Romans 8:35-39 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You will see that these verses are the conclusion of the answer to the question raised at the beginning of the paragraph, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” (v.31). But all the chapter is driving home the security and blessedness of the Christian life as experienced by the children of God loved by God their Father. His love has adopted them as sons. His love is working all things together for their good. His love has foreordained that they will be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son. His love will call and justify and glorify them.
What can we say in response to all this, to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and to our certain destination of being transfigured into Christ’s likeness, and all the things we meet serving that end? What shall we say to this bewildering glory? God has committed his Son and his Spirit and his attributes of omnipotence and love to ensure that every promise he has made to the poorest Christian will be fulfilled. All of God is for all of us. God has not spared his Son that all of us would be spared. He will most certainly give us all things. When Satan charges us then God gives us the wholly adequate reply, that Christ has died. No one dare condemn those whose condemnation has been taken by Christ.
So then he comes to the very last question of all if all these things are true, if we are loved in all these ways, to this measure and extent, if all this is so then, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” We can be separated from so much else, but if all these things that Paul has said are true then what power or person or spiritual force or providence can cut the golden chain that joins us to Christ’s love? And in the text before us Paul develops this great theme to the end of the chapter, the theme of the constancy and the invincibility of the love of God in Christ for us, and Paul exhausts all the various forces that threaten that love right down to the end of this chapter. He interrogates them all, one by one, and asks whether they are able to separate us from the love of Christ. His conclusion is negative and positive. Negatively he concludes that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ, and positively he answers that to the contrary, in every one of these things we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ our Lord. So firstly let us look at the apostle’s great No!
- NOTHING IS ABLE TO SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
“I am convinced” of this, says Paul. “I hold it with my whole soul. This is my spiritual certainty of which I am utterly persuaded. I have grown in this persuasion as my years as a follower of Christ have rolled by. My conviction of this truth has only become stronger as one day follows the next. On the anvil of my experience of God’s love and God’s providence I have come to this total conviction that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ. Now you see how comprehensive and universal is Paul’s disavowal of the possibility of some secret force one day erupting into our lives resulting in the love of Christ being torn away from us. No such potency exists, not in the earth, not in hell and not in heaven. There is nothing whatsoever that can separate God’s people from God’s love. No one and nothing can do this.
Paul lists the common troubles that Christians meet and he challenges them one by one, “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (v.35). All these things were only too familiar to the Christian wives, and slaves, and soldiers, and teenagers listening to these words in the congregation in Rome. Paul quotes from Scripture to show to them how common were these troubles: “As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’” (v.36). I once lived in a station house in a small Welsh village and at the end of the garden between the railway line and the main street was the butcher’s yard and there the lorries carrying the sheep drew up, the backs were lowered and the sheep were herded out to be slaughtered one by one. The slaughter-house workers shed no tears and showed no pity. Sheep are reared to be slaughtered, and in many parts of the world today the enemies of the gospel are just waiting for the moment when they will declare it to be open season to kill Christians. Today, as every day, numbers of Christians have been murdered in different parts of the world like mere sheep in the Rhymni valley in the Maesycwmmer butcher’s yard. The lives of many Christians are characterized by “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword”
Let us examine these instances that we agree with the apostle are the greatest threats we shall ever face of being separated from the love of Christ. Paul reviews them, one by one, before he comes to his great conclusion.
i] Death cannot separate us from the love of Christ. That is where he starts, with the great separator itself. Death will come to the most blessed of relations of a husband and wife, what man is warned not to put asunder, what God has joined together, and yet death will separate one spouse from another. Death destroys fellowship; death is the severer of souls. It will sepa
rate us from every earthly experience. It terminates them; it severs every earthly relationship. It stands in its awesome authority over the most precious and intimate bonds we know. Death threatens a marriage of a husband and wife in its joy and solemnity and they must acknowledge that they will not always be together. It is, “Till death us do part.” Death even separates the soul from the body. It separates friend from friend; David and Jonathan loved one another with a pure and holy affection until death ended their friendship.
But death does not separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul tells us that he’s convinced of that. Though death can sever every other relationship it is not able to destroy this relationship, of the soul with God. On the contrary to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That is what death does, it brings us into a closer and more intimate fellowship with Christ than we have ever known before. Paul ever says that far from separating us from Christ so that death is utterly horrific and terrifying to God’s people Paul can acknowledge that he has a desire to depart from this world, because departing means going to be with Christ which is far better. Moody said, “One day you will read that D.L.Moody is dead. Don’t you believe it! He will never be so much alive as he will be when you are told that he has died.” He tells the church in Thessalonica the same thing, that those Christians who had died are not to be mourned without hope. Don’t despair and don’t worry about them because your sorrow is mixed with hope. They are in fact asleep in Jesus. What death has in fact done for them is not to separate them from Jesus’ love but to consummate the love of Jesus for them. It has brought them into a place where they see him as he is, fully blessed in complete enjoyment of God, for all eternity. Goodness and mercy followed them until that time and then they went to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. They are very far from being separated from the love of God. They have today full fruition and perfect enjoyment and unclouded fellowship with God and of all his blessings. So death cannot separate them from the love of Christ.
ii] Life cannot separate us from the love of Christ. There are times in our lives when it feels to us that we are far from the love of God, that God has forgotten all about us, that we find ourselves thinking that only in the glory beyond are we going to know that love. Here we know so much stress and it is getting through to our relationship with God; there is pressure and privation and a lot of pain. We know that here we have to walk by faith not by sight, that we labour under all kinds of difficulties. Often life means a dull routine, frustration, nothing exciting at all is happening, a lot of monotonous chores, another week’s plodding full of basic duties to be done. For Paul at times life meant being chained up in a dungeon month after month, unable to preach and evangelize and counsel church leaders. Yet Paul affirms that nothing is this life of ours can separate us from the love of Christ. There are times in a marriage when the passion and longing of the first year of marriage is absent, but still the couple love one another deeply. In this life God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of God constantly. He restores to us our love for him and he renews our souls. Here we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, so that days when we seem to live in remoteness from God we live trusting in God. So much of Jesus’ life in Nazareth was predictable and mundane. For over twenty years he helped his father make ploughs and posts and doors and windows and tables. He ran errands for his mother and served his neighbours. There was no youth club; no organized sports, no night life; no teenage fashion shops; no music for young ravers. For thirty years he lived in a hillside community the surrounding arid land full of thorn bushes. Yet through those years it was made known to him that he was God’s beloved Son and he was well pleased with all that Jesus was doing.
Since the publication of Iain Murray’s biography of Archibald Brown we have discovered this man of God and his ministry. Now a book of his sermons has been published and in one of them he shares an experience of his at the death of his wife. “I only wish that a text in Revelation 22 might come to you with one tithe of the power it came to me. It came to me the other day, or rather, I should say, the other night, in a deep depression that I cannot describe. I was sitting alone in a house that has been stripped of everything that made life bright – sitting utterly alone, in this depression which, as I say, I cannot describe in words. I sat in a stupor till past the midnight hour, thinking about the past, and about one o’clock in the morning, I mechanically took this Testament in my hand, and opened it without a thought. It opened on this 22nd chapter of Revelation, and my eye fell on two words: ‘I, Jesus.’ They were enough. The darkness vanished…. Though children die, though wives be cut down, though husbands go to the grave, though fortunes break, though all depart, yet in the darkness, and through the storm, there comes a voice, and it says, ‘I, Jesus . . . I live still. Whatever else thou mayest have lost, I, Jesus, am with thee yet.” Nothing in life can separate us from the love of our Saviour.
iii] Neither angels nor demons can separate us from the love of Christ. No spiritual being can do this. The angels have immense spiritual power. The Seraphim could separate Adam and Eve from the Tree of life so that there was no way they could ever reach it again. Angels could destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and sulfur and render them uninhabitable. One angel could pass over the whole land of Egypt and kill all the first born. Just a single angel could destroy the entire Assyrian army. They are called the hosts of heaven and they are described as the army of the Lord. Yet even the most powerful archangel, Michael or Gabriel, is quite unable separate us from the love of Christ, the most glorious, or most able, the very wisest of all those heavenly beings, if he should try, he would utterly fail. All of them, the innumerable hosts of heaven, should they all try together, emptying heaven and target the weakest, youngest, newest Christian in the world, their combined endeavour would fail to separate this baby Christian from the love of Christ. They are quite incapable of doing that. In fact they cannot destroy a single hair on his head without God first giving them permission. Let them take their best shot and they would fail. They are unable to separate God’s people from God’s love. It is as impossible as anyone on earth trying to prevent the sun shining down on the earth.
Elect angels cannot do this even if they wanted to; their attempts would be doomed to total failure, and neither would Satan and all his minions be any more successful. Not with all his malice, and cunning, and wiles, and stratagems would he be able to destroy the love that God has for the most backsliding Christian. He can destroy Eve’s trust in her Lord but he can’t destroy her Lord’s love for her. He can destroy Simon Peter’s trust in his Lord, but he can’t destroy that love that Jesus has for him. You remember how close he got to doing this. As our Lord said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you . . .” and that means that Simon Peter was enter
ing a period of the power of Satan over him. Satan had his hands on him, and Satan was not letting go of him. Satan was propelling him backwards, sliding away from God, further and further into coldness and wild words of unbelief. It was a time when Satan seemed to be in charge of Simon’s life, “but,” said the Lord Jesus, “I have prayed for you that your faith does not fail.” Nobody ever went closer to being plucked out of the Father’s hands than the apostle Peter then. No man ever went nearer to being separated from the love of God, when Peter denied his Lord with curses, and yet even at that great point the church was secure. Peter was not separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus her Lord. Death cannot do it; life cannot do it; angels cannot do it; demons cannot do it.
Let me add that this word (which the N.I.V. translates ‘demons’) has other meanings in Gree. You will see a footnote in your Bible saying “Or nor heavenly rulers” but the word is also used of lying wonders. It refers to preternatural powers, to the paranormal, the apparently miraculous, the activities of the magicians of Egypt in appearing to turn a stick into a snake – mere conjuring tricks. You may see shows of magic on TV when you cry out, “How do they do that? How can they walk on water? How can they walk down the side of a building? How can they put a marked coin inside a newly laid egg? How can they saw someone in half? What clever tricks! And then the devil says to you that the miracles of the Lord Jesus were all similar tricks. Yet where is the moral authority and the peerless teaching which Jesus had – “No man spake as this man” – and no one says that of today’s entertainers. They make no claims to be the Son of God; they don’t say, “I and my Father are one.” But he did, and he raised the dead after three days. His miracles were so different. So that although we are baffled and want to know how conjurers do these tricks we don’t get obsessed with their trickery so that we lose the love of Christ. Tricks cannot destroy the love that God has for us. We run from all those fantasies and hide in Christ.
iv] Things present cannot separate us from the love of Christ. And you know what that can mean for some people, and it certainly meant for Paul what he lists for us in verse 35 “trouble, or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword.” Yet Paul tells us that all of those trials failed to separate him from the love of Christ. I had this letter from my friend Baruch Maoz in Israel last week. He describes the trials they had to endure in planting a Christian church in a town in Israel. The fierce protests were led by the Orthodox – those people we have seen in their hundreds in Aberystwyth over the last month. We welcome and show kindness to them, but they do not want to hear about our Saviour. Think of planting a church where they are a sizable force. They are as anti-Christian as the Muslims. Listen to what “things present” meant for Baruch and his family for months . . .
“The protest against the presence of an Israeli Christian congregation in Rehovot was led by the Orthodox community in the city. The city’s Chief Rabbi gave his nod to the protests. After all, he had participated in the initial break-in when we were meeting in the facility on Weismann Street. He and members of the Municipal Religious Council also participated in repeated demonstrations outside our home. Our home was picketed for weeks. Sometimes a small group of Orthodox stood outside out home, sometimes hundreds gathered, shouting threats and protests as we, or our children, passed by.
Our policy was never to show fear. We were convinced that any show of fear would merely encourage our protagonists. Nor were we willing to depart from our normal course of life. Bracha and I taught our children that such mild persecution was a privilege, that the orthodox bark was worse than their bite. We insisted that we were not only within our legal rights, but that it was our God-given duty to stay the course and not display any discomfort. Our children were welcome to cry at home, but in the presence of their friends and of the orthodox, they were to display a gracious fortitude. My daughter
Avital’s schoolmates took to accompanying her to and from school. On one occasion, she engaged the protestors in conversation. In this case, they did not know she was my daughter, and played into her hands, to the delight and banter of her accompanying schoolmates.
“On one occasion, my wife Bracha hired a taxi to take her home from shopping in the city. Upon receiving the address, the taxi driver commented to Bracha, ‘Oh, that’s the building in which the dangerous missionary lives.’ ‘Dangerous missionary?’ replied my wife. ‘He’s not dangerous at all. I’ve been living in this building for as long as he has, and he has never done anything to persuade me that he is dangerous. He’s actually kind of nice!’ They continued in conversation about the baneful influence of the Orthodox in the city. Upon alighting from the taxi, handing the driver his fee, Bracha said to him, ‘By the way, I’m the dangerous missionary’s wife.’ The driver broke out into a laugh and has, ever since, honked a greeting any time he’s seen her in the street.
“Seeking to rail the population against us, the Orthodox painted slogans all over the city, ‘Baruch Maoz-child kidnapper – get out of our city! Down with the Mission! Protect our city from Baruch Maoz.’ They managed to photograph me and put up posters all over the city, calling on the populace to ‘vomit’ us out. On another occasion, I left the house and got in my car to drive away. Before I had gotten very far, I heard a heavy ‘thump!’ and the car dropped. Someone had removed the bolts on the two front wheels. Had I managed to gather speed, who knows what would have happened?! At that stage, CWI decided I should have protection. They hired a bodyguard who shadowed me for some two weeks, until I tired of the ordeal and insisted he be removed.
“One day the doorbell rang. Edith (who was once a student here in Aberystwyth), a Scottish friend who then was staying with us, opened the door and a young man burst in, demanding to know, ‘where is the missionary?’ He then proceeded to throw furniture to the floor, pulling at curtains and breaking vases. I was in my office, the far part of the flat. Hearing the commotion, I hurried to the living room and confronted our uninvited guest. I warned him that, if he so much as stretched out his hand to touch another item, I would restrain him by force. He looked at me, laughed and reached out. I tackled him, pinned him to the ground with one of his arms bent behind his back. Every time he tried to resist, I applied force to his arm. ‘Call the police!’ I instructed Bracha. The police came and took our guest to the station, where I was invited to press charges but chose not to do so. ‘If you so much as come within shouting distance of my house again,’ I told the young man, ‘I will deal with you differently.’
Threatening letters began appearing in my mailbox, scrawled in an almost illegible hand. Later in the week I rec
eived a telephone call: ‘I have been hired to kill you if you do not leave the city.’ ‘Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you, because I am not leaving.’ We talked for over an hour. I had a wonderful opportunity to speak with whoever was on the other side of the line about the Gospel. Finally he said, ‘Y’know what? You’re kinda nice. I don’t understand why they wanna kill you, but if they still do, they’re gonna havta find someone else to do it for them.’ I never reported the matter to the police, and never heard further from him, or from anyone else in that vein.
Bracha was walking Shlomit in the pram, passing by our apartment building on her way to the small local park. Two Orthodox women were walking their babies and, as they passed the building, Bracha heard one of them say, ‘That’s where the missionary lives.’ ‘Yes,’ replied the other, ‘and it does not matter what is done to him, he and his family don’t seem to care!’ We had scored the very kind of victory we had aimed at achieving: the Orthodox could protest as loud and as long as they wished – we will not budge.
“Since the protests had continued for quite a period, I decided it was time to take some initiative. I composed a pamphlet, addressed to the neighbours, apologizing for the ruckus they had been forced to endure and explaining that my insistence benefited them as well: if my liberties were allowed to be curtailed, theirs would likewise be threatened. Many of the neighbours responded with understanding. One of our Orthodox neighbours even brought us a plate of cookies, expressing their shame at the events taking place. The Orthodox community responded in kind, with a pamphlet accusing me of kidnapping Jewish children and shipping them to Germany. That was the climax: the neighbours united and, without my knowledge, sent a delegation to the Rehovot Chief Rabbi: if he would not bring an immediate end to the protests, they would picket his home until he did. Within hours all the protests stopped.”
Those were some of the ‘things present’ that happened to my Christian friend in Israel. Let me take it today that nothing we meet now – this week – can separate us from the love of Christ. All those troubles are impotent to take us from Christ’s love. We may meet under all kinds of sorrows and fears and yet whatever they are we have what we’ve always had since we first knew the Lord, we’ve got the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We still have underneath the everlasting arms. Nothing in our present can separate us from God’s love.
v] Things in the future cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Paul is thinking of all those things of which we are anxious; all the worries that we carry. It is so easy today even in the light of our own experience and knowledge, to put the permutations together in a most distressing and horrendous way. We might know that in the near future we’re going to have to face certain difficulties and problems and how terribly wrong things could go. Those are the things looming up ahead the possibilities and anxieties and Paul is saying that nothing in the future – nothing certain or a mere possibility – can separate us from God’s love. There is the inescapable event of the death to which we are heading;
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart:
O let me catch a smile from Thee
And drop into eternity! Charles Wesley.
Then there are the great events of the end time, the catastrophes with which the world is going to end, the appearance of God the Son, the rising of the dead, the day of judgment in all its solemnity with ourselves one little person amongst billions of people, the moment when heaven and earth will pass away, the elements melting with fervent heat, and the great separation of all mankind – but none of that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. God will never lose us in the crowd so that we will be one anonymous person amongst millions and millions. His love will never let go of us.
vi] No powers can separate us from the love of Christ. Physical powers, nuclear power, tsunamis, hurricanes and drought; a new ice age or global warming; virulent new viruses like H.I.V., or those that destroy animals and crops, plagues and diseases; the power of a new age, or the new world government, or the illuminati; or international Marxism seen so spectacularly in China; the emergence of the old religions in all their anti-Christian virulence and militancy, Islam and Hinduism; or the rise of atheism with their lecturers and literature and the media and the younger generation sliding along with them; or the power of the mass media and communications industry, satellites, the web and facebook and its access into all our homes – what powers there are today and yet all put together working with one anti-Christian purpose – yet they are unable to separate us from the love of Christ.
vii] Neither height nor depth can separate us from the love of Christ. Paul is thinking of the distances that at times separate us from familiar scenes and beloved people. Satan took Jesus to the top of the highest mountain from which to show him all the glory of the whole world but what he experienced there even with the devil tempting him was the love of God keeping him trusting in God. David says in the famous 139th Psalm that it doesn’t matter where you are, whether the greatest possible height or the lowest possible depth all we would discover, up or down, is the constancy and nearness of God’s love for us in Christ. It was already there in our conception in our mother’s womb. Distance, location, position make no difference to the love of God
We may be in great debt to certain preachers and congregations. We may think that no one touches and moves and helps us like that certain man. We fear we have to move away from the location. We fear his departure. We will be separated from him and from the dear fellow members in that beloved congregation. How we will struggle in the faith without him and them. But though we can be separated from preachers we love by a vast distance we cannot be separated from the love of our Saviour.
ix] Not anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God. There are only two entities in the heavens and the earth. There is the Creator and the creation. And no creature in the creation can possibly separate us from the Creator’s love. Everything c
onfronting you is a creature and it cannot overcome the uncreated God. Paul says that it is all a matter of ability or power. No force in all creation has the resources or the skill to stop God loving us. It is utterly unthinkable; it is quite inconceivable.
Paul began by asking about the love of Christ, and we are still dealing with that question but by verse 39 the love of Christ has become synonymous with the love of God, because Christ and God are synonymous. Why is this love invincible? Because it is the love of the God who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. You cannot be separated by finite, weak and changeable forces from such divine affection. So what do we learn?
A) We cannot be separated from the love that is working all things together for our good. Nothing can take from us the guiding principle of God’s policy, the guiding principle of the whole government of God. Not one morning you shall rise, and not one experience you shall pass through to find that that is not true. Everything will work for your good through the love of God.
B) We cannot be separated from the love that is determined to make you like Christ, that will conform you to his likeness. That is your inheritance. That is God’s commitment. God has said it. He has poured out his heart and soul and all his resources into this. His mind is made up. His plans are all being accomplished. His purpose is inviolate. His resources are all focused on that. God has made up his mind.
C) We cannot be separated from the love that says, “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” God has highly exalted Christ. He has put him in the midst of the throne with all the power of his sovereignty that flows from that throne everywhere. God has raised him to an eminence as high as God can conceive of, and he will glorify us in his love and it will be to the same measure and by the same power as his grace is able to achieve, as his wisdom can conceive, as glorious as Christ deserves
D) We cannot be separated from the love that spared not his own Son. That is the measure of it. He did not hold him back, and then he will hold nothing back. Shall he now with him graciously give us all things? The argument is marvelous in its simplicity. The God who has done the greater will not shrink from doing the lesser. The God who has done the maximum in giving his Son to the shame and blame of Golgotha will withhold nothing less than that for his people. All that he thinks they need, all that is beneficial to achieve the chief end in life glorifying and enjoying God for ever – such things he will, he must, give to them
I ask you this. Are we in that love? This love is in Christ Jesus our Lord, and so are we in Christ Jesus and is he our Lord? You might ask, How can I get in Christ Jesus? It seems a great place to be. By what marvelous experiences and achievements can men come to be in him? Is it not by personal trust in Jesus alone? Isn’t it by looking to him? Isn’t it by bowing before him and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner? Isn’t it by longing for him, and wanting him, and desiring him? Isn’t it by casting our souls and lives upon him? Isn’t it never by saying to him, “I’ve turned over a new leaf, and I am going to be religious from now on.” Yes, it is never by saying that. It is by coming with your sins and fears, weakness and infirmities and casting yourself on Jesus Christ who says, Come to me and I will give you rest. You come, just as you are. You inwardly move yourself, heart and soul, and plug yourself into Jesus for time and eternity, as your only hope. That is how you become united to the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
26th August 2012 GEOFF THOMAS