yet to come! Trust and obey.