A couple of years ago I posted a message I had preached on the love of God, a message I had entitled “God’s Love Is.” in that examination of John 3:16 and the characteristics of God’s love, I ended with the point that God’s love is unbreakable. I said that there is nothing…absolutely nothing…that can separate us from God’s love. I drew this from the closing phrase of John 3:16, which says, “whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life.” There is no question, there is no condition, there is no fine print or exception, there is no “hope so” when it comes to the eternal life God has promised to those who accept His Son as Savior.
To reinforce this point I also looked briefly at Romans 8:38-39, and I want to unpack that verse a bit more here as a follow up. As you read this text, ponder carefully the words:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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.
Now read it again from The Living Bible, because hearing or reading it a different way can sometimes reinforce a point or reveal something you did not notice the first time.
For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.
Depending on your translation, verse 38 begins with “I am persuaded,” “I am convinced,” “I am sure.” This word meant, in the original language, a strong and unwavering confidence or certainty. So Paul is saying, in other words, “I have no doubt whatsoever—I am 100%, absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, sure that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
At the risk of bringing you crashing down from that spiritual mountaintop, let me give you two important points before I unpack these verses a bit more, because they are full of such profound truth that we cannot miss it. First, you must always remember that the unbreakableness (if that’s a word) of God’s love has nothing to do with you and everything to do with God. You and I are not expected to maintain our connection to God’s love, nor can we. We are fallen sinners and, even after salvation, we continue to sin. That we are still loved by God is not because we are so wonderful, certainly not because we deserve it, but because God chooses to love us.
Finally, the fact that God’s love is unbreakable and nothing we can do can separate us from that love is not permission to sin. The fact that we could never mess up so badly that God would stop loving us does not mean that what we think and how we act does not matter. Galatians 6:9 says that we are not to grow weary in doing good. James 2:26 says that faith without works is dead. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Ephesians 2:19 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
I think it is also worth noting that just a few verses earlier, in verse 28, Paul said “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” In verse 35 Paul rattles off another list of things that his readers might think could separate them from the love of God–or be evidence of their separation from the love of God. He writes this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Then in verse 37, the verse immediately preceding the two verses we looked at last time and began with here, Paul answers that question like this: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Now, did Paul know a thing or two about suffering and persecution during his lifetime? Absolutely. We know, from Scripture, that Paul was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten with rods three times. Five times he received thirty-nine lashes with a whip. That was the maximum number allowed by Roman law, and it was so violent and severe that there are many instances of people dying from those whippings. Paul was attacked by an angry mob. He had to be lowered over a wall in a basket in an order to save his life. He was shipwrecked and floated at sea for hours. He was bitten by a poisonous viper. He was under house arrest for two years without ever facing a trial. So Paul knows that of which he speaks!
John Calvin commented on this passage this way: “He is now carried away into hyperbolic expressions, that he might confirm us more fully in those things which are to be experienced. Whatever, he says, there is in life or in death, which seems capable of tearing us away from God, shall effect nothing….”
Alexander MacLaren, a 19th century Irish minister, had this to say about Paul’s list:
The Apostle begins his fervid catalogue of vanquished foes by a pair of opposites which might seem to cover the whole ground-’neither death nor life.’ What more can be said? Surely, these two include everything. From one point of view they do. But yet, as we shall see, there is more to be said. And the special reason for beginning with this pair of possible enemies is probably to be found by remembering that they are a pair, that between them they do cover the whole ground and represent the extremes of change which can befall us. The one stands at the one pole, the other at the other. If these two stations, so far from each other, are equally near to God’s love, then no intermediate point can be far from it. If the most violent change which we can experience does not in the least matter to the grasp which the love of God has on us, or to the grasp which we may have on it, then no less violent a change can be of any consequence.
Rev. Rodney Kleyn addressed this passage in a sermon by recounting a story he had heard that made abundantly clear to him the power of God’s love, and I think it bears repeating since it could indeed help to grasp just how comprehensive the love of God is:
I heard an illustration in a sermon preached on this verse from one of our older ministers. That was ten years ago. It stuck in my mind. So I am going to use that illustration now so that, I hope and pray, it sticks also in your mind. This is like a child who has to sleep at night and it is dark in his room. He is crying to his parents: “I can’t sleep. I think there is a bogeyman in the closet.” And so his father comes into the room and says, “Son, there isn’t. Let me show you.” And he turns the light on. And he opens the closet door to show his son that there is no one there. And then he says to his son, “Just to make sure you know, let’s look in every part of this room.” They look in all the drawers, and they empty out the toy box—and there is no one there. Then he says to his son, “But just in case you still wonder, let me take you through the house.” He takes his son by the hand and takes him into every room in the house. They look in every closet, in every drawer, in every trash can. They go into the basement. They look in the utility room. They dig through the garage. And he says to his son, “See, you can sleep. There’s no bogeyman.”
Something like that here. Paul transports us from our experience in our life to all the expanses of the universe—past, present, and future. He takes the doubting and the fearful and the questioning child of God who is looking at his own life, and he says, “Come with me, let me show you.” Not death, not life, not angels, not principalities or powers, nothing in the present, nothing in the future, not height, not depth, and in case I missed it, no other creature, no other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ. Why so? Because there is a love stronger, greater, than any creature. What a wonderful comfort that is for the child of God.
Everyone has fears. Everyone is afraid of something. For us as adults it probably is not the bogeyman. For us in America it probably is not persecution for our faith. But we still have very real fears that we face. Taking some of those fears from Chapman University’s 2015 Survey of American Fears, and adding some others that I know many people fear and think about, let me offer you a rewording of Romans 8:38-39 in very contemporary vernacular:
I am certain that neither terrorism nor nuclear attack, nor global warming nor overpopulation, nor Democrats nor Republicans, nor government corruption nor Obamacare, nor earthquakes nor tornadoes, nor unemployment nor bankruptcy, nor artificial intelligence nor identity theft, nor cancer nor heart attack, nor anything else ever created nor yet-to-be-created shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Psalm 118:1 says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
God’s love truly is unbreakable.