Romans 8:38-39 Is There Nothing That Can Separate Us from the Love of God?

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Romans 8:38-39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Does this passage refer to eternal security? Is it an absolute assurance of eternal life regardless of what the Christian does? Eternal security is sometimes referred to as being “once saved, always saved” or the perseverance of the saints in the classical language. Eternal security is intended to describe the assurance that one may have as a believer in Jesus Christ that one’s union with Christ through faith will come to fruition in eternal salvation.

What Romans 8:38-39 means is that no tragedies, wicked spirit persons, death, or human governments can make God stop loving the true Christian. It also means that these things should not make the true Christian stop loving God, which would make God stop loving him. The latter comment here is sort of what Albert Barnes is saying, but he is coming at it from a Calvinist perspective. He writes, “Shall be able. Shall have power to do it. The love to Christ is stronger than any influence which they can exert on the mind.”[1] The pronoun “they” here refers to tragedies, wicked spirit persons, death, and human governments. So, Barnes is saying that Christ is stronger than tragedies, wicked spirit persons, death, and human governments. This is certainly true. However, Barnes is inferring that Christ has the power, the strength, to protect the Christian mind from these things so that they cannot influence the Christian from being separated from the love of God. This is not what the verse says.

This passage does not mean the person is unable to reject God, fall away from God, abandon God, and eventually stumble spiritually to the point of leaving God. The passage says tragedies, wicked spirit persons, death, and human governments cannot make God stop loving. It does not say that deliberately sinning, falling away [committing apostasy], being unrepentant cannot make God stop loving. Some Calvinist Christians will claim that “nothing … can separate a believer from God’s love.”[2] Yes, there is one thing that can separate the believer from God loving him, the believer himself. If the believer drifts away (Heb. 2:1), has an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God (Heb. 3:12), falls away [apostasy] (Heb 6:4-6), is sinning deliberately after becoming a born-again Christian (Heb. 10:26-31), this will separate the believer from God loving him.

Clarence L. Bence deals with Romans 8:31-39, giving us the context.

The Believer’s Confidence 8:31–39

In the first eight chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul has presented his understanding of God’s righteousness and how one can attain it. He has traced the downward spiral of sin, the futile attempts of humans to justify themselves, and finally the great gift of grace that both reconciles and transforms an individual in anticipation of the glory that is to come. Looking back on the entire panorama of salvation, Paul inquires, What, then, shall we say in response to this? (v. 31). His response here will be expressed in praise to God. As he opens chapter 12, Paul will be addressing another underlying question that is equally important: “What then shall we do in response to this?”

But for now, Paul’s verbal reply is to conclude that in all these things we are more than conquerors (8:37). If the Father’s final goal is to conform us to the likeness of his Son (v. 29), and He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things (v. 32), including victory over all those forces that threaten to undo us?

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It is interesting that again Paul makes no specific mention of Satan, the archenemy of Christ and the believer. Instead Paul alludes to lesser principalities and powers that were commonly associated with the spiritual realm in his time. And, rather than itemizing all the potential forces that might come against the believer, he addresses the two major fronts on which the assault might be made: condemnation and separation.

The Scriptures begin with the account of a creative God who fashioned humans in His likeness and established intimate fellowship with them. Adam and Eve enjoyed evening walks with the Creator (Gen. 3:8). But their disobedience resulted in alienation—alienation characterized by guilt (“they realized they were naked” [Gen. 3:7, 10]) and separation (“the Lord God banished him from the garden” [Gen. 3:23]). Now, having described God’s wonderful provision for reconciling the descendants of Adam to himself, Paul returns to the same two issues: Can the believer who has found peace be once again declared guilty, and if so, who is able to do this? Can the believer who has God’s Spirit dwelling within once again be separated from God? If so, who or what can do this?

And Paul’s answer is crystal clear: no one can condemn, and nothing can separate us from God’s love. No doubt Paul is thinking of the future day of wrath, “when [God’s] righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). One can almost envision the individual standing in the presence of God to give an account of the deeds done in the flesh (14:12). The charges against this person of faith are to be read aloud … but no one steps forward to declare them.

Satan can’t—his law of sin and death has been nullified by “the law of the Spirit of life” (8:2). Other humans can’t—they have all fallen “short of the glory of God” (3:23) and stand equally condemned before the righteous Judge. Christ as perfect human could, but He won’t—He has died for us and is now our Advocate and Mediator (8:34; 1 John 2:1–2). And God himself? Hardly—It is God who justifies (Rom. 8:33) out of His mercy and love for us. Hearing no accusation, the case is dismissed. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (v. 1).

No poet has described this truth more powerfully than John Wesley’s brother, Charles, who opens his hymn text with the call, “Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears,” and closes that hymn with the joyous response, “With confidence I now draw nigh, and ‘Father, Abba, Father’ cry.”

How to Interpret the Bible-1

No condemnation flows logically to the further conclusion—no separation. Paul first suggests that the stressful circumstances of this life—trouble, hardship, danger, famine (8:35)—are not powerful enough to distract the person who has the proper assessment of “present sufferings” (8:18; cf. 5:3). Included in those circumstances are even greater threats that represent an assault upon one’s faith—persecution, sword (8:35). The witness (martyrs) of the early Roman Christians in the arenas gives ample proof of Paul’s assertion that believers can be “more than conquerors” (8:37) against such assaults. Even ancient tradition reports that the Roman Emperor Julian, who bitterly opposed Christianity during his reign (361–363 A.D.), exclaimed on his deathbed, “You have conquered, O Galilean!” Even the combined forces of the Roman Empire could not defeat the followers of the King of the Jews.

Victorious over the foes of this world, yes. But what about the cosmic forces? Here (Rom. 8:38–39) Paul combines spiritual powers (angels, demons, powers) with temporal categories (present and future), spatial dimensions (height and depth), and the dynamics of human existence (life and death). However, these terms are to be understood in first- and twentieth-century thinking, they represent a range of forces beyond the human plane that create interference, if not alienation, between the believer and God. And Paul rejects any suggestion that these facets of creation can be of greater power that the One who created them in the first place.

In listing what cannot separate us from the love of God, Paul omits one significant reference, and theologians have been arguing from his silence for centuries. Paul does not mention humans themselves. If there is not anything else in all creation that can separate us from God’s love (v. 39), would it not seem logical that the believer, who is certainly part of the creation, would be included?

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Those who accept this logic argue for the doctrine of “eternal security.” They assert that once God has justified the repentant sinner and has imparted new life, nothing—not even the individual—is able to reverse God’s purposes. That believer may live below God’s moral standard of holiness or even break fellowship with the Father. Nevertheless, they claim, one’s justification is secure. God’s unconditional love will see beyond the disobedient thoughts and actions to the Cross, where salvation was determined for eternity. The believer can live with the full confidence that God will not permit sin to condemn, nor unbelief to separate a child of God from his Heavenly Father.

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Without attempting to unravel all the theological arguments and scriptural texts used to debate the issue of eternal security, it is sufficient to point out that the context of Romans 8 does not support such a view. The focus of Paul’s letter has been upon the damaging effects of sin (Adam’s and ours) and the freedom from bondage that is offered in Christ. Paul wants the believers in Rome to become aware of both God’s grace and His power to accomplish His purposes in their lives, without any works of self-righteousness on their part … or any interference on the part of the dark forces of sin and evil.

But, the book of Romans does not suggest a determinism that removes the freedom of the believer to “trust and obey.” Our faith and our obedience to the Spirit do not save us; salvation is the free gift of God. But our response of faith and our willingness to be led by the Spirit are essential actions to open up the possibilities of this goal-oriented path to glory.

Wesleyans would contend that the very freedom we have in Christ is the freedom of Adam and Eve to live the righteous life, or to move away from fellowship with God by unbelief and false worship. We are free to choose the downward spiral, but the sinful nature that makes us incapable of attaining righteousness has been put to death through the Cross. We are free to love and serve God, and nothing else can separate us from that love because our faith and His love are both rooted in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 39).[3]

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

This Wesleyan approach is still not correct. Close but not correct. They write, “We are free to choose the downward spiral, but the sinful nature that makes us incapable of attaining righteousness has been put to death through the Cross.” While this is a biblical true statement, the being put to death means that Jesus’ ransom sacrifice covers our Adamic sin, and the Spirit-inspired Word of God can strengthen us to withstand our being mentally bent toward evil (Gen 6:5; 8:21), our unknowable treacherous heart (Jer. 17:9), and our natural inclination to do bad. (Rom. 7) As one trains their conscience with the Word of God, they acquire the mind of Christ, they become biblically minded. “Their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Rom. 2:15) A biblically trained conscience will get control over “the sinful nature that makes us incapable of attaining righteousness.” But one who lets his hand down and ignores his conscience, it will grow callused and unfeeling, insensitive to what is right and what is wrong. Even the true Christian “is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Jam. 1:14-15) This is what happened to the very powerful, perfect spirit person, Satan the Devil, Adam, and Eve. This can also happen to a Christian. All Christians are capable of ignoring their biblically trained conscience, of being tempted, lured, and enticed to the point of rejecting God, falling away from God, abandoning God, stumble spiritually to the point of leaving God.

[1] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Romans, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 197.
[2] Bob Wilkin (ThM, PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is the Founder and Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. – https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/nothing-can-ever-separate-us-romans-838-39-part-1-of-2/
[3] Clarence L. Bence, Romans: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1996), 156–159.

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