You Are Loved / Romans 8:35-39
Today’s message is simple. So simple that the youngest among us could easily comprehend its meaning.
Here is the point in two sentences.
Can anything separate a believer from the love of God?
Nothing can separate a believer from the love of God!
So why don’t we end the message here? After all, we have football games to watch.
We must pause to meditate, because the scripture isn’t content for us to merely comprehend God’s unfailing love. We must become convinced. Our experience of God’s love must shift from a warm feeling to whole hearted certainty.
And as soon as we walk out of these doors, an army of trials and hardships will be waiting for us to test that conviction!
The movie, “Beautiful Boy” chronicles the heartbreaking story of Nic Sheff’s teenage battle with a Meth addiction.
Nic grew up in an ideal setting. His father David was a successful journalist who provided all the luxury’s required to thrive in the American dream pipeline.
Sadly, Nic was thrown off course as his marijuana escapes subtly pulled him deeper into drug culture. And once Meth became the drug of choice, the current was too powerful for him to swim to safety on his own.
In steps dad. Throughout the movie Nic unintentionally pushes his dad’s commitment to the brink as he lies, steals, and throws away his life. A life that was once teeming with limitless potential.
Just as the father, David, was ready to give up on his son, the movie cuts to a flashback.
The pair are in an airport and Nic is only a boy. As Nic is about to board a plane the following conversation ensues,
““David Sheff: Do you know how much I love you? I love you more than everything.
- Nic Sheff (5 Years Old): Everything?
- David Sheff: Everything... everything...”
The movie cuts back, the father is searching for his grown son to try to help in the midst of his addiction for seemingly the millionth time. Will he love him more than everything?
The answer is found in the mind of the father of the real story. David Sheff reflects in his book,
“Some people may opt out. Their child turns out to be whatever it is that they find impossible to face— …They close the door. Click. Like in mafia movies: “I have no son. He is dead to me.” I have a son and he will never be dead to me.” - David Sheff, Beautiful Boy
At the conclusion of Romans 8, Paul has helped believers to have answers to some of life’s most pressing questions. If God is for us, who can be against us? No one. If God has forgiven us, who can justly accuse us? No one.
But now, he turns to a final question… can anything separate us from the love of Jesus? Can anything happen through us or to us that will cause God to opt out? ...
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
What does being loved by God look like on this earth? Maybe images that come to mind are a smiling whole family, an energetic healthy body, and a thriving personal business.
If this passage read, “God’s love separates us from suffering,” then suffering would provide ample reason to doubt God’s care.
Instead, the passage explains that no amount of suffering can separate us from the love of God. No matter what highs and lows you experience in this life. God’s love for you is secure.
The reason we can believe this promise is because the security rests in the heart of our unchanging God. The passage doesn’t say that our love for God is unshakable, but that his love for us is steady.
If you have ever experienced real pain in this life, you know that it can cause your love for God to grow cold. But his love for you is a flame that never dims.
Listen to how the lyrics from “He Will Hold Me Fast” expresses this comforting truth,
“ When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life's fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast”
Look at Paul’s honesty about life’s fearful path: Tribulation (the idea of being placed under immense pressure), Distress, being hated, being hungry, being vulnerable and destitute, facing danger and death. Paul experienced all of these first-hand as a leader in the early church. Excluding the final one, the sword. But approximately, 60 AD, while Nero was Emperor, the apostle would also have to face the cold blade of death as his final battle.
Paul did not confess to having perfect faith and full love through all of these hard trials. But he was convinced that none of these loosened God’s grip upon him.
When you feel like you cannot get any separation from suffering. Remember that nothing can separate you from the Savior.
Do not rest your comfort in the strength of your hold onto him. But relax the body of your faith in the strength of his grip on you.
As Pastor Robert Murray wrote, “For every one look at your love for God. Take ten looks at God’s love for you.”
At this point in the text, we would expect Paul to quote a hopeful promise. We suffer, but “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!” We may face hardship, but “he who began a good work will being it to completion.” Instead, this is what he quotes from Psalm 44...
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; The bible is clear that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Whether your mistreatment reaches the worst form of being killed or more subtle forms like being bullied, Christ is the only cause worth suffering constant reproach.
We should never seek suffering for sufferings sake.
We should never seek suffering for sympathies sake.
We should never seek suffering for attentions sake.
We should never seek suffering for our sake.
Some people suffer for being peculiar. For being jerks. Or for trying to win the world in a way that is selfish instead of winsome. Worst yet, some wrongly think that suffering and living as a perpetual victim will somehow appease the justice of God that makes their conscience heavy. Friends, because their is no condemnation...
We simply should never seek suffering. After all, if we live for Jesus, suffering will seek us. We pick up our cross, not because we love the cross, but because we love the Christ.
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Let’s slip into the sandals of the early believers who gathered together excitedly to hear a new letter written by the apostle Paul. A fellow roman citizen. Let’s imagine that we are meeting at the home of Priscilla and Aquila. The space isn’t large so the room feels full. Full of warm faces of people we deeply love. We shake hands. We sing. We eat a meal together and share communion. And as we reflect on the blood of Christ, we hear the roars of the colosseum down the street. We tremble at the thought of those who die and pause to pray for our community. Not realizing the future we would soon face, one commentator explains, "It would not be long before the blood of those to whom this epistle is addressed would soak the sands of Roman amphitheaters. Some would be mauled by wild beasts, some would be slain by ruthless gladiators, and others would be used as human touches to light Nero's garden parties." - JM
As the wealthy dressed in gold and silk walk the garden path lit by the dead bodies of believers. I wonder what they thought. “Look at the criminals.” “Look at the worthless, lowly sheep.”
As spears and swords were thrust into the martyrs as a spectacle of sport. I wonder how the crowds regarded the destitute christians barely armed against professional gladiators. “Look at the poor.” “Look at the victims, lowly sheep.”
And so they appeared. And so we appear.
In this world.
But as we have learned from Romans 8, there is another, greater, realm for which we live.
To your college professor, your faith may seem foolish.
To your co-worker, your ethic may seem excessive.
To your friends at school, your love for Jesus may seem laughable.
Acts 7 depicts the story of the first martyr in the early church, Stephen. As he was nearing death you could see the angry mob of religious leaders with stones in their hands ready to kill. You could see a younger Saul standing in approval of this mans unjust death. From ground-level perspective you saw a man regarded as a sacrificial sheep. But that’s not what he saw, Acts 7:55-56
Acts 7:55–56 (ESV)
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
After Jesus finished his mission of salvation, the scriptures tell us that he sat down at the right hand of the thrown of God. But to receive Stephen, he stands. Jesus knows what it means to be unjustly mistreated. Jesus stood.
When you lose friends because of your commitment to Christ. Jesus stands with you.
When you’re in distress. Jesus stands with you.
When you’re hated because of your faith. Jesus stands with you.
He stands with secure love because the feet he stands upon have been pierced.
And it reminds us, that there was a time when...“ we esteemed (regarded) him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Is there anything that can separate us from the love of God?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
A conquerer walks off the battle field a victor. To be more than a conqueror is to walk onto the battle field a victor.
You may feel surrounded by trials and hardships on every side like a martyr in the colosseum surrounded by gladiators. No matter what attacks they make on you and your family, if you are in Christ, you can overcome through Jesus. Why? His love is stronger than death.
Literally, he rose.
What can this world do to you?
Lies can make you doubt, but doubts expose your need to rely on Christ, which by definition is faith.
Poverty can make you hungry, but your riches in heaven cannot be stolen or lost.
Death may cause pain, but that moment of pain opens the door to eternal happiness.
You not only conquer, you’re more than a conquerer through Jesus.
In the farming town of Enterprise, Alabama, there is a beautiful statue of a greek woman holding something not so beautiful… an insect. The infamous Boll Weevil. It even has evil in the name! This dreaded bug cost the cotton industry billions of dollars and Enterprise acutely felt the affects. After the Boll Weevil threated their ability to grow their most lucrative crop in the 1900’s, the whole town was nearing financial devastation. Despite the moment of fear, farmers began to attempt other crops out of desperation. To their surprise, peanuts grew exceptionally well in Enterprise. By 1919 their county would become one of the largest producer of peanuts in the country.
If you visit Enterprise today, you will find a plaque that reads, “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”
Once Enterprise learned the positive outcome that the Boll Weevil produced. Their perspective of their greatest torment changed. They became overcomers toward the very pest that was about to overcome their community.
Once we become convinced that our greatest hardships draw us closer to the heart of God, our perspective of trials will change. We will shift from victims to victors.
From the pages of history, there is a story of how Chrysostom responded to Rome’s threats of banishment if he remained a Christian...
“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house,” said John. “But I will kill you,” the empress said. “No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “I will take away your treasures,” said Eudoxia. “No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.” “But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left,” Eudoxia responded. “No, you cannot,” said John, “for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. For there is nothing you can do to harm me.”
What psychology, what religion, what person, or group can offer you this type of confidence? Are you convinced of God’s love for you? Paul was...
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul was wrapped in a swirl of emotion, he switches to the first person. “I” am sure! I no longer need another to convince me. Yes, I’ve experienced the highs and lows, angels and demons, and one day… even death, but nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
But his emotion is paired with logic. He is sure. He is convinced. He is persuaded. The tense in greek is not past, present, or future, but a fourth option: perfect. A verb that represents a past action with ongoing influence.
Through his suffering, something changed. Something not only happened to him, but in him.
God took what satan intended for evil and used it for good. The greatest good! Suffering guided Paul to become more deeply convinced of the unfailing love of God.
The love that led Christ to suffer in our place so that we could be free from condemnation.
The love that rose Christ from the dead so that we too might be glorified.
The love that is working all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
What can separate us from this love?