Originally posted March 19, 2020, at Women of Purpose.
There’s no good place to break Romans 8:31–39, really. My last post only covered the questions that Paul was asking as he built to his magnificent conclusion. If this entire passage is, as James Boice declares, “the Everest of the letter, and thus the highest peak in the highest Himalayan range of Scripture,” then we merely paused in our ascent at one of the camps on our way to the summit. Let’s continue our climb, shall we?
Remember the questions that went before, asking, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God unsparingly gave us his Son, how will he not also with him give us all things? If God justified us, who could possibly bring any charge against us? If Christ died in our place, taking our condemnation upon himself; and was raised and ascended to his Father’s right hand as proof that his substitutionary atonement was accepted; and, furthermore, if he is even now interceding for us—
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
God the Father and Christ his Son have done everything, through the only possible means—the cross—to bring us to themselves. And being brought to God and to Christ is to be brought to their love. For this God who is the Creator and ruling Sovereign over all things, is not only a loving God, he is love (1 John 4:8). And once brought to him, nothing in all the universe will separate us from his love, for this love was the motivating force behind our salvation.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. — 1 John 4:9–10
How secure are we in Christ’s love? Hear what Jesus prayed for us, and for all who would believe in him, on the night he was betrayed:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. — John 17:20–23
Our security in Christ’s love is borne of our unity with him. In union with Christ we are as vitally connected to him as he is to the Father. Jesus is praying here for our unity with one another, using the unity of the Trinity and our unity with him as an example of the spiritual reality of believers’ mutual unity. The Father is in Christ, and Christ is in the Father, and we also are in them. . . Christ in us, and the Father in him. We can as soon be separated from the love of Christ as the Triune Godhead can be torn asunder.
Paul goes on to give examples of the sufferings experienced by followers of Christ, then and now. By giving this list, he isn’t diminishing the very real threat and terror of the suffering they represent. Rather, as I have written earlier, Paul is magnifying the security of every believer in the love of Christ. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword cover a wide range of possible suffering. Paul isn’t setting limits, but rather throwing wide the boundaries of those things which cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Today’s list may include: Terminal illness, childhood abuse, divorce, unemployment, PTSD, drug addiction, homelessness, food insecurity, global pandemic, and war. . . I’m sure you can add to these from your own experience. The point is, though each of these things may touch our lives and leave their wounds, none of these have the power to separate us from the God who died to save us from perishing and give us eternal life.
To strengthen his case, Paul quotes from Psalm 44, verse 22:
“As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” — Romans 8:36
Psalm 44 isn’t a psalm which hits a low point and then pivots upward in hope. No, psalm 44 is a song of lament, which records the many tribulations experienced by the Psalmist and his people while he professes his and their continual trust in and faithfulness to the Lord. But God has rejected and scattered his people, making them like sheep for slaughter. The afflictions recorded by the Psalmist read like the list from Romans 8:35: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. The psalm ends with a desperate plea that God would wake from his apparent slumber:
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! — Psalm 44:23–26
Could it be, that by quoting this particular psalm, Paul is addressing something else that we fear would separate us from the love of Christ? Could he be assuring us that even when we feel rejected and forgotten by God—even then, we can be assured that his love will never fail? When in your deepest distress you cry to the Lord and it seems your prayers only bounce back from the ceiling, sister, if you are in Christ, that feeling of despair cannot separate you from his love. Beloved, look where the Psalmist stakes his final appeal. “Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” Though all around him is affliction and oppression, and all within him is bowed down to the dust and clinging to the ground, he knows that redemption is to be found in the love of God and nowhere else.
Our feelings are deceptive and cannot be trusted. But where else can we go? For only in Jesus do we find the words of life (John 6:68). God’s word is truth, and his word tells us that “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). In all these trials and fears, we are “super-invincible” only through the steadfast love of the Lord.
As we reach the summit of this Everest, Paul’s tone changes from proclaiming the truth to declaring his personal testimony. Paul surveys the mountain range of Scripture, seeing the fearsome valleys between the glorious, immovable peaks, and he is convinced, he is persuaded, he is as certain and sure as can be:
[T]hat neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor things height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38–39
Sisters, in every extremity imaginable, and even situations which cannot be imagined, there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the eternal, unchangeable, triune love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord—who redeemed us for the sake of his steadfast love.