Misquote: “Nothing can separate us From Jesus!” This misunderstanding hinges on taking Romans 8:35-39 out of context and paves the way for dangerous doctrines. Here’s the abused reference:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? . . . neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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. —Romans 8:35-39.
Actually, WE can separate ourselves from the love of God (which is action – not emotion!) through disobedience and our own lack of faith-born action.
To understand and apply Paul’s intended message, we must answer these questions:
- “Who was Paul speaking to and in what context?”
- “What is the ‘love of God’?
- “Who are ‘we’ who can’t be separated from God’s love?”
Let’s tackle the question regarding Paul’s audience and the context of his letter to the Church in Rome first. Paul was speaking to both Jew and non-Jew (Gentile) believers, and the overarching theme of his letter was the gift of salvation and eternal life to those who choose to follow, being led by the Spirit. This theme included a reminder that nothing can keep the righteous from God’s mercy and protection. Here’s a breakdown of the first eight chapters of Paul’s letter.
Chapter One: The righteous live by faith; all others will experience God’s judgment (v.17-18).
Chapter Two: More about the judgment of the righteous, who “by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality” will attain eternal life (v.7) and the unrighteous who practice evil and will suffer God’s wrath.
Chapter Three: All – both Jews and Gentiles – have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Righteousness isn’t attained through works of the Law (note: this is a reference to the Law of Moses and NOT ammunition to claim that belief needs not result in action!).
Chapter Four: More about righteousness through faith (not works under the Law).
Chapter Five: The gift of redemption through our Christ. Also included is a reminder about what the faithful may need to endure and the growth that comes as a result: “. . . tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; . . . through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (v.3-5).
Chapter Six: God’s grace offers no leeway to continue in sinful behavior. We are to be obedient and not sinful (see “live by faith” in Chapter One; “doing good” in Chapter Two; perseverance in Chapter Five, etc.). “. . . But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed . . .” (v.16-17).
Chapter Seven: Comparing and contrasting the law of God and the law of sin.
Chapter Eight: No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. By the way: the way ‘in’ is used implies that there’s no distinction between us and our Christ with regard to our behavior . . . “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (v.9) “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (v.14)
Next, we need to define the ‘love of God’ the righteous can’t be separated from. This is the action-based agape love made manifest by God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice. It has nothing to do with emotion and is the same kind of ‘love’ we’re told by Jesus to have for him and our God through obedience (John 13:34-35 and 14:15-31, James 2:14-26, and many others). This is the ‘fruit’ resulting from the Spirit at work in the lives of the righteous. No obedience to God and Christ’s commandments, no Spirit. No Spirit, no fruit . . .
Finally, although it should be clear now, let’s look at ‘who’ can’t be kept from God’s saving grace. As we saw in several chapters climaxing with Chapter Eight, they are the righteous – those who are led by the Spirit, live by faith, do good, persevere, and are obedient to our God and Christ. They don’t practice sin and aren’t those who only believe and yet don’t act.
In summary, these early chapters of the letter to the Romans establish a baseline of righteousness and unrighteousness and introduce the choice that can bring life. Those who choose to accept God’s gift of redemption through an ongoing covenant by being will be rescued from God’s judgment to come, and nothing can change that. Conversely, the unrighteous disobedient (including those ‘believe’ but are inactive) will experience God’s wrath. Be righteous and live!
For a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!