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The problem of accusation afflicts everyone in leadership. Politicians are accused of caring about nothing but their re-election. Business leaders are selfish brutes if they lay off workers (even if it’s to save a business from failing due to factors outside their control). Counselors are blamed when their clients can’t salvage their marriage or overcome their anxieties. Parents are accused by angry children of hovering or of indifference.
There’s a reason Paul says “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19)—because people in leadership have to make unpopular decisions that inevitably make them the target of criticism and anger. Of course, leaders aren’t perfect, and when “two or three witnesses” confirm the charge, then those who sin are to be “rebuked in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). If we are accused, let’s remember the need for self-examination. The book of Malachi is a sustained rebuke of Israel for self-deception. Israel thought God had failed them, but they were failing God. That is why we should join Psalm 139:23–24 in asking the Lord to “Search me… Try me…And see if there be any grievous way in me.”
But for everyone, whether in leadership or not, there are times when we ourselves know the accusations to be false, even if no one else does. The Bible is replete with examples of saints who are maliciously slandered (Matt. 5:11–12; Ps. 35:11–16; 41: 5–7; Gen. 39:13–18; 1 Pet. 3:16). So we need to be ready to endure this ourselves, as well as to help others who are enduring it. When I pray for these people, I think of two questions Paul asks in Romans 8, as he meditates on the work of Jesus, who justifies, redeems, and adopts believers into his family.
If God Is for Us, Who Is Against Us?
The traditional translation of Romans 8:31 (“who can be against us?”) aptly conveys the idea that whatever adversaries we have, they are weak compared to God. That said, the Greek reads more literally “If God is for us, who is against us?” This translation reminds readers that believers do have enemies. Indeed, Paul mentions persecution and the sword moments later (Rom. 8:35).
The problem of accusation afflicts everyone in leadership.
The sword pointed Paul’s first readers to the Roman Empire and it points all disciples to the tyrants who use force or threats to silence or coerce dissidents. Beyond despots, many others are against us. We have rivals at work, cranky neighbors, and ecclesiastical foes. We also have spiritual enemies—sin, death, the flesh, and the Devil. To this we may add accidents and illness. Worse, we have blind spots and sins, both chronic and occasional, that cause us to hurt ourselves.
If all this weren’t alarming enough, the Lord occasionally stands against people. He told Assyria and Babylon, “I am against you” (Neh. 2:13; 3:5; Jer. 50:31; 51:25). He also told rebellious Israel and her false shepherds, “I am against you” (Jer. 21:13; Ezek. 13:8–20). But now, through Christ, God says, “I am for you.” And the foes we list, who are they?, if the gracious, Almighty God is for us?
Who Shall Bring Any Charge?
Paul’s next question is longer:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Rom. 8:33–34).
Just as people are against us, people do accuse and condemn God’s elect. “Bring a charge” (egkaleo) translates a rare verb used most often to describe accusations against Paul (Acts 19:38–40; 23:28–29; 26:2–7).
We live in a critical age, so everyone suffers accusations. Foes of the church call Christians proud, legalistic, gun-toting anti-environmentalists. We’re branded hateful bigots because we don’t affirm people’s every moral decision, especially in sexual ethics, but we’re also labeled hypocrites because we tolerate misdeeds in our ranks. Sadly, these accusations have partial validity.
Isaiah 50:6–9 describes God’s Servant as he suffers mistreatment and false accusation. In a section that foreshadows Jesus’s suffering, we learn that beyond physical pain, God’s Servant suffers humiliation and false charges. But the Servant replies, “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? . . . Who is my adversary? . . . Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Isa. 50:8–9). Israel’s leaders often accused Jesus of misconduct and ultimately condemned him for blasphemy. But the Father vindicated him by his resurrection (Rom. 1:4).
Israel’s leaders often accused Jesus of misconduct. But the Father vindicated him by his resurrection.
False accusation remains a leading stratagem of Satan and his minions. Zechariah 3 presents a vision of Joshua, the high priest, standing in the temple. Instead of wearing the pure raiment befitting the priest as he makes sacrifices, he is covered with filth. Satan accuses him, since he has no right to offer sacrifices in that condition. But the Lord silences Satan, telling an angel, “Remove the filthy garments from him. . . . Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech. 3:3–5).
This is the weightiest charge against believers. Satan says our sin should deny us the right to stand before God. God concedes that we are unworthy, but he removes our sin, represented by filthy garments, and clothes us in Christ. Revelation 12:10–11 says the Lord throws down the accuser, for the faithful “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
Our Remaining (Powerless) Accusers
Now that Jesus has silenced the accuser, who will dare to bring legal charges against God’s elect? The answer is fourfold. Satan keeps jabbering, we accuse ourselves, the world reproaches us, and we field attacks from within the church. Anyone with public visibility is liable to critique, whether politicians, physicians, pastors, or city planners, whom impatient drivers accuse of deliberately designing ill-timed traffic lights. In Paul’s day, censors had great power to accuse and ultimately ruin a person. Similarly, there are people who wish to disqualify believers today.
Although many accuse, God does not. Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification (Rom. 4:25). Now he sits, his work complete, “at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34). The right hand of God is a position of authority (Ps. 110:1) and here the thrust is judicial. In his intercession, Jesus pleads our case with the Father in order to assure that the benefits he died for are applied to us. With Jesus as our advocate, no one can condemn us on Judgment Day.
Although many accuse, God does not.
It remains for us to take this to heart. Everyone stands accused at some point. If the accusation is true, let us repent and receive the gift of justification. If it is false, let us trust our all-seeing Advocate. May his Spirit grant an additional grace—that his voice so resound in our ears and hearts that we find solace in his vindication.