August 8, 1993
All summer long we’ve been climbing. We’ve been talking about what it would finally be like when we reached the top of the mountain. Now at last we’re there, at the peak, the summit of the mighty mountain of God’s grace. Romans is arguably the greatest book in the New Testament. Romans 8 is unquestionably the greatest chapter in the book. Romans 8:38-39 is the greatest passage in the greatest chapter of what may well be the greatest book in the Bible—which is itself the greatest book in the world.
So it’s no exaggeration to say that we are standing on holy ground. Like Moses of old, we should take off our shoes as we approach the sacred words of this famous text. In order that we might see the words of the apostle whole and entire, let’s read the final two verses of Romans 8:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Every word is precious, but I would especially call your attention to the first four words: “For I am convinced.” They speak of Paul’s personal conviction. Here the heart of the great apostle is fully revealed. There are times in life when what is needed is logical argument … and other times when what is needed is personal testimony. Both are absolutely necessary. Sometimes the only thing that will suffice is a cool, coherent, logical, systematic defense of the truth. When faced with the onslaught of relativism, we must put forward “evidence that demands a verdict.” Especially in these confused days when no one seems to know what the truth is, we need apologists who can give a “reason for the hope that is in them.”
But there are other times when argument alone will not suffice. Sometimes we must put argument aside and simply from our hearts share the reality of who Jesus is and the difference he has made for us. On those occasions it will not do to quote Scripture or simply give five reasons why Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God. Sometimes we must convincingly share with others why we ourselves are fully convinced.
There are times when someone will say to us, “I have heard everything you have said. Now just tell me what Jesus Christ means to you personally.” At that point argument ends and testimony begins.
Time For a Testimony
As I have said, both are needed—argument and testimony—and wise is the Christian who knows the difference. Sometimes we argue, sometimes we testify, sometimes we do both. In Romans 8 Paul does both. Mostly he argues. In fact, this chapter is almost entirely argumentation until he reaches the last two verses. At that point—like any good speaker—having exhausted his arguments, having logically clinched his point, he sets out his own personal testimony. “Paul, do you really believe what you are saying? We hear your words. Now let us see your heart.”
So as he reaches the peak of Mt. Grace, he bares his heart to us. “For I am convinced,” he says. The word means to be “fully and absolutely persuaded on the basis of evidence that cannot be denied.” In the Greek he uses a perfect tense. That means something like “I was persuaded in the past and I am fully persuaded in the present.” “I used to believe this and I still believe it today.” Nothing has changed. “I have been convinced and I am still convinced today.” When Paul says he is persuaded, he speaks as a man who has staked his life upon certain unchanging realities.
“I was sure about this yesterday.”
“I am totally convinced today.”
“By the grace of God I will be even more certain tomorrow.”
If I had to pick one theme for Romans 8, it would be Christian assurance. I believe Paul wrote this chapter to give believers the assurance of salvation. To say it another way, this chapter is written to assure you that you truly are a child of God and that your relationship with God is eternally secure.
In these weeks of preaching through Romans 5-8, I have said over and over again that those whom God saves, he saves forever. God doesn’t do halfway work. He doesn’t start something and not finish it. Those whom God justifies, he justifies forever. As we approach the end of Romans 8, it seems to me that Paul just piles up one argument after another for the doctrine of eternal security.
I Won’t Be Chased Out of Romans
In fact if someone said to me, “Pastor Ray, why do you believe in eternal security?” I would say that I believe the entire Bible teaches this doctrine. But if they ran me out of the Old Testament, I would go to the Gospels. If they ran me out of the Gospels, I would go to the book of Acts. If they ran me out of Acts I would go to the General Epistles. If they ran me out of the General Epistles I would go to Ephesians and Philippians. If they ran me out of Ephesians and Philippians I would go to Romans. If they ran me out of 65 books of the Bible, I would finally land in Romans, and there I would stay. I would not be chased out of Romans because Romans 8 unquestionably teaches that those whom God saves he saves forever.
That, I think, is what Paul is saying in these last few verses. You can know for certain—you can be totally convinced—you can be sure beyond any question that when you die you are going to heaven. You can be as convinced as Paul was because not only are your sins forgiven, not only is your name written in heaven, not only are you justified, not only is Christ interceding in heaven for you, not only are you more than a conqueror, but as a result of all that, you are therefore eternally secure.
Like any good preacher, having laid out his arguments in great details, Paul comes to the end of his message and switches to a personal testimony. That’s the significance of the first four words of verse 38: “For I am convinced.” The argument is over. He now shares his personal testimony.
If you look at these two verses, they may at first seem complicated. But Paul is actually saying one thing and one thing only: “I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Everything else is additional amplification. Everything else simply embellishes that truth.
The word “separate” means to violently tear from, to completely divide. Paul says that nothing that can happen to us can finally and completely separate us from the love of God. There is one qualifier we need to notice—”Nothing can separate us.” Who is the “us” of verse 38? The “us” refers to those who are “in Christ Jesus” This promise applies to believers and only to believers. It is not a general statement describing everyone in the world. Only those who know Jesus Christ through saving faith may claim this promise. They will never be separated from the love of God.
For those who know Jesus Christ there can be no separation from the love of God. That’s the teaching of Romans 8:38-39. But then the question comes, “Paul, are you sure about that? You speak so confidently. How can you be so dogmatic? Isn’t there something somewhere that could possibly, somehow, someway separate us from the love of God?” Good question. To answer it Paul sets forth 10 possible things that might separate us from the love of God. These 10 possibilities are set forth in four sets of two each, with two items set off by themselves. Taken together, they encompass everything in the universe. He includes every imaginable realm of existence.
I. Death or Life
He begins with death. That makes sense because death is indeed the great separator. It separates us from our loved ones, our friends, our family members. Death cuts us off from everything we have known in this life. Death ends your career, your hobbies and your home life. Death brings it all to a screeching halt.
More than that, death calls forth the greatest fears in life. What happens when we die? Where do we go? Do we “go” anywhere or do we simply dissolve into non-molecular nothingness? Hebrews 2:15 speaks of “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” I have seen it at every funeral I have conducted—the awesome fear of death. I see it when I visit the hospital and ask, “What did the doctor say?” Death is so final. No wonder we fear it. “Men fear death, as children fear darkness,” said Francis Bacon.
Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope for you in the face of death. Without Jesus, you face death and its terrors all alone. But for those who believe in Jesus, death holds no fear. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Those are the words of the only person who ever rose from the dead. What does he mean “will never die?” If you know Jesus Christ, at the moment of your death, you will pass from this life into the next life—life eternal—where you will be forever with the Lord Jesus in paradise. Do we die? Yes, but if you know Jesus, you live on beyond the grave. Not as a dream or a phantom but as a real person. You live forever with our Lord. Death cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
But what about life? Many things in life separate us. War separates families. Poverty separates whole classes of people. Sickness separates us from our loved ones. Old age and geography separate us from our family and friends. Sometimes our sin causes us to do stupid things that separate us from those around us. We make friends, then we drift apart. We move to a new neighborhood and the old relationships are forgotten. We say, “Let’s keep in touch,” but we don’t. So many experiences of life pull us apart from each other. Can life itself—with all its ups and downs—pull us away from God?
In one of his sermons Dr. James Montgomery Boice tells of receiving a letter from a man who was dying of AIDS. Although raised in the Christian faith, he had slipped into the homosexual lifestyle and it had cost him everything—his family, his profession, his health, and ultimately his life. Through his terrible affliction he had found the Lord, and in finding the Lord his life—though fast ebbing away—had been transformed. Now his only goal was to use whatever time was left to know God better:
I have become obsessed with God. I can’t get enough of his Word. He literally has become my sole incentive to live. I have lost so much already and am losing everything else, but I cannot lose him. He is the only reason I hold on to life, miserable as it is. My living now is preparing me for eternity. (Romans, II, 1002)
What a marvelous testimony. Not even AIDS and all its suffering can tear us away from the love of God. Take the worst that life has to offer. It is no match for the love of God. Not poverty, not sickness, not hatred, not rejection, not failed plans, not shattered dreams, not broken hearts, not old age, not ravaging disease, not financial reversal. None of those things, as bad as they are, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
II. Angels or Demons
In the Greek this reads “neither angels nor principalities.” The “angels” refer to the good angels who worship God day and night. The “principalities” are the evil spirits who followed Lucifer when he fell from heaven. They are commonly referred to as demons.
But immediately we ask, “How could the good angels separate us from the love of God? Why would they do such a thing?” The answer is, they wouldn’t. Paul is speaking in hyperbolic language, stretching for the most remote possibility. His meaning is something like, “Can the angels even if they wanted to—which they don’t—separate us from the love of God?” The answer is no. Not even the angels of God could interfere with the love of God. His love overcomes even his most powerful created beings.
The demons are another matter. They exist to harass the people of God. Their entire purpose is evil and destructive. They are malignant beings who prey on human weakness, tempting us to sin. When they inhabit a human soul, they lead it into constant self-destruction. Let us be clear on this point. Demons do exist and they have great power. They array themselves as a diabolical army against the people of God. They discourage us, divide us, attack us, incite us, provoke us, and in every way oppress us. Beloved, the demons are very real. We are foolish if we deny their existence. Satan is alive and well on planet earth … and so are his demons.
But can the demons separate us from the love of God? No, but they can make us feel as if God doesn’t love us. They can confuse us into thinking we have been rejected. But those attacks are within our own minds. And that is all they can do. Colossians 2:14-15 tells us that when Christ died he defeated Satan and all his evil minions. He “disarmed them” by making a public spectacle of them. He triumphed over them when he died on the cross and rose from the dead.
Satan is a liar! Satan has been defeated! He’s a loser! And the demons are losers! Jesus won the battle 2000 years ago. The battle is over.
Can the demons hurt the people of God? Yes. Can they harass the people of God? Yes. Can they confuse and mislead the people of God? Yes. But that’s all they can do. There is a limit to their nefarious activity. They are not omnipotent.
Can the angels or the demons separate us from the love of God? The angels won’t and the demons can’t.
III. Present or Future
Here we move into the realm of time, the flow of events from past to present to future. Is there anything within the realm of time—any recorded event, any present occurrence, any future possibility—that can or could ever separate us from the love of God? The answer once again is no. “Time is powerless against believers.”
He doesn’t include the past because as believers, our past was forgiven the moment we trusted Christ. Therefore, if the past were going to rise up against us to somehow condemn us, it would already have done so. But it can’t, because our past was dealt with forever the moment we came to Christ. But what about the present? Perhaps there is something happening right now that could sever our relationship with God. No, Jesus is greater than our present circumstances.
Then he comes to the future. Is there anything looming beyond the horizon, any horrible event, some unforeseen emergency, some unexpected catastrophe, some yet-unknown failing, that could break the tie that binds us to God’s love? Again, the answer is no.
Terrible things sometimes happen to believers, including some things for which we must bear personal responsibility. But none of those things can separate us from the love of God.
Divorce? No separation.
Bankruptcy? No separation.
Drug addiction? No separation.
There is nothing you are going through right now—no matter how terrible—that can separate you from the love of God. You may suffer greatly for your mistakes and your sins, but even those things can’t separate you from God’s everlasting love.
But what about life beyond the grave? Does the protection of Jesus extend into the next life—or does this promise terminate with our physical death? We are protected here. What about the hereafter? Paul answers that question in Philippians 1:23 when he says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ.” The very moment we die we pass into the personal presence of Jesus Christ. Wherever he is, in whatever spiritual state that might be, no matter what the outward circumstances are, if we are “with Christ,” we are safe. We couldn’t be safer.
IV. Any Spiritual Powers
The word here is a form of dunamis, which in the New Testament usually refers to various spiritual powers. We might think of things like black magic, voodoo, witchcraft, astrology, wizardry, warlocks, New Age mystics, reincarnationists, people who claim to see auras, cast spells, read Tarot cards, tell fortunes, conduct seances, and so on. The word covers the whole waterfront of alleged (and real) spiritual powers. It involves the entire gamut of evil spiritual influences.
Here’s the point. Whatever Satan can think up, whatever his followers can concoct, whatever alleged spiritual forces might be arrayed against us, none of them can separate us from God’s love. No one can cast a spell and take away your salvation. No one can chant or hum or read cards and destroy your relationship with Jesus. No one can call on the spirits of dead people to somehow sabotage your Christian faith. It can’t happen. Jesus is greater than all the spiritual powers of the universe.
Can anything Satan does, can any supernatural manifestation of Satan, can any miraculous act of Satan, somehow destroy our faith? The answer is no. Can any power do that? No. Can any power you will ever encounter do that? No.
V. Height or Depth
In this final matched pair, Paul turns to the realm of space—to height and depth. If we somehow went high enough, we could be separated from God? No. If we went low enough, could we be severed from God? No. “The love of God is everywhere.” At this point we might think of Psalm 139:7-10. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Go up, up, up until you are finally in heaven. Go down, down, down until you are finally in hell. Is there anything in heaven that can separate you from the love of God? No. Is there anything in hell that can separate you from the love of God? No. Nothing as high as you can go. Nothing as low as you can go.
There is another possible meaning to this phrase. Commentators tells us that these two words were used in ancient astrology. They described a point directly above the horizon (the highest height) and a point directly below (the deepest depth). These points were used in making astrological forecasts. If that is the meaning, then Paul is telling us that even the so-called astrological powers cannot separate us from the love of God.
VI. Nor Anything Else
This is Paul’s final category. It’s as if he has exhausted everything he can think of. He’s covered all the possible categories, but just in case he’s forgotten something, he says, “Anything else in all creation.” He means, “Just in case there is some realm of existence that I haven’t covered, I’m going to include it here.” If you can think of anything else the Apostle Paul hasn’t thought of, put it in this last category.
Is there any creature that can separate us? No.
Is there any created being that can separate us? No.
Is there anything in the universe? No.
But the word there is heteros—another of a different kind. It may mean, “this universe or any other universe, if there is or could be another universe.” That, I think, covers it all. If there is another universe that we know nothing about, wherever it is, and whatever it may contain, there is nothing in it that can separate us from God’s love.
There is nothing that is or ever could be—nothing you could dream or imagine—that could separate a believer in Jesus from God’s eternal love.
Can I Separate Myself From God’s Love?
One final point. Sometimes people say, “But what if I want to separate myself from God’s love? What if I take myself out of God’s love? What if I decide to separate myself? What if I decide I don’t want to be saved any longer? What if I decide I don’t want to be justified any longer? What if I decide that I want to be un-saved, un-born again, un-justified? Can I take myself away from God’s love?” Good question. Look again at the text. It says, “Any created thing.” Are you a created being of God? The answer is yes. Then you can’t even separate yourself from God’s love.
Why? Because those whom God loves, he loves forever. Those whom God saves, he saves forever. Those whom God justifies, he justifies forever. If you by faith have come to Jesus Christ for salvation, he will never cast you out (John 6:37), and he will never allow you to cast yourself out.
I Am Sure. Are You?
We come now to the end of these studies in Romans 5-8. Paul said, “I am convinced.” “I am persuaded, I am sure, and I am certain that these things are true. Nothing in all the universe can separate the people of God from the love of God.” What are the grounds of his persuasion? Not sentimental optimism or happy-ever-afterism. It is based squarely on the fact that God loves us and proved his love in the death of his Son. After Calvary, no one can ever doubt the greatness of God’s love. The cross proves the love of God.
Paul said, “I am persuaded.” I say to you that I am persuaded. Are you persuaded? Paul was convinced. I am convinced. Are you convinced? Can you truly say, “I no longer have any doubts? I know that God will keep me safe to the very end?” If you are not certain, it is because you are looking to yourself and not to the Lord. Take a good look at Jesus and you will be convinced. I am persuaded and I am glad that I am. What about you?