Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)
Now we come to it, the final test of Romans 8. From all Paul has told you about God's love for you, let's see if you know the answer. Who can separate you from the love of Christ?
The list of potential threats to your relationship with God in this life is virtually endless. Here's a heartwarming list to get you started:
1. Tribulation: great trouble or suffering
2. Distress: extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain
3. Persecution: hostility or ill-treatment
4. Famine: a shortage of a necessary resource
5. Nakedness: the state of being unclothed
6. Danger: the possibility of suffering harm or injury
7. Sword: military power, violence, or destruction
What particular brand of suffering you were in when we began this journey through Romans 8? My guess is that in our privileged world of American prosperity, emotional or spiritual distress may be the enemy that threatens us most often. You don't even need to leave the comfort of your living room to meet up with this one. It can rise up from within our very souls.
But in truth, any of these seven enemies could attack spiritually as well as physically - in fact, the goal of these enemies is always to defeat you spiritually, to call into question the love of God and, as a result, destroy your faith. You don't have to be a Christian in North Korea to encounter all these possible enemies of your faith, even in a world where you are physically, materially, politically safe and sound.
Great trouble can come when your grip on life falls apart and one mistake leads to another, ultimately leading to chaos in things like calculus tests and social situations. Tribulation also results in your life from other people's chaos. Difficulties at work. Ruined marriages.
Distress can come as a result of loss or disappointment, and the consequent despair of meaninglessness bearing down on you, sapping the green from your life.
Ill-treatment can come from within, too, when frustration and fear breeds hostility between you and your friends and family and even between you and yourself, resulting in hurtful comments or even threats to your life that persecute and taunt your faith in God's goodness and care for you.
Famine is merely a shortage of resources, and though we tend to think of food, a famine of sleep due to worry, pain, or sickness can be just as destructive to your health, spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Nakedness can be spiritually cold and humiliating as well as physically, when you feel like you are vulnerable and uncovered in your sin before God, and when you feel unprotected because you aren't sure if you can trust his love.
Danger is always possible from within as persistent sin and nagging habits of the flesh threaten to harm or injure your faith and your future.
And the sword - Satan's military might - is ever present as he hurls accusations and half-truths at you, seeking to capture you and carry you into his bondage, back where you came from.
These seven enemies - you may have faced them all, and maybe in just a very short period of time. Often they arrive in our lives in groups, like a gang. The feeling you get when so many enemies are snarling at your throat is just what Paul says in this verse: you feel like a helpless sheep being led to slaughter. No weapon. No strength. No hope.
This image of the helpless, hopeless sheep comes out of Psalm 44 where the Psalmist says:
Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! (Ps 44:22-26)
That's where the Psalm ends - with a desperate cry. It's a cry for the grace of God, the grace that in the Old Testament is referred to as "the steadfast love of the Lord." That's what grace is. Love that never fails; love that always works, always shows up.
But Paul doesn't end his thought there. Romans 8 ends with a shout of victory: you are more than a conqueror because God loves you and he is using everything - even the enemies of your body, soul, and mind - to get you to the destination he has for you.
In his love for you, God has awakened; he has seen your enemies surrounding you; he has not hidden his face from you or forgotten your affliction and oppression; he has not overlooked your soul in the dust or your belly on the ground. He has risen and come to your help. He has redeemed you for the praise of his glorious grace. Here is Paul's list of evidences in Romans 8 for God's active love for you:
He has died for your sin.
He has declared you guiltless.
He has freed you from slavery to sin.
He has made his home with you.
He has caused you to believe.
He has empowered you to obey.
He has called you his Son.
He has promised you a future.
He has roped and anchored you to his very life.
He has prayed for you.
He has loved you with a love that is stronger than your enemies. So who will separate you from this love?
Not even you.
Claim it. Pray through the list of hardships that Paul mentions in Romans 8:35. Tell God that you believe his love is powerful enough to be steadfast in the face of this gang of enemies. Turn them over to him. What events, people, crises, thoughts, emotions, have come against your faith and your life in the power of these? Name them, as they've shown up in your life. Tell God you trust his love for you.