Romans 8:35-39 (Part Eleven)

Last week we saw Paul arguing for his thesis that God is working all for our good. We can be confident in the future hope Paul spoke of earlier in the chapter because:

Argument 1: God is in charge of the process from start to finish. It’s an unbreakable chain – those he foreknew will one day be glorified.

Argument 2: The cross demonstrated that God is on our side, and that he’s invested so much in us already that he’s hardly going to change his mind now. What’s more, we have the risen Jesus as our defence attorney.

Today, we come to his final argument, in the last five verses of the chapter:

Argument 3: I can’t think of anything that can separate us from God

Paul’s final argument, then, is a kind of summary of what has gone before. He’s implicitly argued that nothing can put our future with God at risk: not any external forces, not our sinfulness – not even God himself, since he’s bound by his own character and promises! But just to make sure we get the message, he goes through everything he can think of that can’t separate us from God.

Not any difficult experiences! 

Firstly, he lists a whole load of experiences:

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

Paul piles up these words for rhetorical effect, so we shouldn’t waste too much time trying to nail down precise distinctions between ‘trouble and hardship’ or ‘danger and sword’. His point is to call to mind any testing experience you can think of – any difficulty that the world can throw at you – and tell us in no uncertain terms that it cannot separate us from God.

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

That is, when we face times of trouble or persecution or danger – in the midst of that we can be assured that we are already conquerors. In fact, Paul uses the term ‘more than conquerors’ or ‘more than victorious’. What does this mean?

It may just be a way of saying ‘we are victorious to the greatest extent imaginable’. But it’s possible that Paul means a bit more than that, if we put it in the context of verse 28. Remember that God works through ‘all things’ for our good? Even the bad things in the world; even the suffering and trials we undergo. So if we are ‘more than conquerors’ in the midst of all these circumstances, it means that we are not only victorious over them – but that God has put them to work for our good. Like a victorious king who not only conquers an opposing nation, but also sets them to work for his own agenda.

But Paul’s point is that we share in God’s victory even in the midst of suffering – no experience we undergo is therefore capable of separating us from God’s love.

Not anything in the created order! 

In fact, more than just experiences – there is nothing in the created order, material or spiritual, that can separate us from God either:

Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

Again, Paul’s use of words – particularly all these pairs of opposites – is for rhetorical effect. We don’t need to spend time speculating on how angels might ever attempt to separate us from God – any more than a wife-to-be needs to spend time wondering what reason she might have for poisoning her fiancée’s coffee. (See Tuesday’s post if that makes no sense.) The point is that there is nothing – not even in the hypothetical realm – that can ever separate us from God.

He’s got everything covered: every possible state of existence from death to life; every spiritual being imaginable, from angels to demons; every moment in time, from present to future; every point in space, from the highest to the lowest – and if I’ve forgotten anything, then that too – nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God!

Pretty comprehensive, right? That’s the point. These last dozen verses have been designed to… well, let’s look at that tomorrow.

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