Text: Romans 8:38-39
Opening: Did you know that many Christian theologians consider Romans the greatest book in the Bible? And many of those same people consider chapter eight, the greatest chapter in the greatest book. And guess what…Romans 8:38-39 are thought by many scholars to be the greatest verses in the greatest chapter in the greatest book –which is found in the greatest compilation of written materials ever to grace mankind…the Holy Bible. So this morning, it is not a stretch to say that we are standing on Holy Ground as we consider these last two verses. Let me read them to you: 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. Paul concludes with these words because they reflect his personal experience in his walk with Christ. Since he first met the Lord on the road to Damascus many years before, Paul had never known a time when he doubted the love of God. And why would he? God is perfect and loves us with a perfect love. He never fails to love us completely and fully. By the way, that’s a lot more than I can say for any of us, even in what should be considered the most sacred of human relationships — marriage between a man and a woman.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with over a hundred couples for pre-marital counseling. I really enjoy getting together with young people in love who can’t wait to spend the rest of their lives together in wedded bliss. Now, of course, I try hard not to say or do anything that will diminish their enthusiasm for marriage. I figure the blending of their lives together in a one flesh relationship will do that all on its own. After all, marriage is about learning to love a person for all the stuff you didn’t see in your mate when you were only dating. If you’ve been married for any length of time, you know that the honeymoon will not last forever, no matter how hard you try. A relationship between a husband and wife simply cannot sustain the intensity and affection of their first days, weeks and months together. It is inevitable that irritations will enter the marriage. We all have our little idiosyncrasies that can drive each other crazy. For example, I tend to walk faster than my wife. She doesn’t always appreciate that and reminds me to “slow down.” And guess what … neither one of us is as fit and attractive as we once were, although I want you to know that I’m still attracted to my wife. And as the years have gone by it has become more challenging to come up with new things to keep the relationship fresh. In fact, some couples, not us mind you, have to work hard to keep from becoming bored with each other. And that, my friends, is why God’s love is far superior to ours. In his book The Pleasures of God, John Piper writes this about the love He has for each of us: (God) says His joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. He is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasures and honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is trying to get into our hearts what He means when He says He rejoices over us with all His heart. And add to this, that with God the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite in power and wisdom and creativity and love. And so He has no trouble sustaining a honeymoon level of intensity; He can foresee all the future quirks of our personality and has decided He will keep what’s good for us and change what isn’t; He will always be as handsome as He ever was, and will see to it that we get more and more beautiful forever; and He’s infinitely creative to think of new things to do together so that there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums. How’s that sound? Does that kind of love appeal to you? I would certainly hope it does. God’s unconditional love is what Paul wrote about in the verses we’re studying this morning while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — the very One who is working to get Christians to wrap their minds and hearts around this vital truth … that God loves us perfectly and always.
Context: For the first 37 verses in Romans chapter eight Paul has presented a well-thought out defense of the Gospel and our assurance of salvation that flows from it. Now in these last two verses, he shares a bit of a personal testimony of his own experience with God’s love. He begins with this: “For I am sure (convinced/persuaded)” — the word means to bring about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations — and then ends with — that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God which is Christ Jesus our Lord.” In between these two statements, Paul addresses every concern he can think of that someone might bring up as a possible means for being separated from God’s love. Let’s look at his list together.
Neither death nor life — Why not start here with death? It is the very thing that separates the living from the dead. It’s everyone’s reality. Even if the Lord returns in our lifetimes and we don’t die but are taken up to be with Him, we still will likely face the death of loved ones in the interim period while we look for His 2nd coming. The Bible tells us that death is the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). It is not our friend. That’s why closing one’s eyes for the last time and facing the unknown is the biggest fear for many people. They would do almost anything to avoid it. I heard a story about a man condemned to death by firing squad. When they asked him what he wanted for his final meal, he said he wasn’t hungry. When they asked him who he would like to spend time with, he said no one. But when they finally put him against the wall in front of the firing squad, he did make a last request. He said to the man in charge, “I would like to sing my favorite song in its entirety before you shoot me.” The fellow nodded his head and said, “Go ahead.” And then the condemned man began to sing, “A trillion bottles of beer on the wall, a trillion bottles of beer. If one of those bottles would happen to fall, 999,999,999,999 bottles of bear on the wall.” But Christians don’t think about death the same way as unbelievers. We see it as the doorway through which God has ordained that we must pass to enter into eternity. Our mortal bodies cannot take us to heaven. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 — But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep (their mortal bodies are in the grave), so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Christ paid for our sin on the cross. They placed His body in the tomb and on the third day He rose again proving that death is a conquered foe to those who believe. So Christians don’t believe that death can separate us from the love of God. In fact, we might say that it the pathway to a even greater experience of His love.
And certainly there are things in life that seem to have the potential to separate us. War separates soldiers from their families. Divorce separates husbands, wives and children. Money, or the lack thereof, creates divisions between entire segments of the population. All of us have had the experience of making friends and then getting so busy that we don’t see them anymore. Or we move into a neighborhood and then move away. The average family does so about 11.4 times. We make friends at work and change jobs. This list goes on and on. The question is — Can any of these earthly separations during our lifetimes result in us being separated from God? And Paul’s answer is a resounding “no.” Neither death, nor life …
Nor angels nor rulers — The angels Paul has in mind are the good ones that serve God day and night. You might wonder how an angel could separate us from the love of God. I’m not sure that Paul is claiming they can. He’s speaking the language of hyperbole which is an exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally. It’s like saying, “You should have come to the game Friday night. The whole town was there!” But of course the whole town wasn’t there because at least one person was missing … the one you were talking with. What Paul is saying is that even if the angels wanted to separate us from God and His love, they couldn’t do it. They don’t have that kind of power. Neither do the rulers. These are fallen angels (demons). They attack and in some cases possess people and even animals. Their sole desire is to rob God of glory by destroying all that He created for His glory, which is the whole earth and everything in it including us. Demons have organized themselves as a powerful army against human beings in general and especially Christians. But can they separate us from the love of God? No, they cannot! They may play with our minds and convince us that God doesn’t love us, but that doesn’t change the fact that He does. So angels of any sort, good or fallen, can’t do it either. (Summary — neither death, nor life, nor angels nor demons …)
Nor things present, nor things to come — His point is that nothing in the realm of time either present and future can separate us from the love of God. Paul does not mention the past because it obviously has no hold over us since Christ has already delivered us from anything associated with it. But what about a situation we encounter in the present or future? Could it become the great divider between us and God? How about a foolish choice or a deliberate sin or some unexpected catastrophic event? Can a Christian who has slipped into drug addiction or alcoholism be separated from the love of God? Or how about the person who has committed a heinous crime and is in prison for the rest of his life? Just like with all the others, the answer to these questions remains the same. Nothing in the present or the future can keep us from experiencing God’s love. Perhaps Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon who went to prison because of the Watergate scandal, better understood this than most of us. He betrayed his nation, but later wrote of everything that happened afterward: “What is it that God has chosen to use of my life to touch the lives of other people all around the world? My one defeat–the fact that I went to prison. And I can tell you that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t have the freedom of knowing that Christ had taken my sins away. Your right relationship with God, your right relationship with Jesus Christ and your obedience to Him is the most important single thing in the world and God will use it in ways you can never imagine when you’re truly surrendered to Him.” Does that sound like a hopeless man? No, because he knows the truth that Paul speaks of in these two verses. He is and always will be loved by God through Christ.
Nor powers — This word describes various spiritual powers in the New Testament. Probably Paul has in mind sorcerers, people who speak to the dead, witches and warlocks, fortune tellers and the like. Is it possible for these people who have some connection to the spiritual realm to separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Can they by means of a curse separated us from God. Nope! Nothing they can array against us will ever prevail. We do not have to fear them. (Summary: Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, no powers …)
Nor height nor depth — This is a reference to the realm of space. Is there anywhere we could go where we would no longer be loved by God? If we could go to the moon or if could somehow drill to the central core of the earth, could we be separated from God’s love? Or how about if a person is all alone in a boat drifting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Paul didn’t believe it was possible in any of these circumstances and neither did the King David (Psalm 139:7-10 — Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me).
Nor anything else in all creation — Just in case Paul might have forgotten to mention something, this is his catch-all category. The plain and simple truth is that nothing, no one, not anything in the physical or spiritual realm can separate God’s children from His love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Application: That pretty much covers it, but let me give you three very specific applications that might help any who are struggling with these personal issues.
- Your family of origin cannot separate you from the love of God. I know that some of us have been in raised in very dysfunctional homes where a parent’s love always came with strings attached. It’s not uncommon that people in these situations can eventually begin to think that they are not worthy of being loved. They must always do more to earn it. This leads to a lot of insecurity and self-doubt — “Is anyone ever going to love me for who I am?” I want you to know that God loves you. He knows everything there is to know about you — good, bad and indifferent — and continues to love you no matter what. You do not have to perform for Him as you might for others. His love is truly unconditional.
- Your spouse, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors and even your enemies cannot separate you from the love of God. Perhaps you’re in a relationship with a person that is very unhealthy and you find yourself compromising in your walk with God as a result. I know there have been times in my life when this was true for me and here’s what I learned. The further you move away from God the less you experience His love, but that doesn’t mean that He has stopped loving you. Like the father of the prodigal son, He patiently waits and watches for your return so you can once again enjoy the blessing of sweet fellowship with Him.
- You cannot separate yourself from the love of God. Remember this: You can’t make God love you and you cannot make God stop loving you. He loves you by His choice because you are His child. No matter what thoughts you entertain about yourself, no matter how undeserving you think you are of being loved by God, that doesn’t change a thing. He loves you today and always.
Conclusion: An episode on the podcast “The Butterfly Effect” tells the story about a couple named Dan and Rhiannon who run a company that provides what’s called “bespoke porn.” People who have some extra money and who want a particular fantasy played out provide a description to this company which then produces the video and then turns over the finished product to the customer. A while back during the waning hours of the night, Dan received an email from a man who made this request: he wanted a porn actress to sit, fully clothed, on the floor and then look into the camera and say: “You are loved. Things are bad now, but they won’t always be. Suicide is not the answer.” Dan and Rhiannon wrote back, but did not hear again from the man. They decided to make the film anyway, and did so as beautifully as they could, in hopes that the fellow who made the request would still want it—still be able to benefit from it. The actress they hired to speak the words still can’t talk about the request or the video without crying. One might wonder why a man, suffering as this nameless man was suffering, turn for help to people who make pornography. Maybe the answer is as simple as this: the fellow wanted to feel love and accepted, but suspected that the fulfillment of his desire was nothing more than pure fantasy just like an adult video. If you’re thinking the same thing this morning … that real, unconditional, completely satisfying love is only a dream, I want you to know that you’re wrong. That’s a lie that comes straight from the pit of Hell. Listen Christian. You are and will be forever loved and accepted by God on the basis of your faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. There is not anybody or anything that can come between you and your Heavenly Father’s love. It’s real and it’s yours to enjoy for all eternity. He’ll never stop loving you no matter what happens. On the other hand, if you’re not a follower of Christ and you’re longing for this kind of love and acceptance, maybe it’s time you turn from your sin, the very thing that separates you from God, and embrace Jesus as your Savior and Lord. You can do that right now.