For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The context for today’s sermon is a situation here at Bethlehem that calls for hundreds of you – I pray 1,500 of you! – to begin worshipping on Sunday mornings at Maranatha Hall of Northwestern College in Roseville on October 13, four weeks from now. On that Sunday there will be two services here at 8:30 and 10:30 am, and two services there in Roseville at 8:30 and 10:30 am. The first part of our worship service where we do most of our singing will be live at each site with choirs or worship teams led by Chuck Steddom here, and Dan Holst at the north site. The second part of our worship – which we like to call expository exultation, the preaching – will be live in one site and sent by video to the other site, with live and video alternating between north and downtown every other week. We remain one church with one eldership, one staff, one vision, one mission, one budget, one unifying theology, one covenant, one infallible Bible, one great sovereign, triune God – worshipping in two sites, with the coordinating, equipping nerve-center downtown and with small groups scattered throughout the Cities.
That’s the context of the message. And there is a remarkable connection between the church context and the biblical text. The church context is a kind of separation that is not a separation. We call it "Going without Going." The Biblical text is about a kind of separation that is not a separation. We will be focusing on Romans 8:38-39 which ends, "[nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." It may look like a separation from the love of God and feel like one, but it is not a separation from the love of God.
So let’s turn our minds and our hearts to God’s word first, and then step back and view our church situation in the light of this magnificent truth.
Romans 8: Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God
Verses 38-39 list 10 things that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord – 8 of them in pairs: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." I say again what I have said so often: the point of this whole passage is your security. God wants his people to experience deep, unshakeable confidence that they are secure in his love.
And the reason he must stress it is because in real life we appear and often feel so insecure. To use the words of verse 36, "We are being put to death all day long [not like the NIV says, "we face death all day long"], we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." This is always true for Christians some place in the world. And when it is true we can feel very insecure and very separated from God. And this will be true for you some time in your life – things will happen that make you feel that you are separated from the love of God. That is why this text is here, and that is why I am preaching and why you are here this morning.
Let’s look at the list and strengthen our hearts with God’s powerful and encouraging word. Keep in mind that these verses are describing the security of "God’s elect" (Romans 8:33), not the security of everybody. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he has chosen you, you are his, you belong to him. Verse 28 says that you love him and are called according to his purpose. This is his purpose – this everlasting security. Verse 29 says that you are foreknown, that is, recognized with favor, loved before time; you are predestined to be like Christ, and you are called from death to life, and you are justified once for all – counted righteous in Christ – and you are glorified. These promises of inseparability are God’s declaration that he will save his people and nothing can destroy them. You have these promises if you will have Jesus as your Lord and Savior and Treasure.
Neither Death nor Life Can Separate Us from the Love of God
Verse 38: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God." Death is the first in the list. Why? Two reasons, at least: Because Paul has just said in verse 36, "We are being put to death all day long." And because death separates us from so much of what we know on earth.
It is the most urgent threat. So immediately Paul says, "Death cannot separate us from God’s love." In fact, death does just the opposite. It increases nearness and fellowship with Christ. Philippians 1:23, "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." Death means "to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). It is not separation; it’s homecoming.
But it is separation from family and friends and the body and all earth’s pleasures. That is why it may not look like the love of God. But Paul says it is the love of God. It’s not as though we are loved by God up to death and then loved again by God after death with a big separation from the love of God in death. No. Death – the experience of death – is not a separation from the love of God. God loves us before death and he loves us in the act of dying and he loves us after death. And all our losses here are part of being loved by God. Hard as it feels, Paul wants us to know and experience the fact that death – and all it takes from us – is not a lapse in the love of God.
When Christ died he secured his own people in death and in life. Nothing in life and nothing in death will undo the triumph he achieved in the cross and the resurrection. So Paul says in Romans 14:9, "For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." His lordship over life and death is invincible. So life and death cannot separate us from the love of God.
No Cosmic, Supernatural Powers Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The next pair Paul mentions in verse 38 is "angels and principalities." And then a few words later he mentions "powers." Neither angels nor principalities nor powers will separate us from the love of God. These three names are probably designations of angelic or demonic beings since "angels" are mentioned first in the group. So Paul’s point is: there are no cosmic, supernatural powers that can separate us from the love of God. These powers were decisively defeated at the cross. Colossians 2:15, "[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [or "in it" = the cross]." When Christ rose, Ephesians 1:21 says, he was exalted "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion." So, even though these scoundrels are on the loose, they cannot do ultimate harm to God’s elect. It must gall Satan badly to hear God say, "You and your mighty hordes are helpless to take my loved ones." "The prince of darkness grim / we tremble not for him / his rage we an endure / for lo his doom is sure."
Nothing in Time and Space Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The next two pairs (in verse 38 and 39) are Paul’s way of saying that nothing in time and space can separate us from the love of God. First time: ". . . nor things present, nor things to come . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God." Then space: "nor height, nor depth . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God." Paul is covering every possible base. He is saying it over and over.
Nothing in the Present nor Future Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The present-future pair covers our fear that though the present might be tolerable now, the future is going to be horrible, and we wonder if we will be able to stand it. Or we might fear that the present is so bad that we will not make it to any future. Paul’s response: It will never be so bad now or any time in the future that you will be separated from the love of God. Circumstances will never surprise God so that he must go back on this promise. The future is absolutely his and he knows it and runs it. If he says it won’t separate us, it won’t.
Nothing High nor Low Can Separate Us from the Love of God
The height-depth pair (v. 39) covers our fear that there my be a lurking in some distant place far, far away some menacing power that would surprise us and destroy our faith and separate us from the love of God. Paul says, No. No matter how high you go up or how deep you go down, you will never find a power that can nullify God’s keeping power. "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there" (Psalm 139:7-8). Nothing in highest heaven and nothing in deepest hell can separate us from the love of Christ.
No Created Thing Can Separate Us from the Love of God
Then, at the end of verse 39, Paul adds one all-inclusive encouragement to make sure he hasn’t missed anything: ". . . [no] other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That covers everything that is not God. No thing and no person in all the universe can separate us from the love of God.
And that includes ourselves. There are those who say the elect can’t be snatched out of God’s hand (John 10:29) but they can jump out. In other words, they say, you can be elect, born again, justified, and in the end perish. That is not what the Bible teaches. "Those whom he justified he glorified" – that is the radical assurance of the elect. The assurance is not that you can forsake the faith and live in sin and go to heaven. The assurance is: God keeps his elect from final apostasy and unbelief. The new covenant promise for all God’s people is this: "I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me" (Jeremiah 32:40). There may be many stumblings and wanderings, but if you are his, you will be brought back. Trust him.
So nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate God’s elect from him. The result is massive security for merciful service through many sufferings.
"Going without Going" and Small-Group Sign Up
Now I turn to the Church context for this message, namely, the move of many of you to the North Extension Site for worship starting October 13, and the fact that today is small group sign-up Sunday. These are not unrelated things.
I think what I would like to draw out of Romans 8:38-39 for this church situation is this: In all our separations we are not separated. And small groups are a huge part of God’s plan for this non-separating separation – this "Going without Going."
Separated without Separation in "Going without Going"
Let me list some separations that are about to happen for us, and some separations that are not going to happen when 1200-1500 of you worship at the North Extension.
If you go, you will be separated from some friends on Sunday morning. Children, teenagers, and adults will feel this. You will be separated from a familiar room and a worship team and an urban setting. The key question is: Are we willing to be a little bit like missionaries who leave so much when they go, not to Roseville, but Russia (etc.)? O how I pray that God is working in us a readiness to venture on him for the sake of a larger vision of his purposes through our church.
But in all these separations we are not separated. First and foremost, we are not separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ! Nothing in all creation – including a move to Maranatha Hall – will separate us from the love of God. Second you will not be separated from the theology of God’s sovereign grace that runs beneath Minneapolis and Roseville like a vein of gold and iron. Third, you will not be separated from the vision that drives this church – to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, with its implications for world missions and God-centered worship and earnest prayer and biblical authority and racial harmony and justice for the unborn and personal evangelism, love for each other. Fourth, you won’t be separated from the preaching of God’s word that we call "expository exultation." Fifth, you won’t be separated from 1,200 to 1,500 people who go with you or from the pastoral staff or elders that give faithful leadership and love to this body of believers. Sixth, you won’t be separated from the God-centered vision for children and teenagers and college students that parents and children and young people have come to love.
Separated without Separation in Small Groups
And there is so much more you will not be separated from when you are separated from this room on Sunday morning. And the one that stands out for utterly crucial mention this morning is small groups. More important than ever is the place of small groups in our life as a congregation. It is true that if tribulation, distress, persecution, peril, and sword strip you of your small group, God will not forsake you. But be careful! God calls us, while we can, to be in mutually loving, mutually caring, mutually praying, exhorting, admonishing, confessing, encouraging, helping small groups of believers.
He says in Hebrews 3:12-13, "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." My prayer for you, and my pastoral, brotherly, fatherly exhortation to you is that you join a small group this fall for the good of your soul and for the glory of God.