An Ongoing Reason For Gratitude
Any time we sit down and start to “count our blessings” we can come up with a long list of things for which we should be grateful. We are thankful for life, health, provision, and for our families. We should thank God for the privilege of living in America, for those who have given their lives for our freedom and for those who serve our country in various ways. We can thank God for our unique church family and for the gift of life that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In recounting our blessings it is easy to overlook the incredible blessing that is found in these final verses of Romans 8. Throughout this chapter Paul has been trying to persuade his listeners of their security in Christ Jesus. He assured us that in Christ we face no condemnation, we have God’s Spirit living in us, assuring us of our relationship, and praying for us in groans too deep for words. We have the promise that in all things God is working for the good in the lives of His children. We have been told that God is responsible for our salvation from start to finish. Paul ends this discourse on assurance with a series of five unanswerable questions. We’ve looked at the first four. He asked,
- “If God is for us, who can be against us?” What do we have to fear if the Creator of the Universe is on our side?
- “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?” In other words, “Is there any chance God will renege on His promise?”
- “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” – God has already justified us
- “Who is he who condemns?” Christ is on our side and is pleading our case.
The final question is perhaps the most powerful question of all. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
The question is very appropriate. We celebrate God’s love, we rejoice in His forgiveness, and we praise Him for His grace in reaching out to us. However, in each of us there seems to be a nagging fear that if something goes wrong we are going to lose God’s blessing and fall from His love. We therefore live not with confidence, but with concern and anxiety.
There are some good reasons we feel this way. First, we become afraid because of what we read in the Bible. God seemed to bless Israel at one moment and then strike Israel with His wrath the next moment. We observe God striking people dead, sending plagues, and warning of impending judgment. It seems like God’s love is somewhat fragile.
Some people say, “I want to follow the God of the New Testament rather than the God of the Old Testament. They are the same! In the Old Testament God is presented as a God of compassion and love just like in the New Testament. In the New Testament Jesus refers to God’s judgment and the impending wrath just like in the Old Testament.
We must remember that God cannot forgive those who do not repent. He cannot save those who will not respond to His grace. We must remember that the Lord’s discipline and His love are not inconsistent with each other.
Don’t miss God’s patience and endurance in the life of His children. Consider Abraham, Moses, David, Doubting Thomas and Peter who denied the Lord three times. These people made all kinds of mistakes but God’s love was sure. Israel denied the Lord to follow idols time and again. Yet, the Lord continued to draw Israel to Himself. Yes, at time He had to take drastic action to wake up these folks. These drastic acts were expressions of love, not a denial of love.
The second reason we wonder if anything can separate us from God’s love is our experience with others in our daily lives. Consider the abused child or spouse. At one time they are told how much they are valued and cherished. At another time this same person is in a rage and abusing them. Consider the spouse who rests in the promises of their mate only to find out that his or her partner has been unfaithful. Or the employee who is assured they are a cherished part of the organization but they lose their job in a cost cutting measure. Remember back in your teenage years. One moment people are your friends and the next they seem to not know you even exist. Many adults would testify that this is not only a problem with teens.
We have grown cynical because people have made promises to us but never carried through on their promise. We have come to be a little suspicious of the enduring nature of those who profess love to us. We have been burned before.
Third, there is our awareness of our hidden sin. Every one of us knows that we are not as holy as we present ourselves to be. We have hidden temptations, we battle serious vices, and we harbor bitterness and an unforgiving heart. We know we are not doing all we could be doing. At times we are lazy. On occasion we deliberately twist the truth. There are many times we know what God wants us to do but we don’t do it. We have trouble loving ourselves! It is difficult to believe that God could really know us and still love us.
Paul, understanding our insecurity writes,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 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.
The apostle gives us a list of things that cannot separate us from God’s love. Trouble or hardship are two words that probably refer to outward affliction (the trials of life) and inward distress (the emotional turmoil that life often brings). Paul says the roller coaster of experience and emotion will not separate us from God’s love. The fact that some days are hard will not separate us from His love. The fact that sometimes we don’t feel close to Him does not mean that God has changed at all.
Persecution. The Bible uses the word persecution for the attacks that come against us because of our faith. Paul was a veteran of these attacks. He faced them constantly. Throughout the history of the church, people have given their lives for the gospel. Pastors have lost their pulpits standing for the truth. Spouses have lost their partners because they would not compromise with the truth of the gospel. People have lost their jobs because of their Christian conviction. At these times it is always tempting to believe God has let us down. Paul reminds us that even in these times, God has not stopped loving us.
Famine, nakedness, danger or sword We may be hungry, we may not have clothes to wear, we may face danger or even death. We may not fit in with the social standing of those around us. We may not have all the things that others do. We may not be able to dress in a fashionable way. But in spite of our circumstances, God’s love for us is unchanged.
Paul speaks from experience. Listen to these words in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (which were written before these words to the Romans),
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. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Paul has faced all kinds of obstacles. There were times when he certainly felt very much alone and confused. However, in all these times and circumstances Paul discovered that God’s love never wavered.
To drive home his point, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22, “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Seems like an odd verse, doesn’t it? Paul is making a simple point: Life is filled with trials. The Christian life is not easy. We must never mistakenly assume that difficulties mean God has turned away from us.
Paul follows this up by declaring that not only do these things not separate us from the love of God, IN these times and situations we are “more than conquerors”. That phrase really isn’t strong enough. The New American Standard Bible has a better translation, “We overwhelmingly conquer”. We are super-conquerors. The thought is similar to Romans 8:28 that in all things (even the things that hurt) God is working for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. In the tough times of life God is still working in us and through us out of His love. He may be refining us, teaching us, giving us an opportunity to witness, or even to deepen our faith. God is at work whether you realize it or not. He is fashioning us, molding us, and deepening us. He hasn’t gone anywhere. He is still loving us and leading us.
Paul drives home his point with another list. He declares that nothing will separate us from God’s love, not . . .
death with all its terrors and uncertainties;
life with all its allurements and attractions;
angels nor principalities, supernatural in power and knowledge;
powers, whether human tyrants or angelic adversaries;
things present, crashing in upon us;
things to come, arousing fearful forebodings; [Believers Bible Commentary]
For good measure Paul adds, “nor anything else in all creation.” The answer to the question “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” is NOTHING. Nothing can separate us. Nothing can pry us from His love. NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING!
Do we dare add to the list? What shall separate us from the love of Christ?
- my foolish mistakes?
- my sinful thoughts?
- my inconsistent behavior?
- my stupid words?
- my slow discipleship?
- my self-absorbed approach to life?
No, NOTHING will separate us from His love. Our failures and sin may rob us of joy. My rebellion may make me miserable because I know I am running from the Almighty, but please understand, these sins and failures will never deter His love for us or derail His commitment to bring us to eternal life.
There is nothing you can do, as a child of God to make God love you more than He does now. There is also nothing you can do that will make Him love you any less than He does now. God’s love for His children is constant, consistent, and enduring. When we are His child we are as secure as we can possibly be.
I must again add that Paul is not talking about people in general; he is talking about those who belong to the Lord. This is a promise for the Christian. This assurance and blessing is for those who have placed their trust and confidence in Christ and have received His Spirit as a deposit of our future inheritance.
So I conclude with three questions. First, can you claim this promise in your life? Have you seriously and fully placed your trust and confidence in Jesus as the only one who can make you right before God? Please hear the question. The question is not, “Are you doing your best in life?” or “Do you feel positive about God?” The question is, have you surrendered all hope of saving yourself and put your whole confidence and trust in what Jesus has done for you? Will you receive Him as your Savior and also as your Lord. Have you welcomed the new life that He can give and are you eager to allow His Spirit to make you new? If so, then this promise is for you. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in your life. This promise is for you!
Someone says, “but, if I come to Christ I know He will want me to change!” Yes, He will. He will want you to change because He wants you to be happy. God’s desire is not to rob you of joy . . . . He wants you to know joy, contentment and assurance in your life. He wants you to be what He created you to be. The Lord knows that the only way for this to happen is for you to walk with Him. So, what are you waiting for. God loves you! He wants to make you new and deepen the richness of your life. Why not turn to Him today?
Here’s my second question? “How would your life be different if you took God’s promise to heart?” Think about it. How would your daily living be changed if you really believed this promise? I think,
We would spend less time beating ourselves (and others) up for our (and their) mistakes and vices and spend more time making corrections and moving on.
We would let go of the hurts and failures of the past and start to heal.
We would be more honest about our struggle because we know that the struggle is part of the journey. We would be honest because we would understand that God already knows our weaknesses but loves us anyway.
We would leave our tendency to justify and rationalize our sin and instead admit our weakness and run to the Lord to be made new again.
We would be less fearful as we face our approaching death, impending surgery, devastating treatments, loss of our job, the break-up of a relationship, or many of the other things that keep us awake at night. We would instead draw on the confidence that no matter what happens in our lives, we know we are safe in the arms of God
We would be less judgmental toward others because we would know that God’s love is not based on whether or not we are better than someone else. We would understand that true love is what sets people free. We would more likely extend to others the love that we ourselves have received.
Yes, if we could….if we would only believe God’s promise, life would be richer. We would be free to live, love and enjoy. The pressure would be off and our relationship with God could grow and develop.
Finally I ask, having heard these wonderful words about God’s love, are you thankful? Of all the blessings that will recount with your family, is there one blessing that is greater than God’s enduring love? Let the truth of His Word and His character fill your heart and life. Maybe you can show your gratitude by
Taking time to thank Him.
Giving a special gift to God’s work
Extending a long overdue forgiveness to another
Letting go of the past scars you have been enslaved to
Sharing the good news of God’s love with someone you know
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for what you can see, taste, and touch, but don’t stop there. Look beyond these things. Think about God’s great and enduring love for you. Let it really sink in that NOTHING can separate you from His love. And then, if you can talk through the tears of joy, say “Thank-you.”