Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? —Romans 8:35
You will see your life in either of two ways. You will size up your existence in either of two ways. One way is to see your life as Jean-Paul Sartre described it in his play No Exit: “You are your life, and nothing else.” What did Sartre mean by that? He meant that you are what you make of yourself, you are the sum total of your choices, you have no excuses, you can never take a break because you are all you have to fall back on, nothing beyond yourself belongs to you, your fate is in your own hands entirely, and when you die that’s it. You are your life, and nothing else is factored in.
There is another way to see your life. It starts becoming real to you when you stop trying to prove yourself and you start relaxing because you realize there is more to you than you. It’s when the gospel comes alive to you and a new sense enters your heart that God has made himself your friend. You’ve failed to prove yourself, you have no excuses and no defense, there is no justification for someone like you, but Christ comes to you and gives himself to you. He gives you the perfect life he lived and the guilty death he died. Christ writes your story into his story. Sartre said, “You are your life, and nothing else.” But God says, “You are in Christ, and nothing else” – if you’ll have him.
You will see yourself in either of these two ways – either having to make yourself and justify yourself and satisfy yourself or accepting Jesus as your complete redefinition and confidence. Christianity isn’t about our love for God; it’s about God’s love for us in Christ. It’s about the massive love of God, the surprising love of God, the wise love of God, the sacrificial love of God, the successful love of God. And what I want you to see in this final section of Romans 8 is two things. One, God loves you personally. Two, God loves you powerfully.
This passage reveals that God loves you personally. God doesn’t just love the human race globally. God loves you. He is holding you in his hands. He enthuses about your future in Christ. If you are in Christ, the real meaning of your story, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what anyone else has done to you, is the love of God. And he is making no demands of you except this one thing – that you be willing (willingness is all he asks, moment by moment) to be massively loved by God. He only asks that you cherish his love at the center of your heart, the way a husband expects that of his bride. But God will remove all the obstacles himself. And the difference between his intense love for you and your halfhearted love for him – even that he forgives, because his heart longs to win your heart. He loves you personally, so that you’ll love him personally.
This passage also reveals that God loves you powerfully. His love is not a weak, pleading love that might not work out. If you are in Christ, nothing will ever separate you from the love of God. You have sinned against him, some of your sins are deeply ingrained habits, you also sin when you’re capable of a better choice, you sin against the help of the Holy Spirit, you sin against the plain teachings of the Bible, you hurt the people you love the most, and you sit here and go along with this and you’ll tell me afterward what a nice sermon it was but what you really believe is that God’s love is weak – and not even that stops God. The love of God is his powerful commitment to you. And there is no match for that power, not even in you. If you’re turning to the Lord Jesus with a willingness to be loved by him, then he promises to love out of the way all the obstacles you put in the way. He loves you powerfully. Believe it, and rejoice.
What have we seen in Romans 8 up to this point? There is no condemnation, the Holy Spirit indwells us, God is preparing the whole universe for a glorious future, and right now he’s bending around to our good everything that happens to us. Because of God, that’s the real world we live in. So Paul asks, in verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things?” In other words, What’s our take-away? What’s the cash value of all this gospel? And he starts asking hard questions. He isn’t protecting some itty-bitty little hope from the tough realities of life. He’s unleashing this massive hope against everything that scares us. He wants us to think it through so that we gain a settled confidence that God loves us personally and powerfully forever. So in verses 31-39 Paul asks four unanswerable questions.
First question, verse 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Do you feel the happy defiance here? No victimhood. No self-pity. Bright confidence in God. That’s where God wants to take you today. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We’re not just asking the question: “Who can be against us?” We see a lot against us. Our past is against us. The devil is against us. The world is against us. If we try to go up against all that, thinking this time we’ll get it right, this time we’ll try harder, this time we’ll be true to Christ, we’re kidding ourselves. So Paul doesn’t ask who is against us. He asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
You can personalize this. God is for you. He is not against you. He is not watching you with a “Gotcha!” negative scrutiny. He is not neutral about you. He is not waiting to see how things turn out and how you perform. God is for you. He is your ally – ultimately, your only ally. He said to us, “No longer do I call you servants but friends” (John 15:15). And this strong Friend also said to us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). This Friend said to us, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This Friend said to us, “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and will take you to myself” (John 14:2-3).
Why don’t you put your name right here? “God is for _____________.” Put your name in this verse. God loves you personally. You don’t deserve him. But to God, that isn’t a reason not to love you but to love you all the more. God loves the undeserving. In all that God is doing the whole wide world today, God is thinking of you the undeserving, caring for you the undeserving. And for you to be overlooked and fall through the cracks and for your future in Christ to go poof, God himself would have to go poof.
Second question, verse 32: “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?” Where did God not spare his own Son? At the cross. What happened at the cross? The Father gave him up, abandoned him. When everything was on the line, all our sin was poured out upon the Son who hung there in our place, and God did not rescue him. God forsook him. He cried out in pain, and God didn’t listen. He prayed, and God didn’t answer. Jesus wasn’t saved, so that we could be saved. That is what happened at the cross. God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How here is Paul’s question about that: How will God not freely give us all things? In other words, if God gave us his most costly gift in Jesus, how could he possibly hold back now? Is he going to nickel-and-dime us now? Is that how God treats us? Is that what we should expect – a reluctant God? That doesn’t make sense. So what’s the point? The point is, if God gave up his Son for us all, there is no limit to God’s love for us.
We may wonder, How far will God go with me? At what point might God say to me, “That’s it. That’s all I can take. I knew you’d be a headache, but I didn’t bargain for this. You’ve gone too far. The deal’s off and I am outta here”? Will God ever say that to us? It’s unthinkable! Why? Because we deserve to be treated so well? No. Because Jesus was abandoned in our place, so that we’ll never be abandoned. God is as committed to us as he is committed to his own Son, because he gave his Son for us. If you belong to Jesus, you are in God’s love just as deeply and happily and securely as Jesus is in God’s love. It has nothing to do with your performance. It has everything to do with the cross, where God sealed his love for you forever.
God is rich with love, and God is a big spender. God does not limit his love for you. God un-limits his love for you. We are the ones who love carefully, who calculate how much someone might cost us and we pull out if we have to give too much. That’s how we love. But God loves you with God-sized love. And having given his Son, God plans to give you everything – a sinless personality with an immortal body in a renewed universe with a whole new human race enjoying God at full tilt forever. That’s your future because of the cross. Let it settle into your heart, deep down, and just say, “Thank you, Lord.”
Third question, verses 33-34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” God does not want you feeling condemned, though there’s a lot of condemning religion in the Bible Belt. Here’s where God wants to take you. I’ll describe it as The Fourfold Path to Spiritual Enlightenment. I’m a child of the 60s, so let me do it this way. The first step in the Fourfold Path to Spiritual Enlightenment is moral indifference. Many people live that way. Life is a playground and you make your own rules. Right and wrong don’t matter. Winning is all that matters. Some people change and move on to the second step: moral concern. These people start caring about doing the right thing. They start living upright lives. They look back at the people of moral indifference and they don’t like what they see. Some of these people of moral concern move on to the third step: moral despair. They crash. They fail. They discover they’re not moral people. Their habits and passions and background and temptations are too strong. Sooner or later, they find out that virtue isn’t as simple as a choice. They can’t stop themselves sinning. That’s moral despair. Fourthly, some moral failures finally look beyond themselves and here’s what they discover: hope in Christ. The gospel surprises them. The gospel says that God loves moral failures. God does not condemn moral failures who come to Christ; he justifies them, he pronounces them righteous – righteous sinners. And because it is God who justifies them, no one can de-justify them. There is no Supreme Court above God to reverse his verdict. “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?”
This is what everyone in our city needs to understand. The people in moral indifference need to wake up. The people of moral concern need to humble themselves. The people of moral despair need to know what a Friend we have in Jesus. And the people of hope in Christ – well, they need to start having a whole lot more fun. But don’t come to church to exalt your moral concern and polish your moral success. Come to church as a sinner and comfort your heart in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
God chose sinners as his elect (verse 33). Why? Because God’s deepest purpose is to bring fame to his Son as a successful Savior. The Father wants the Son to shine as the Savior of sinners. So God chooses as his elect not the good people but the bad people. He wasn’t stuck with us. He chose us, so that everybody can see Jesus is the only world-class Savior. I want you to see the Christ-centeredness of the gospel. It isn’t about our faith and repentance, not ultimately. It’s about how extreme a Savior Jesus is. Verse 34: “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.” It’s already final between the Father and the Son. Therefore, your moral failure cannot keep you from God, if you’ll turn to Jesus, because God’s whole point is to embrace moral failures who turn to Jesus. Bring it on, all of it. Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God.
Fourth and final question, verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” So let’s take a good hard look at all the enemies of our happiness in Christ – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, for starters. The normalcy of society is a thin veneer. It has broken down before. It will break down again. Anyway, your own personal death might as well be World War III. It’s the end of the world for you. And it’s going to happen. But do these horrible experiences prove that Christ no longer loves you or cares for you? Paul comes up with a list of sufferings here in verse 35. That’s life for the people God loves. Look at verse 36:
For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
Paul quotes Psalm 44. Look at the imagery: “. . . sheep to be slaughtered.” This world as one vast slaughterhouse – it isn’t pretty, but it is true to life.
“But in all these things, not in some but in all, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (verse 37). Satan thinks he can get us to turn on God. And when we suffer, we do weep, we do waver. But God loves us personally and powerfully and will not let us go. We are more than conquerors by going through living hell and it’s the love of God for us that keeps us true. Not our love for God, God’s love for us. We are weak, but to our own surprise we get back up again and find ourselves saying, “I have no idea what just happened to me. But one thing it can’t be is the hatred of God. God loves me. He has a loving purpose in this somehow. So, I’ll put one foot in front of the other and find out how God is going to redeem this mess.” So, we’re not victims. We conquer by trusting in his love. Your sufferings are not robbing you; they are taking you deeper into the love of God, and they always will.