I remember the first time I heard John MacArthur preach in person. I had listened to his messages and read his books for some time before visiting his church. Romans 8 was his text, which he said was about the eternal security of the believer. I was blown away by the message. I knew many verses from Romans 8. I had not put them together to see the grand truth of the chapter: When God grips you by his grace, he will never let you go.
Romans 8 is arguably the greatest chapter in the Bible. It begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation. Romans 8:35-39 is the closing paragraph of Paul’s argument for eternal security. The text starts with the last of a series of questions that cannot be answered. Each rhetorical question affirms the eternal security of the believer.
- Verse 31 says no person can take away our salvation: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
- Verse 32 says God will not take away our salvation: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
- Verse 33 says Satan cannot take away our salvation: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”
- Verse 34 says Christ will not take away our salvation: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Verses 31-34 state eternal security in judicial terms. Verses 35-39 state eternal security in relational terms. Our salvation is not just a legal matter. It is a matter of loyal love. George Matheson had been partially blind all his life. Around the age of 20, he lost his sight. He continued his theological studies and served the Lord in pastoral ministry. But he never married. When he became blind, his fiancé broke off the engagement. It is said this painful experience inspired the hymn:
O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee. I give Thee back the life I owe, That in Thine oceans depths its flow May richer, fuller be.
What makes you feel unloved? I have good news for you: The love of Jesus will never let you go. Romans 8:35-39 gives three reasons why the love of Jesus will not let you go.
A Love That Never Changes
Verse 35 records two rhetorical questions that assume negative answers. No person or problem can change the love of Christ for you.
No Person Can Change Christ’s love for you. Verse 35 asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” “The love of Christ” is a synonym for salvation. It is his love for us, not our love for him. Galatians 2:20 says Christ “loved me and gave himself for me.”
- Christ’s love is the motive of salvation.
- Christ’s life is the means to salvation.
If love moved Christ to give himself for us, what could separate us from that love? “Separate” is used in Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” It is the word for divorce. Sovereign grace has joined you to Christ through faith. What irreconcilable differences would cause Jesus to divorce you? Paul’s question is about “who,” not what.”
Verse 31 asks a legal question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Verse 35 is a personal question. Your case is settled. But people will use your past against you. Christ knows all about it and loves you anyhow. Romans 5:7-8 says: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
No Problem Can Change Christ’s love for you. Verse 35 asks, “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Paul catalogs seven trials that threaten to separate us from Christ’s love and dismisses them all.
- The outward pressure of tribulation cannot do it.
- The inward turmoil of distress cannot do it.
- The relentless harm of persecution cannot do it.
- The complete deprivation of famine cannot do it.
- The severe exposure of nakedness cannot do it.
- The ongoing threat of danger cannot do it.
- The mortal threat of the sword cannot do it.
This list is representative, not exhaustive. These threats were not hypothetical. Paul had experienced six of them. He would die by the sword. The Roman church would soon face all this and more. Paul could not promise things would get better. He could assure them that nothing would separate them from the love of Christ.
As Charles Spurgeon walked the countryside with a friend, he noticed a weather vane on the roof of a barn that read: “God is love.” Spurgeon thought the sign was inappropriate. “The weathervane changes direction,” he said, “But God’s love is constant.” His friend replied, “You misunderstand the meaning. That sign indicates truth: Regardless of which way the wind blows, God is love.”
A Love That Never Fails
- Verses 31-34 are forensic.
- Verses 35-39 are militant.
We go from the courtroom where Christ is our Advocate to the battleground where Christ is our Champion. His love never fails when the battle rages.
Faith in Christ is Tested. Verse 36 says, “As it is written.” Paul does not claim apostolic authority here. He quotes scripture. Do not judge Christ’s love by how you feel. Judge it by the truth of scripture. The Bible is the perfect record of God’s loyal love. The Lord loves you because he has promised to love you, and he always keeps his promises.
Paul quotes Psalm 44:22: “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Paul cites this Psalm of Lament to argue that trials are normal, natural, and necessary for those who trust God. Prosperity theology teaches Christians to expect health and wealth. Verse 36 tells us the truth. Expect to be martyred: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long.” American Christians are spoiled. However, Christians around the world are more prone to be executed than exalted.
- Note the occasion: “For your sake.”
- Note the duration: “all the day long.”
Expect to be maligned: “We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Sheep without a shepherd are helpless prey. This is how the world regards the church. They view us as sheep to be slaughtered. But Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Faith in Christ is Triumphant. Verse 37 answers the rhetorical questions of verse 35: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Here is a stark contrast to verse 36.
- We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
- We are more than conquerors.
These five words translate a compound Greek term used only here – a verb that means “to prevail in conflict” and a preposition that means “over and above.” It is a glorious conquest, overwhelming triumph, or superlative victory. A win is a win. But we are more than conquerors.
We win in spite of. “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” The victorious Christian life does not exempt us from trials. We are victorious amid and during these things. What things? “All these things”– not some things or most things. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
We win because of. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Do not forget who the hero of the story is. We do not prevail by our strength, wisdom, resources, heroism, or determination. We are more than failures. But Christ loved us. The love of Christ made us more than conquerors at the cross. Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
A Love that Never Ends
How can I trust God’s love will not let me go? Verses 38-39 answer with a climatic doxology.
The Persuasion of God’s Love. Verse 38 says, “For I am sure.” Paul has been speaking about “we” and “us.” Now, he speaks in the first-person singular.
- The previous verses have been a logical argument.
- These closing verses are a personal testimony.
The verb means to be assured, convinced, or persuaded. It is in a grammatical emphasis that speaks of a settled conviction. Paul’s certainty was rooted in divine revelation and personal experience. It is one thing to hold to faith. It is another thing for faith to hold you. What are you sure of? Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
The Perfection of God’s Love. Verse 35 dismisses seven threats to Christ’s love for us. Verse 39 adds ten threats to the list and declares God to be Lord over them all.
Lord over Existence: “Death nor life.” The finality of “Death” and the vicissitudes of “life” cannot separate us from God’s love. Lord over Spirits: “Angels nor rulers.” Heaven’s angels and Satan’s rulers cannot separate you from God’s love. Lord over Time: “Things present nor things to come.” Nothing that happens today or tomorrow can separate you from God’s love. Lord over Powers. No human or spiritual“powers” can separate us from God’s love. Lord over Space: “nor height nor depth.” Nothing above or under the earth can separate you from God’s love.
Just in case he missed a category, Paul concludes: “nor anything else in all creation.” This includes everything in the created world – including you! Professing believers who walk in a false assurance of salvation can fall away from the faith. But it is not right to say they lost their salvation. All who are genuinely saved are eternally saved. John 10:28-30 says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I am the father are one.”
The Proof of God’s Love. Nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Verse 35 says the love of Christ holds us.
- Verse 39 says the love of God holds us.
The love of Christ is the love of God. Yet the love of God is proven in Christ Jesus our Lord. 1 John 4:8 says: “God is love.” 1 John 4:9 adds: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” You do not know the love of God if you are not in Christ Jesus. How are things between you and Jesus? If you are in Christ Jesus, you are the beneficiary of inseparable love because he is Lord. When I grew up in church, the saints would say and sing, “I will let nothing separate me from the love of Christ.” The truth is, we do it all the time. But the love of Jesus will not let you go.