God is For Us! Part 2 – Romans 8:35-39
Pastor Mark Hardy February 3, 2013
A heart gripping illustration that gives a little glimpse of God’s agape love for us is the story of the man who worked in a small town as the operator of a drawbridge on a river. Since a train track ran across the bridge, his job was to keep the bridge up when no train was coming to allow the boats to pass underneath, and lower the bridge down when a train was approaching. One sunny Saturday morning, the man brought his 7-year old son along to work with him. The boy played along the river, did some fishing, skipped rocks on the water, and chased butterflies.
Shortly after noon, a passenger train was due to come through the area. The man began to make preparations to let the bridge down so the train could pass safely across the river. But as he examined the bridge, he suddenly noticed that his son had somehow climbed over the guardrail next to the bridge, and was playing at the very spot where the bridge would come down. Horrified, and in desperation, he yelled out his son’s name, but the sound of the approaching train drowned out his screams. With barely enough time to think, he knew he had to make a quick decision. If he lowered the bridge now his son would die. But if he didn’t, all the people on the train would die as the train plunged into the river. What would he do?
As he screamed in agony, the man thrust forward the lever to lower the bridge just as the train arrived. His son died instantly. As the passenger train sped by, the people just smiled and waved as they passed the man in the control booth, with his head bowed low, totally oblivious to what he had just done for them.
In a similar way, mankind was totally oblivious as God lovingly “did not spare His own precious Son, but delivered Him over” (Rom. 8:32) to death on the cross, so that we might be saved through faith in Him. It is also His great love for us as believers that keeps us saved. This is what we are going to look at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 8.
As we continue on in our study of Romans 8:31-39, last time in vv. 31-34 we saw where no one and nothing can challenge God’s advocacy for us as His people. Now as we come to vv. 35-39, we see where no one and nothing can change God’s agape love for us. In Romans 8:31-39 there are a series of six key questions that drive home the truth that every believer’s salvation is eternally secure in Jesus Christ. Thus far we have seen the first five questions:
1) How should believers respond to God’s blessings? Paul answers this introductory question with five rhetorical questions, each expecting the negative answer—No!
2) Can those who oppose believers be successful? No!
3) Are lesser things withheld after giving Christ? No!
4) Can accusations against believers continue to stand? No!
5) Can believers be condemned for their sins? No!
And the sixth key question that has the obvious answer “No!” is this:
VI. Can Anything sever Believers from Christ’s Love?
A. Look at v. 35: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
1. Now in answering this question, Paul makes three points about all believers: The first point is: Believers guarantee of experiencing trials.
2. Since most of these possible threats to “separate” (chorisei) or sever believers from the “love of Christ” are the result of others carrying them out on God’s people, Paul uses the word “Who” instead of “What.” Therefore, Douglas Moo correctly states, “The ‘who’ in this opening question embraces any conceivable ‘opponent,’ whether personal or impersonal.” (pg. 543)
3. Now the “love of Christ” here in v. 35 and “love of God in v. 39 clearly refers to God’s love for believers not our love for Him. And in this context, God’s agape love for us represents salvation.
4. As the rhetorical question is asked, “Who will separate us from the love (or salvation) of Christ?” Paul goes on to expand or amplify this question by listing just seven examples of the many trials that believers can experience in their lives.
B. Look again at the end of v. 35, “Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
1. “Tribulation” (thlipsis)—primarily means to be squeezed or placed under pressure. It is most often used of outward afflictions. Jesus said in John 16:33, “…In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
2. “Distress” (stenochoria)—also refers to a confined narrow place, to be tightly squeezed or hemmed in. However, the central difference here is that of inward or emotional anguish as opposed to outward afflictions. There are numerous things that weight and cause us emotional distress.
3. “Persecution” (diogmos)—is any form of harassment for the sake of Christ. Jesus said in John 15:20, “…‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…”
4. In 2 Timothy 3:12 we read, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” In just a few years after this letter to the Roman believers, they would undergo terrible persecution by their government as they would be fed to wild beasts and killed by gladiators for entertainment in the Coliseum and used as human torches.
5. “Famine” (limos)—refers to not having enough food to eat.
6. “Nakedness” (gumnotes)—does not refer to complete nudity, but to a lack of sufficient clothing.
7. “Peril” (kindunos)—means to be exposed to any kind of danger or jeopardy.
8. And “Sword” (machaira)—refers to either a small sword or a dagger used as a means of execution rather than dying in military battle. It was a symbol of death.
9. None of these seven things were merely hypothetical situations for Paul, for he had experienced the first six and more during his ministry (1 Cor. 4:10-13; 2 Cor. 6:2 Cor. 11:23-33) and the seventh is what ended his life on earth.
10. He then goes on to quote Psalm 44:22 to drive home the point that God’s people in every generation are guaranteed to experience trials of some kind in their lives. No one is exempt!
C. Look at v. 36: Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR (i.e. God’s) SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
1. Being “put to death all day long” means violence at the hands of persecutors to the point of death. And for God’s people to be described as “sheep to be slaughtered” means that their persecutors valued them as nothing more than animals to be butchered.
2. These kinds of trials are nothing new, for they have always taken place in the lives of God’s people. When Paul says “Just as it is written” he is saying that this Old Testament passage is fully authoritative and stands perfectly binding not only originally back then, but also right now.
3. Hebrews 11:35-38 reveals how some of these Old Testament saints were treated, “…and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mocking and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.”
4. This is why we must not be shocked when God allows various trials to come into our lives. The apostle Peter said 1 Peter 2:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you…”
5. Although the harsh realities of life often scream out that God is not in control, does not love us, and has abandoned us, it is not true! For God Himself says in Hebrews 13:5, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.” (Matt. 28:20)
6. We may never know this side of heaven, why God allows certain things to come into our lives. But as He promised in vv. 28-29, God is always at work in the lives of His children sovereignly orchestrating “all things”—both the good and the bad—to work together for our good, which is toward our ultimate and complete conformity to the image of Christ.
7. Never forget that God’s primary agenda in our lives is not our personal comfort but our Christlike character. Knowing this helps us to obey the command in James 1:2-4 to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete (i.e. spiritually mature), lacking in nothing.”
D. The second point that Paul makes is: Believers triumph in their trials. Since we are guaranteed to experience various trials in our lives, Paul declares in v. 37: But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
1. The word “But” (alla) introduces something contrary to all that might have been expected. This is why the KJV and NIV translated it “No.”
2. All of these possible threats of severing us from Christ’s love cannot make this happen. Instead, they actually become the means by which we as believers triumph.
3. When Paul says, “…in all these things” he doesn’t mean in spite of them, but in the midst of experiencing them. Here we see that the Lord Jesus wants us to do much more than just endure and survive our trials.
4. Notice that He intends for us to “overwhelmingly conquer.” The one Greek word translated “overwhelmingly conquer” (hupernikomen) literally means to hyper-conquer, to conquer with more power than we need.
5. It means that we are super-conquerors or glorious victors. This is why it is translated “more than conquerors” in the KJV and NIV.
6. It speaks of total victory, whereby we not only conquer the enemy but use them to help us. But how is this possible when we often feel overwhelmed by our trials?
7. This has absolutely nothing to do with our own strength and abilities. Notice again that we can only overwhelmingly conquer “…through Him who loved us.”
8. C.E.B. Cranfield said it well, “It is not through any courage, endurance or determination of our own, but through Christ, and not even by our hold on Him but by His hold on us, that we are more than conquerors.” (pg. 441)
9. Here Jesus is described as He “who loved us.” The past tense (aorist) of the word “loved” points to His atoning sacrifice on the cross that proved His unchanging love to us.
10. Beloved, since Jesus’ willingly, selflessly and sacrificially laid down His life for you and me on the cross (Jn. 15:13; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25), those who deserved the complete opposite, will He not lovingly enable us to be triumph in our trials? Of course He will!
11. He does this is many ways, if we will but turn to Him and allow Him to do this. He wants to give us His sufficient grace, so that His power can be perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
12. This is how Paul could proclaim in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
13. Paul didn’t allow the numerous painful trials that God allowed in his life to cause him to get angry with Him or to stop him from faithfully serving the Lord. He kept on trusting the Lord, even when he didn’t understand what He was doing, and he humbly submitted himself to the will of God.
14. The early church father, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, manifested the conquering strength of Christ when he was brought before the Roman Emperor and the Emperor threatened him with banishment if he remained a Christian. Chrysostom replied, “Thou canst not banish me for this world is my father’s house.” “But I will slay thee,” said the Emperor. “Nay, thou canst not,” said the noble champion of the faith, “for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “I will take away thy treasures.” “Nay, but thou canst not for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.” “But I will drive thee away from man and thou shalt have no friend left.” “Nay, thou canst not, for I have a friend in heaven from whom thou canst not separate. I defy thee; for there is nothing that thou canst do to hurt me.” (Johnson pg. 136)
15. Remember that Jesus enables us to be triumph in our trials by sovereignly working even the most tragic things in our lives into our good and His glory. And He also does so by promising to give us an eternal reward that will far surpass any and all earthly suffering.
16. In 2 Corinthians 4:17 we read, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (Rom. 8:18)
E. And last, the third point made is: Paul’s certainty of believer’s salvation. Look at v. 38: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
1. Here Paul gives his own personal testimony that he himself is convinced of God’s agape love for us as believer, and that it will never change, no matter what happens to us. The word “convinced” (pepeismai—perfect tense) means “to be permanently persuaded, to have a firm and settled conviction, a confident certainty.”
2. Paul said a similar thing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:12, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
3. Paul wants to prove the confident certainty that he has of his, and every other believers, security of salvation in Christ by stating another ten things of contrasting extremes that some may find reason to sever God’s love for us. He arranges these in four pairs, along with two single items.
4. The first pair is: “neither death, nor life.” These are the two possible states of existence.
5. Paul probably begins with “death” because he ended with “sword” in v. 35, which is a symbol of death. Although physical death is the last enemy and the ultimate separator, because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, death has been dealt a death blow though it is not yet finalized until the end (Rev. 20:14).
6. Therefore, as believers we no longer have to fear death (Heb. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:53-57). We are given the wonderful promise of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that “…to be absent from the body (is) to be present with the Lord.”
7. Then there is “life,” which although can be very good and enjoyable, can also be much more difficult than death—with all its disappointments, heartaches, temptations, trials, pains, and uncertainties. But Paul finds nothing in death or life that can ever change God’s agape love for us!
8. The second pair is: “nor angels, nor principalities.” Although “principalities” is used in the New Testament of both holy (Col. 1:16; 2:10) and evil angels (1 Cor. 15:24; 6:12; Col. 2:15), the contrast here is probably between holy “angels” and the high ranking evil angels called “principalities.”
9. Paul can find nothing here that can sever us from God’s love!
10. The third pair is: “nor things present, nor things to come.” This refers to time, and the contrast is between all the circumstances and events of this present time with all those in the future.
11. But Paul can find nothing here either!
12. Then he states the first single item is: “nor powers.” This can refer to demonic powers (Eph. 1:21; 1 Pet. 3:22) or civil powers—the power of human governments. And yet, Paul finds nothing here!
13. The fourth pair is: “nor height, nor depth.” This probably addresses the extremes in the expanse of space. Paul finds nothing in the heavens above or on the earth beneath.
14. And finally, the second single item is: “nor any other created thing.” Lest he possibly missed something that could threaten the believer’s security in Christ, Paul adds this comprehensive “catch all” category for all time and eternity.
15. John Murray correctly states, “…this concluding negation is for the purpose of leaving no loophole—no being or thing in the whole realm of created reality is excluded.” (pg. 334)
16. This even includes the fear that a genuine believer can sin himself out of salvation. If we were not able by our own efforts to save ourselves, how is it that by our own efforts we can keep from losing what God has graciously given to us? We can’t!
17. Whereas God does discipline His sinning children to make them more holy (Heb. 12:5-11), if a “professing” Christian lives in a continual, unbroken pattern and lifestyle of sin then, he has not lost his salvation, but merely proves that he never belonged to Christ in the first place.
18. The apostle John said in 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him…” And in 2:19 he states, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
19. John MacArthur captured the thought well, saying, “Only the true believer perseveres, not because he is strong in himself but because he has the power of God’s indwelling Spirit. His perseverance does not keep his salvation safe but proves that his salvation is safe.” (pp. 512-513)
F. Having searched throughout the entire universe and covered every possible threat to the believer’s security of salvation, Paul then climatically concludes by saying that he is convinced that absolutely no one and nothing “…will be able to separate us from the love of God.”
1. Whereas Paul began this chapter with “no condemnation” in v. 1, he now ends it in v. 39 with the triumphant affirmation of “no separation” from the “love of God.” And notice that God’s love for us is only “…in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
2. It is only in God’s giving of “His own Son” to die on the cross that His love is most conclusively demonstrated to us (Rom. 5:8). And it is only in our receiving Jesus Christ by faith that we can personally experience God’s love for us.
3. Notice how Paul again uses the full title “Christ Jesus our Lord,” which is used ten times in Romans. Each one of these names has great significance:
• “Christ” means “the Anointed One,” “Messiah.”
• His human name “Jesus” means “Savior,” “…for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
• And “Lord” means Yahweh or Jehovah, the sovereign Ruler of the universe.
4. Since Paul has included every possible threat and there are no exceptions, then we as believers can never be severed from God’s love in Christ or make Him love us less. As we saw in God’s unbreakable “golden chain of salvation” in vv. 29-30, all those whom God foreknew will end up being glorified.
5. There is absolutely no possibility that some of those who are justified (or saved) may not be glorified. For God always finishes what He starts (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:24).
6. Therefore, both the love of Christ and the love of God in Christ for us are indestructible! Praise God that our eternal security is not dependent on our love for Him, which is often frail, fickle, and faltering, but is dependent on His unchangeable love for us.
7. John Stott said it so beautifully:
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe—
Thy mighty grasp of me. (pg. 260)
8. As believers, we’re not holding on to God, but He is holding on to us. Therefore, we can confidently rest in God alone, for He is for us! There is nothing to fear!
In closing, do you have the same confident certainty that Paul did that your salvation is eternally secure in Jesus Christ? If not you can! For if you have received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, God has made it clear in His Word that absolutely no one and nothing can sever you from the love of Christ and God the Father, which is the basis of our security.
Jesus said in John 10:28-29, “…I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Beloved, by His amazing love God Himself has made us eternally secure in Christ. Believe it and rejoice in Him!