For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor 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.
This passage is one of those which provides great comfort – or at least should do so – for the Christian. It appears to be a rather clear, definitive statement on the assurance of salvation for the child of God. However, quite often, there is a disclaimer attached to this passage by the one expounding/exegeting it – which is what? This statement, in one form or another, is made:
Nothing can separate us from the love of God – except ourselves!
Huh? ”Nothing” doesn’t mean “nothing?” Evidently not, to some. ”Nothing” being a universal negative, does “nothing” mean “nothing?” Or is Paul speaking in hyperbole? Let’s take a look, beginning with a little logic.
A simple syllogism show one problem with the “except ourselves!” exposition:
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
We can separate ourselves from the love of God.
Therefore, we are nothing.
Preposterous? Well, yes, but consistent with the “except ourselves’ thought, right? Let’s dig deeper.
What is the context of Paul’s statement stating that nothing can separate us from the love of God? Romans 8, where Paul has spoken on the sovereignty of God in in v. 28, where he says,
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
If we were to back up further, we would see where Paul says the Romans have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons” in v. 15. The receipt of the Spirit – was this a gift? Yes, it was. What does the Bible say about gifts given by God? They are….irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). If this Spirit of adoption is given as a gift, is this giving irrevocable? Yes, it is. Those who receive the Spirit of adoption as sons are sons – irrevocably.
In Romans 8 Paul also, after saying what he says concerning adoption and the sovereignty of God, he then says this in vv. 29-30:
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Who are these people? This group of people in 29-30 are the elect. Is there anyone ‘saved’ who exists outside this group? No. Reading backward helps here – every single person who is to be glorified (Paul uses the prophetic perfect here – past prediction of future events, speaking of these events as if they have already been accomplished) has been justified. Every single person who is justified has been called. Every single person who has been called has been predestined and every single person who has been predestined was foreknown by ‘he’ – God, from v. 28.
The Romans whom Paul describes in v. 15 as having received the Spirit of adoption as sons are included in this group – the elect – of vv. 29-30. Is every single person who is foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified in vv. 29-30 actually called, justified and glorified in time and space, having been foreknown and predestined in eternity (cf. Eph. 1:3-14)? Yes, they are. If one wishes to object here – think about it – who is saved outside of this group? Can one be saved who was never foreknown, never predestined, never called, never justified and never glorified? Is there anyone who receives the Spirit of adoption who is not foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified? As Paul might say, “By no means!”
Earlier, we cited Romans 11:29 and the irrevocable gifts of God – however, that’s not the entirety of the thought. There is something else that is irrevocable in addition to the gifts of God – His calling. This is the “call” of v. 30. This is the “calling” which Peter tells the elect to confirm diligently in his second Epistle, chapter one, verse ten. Being an irrevocable gift, this call of Romans 11, expressed here in 8:30, assures the one who is called that he may know he is saved (1 John 5:13).
So far we have a people who have been adopted, who also fall into the group which is foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified. Is anyone ever removed from this group? No. No. They cannot be or the passage as plainly stated – and the irrevocability of God’s gifts – must be called into question, which we dare not. What else is said about these people?
Paul poses several questions beginning in verse 31 and he answers them as well for the reader. We will post these in question and answer format.
Q: What then shall we say to these things? What ‘things?” The ‘things Paul has just stated concerning adoption, the Spirit interceding (which we did not cover), foreknowledge, predestination, call, justification and glorification.
A: If God is for us, who can be against us? He answers the question with a question and the assumed answer to this question is “No one,” which he explains in the following questions and answers.
Q: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? The assumed answer? ”Yes.”
Q: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? Paul uses courtroom imagery here – who dares to bring accusations of guilt against God’s elect people?
A: It is God who justifies. No one. Why? Who can overturn God’s declaration that the elect, upon faith, are just and no longer condemned to a death sentence?
Q: Who is to condemn? Who can pronounce a sentence of guilty upon the elect? No one. Why?
A: 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. There has already been One who has incurred the full punishment for the guilt of the elect – the “us” Paul refers to here. Christ bore the full weight of the punishment due the elect – there is no more penalty to be paid.
Paul now asks the questions that result in his statement in vv. 38-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
So far Paul has asked three questions with an answer of “No one.” He continues the train here and we will see the answer is still the same: “No one.” Paul will actually expand the answer here from “No one,” to “No one and nothing.”
The question Paul asks concerns a person or people – “Who shall separate us…” Then he expands the question to include issues other than people – to nature, to life circumstances, to the spiritual realm and makes it all inclusive. The answer? Not yet. Paul cites Psalm 44, where the Psalmist writes of the people of God being made like sheep for the slaughter – but what is the context of Psalm 44? God’s people have rebelled and they are being rebuked by God – see 44:9, which says God has rejected them and 44:14, where they are said to be a laughingstock. Paul gives new meaning to this in applying the verse not to rebellious people but to the obedient children of God. He is saying the same fate awaits the obedient now as did the rebellious in Psalm 44. The elect here will suffer for their obedience at the hands of the pagans in the same way the rebellious children of Israel suffered at the hands of the pagans in Psalm 44.
Even knowing this, Paul’s answer to his own question is once again the same: “No one.” He says that in “all these things” the elect will conquer – and in fact will more than conquer. But how? Through him who loved us – “us” again being the elect). ”All these things” – what are they? They are the tribulations, the distresses, the persecutions, the famines, the nakedness, the dangers and the sword of verse 35, which will result in the sheep being slaughtered.
Because of this – Paul begins verse 38 with “For” – Paul is certain, sure that nothing – nothing – nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul knew the society and culture in which these people lived. He knew that being a Christian brought with it hostility from pagans, which would manifest itself in many different ways. He knew there would be spiritual battles. He also knew he had to provide some pastoral advice in the form of a theological construct. Good theology and good doctrine is at its root “practical.” This was very practical to the Roman Christians and is also practical to us today and has been practical for almost 2,000 years since God breathed out these words through His Apostle.
If God has set His love on you and saved you, He will love you for eternity because he has loved you in eternity past. The assurance of our salvation is not based upon our love for God – it is based upon His love for us. As the Scripture says, we love Him because He first loved us. Paul wants to make it irrefutable here – those upon whom God has set His love cannot be separated from that love.
Can we separate ourselves from the love of God? No. Why not? because His love for His elect is such that He will take the necessary measures to ensure that His elect persevere in faith until the end. Praise God. Praise God he is a God of promises – the God of fulfilled promises. He loves me. He loves His children. And nothing can separate His children from that love – not even ourselves.
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