Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God
Every day is a good day to anchor your soul in God’s Word. The Fighter Verses team at Truth78 is dedicated to equipping and encouraging you to hold fast to the rock that is the promises of God for you in Christ Jesus.
During these extraordinary times of worldwide challenge—of suffering, isolation, and death because of COVID-19—listen to the word of the Lord. May His voice of covenant and comfort in Romans 8:38-39 grab hold of your hearts today and give all-sufficient grace to your souls.
(The following excerpt from John Piper first appeared here.)
Verses 38-39 of Romans 8 list 10 things that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord—eight of them in pairs:
For I am convinced [sure] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I say again what I have said so often: the point of this whole passage is your security. God wants his people to experience deep, unshakeable confidence that they are secure in his love.
And the reason he must stress it is because in real life we appear and often feel so insecure. To use the words of verse 36, “We are being put to death all day long [not like the NIV says, “we face death all day long”], we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” This is always true for Christians some place in the world. And when it is true we can feel very insecure and very separated from God. And this will be true for you some time in your life— things will happen that make you feel that you are separated from the love of God. That is why this text is here, and that is why I am preaching and why you are here this morning.
Let’s look at the list and strengthen our hearts with God’s powerful and encouraging word. Keep in mind that these verses are describing the security of “God’s elect” (Romans 8:33), not the security of everybody. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he has chosen you, you are his, you belong to him. Verse 28 says that you love him and are called according to his purpose. This is his purpose – this everlasting security. Verse 29 says that you are foreknown, that is, recognized with favor, loved before time; you are predestined to be like Christ, and you are called from death to life, and you are justified once for all – counted righteous in Christ – and you are glorified. These promises of inseparability are God’s declaration that he will save his people and nothing can destroy them. You have these promises if you will have Jesus as your Lord and Savior and Treasure.
Neither Death nor Life Can Separate Us from the Love of God
Verse 38: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Death is the first in the list. Why? Two reasons, at least: Because Paul has just said in verse 36, “We are being put to death all day long.” And because death separates us from so much of what we know on earth.
It is the most urgent threat. So immediately Paul says, “Death cannot separate us from God’s love.” In fact, death does just the opposite. It increases nearness and fellowship with Christ. Philippians 1:23, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Death means “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). It is not separation; it’s homecoming.
But it is separation from family and friends and the body and all earth’s pleasures. That is why it may not look like the love of God. But Paul says it is the love of God. It’s not as though we are loved by God up to death and then loved again by God after death with a big separation from the love of God in death. No. Death – the experience of death – is not a separation from the love of God. God loves us before death and he loves us in the act of dying and he loves us after death. And all our losses here are part of being loved by God. Hard as it feels, Paul wants us to know and experience the fact that death – and all it takes from us – is not a lapse in the love of God.
When Christ died he secured his own people in death and in life. Nothing in life and nothing in death will undo the triumph he achieved in the cross and the resurrection. So Paul says in Romans 14:9, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” His lordship over life and death is invincible. So life and death cannot separate us from the love of God.
No Cosmic, Supernatural Powers Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The next pair Paul mentions in verse 38 is “angels and principalities.” And then a few words later he mentions “powers.” Neither angels nor principalities nor powers will separate us from the love of God. These three names are probably designations of angelic or demonic beings since “angels” are mentioned first in the group. So Paul’s point is: there are no cosmic, supernatural powers that can separate us from the love of God. These powers were decisively defeated at the cross. Colossians 2:15, “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [or “in it” = the cross].” When Christ rose, Ephesians 1:21 says, he was exalted “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” So, even though these scoundrels are on the loose, they cannot do ultimate harm to God’s elect. It must gall Satan badly to hear God say, “You and your mighty hordes are helpless to take my loved ones.” “The prince of darkness grim / we tremble not for him / his rage we can endure / for lo his doom is sure.”
Nothing in Time and Space Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The next two pairs (in verses 38 and 39) are Paul’s way of saying that nothing in time and space can separate us from the love of God. First time: “…nor things present, nor things to come…will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Then space: “nor height, nor depth…will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Paul is covering every possible base. He is saying it over and over.
Nothing in the Present nor Future Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The present-future pair covers our fear that though the present might be tolerable now, the future is going to be horrible, and we wonder if we will be able to stand it. Or we might fear that the present is so bad that we will not make it to any future. Paul’s response: It will never be so bad now or any time in the future that you will be separated from the love of God. Circumstances will never surprise God so that he must go back on this promise. The future is absolutely his and he knows it and runs it. If he says it won’t separate us, it won’t.
Nothing High nor Low Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The height-depth pair (v. 39) covers our fear that there may be a lurking in some distant place far, far away some menacing power that would surprise us and destroy our faith and separate us from the love of God. Paul says, No. No matter how high you go up or how deep you go down, you will never find a power that can nullify God’s keeping power. “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there” (Psalm 139:7-8). Nothing in highest heaven and nothing in deepest hell can separate us from the love of Christ.
No Created Thing Can Separate Us from the Love of God
Then, at the end of verse 39, Paul adds one all-inclusive encouragement to make sure he hasn’t missed anything: “…[no] other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That covers everything that is not God. No thing and no person in all the universe can separate us from the love of God.
And that includes ourselves. There are those who say the elect can’t be snatched out of God’s hand (John 10:29) but they can jump out. In other words, they say, you can be elect, born again, justified, and in the end perish. That is not what the Bible teaches. “Those whom he justified he glorified” – that is the radical assurance of the elect. The assurance is not that you can forsake the faith and live in sin and go to heaven. The assurance is: God keeps his elect from final apostasy and unbelief. The new covenant promise for all God’s people is this: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). There may be many stumblings and wanderings, but if you are his, you will be brought back. Trust him.
So nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate God’s elect from him. The result is massive security for merciful service through many sufferings.