The final verse…
Romans 8:31, Romans 8: 32 and Romans 8:33…*
Three Scriptures that J.I. Packer has used to conclude his book Knowing God…
Now we discuss the fourth scripture. 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? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”…
Packer’s focal point of the Scripture is this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”.
The short answer to the question is no one shall.
I had an unusual experience just last night. I belong to a book club at my church and we were discussing the book Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. One of the main ideas of this novel is that we all need love and in the case of this book, the main characters [two girls] need love from their earthly father. I was facilitating the discussion of the book and I happened to be the only man in the room. I asked this question: “How important is it for a girl to have her father’s love”? I asked all the women in the room to respond. All of them expressed the fact that they did not have enough of that love or attention from their fathers. Almost all of them said “he was working too hard, he was too tired or he did not have time to attend to my needs.” One woman said “It is so important for a girl to be loved by her father”.
We all need to be loved. We all need unwavering love.
Packer discusses an image of a woman who is blowing on thistledown. As she blows on the plant she is saying “He loves me—He loves me not,” hoping that the last remaining thistle will be on “He loves me.” This presents a view that God’s love for us is uncertain. It may be or it may not be.
But God’s love is not like human love. Human love is not guaranteed to fulfill anothers’ needs. What is served up may not be enough. “Divine love is a function of omnipotence, and has at its heart an almighty purpose to bless which cannot be thwarted.” This divine love is love from God and love from his Son, Jesus Christ: “[God and Jesus] are one in loving sinners, and also that the love which elects, justifies and glorifies is love ‘in Christ Jesus.,’ love knowable only by those to whom Jesus is ‘our Lord’” [Packer, 275].
This love that the Apostle Paul writes about in Romans 8: 35 is love that saves. This divine love is the love that sinners experience when they declare that Jesus is their Lord and they are made right in their life by their declaration. At that point God’s love is immutable; “nothing can at any time part us from that love or come between us and the final enjoyment of its fruits” [Packer, 275].
What Paul is saying is two-fold. First of all, God is our keeper. As we declare our love for Him, He holds us fast. It says in First Peter, 1: 5 “[Christians] are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” Packer says “the power of God keeps them believing, as well as keeping them safe through believing. Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you” [Packer 275].
That’s security. That’s affirmation. That’s assurance of God’s love.
Secondly, Paul is saying that God’s love is adequate as our end. Human love relationships are ends in themselves, “having joy in themselves.” Our relationship with God is more; the loving relationship with Our Father fulfills us to a higher degree. Packer writes that loving God will mean that we are “fully satisfied, needing and desiring nothing more.”
Paul is attacking the idea that Christians going through hard times can feel they are experiencing God withdrawing His love. When unknown things occur, when we are facing an uncertain future, when “cosmic forces” intervene which we cannot master, it is human nature to have fear. It is also human nature for us to admit that fearful times can take a toll on our relationship with God. When undergoing tough times some people draw closer to God; whereas others ask “why me?” and fear that God no longer loves them, maybe He is even punishing them. Paul is fighting this latter tendency in his words: “I count everything sheer loss, because all is far outweighed by the gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I did in fact lose everything. I count it so much garbage, for the sake of gaining Christ….All I care for is to know Christ, to experience the power of His resurrection, and to share His suffering, in growing conformity with His death, if only I may finally arrive at the resurrection from the dead….I press on, hoping to take hold of that for which Christ once took hold of me….forgetting what is behind me, reaching out for that which lies ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize which is God’s call to the life above, in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3: 8-14].
Why do we choose to love God? We are dedicating ourselves to “perfecting” our relationship with Him. Packer writes “How could it be otherwise, when it is a love relationship?”
I recently taught a Sunday school class on God’s unshakable promises and my focus was on God’s promise to protect us from evil. The point of my class was that God has conquered satan and it says so in His word. I asked the class if they really knew the significance of the common Christian sentence “We are more than conquerors.” [Note the sentence is in Romans 8: 35, the Scripture for this post]. My point was in the context of God’s victory over satan but “We are more than conquerors” can also apply from the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s love. When we have fear, we need to know that we have a loving God who cares for us. Packer uses the example of Paul and Silas in stocks in the Philippian jail. They could have bemoaned their fate, saying that God had deserted them, He no longer loved them, that their situation was evidence that God put them in a horrible position.
What did they do?
They began to sing.
They were more than conquerors.
They knew that God’s sovereign love is never withdrawn from Christians who really believe.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”.
*for discussions of 8:31, 8:32 and 8:33 see previous posts on St. John Studies: “A String of Beads”, The Cost, The Effectiveness and The Consequences” and “Be Assured…It is God Alone”