Scripture: Romans 8:31–8:39
I want you to do something with me. Cross your arms like this (forearms crossed, both palms down). Now move your arms like this (move them sharply apart, horizontally). Do it again. Can any Americans tell me what that gesture means? (“You’re safe!”)
That’s right. It comes from the American game of baseball. When a play concludes, the umpire uses the gesture to signal that the player has made it to the base without being tagged by the ball. He is “safe”.
The title to my sermon this morning is “You’re safe!” I want to keep you awake and listening this morning, so at intervals during the sermon, I am going to use this signal. When I do, I want you all to shout out, “Safe!” Let’s practice. Gesture… “Safe!”
We live in a dangerous world. It is physically dangerous. Natural disasters, accidents, disease all can strike without warning.
Then there is the greatest physical threat of all – human violence and abuse against other human beings.
And that is only talking about threats in the physical world, the one we can see. But there is another world that is invisible to the human eye, but is nonetheless very, very real. It is the spiritual world; a world of unseen but real spiritual powers and authorities; a world of demons and evil spirits, of curses and spells, of dark and occultic powers.
In a world like this, filled with known and unknown threats, visible and invisible dangers, where can we go to find safety and security? Where can we go and be truly safe?
To answer that question, let’s turn to Romans 8:31-39, the passage of Scripture we read together a few moments ago. As we do, let me once again set our context. Paul has been writing to tie together the great themes of Christian theology, and God’s great work of salvation. It is a work that is both past, present and future. When we speak of God’s work in the past, we speak of justification; the great work of God whereby he declared us righteous in his sight based on Christ’s sacrifice of atonement on the cross and our faith in Christ’s work. When we speak of God’s work in the present, we speak of sanctification; the great work of God whereby he works in our lives by His indwelling Spirit to conform us to the likeness of his Son. When we speak of God’s work in the future, we speak of glorification; the great future work of God whereby he will give his children new bodies and we shall share in Christ’s glory, the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
So, there are aspects of our salvation which are already accomplished. There are other aspects which are ongoing as we speak. And there are still others which are yet future. We are told to ‘wait patiently” for them. One of the realities of this “now but not yet” existence in which we now live is that the now is not always pleasant. In fact, Paul has described our “now” with the words “our present sufferings” back in verse 18, and he even tells us that as God’s children and heirs, we “share in Christ’s sufferings.”
How do we tie these different realities together? Let me use an illustration. Last summer while we were on holiday in South Africa, we visited John and Shirley Hooker who used to be members here at ECC. They were living in Southport, south of Durban. While there, they took us to Oribi Gorge. There is a dramatic suspension footbridge across a section of the Gorge. It is a rather long bridge, so in the middle there is quite a bit of sway to it, or bounce, if you are brave enough to jump up and down. Think of our salvation as a suspension bridge. One end of it is firmly anchored in Christ’s work on the cross. The other end of it is firmly fixed to the promise of future glory and an eternity with Christ. But you and I are currently in the middle of the bridge. And it’s swaying and the wind is blowing and it’s bouncing up and down. Just how safe are we?
The first consideration in answering that question is: Who built the bridge? Paul has already answered that question for us in the previous section. God built the bridge. Remember in the message two weeks ago, we learned that “salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.” Starting with his foreknowledge before the creation of the world and leading on to our glorification in eternity future, salvation is God’s work. God built the bridge. Both the past and the future are securely anchored. The bridge is not going to fall.
But you and I are still in the middle of the bridge. And it’s bouncing and rocking. What if I fall off? What if someone or something comes along and knocks me off, or some evil force or presence blocks my way? What if some awful experience will cause me to lose my grip, or even make me give up and jump from the bridge? How safe am I? These are the kinds of questions that Paul answers in the final paragraph of Romans 8.
We know Paul is wrapping up this section of the letter by the way he begins verse 31: What then shall we say in response to this? What conclusions can we draw? What applications can we make?
He then introduces this wonderful rhetorical question. If you haven’t memorized it, I encourage you to do so. It is one of the most faith-building, faith-restoring questions in the Scripture: If God is for us, who can be against us? Let me say it again: If God is for us, who can be against us? Now you say it with me: If God is for us, who can be against us?
The construction here is what is called a “first class condition”. That means that the condition in the first part of the sentence is assumed to be true. We can translate it “Since God is for us, who can be against us?” We are…Gesture… “Safe!”
Now let me ask this. Do you think Paul is suggesting that the child of God has no enemies? Is he saying that we will experience no opposition? No. The Christian actually has many enemies. Satan for one. His name actually means “adversary” or enemy. The whole kingdom of darkness, over which he rules, stands in opposition to us. Not only his unseen, spiritual kingdom, but the present world system is also under his grip and influence. The entire value system and world view of the unbelieving world is waging war against us. And even in our own flesh, our sin nature, we have a fierce enemy that will oppose the work of God in our lives. So when Paul asks, “Who can be against us?” what is he saying?
Maybe another illustration will help. Many years ago, when I was in junior high (or middle school), around12 or 13 years old, we used to play 7 a side rugby in Physical Education class at the missionary school I attended in Kenya. That is the age when boys go through their growth spurt; only different boys go through their growth spurt at different times. There was one boy in the class whose nickname was “Harris”. His real name was Carl, but for some reason we called him “Harris.” Harris hit his growth spurt before the rest of us. He shot up about 6 inches. And he didn’t just grow tall. He grew big and strong as well. On top of that, he’d always been a natural athlete. So he was tall, he was big, he was strong…and he was fast.
It didn’t take the rest of us very long to realize something. No matter how we picked the teams for our rugby games, Harris’ team always won! His team always won, because none of the rest of us could tackle Harris. Any time his team needed to score some more points, they just gave the ball to Harris. “Try!” The only way the rest of us got to be on the winning side was by taking turns being on Harris’ team. If Harris was on our side, it didn’t matter who was on the other side. If Harris was for us, who could stand against us?
The Bible translation, The Message actually translates verse 31 this way: “So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?” If God is for us, who can be against us?” We are… Gesture… “Safe!”
But some might ask: How do we know God is for us? How do we know God is on our side? How do we know he even cares? Paul goes on to add some additional logic in verse 32: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Here Paul is going back to the truth of our justification. He is arguing from the greater to the lesser. If God went to all the pain and anguish of giving up his own Son, do you think he is now going to turn away from us, leave us alone, leave us to fend for ourselves? Back to the bridge analogy again; after going to all the trouble of building the bridge across the great chasm of our sins, is he now going to let us fall because he doesn’t care enough to take our hand and help us across? If he gave us his Son, is there anything he won’t do for us?
Paul continues to ground our security in God’s great work of justification in the following verses: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Paul’s is once again using legal language here, and as always, his logic is irrefutable. Now, Paul is not suggesting that there is no one who would like to bring accusations against us in court. In fact, Satan is actually referred to in the Scripture as the “accuser of the brethren.” He loves to bring accusations against us. “Did you see what Pastor Cam did? Did you hear what he said? Did you see what he failed to do?” Sadly, I give Satan far too much material to use and far too many accusations to bring – but notice the logic. Whose court is it? Who is seated at the bench? Who is the judge? God is. And God is the one who has justified me. If the Judge of all the universe has declared me righteous, what difference does it make who is bringing accusations against me? If God justifies us, we are… Gesture… “Safe!”
But that is not all. Not only is the Judge himself on our side. But we have the most wonderful Defense Attorney in the world. If someone tries to condemn us, Christ who died and rose again, is now seated at the right hand of God. Whenever an accusation is made, the Judge looks over at him and Jesus simply shows his nail pierced hands and the spear mark in his side and says, “I paid for that one, too!” Oh yes, our bridge is firmly anchored. Our defense team is always at work. Nothing we can do or say will ever induce him to turn his back on us now. We are…Gesture… “Safe!”
But we are still in the middle of the bridge. Heaven and future glory still look a long way off. The bridge is still rocking and bouncing. And who knows what tomorrow may bring? Just how safe are we, really? To address this concern, Paul poses another rhetorical question in verse 35: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
The interrogative pronoun here can be translated “What?” as well as “Who?” We might expand the question this way, “Is there anyone or anything that can separate us from the love of Christ?” To separate is the verb from of the Greek word for “without”. Thus it literally means “To cause to be without.” Without what? The love of Christ. Is there anyone or anything that will stop Christ from loving us? Is there anyone or anything that can remove us and put us out of range of his love, and by implication, his loving care?
To explore the question, Paul then begins to list possibilities. In fact he lists seven of them in verse 35: Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? All of these are painful experiences. They are part of the groaning of life that we saw earlier in the chapter. I think it is important to make note of the fact that this was not simply a theoretical list for Paul. I want us to look at a couple passages in 2 Corinthians in which Paul mentions things he has actually experienced.
In 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 we read: Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;
These are things Paul has already endured. In fact I would point out that the letter of 2 Corinthians was written before Paul wrote Romans. So when he poses his list in Romans 8, they are things he knows firsthand. In fact the list goes on in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
That is quite a list, is it not? So as we come back to what Paul is saying in Romans 8:35, we must notice carefully what Paul is saying and what he is not saying. He is not saying that as Christians we will be kept safe from all difficult experiences. He is not saying that the bridge will not rock and the wind will not blow. He is not saying that we will be sheltered from the “present sufferings”. He is saying that these experiences cannot separate us from the love of Christ. We can continue to rest in and experience the love of Christ in the most painful of earthly circumstances.
There is a wonderful example of this in the life of Paul in Acts 16 in the town of Philippi. Let me read verses 22-24 to see what happened to them.
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
That’s pretty brutal, isn’t it? But while all this was going on, what was happening in Paul’s heart? What was he experiencing on the inside? Look at verse 25: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. What were Paul and his companion, Silas doing? They were praying and singing hymns to God. A hymn is a song of praise. They weren’t singing the blues! They were singing praise to God. They were experiencing and basking in the love of God in the most dire of human circumstances.
The Bible does not promise that, as Christians, we will be spared the painfulness of life. In fact it says just the opposite. Let’s look at Romans 8:36: As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” This is actually a prophecy that the followers of Christ will be persecuted and considered as “sheep to be slaughtered.” Here Paul is taking us back to what he said in verse 17: We are heirs – heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings. If they hated our elder brother, Jesus, how will the world treat us as his followers? And there have been times in church history when this has been true; when Christians were thrown to lions in the coliseum; hung on crosses and set on fire to provide light for Roman celebrations. Even in our day, there are places in the world where to name the name of Christ is to put one’s very life at stake. Many are still suffering and dying. No, Paul is not saying that as Christians we will never suffer. What he is saying is that there is no experience of present, earthly suffering that can separate us from the love of Christ.
In fact he goes on to a ringing statement in verse 37: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. “More than conquerors!” We not only overcome. We do so with strength and resources to spare. We win a resounding victory.
During the Reformation in England, there were two church leaders and preachers named Ridley and Latimer who were condemned to death by the church authorities for their strong adherence to the doctrine of justification by faith. They were tied to the stake on top of stacks of wood and the wood was set on fire. As the flames leaped higher and higher, one was heard to say to the other: “Be of good cheer. We shall light such a candle of God’s grace in England that it shall never go out.” More than conquerors through him who loved us.
Paul concludes with a final, ringing statement of confidence. You’re not really supposed to answer a rhetorical question. But that is exactly what Paul does here. “Is there anyone or anything that can separate us from the love of Christ?” Here is his answer:
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.
It is an absolutely inclusive list, covering all logical possibilities.
Neither death nor life. What is death for the believer? It is the gateway into the presence of God. What is life? Continued opportunity to serve him.
Neither angels nor demons. Angels won’t – they’ve been sent to minister to us. Demons can’t, because greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.
Neither the present nor the future. Nothing we are facing now, nor anything we might face in the future.
Neither height nor depth. This could refer either to spatial distances, or to the rankings of spiritual powers.
Finally, lest he may have left anything out, he adds, “Nor any other created thing.” God, the Creator, is on our side. No created thing (which includes everything else) is able to separate us from his love.
Safety, security, a feeling of being safe is one of the fundamental needs we have as human beings. The need for safety and security is one that is in-born and recognized even by the very young. The tiniest baby has a way of sensing if he/she is safe. Many babies equate their security with the presence of their mother. If Mother is near, the baby feels safe. As a result, many babies go through a stage when they experience “separation anxiety”. They are only happy in their mother’s arms. If the mother leaves them, even for a few minutes, the baby will feel anxious and begin to fuss and cry.
The message of Romans 8:31-39 is clear and simple. As Christ’s followers, we never need to suffer from separation anxiety. There is absolutely nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This was the promise Jesus gave his disciples. Do you remember the scene? Following the resurrection, Jesus was about to ascend into heaven. Before he left, he gathered his disciples together. He commissioned them, giving them a very large task: “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” Do you remember the last thing he said to them in Matthew 28:20? Surely, I will be with you always, to the very end of the age. No matter how much the bridge may rock and bounce, no matter how hard the wind may blow, no matter how many rocks are thrown at us, we are never alone. Jesus is with us. His love surrounds us. And we are absolutely and eternally …Gesture… “Safe!”
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Think back to your childhood. What was your greatest fear?
In this message, Pastor Cam makes the statement, “The world is a dangerous place.” What are some of those dangers? Which ones do you find the most frightening?
Read Romans 8:31-39 together. How does this passage address our fears?
How is the theology of our justification (verses 33-34) the ultimate answer to our fears?
Do you think this passage teaches that nothing bad will ever happen to us as Christians? (Support your answer – from life and Scripture.) What does it promise?
What do you think it means to be “more than conquerors”? (v. 37) Can you give any examples from your experience, or people you have known?