We continue today in the study of a beautiful passage in Romans 8. We come to the verses 35-37. We read: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
Let us remember the purpose of the Holy Spirit in this cherished and beautiful passage of Scripture. God’s intention in Romans 8:28-39 is to deepen and make unshakably sure our salvation in Christ so that we will suffer well in the path of obedience to Christ.
The apostle Paul is compiling a massive basis of assurance. He is building for us a strong citadel of salvation to stand upon and stand in. Verse 28: “All things work together for our good.” Verses 29 and 30, we have been predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ; we have been called, justified, and glorified. Verse 32, God did not spare His own Son. Verses 33 and 34, God has justified; Christ died, He arose, and He reigns, and He even now intercedes for us. And the point of it all is that with this massive assurance, we will be able to suffer well in the path of obedience to Christ. When God, in His wisdom, places trial upon our pathway, when reproach comes for obedience to Christ, when every form of distress is thrown upon our path, then we will not forsake God, we will not curse, question, or despair. But we will hold fast.
So the design of this beautiful passage is: The assurance of salvation empowers us to suffer well in the path of obedience to Christ.
Now, you note with me that, beginning in verse 31, the apostle is asking questions to which he does not give a formal answer. He intends for us to give the answer ourselves. The question is intended to draw us in, to engage us, and to spell out before our minds the spectacular things that are ours in Christ.
Question 1 (v. 31): If God be for us, who can be against us? And the answer is: No one.
Question 2 (v. 32): Since God spared not His Own Son, how shall not God also freely give us all things with Christ? And the answer is: He will. If He gave us the greater—the death of Christ for our sins—He will surely give us the lesser—all that we now need.
Question 3 (v. 33): Who will lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? And the answer is: No one. God justified us, who can?
Question 4 (v. 34): Who is he that condemneth? And the answer again is: No one. The work of Christ is absolutely perfect.
Now, in verse 35, we come to the fifth question that the apostle asks. And it brings us to the very mountaintop. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” And, again, the answer is: No one. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. There is no more triumphant truth that could possibly exist. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, the love that He has for us, a love that has now made us, says the apostle, “more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
And with that assurance, you and I are called to suffer well in the path of obedience to Christ.
When the apostle Paul, in verse 35, asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” he is not asking that question ignorant of all the forces that would attempt to do exactly that. He is not being unrealistic. Nor is he underestimating the power of our enemy. It is not simply bravado or a false boast.
What makes this passage so real and so precious is that the apostle Paul knew from experience exactly all that would be arrayed to separate the child of God from the love of God. And the apostle takes careful inventory of everything that would attempt to do that. He does not close his eyes to any. He does not cover his ears. But he spells out all the different threats that could possibly come attempting to separate us from the love of Christ, threats that he had experienced personally.
In verse 35, he lists seven things. He does not list just one or two, so that we would say to him, “Well, yes, Paul, so far so good. But you have not thought of something that I know, that I have experienced. And this is too great for the love of Christ.” No, he makes a long list—seven, covering the whole range of misery and pain that could possibly come to a child of God. From what men can do, to the calamities that might fall upon us in this life. And the apostle says, “No one, nothing, can separate us from the love of Christ.” And note, he is actually inviting all of these things to come forward and to present themselves. Notice how he puts it. Shall tribulation? Tribulation, come forward. Speak for yourself. Can you do this? Can you separate us from the love of Christ? Distress, what about you? Speak for yourself. Persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword. Stand up, now. Can you separate us from the love of Christ?
Let us look at them.
Tribulation is a word that refers to a threshing club that was used to beat the grain or the kernel of wheat from the pod to separate the kernel from the chaff—heavy blows intended to separate. Tribulation refers to blows that leave us speechless, circumstances pressing down, anxieties, pressures, stress, death, the feeling that we are being beaten down, sudden calamity, loss of a job, betrayal of a spouse, severe, sudden illness, cancer, the finality of death. Can tribulation separate us from the love of Christ?
Then there is the word distress. This word is composed of two words: narrow and space. It refers to being confined within a narrow space. It refers to the fact that your earthly dreams have been blocked. Perhaps it is a stroke. Perhaps it is something that has simply restricted you in your freedom, in your advance, in your opportunities.
And then there is the word persecution. This word refers to a blood-trail, to pursuit, to being hunted, to relentless opposition, to someone who is committed to making your life a misery.
Then there is famine. And famine is not an economic recession or even an economic collapse. It is not simply savings in houses and equity gone, but it is bloated bellies, no food, nothing to give to our children to eat.
Nakedness. The loss of shelter. No place to live. Discriminated against. It can in the Bible, at times, refer to rape or to horrible abuse.
And then there is the word peril, which is to be arrested, tried, imprisoned, to live looking over your shoulder, homes burnt, beaten, and tortured.
And then the word sword. The sword that pierces the flesh, the heart, or cuts off the head. The progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ has always left behind a bloody trail.
Now, the apostle asks, can these things, any combination of them, all of them together, or any one of them by itself—can they separate us from the love of Christ? Can anything now, can anything in the future, is there some power existent that is able to do this? Then, note with me that the apostle does not ask, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” We would expect that, after seeing the list he gives. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine—we would expect him to say, “What shall separate us?” But he does not say that. He asks, Who? He is well aware that it is the Devil who seeks to use all these things to defeat the work of God in us. Can they? And the answer is: NO! They cannot.
Why cannot they separate us from the love of Christ? Because of something in ourselves? Oh, no! The answer is this: Because of the love of Christ, who loved us. Because of the nature of Christ’s love. Christ’s love is an inseparable love.
Now, I’d like to point out at least three things of the wondrous love of Christ in this passage. And we will use words all beginning with the letter “p.”
First of all, the love of Christ is present. Christ is loving us right now. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? That is a present love. It is possible for a wife to say of her dead and departed husband: “Nothing can separate me from the love of my husband,” and she would be right. She means that the memory of his love will be sweet and powerful to her all of her life. But that is not the meaning of the love of Christ shown to us. The love of Christ is not simply a memory of past love. But it is a present love, now.
Verse 34, just before our text in verse 35, makes plain that we belong to a living, a risen, Savior, who is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. He is loving us now. Oh, what a precious thought—the truth that Christ loves me at this moment.
The apostle says in verse 34 that Christ intercedes for us. Now, what does that mean, if it does not mean that right now He thinks of each one of His children—of you, that He loves you personally, and that He applies all that He has accomplished for you at Calvary in your behalf. And He makes sure that you have grace for every moment. Christ loves you now. It is a present love.
Note with me secondly that Christ’s love is particular. It is present, but it is also particular. His love is not a universal love for all and every man, woman, and child. But it is a particular love for the elect, for those who are graciously loved of God the Father. Note the question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” His love is inseparable. It never loses even one whom He loves. Therefore, it is not a love of all, it is not a love from which many can be separated and fall into the flames of hell. His love is effective. It is powerful. It preserves and it keeps. Therefore the love of Christ is, and must be, particular.
It would make no sense, we would lose the entire Word of God and the gospel, if we were to say that some of those who are loved of Christ may yet end up in hell. Then there would be something that can separate from the love of Christ. If one goes to hell, one who was eternally loved of Christ, then the love of Christ has been broken. The truth is that the love of Christ is inseparable, it is particular. Not one whom He loves can be separated from Him and be cast into the flames of hell.
This is what we read of the love of Christ in Ephesians 5:25-27, where we are taught that husbands are to love their wives even as Christ loved the church. We read that He gave Himself for the church that He might present it, the church, to Himself as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. His love is a particular, covenantal love with vows and promises to His bride the church, to the elect of God. His love is not an unrequited love. Christ says, “I love My bride. And My bride will never perish.”
Of course, the great question is: Are you part of that bride? Are you part of that church? Are you assured, personally, today, in your soul, of this particular love of Jesus Christ? Certainly this particular love of Jesus Christ will bring forth certain fruits within us. The Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of all those whom Christ has loved a genuine and heartfelt repentance and faith. But especially it will be evident that the Holy Spirit has worked in you humility. When one knows the gracious election of God, when one knows the particular love of Jesus from which there can be no separation, the fruit within the heart will be a profound humility. Me? Why me? It can only be of His grace.
We take our lead here from the wonderful confession of the church called the Canons of Dordt. In the first head of the Canons of Dordt, Article 13, we read: “The sense and the certainty of our election in the child of God is a matter of daily humility before God, and the adoring of the depths of His mercies.” Peter, Simon Peter, had it right. Simon Peter once cried out: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He was filled with humility. And what caused him to be filled with humility? Was it that Jesus had just preached a sermon on the depravity of the sinner? No. The Lord had just shown to Peter in the catch of fish such mercy and such patience with him, with Peter—a thick-headed, irritable sinner—the Lord had shown him love and mercy. And in response to that undeserved love, that particular love, Peter was cast down in humility.
The love of Christ is personal. The love of Christ is particular. And the love of Christ is preserving. His love does not spare from the calamities of life. But God uses them, Christ uses them, to bring us to everlasting joy with God.
It is a very popular thing to look at verse 35 from a certain angle: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, distress…,” and there are many who would say, and they are under the guise of being Christian teachers but they are not, they would say: “This means that God will not let any of these things happen to you. This tribulation or distress or persecution, famine, nakedness, or peril, or sword—they will not happen to you, if you claim exemption by faith. If your faith is strong enough, and you say, ‘In the name of Jesus,’ none of these bad things will ever happen to you.” This is false teaching. This is a heresy out of hell. The apostle Paul, the Holy Scriptures, testify in Philippians 3:17-19 of those who promote this teaching, that God is their belly. They are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction.
It is not the Bible’s teaching that the love of Christ will keep bad things from happening to us in this present world. It is the teaching of the Bible that, in the hand of a sovereign Savior, all things work together for good to them that love God. The apostle himself speaks in verse 38 of death. In other words, Paul, when he speaks of the sword in verse 35, is not simply talking about a sword pointed or waved at you, but one that kills you for your confession of Christ.
And then the apostle makes it very plain, in verse 36, when he says, “As it is written.” He is going to quote Psalm 44:22, “As it written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” God’s purpose, God’s design, is very often that His children on earth are killed. The wonder of Christ’s love is that He preserves us in and through all these things. He controls and uses them, in order that He might sanctify us in our deepest distress.
The love of Christ is present, it is particular, and it is persevering.
Now, you and I must understand that in our present land of America, in the United States, for the last 300 years, our life as Christians in many ways has been an anomaly. It has been an exception, not the norm. The apostle quotes, as I said, from Psalm 44:22, where he says, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” That verse teaches that the church, her condition in the world, is one of persecution. It is the voice of the bride of Christ, the church on the earth, speaking in Psalm 44:22. The church is saying that martyrdom, suffering for Christ, is normal Christianity.
If we who live in America as Christians would only put our heads up and look at the world around us, we would see that our brothers and sisters are being killed all the day long and are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Persecution of Christians in Pakistan, India, the Sudan, Indonesia, Vietnam, North Korea, Somalia—it is estimated that 170,000 Christians will die this year because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Do not say, “Well, maybe that’s not true. Maybe that’s exaggerating.” God is speaking in His Word. And what does He say? He says that all those who have been brought to Jesus Christ will say this: “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” God’s church, as it is in the world, is opposed by this present world, and only an American can think that the way of serving Christ is easy in the world, that it is normal for the church to worship freely. It is not normal. We in this country are a footnote in church history. Our experience is the exception.
But this persecution, the Bible tells us, is coming. Also in this land, those who confess the name of Christ, those who are faithful to His Word and truth, will come under severe forces to separate them from the love of Christ. When brother shall deliver brother over unto death, when we will flee, when we will endure the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. You see, verse 36 of Romans 8 is not an old-fashioned verse that we have outgrown in this country. No, it documents the history of the church in this world.
Have we forgotten? Have we been blessed with the life of freedom and security in our country, and then ask, “Well, why does God give us all this prosperity?” We know the answer. The answer is that we might lay up in store, that we might use that prosperity to go to the hard places of the earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ, that we may pray for our brethren who are being persecuted, that we may support the cause of missions and the causes of the kingdom.
God has not blessed us in this country as Christians, with all of our prosperity, in order that we as Christians may build bigger homes, have newer cars, enjoy more vacations. But God has given us all these things so that we might take what He gives and press it into the work of His kingdom, ere the night comes, said Jesus, in which no man can work.
Shall we fear? No. “For in all these things….” What things? In tribulation, in distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, or peril, or sword—in these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
More than conquerors. What does that mean? Well, it means, first of all, that the outcome is not in doubt. That we have the victory now, that Christ has secured the victory. Nothing can separate us from His love. We are more than conquerors through Him. An earthly conqueror goes into the battle not sure of the outcome. He fights to get the victory. But not so with us in Christ. The victory is ours right now. I Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are more than conquerors in that the victory of our salvation and the certainty of our salvation is already attained.
Are you weary? Tired to the breaking-point? Are you struggling with hopelessness? Look, by faith, to the love of Jesus Christ. See Him upon the cross. See Him, the Conqueror. See Him arise at the right hand of God. There is nothing that can separate from His love.
But we are more than conquerors in yet another sense. Not only in that we have the victory now, but also in that the very enemy has been subjected to be a servant. A conqueror, of course, has beaten his foes. But one who is more than a conqueror has made his foes his slave. And that is the truth here. Christ does not simply outfight His enemies. He controls His enemies for His own purpose.
We read in II Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” The opposition, the distress, the persecution, the nakedness, the famine—all things—are working for us, are the way of the Father to prepare us for our final glory.
Our trials, griefs, fears, darkness, sorrow—they work for us. They cut out our sin. They remove the glitter of the world. They make us love the luster of Christ yet more.
Therefore, embrace this truth. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. In all these things, not despite them. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
Humble yourselves before Him in the amazing love of Christ and the victory that is ours and live by faith in the triumphant love of God. It is very right and correct for you to live a godly Christian life. It is right for you to confess His name. It is right for you to endure reproach for the sake of Jesus. It is right to suffer the loss of all things for Him. It is right to serve Him. It is right to stand before the gods of this world, the mindset of this world, and not bow down, but to confess instead that Jesus Christ is your Lord. It is right to hold fast to your faith. Why? Because we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. We pray that it may be sealed in this day to our hearts through Jesus Christ. Amen.