What Can Separate Us From the Love of God?

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 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. 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. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:33-39)

The Apostle Paul asks several important questions in this text. He also gives his readers profound answers.

Who can accuse God’s people of any crime?

No one. God alone justifies the guilty. He answers to no man. He has mercy on whom he will have mercy.

Who has the right to sentence his saints to death and hell?

No one. Christ took our condemnation up on himself. We are free from the sting of death and the punishment of hell.

Who can separate God’s people from the love of Christ, which has been freely bestowed upon them?

Nobody can and nothing will. No circumstance or trial can wedge apart this bond. Through God’s love we have been made more than conquerors. Again, he reiterates that no being (angels nor rulers), thing (the sword, death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth) or circumstance (tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger) can separate us from the love of God. He even goes so far as to say ‘nor anything else in all creation’. I think that pretty much covers everything, don’t you think?

Jesus himself confirms this truth in the gospel of John:

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 the Father’s hand. (Joh 10:28-29)

These verses together compose a sweet symphony of solace to those who have been called according to his purpose. God has not only given us grace for salvation but grace for sustaining us in our salvation. The hand of God never relaxes its grip on our souls. We are not grains of sand that fall through his fingers. Yet, there is a large segment of Christendom that will tell us just that.

I’ve heard all my Christian life about the big ‘BUT’ of both these texts.

‘Yeah, nothing can separate us from the love of God ‘BUT’ we can still choose to turn away from him and be lost’.

‘Sure, no one has the power to snatch believers from God’s hand, not even the devil, ‘BUT’ we can brush the hand of God aside and choose to walk away from the faith’.

Oh really? Does God’s contractual agreement with his beloved have an escape clause? Why did Paul not mention this? Is he just another slick snake oil salesman, not disclosing the finer points of his sales pitch? It seems like some select theologians, after examining these texts under a magnifying glass have devised a legal loophole, allowing man to wrangle out of the contract, provided he becomes dissatisfied with his salvation.

It’s a soul-back guarantee! It’s insurance without assurance. I believe if the Apostle Paul were with us today he would be – well – appalled by such doctrines.

Let me take a stab at how this loophole works.

If Paul, by saying nothing can separate us from the love of God, defines nothing as ‘no something’ – or stated differently ‘not anything in all creation’ then man’s free will must not be something, but actually is no thing, or a non-thing, right? The text says nothing can separate us from the love of God. If free will is something then it couldn’t turn a soul from God. But if free will is a non-thing then it all makes perfect sense. Man can obviously turn away from God whenever he pleases (according to some) – so free will must be a non-thing. I mean, you can’t make it known by using the five senses, so it can’t be something. Free will is a non-thing! And if it’s a non-thing then it can separate us from the love of God.

But wait a minute, free will is the concept of an act of the human will. First of all, a concept is something, not a non-thing. Secondly, a will that exercises un-coerced and un-influenced choices is definitely something. If you can not only talk about free will but exercise it in everyday life within God’s created universe it then must be a created something! So free will can’t be a non-thing because it is indeed something. And if it’s something it cannot separate us from the love of God because no thing can.

Hmmm, well what about this:

Maybe free will doesn’t necessarily fall under the jurisdiction of something in all of creation but somehow transcends it?

Ahhh, yes, I’m on to something here.

Ok, so God created us, but free will being an invention of the human soul somehow lies outside of God’s creation. While nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God, free will, as a human creation exists outside of God’s creation and has the ability to separate us from his love.

Am I making any sense whatsoever?

Didn’t think so…

Are you getting my point?

No matter how hard one tries, free will cannot be excluded from the meaning of the texts. Free will either is:

A) A non-created something.

B) A non-created nothing -a non-thing.

C) A created something.

If free will is a non-created something (at least not created by God) then God has no control over it and can do whatever it pleases. When God’s word declares he knows the end from the beginning and accomplishes all his will – don’t believe it for a second! A non-created something like man’s autonomy can come in and smash all God’s carefully laid plans. Is this a reasonable answer?

If free will is a non-created nothing then – What the devil are we even talking about!!

If it is a created something it falls under the categories both Jesus and Paul say cannot separate us from God’s love. Paul said nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love and Jesus proclaimed nobody can snatch us from God’s hand. Free will then can’t operate through somebody to pull them out of God’s hand because nobody can. Does free will exist apart from a person who exercises it? Of course not, but even if it does, it still is a created something that can’t separate us.

The two texts teach that neither free will (which is something) nor the person it operates through (which is somebody) can break free of God’s everlasting love for him.

Nothing and nobody in all God’s creation can bring a charge, condemn or separate God’s elect from himself. Why? First, because God is the first cause of their salvation and graciously sustains his people through all the trials and tribulations of this world by his preserving grace. Secondly, all people and all things do indeed fall into the category of ‘created somethings’. Both Jesus and Paul say these things do not have any dominion over God’s plans and purposes to redeem whom he wills. Christ Jesus is both the author and finisher of our faith. Praise be to God!

In summary, no matter how hard anyone tries, the concept of free will cannot be forced upon these scriptures explicitly or implicitly as an exception to all the powers that are unable to pry us away from so great a salvation.

Does that make any sense?

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10 thoughts on “What Can Separate Us From the Love of God?

  1. Nothing can separate us from the love of God is an undisputed fact, God being God. Nothing is so powerful as to be able to overcome God.

    Whether we accept that love or not is a choice we make personally, and whether we do or not is a decision we make that will not be over-ridden by God.

    Our decision, therefore, either consciously or by default, not to accept God’s love in our lives would exclude us from the benefits of God’s love, which includes nothing being able to separate us.

    Separation includes within its meaning that we have previously been included.

    This is not only a comfort for those who believe that they are within the love of God, but a massive challenge as they realise that so many do not even know God, or that God’s love is available to them.

  2. If nothing can separate us from the love of God, how can our decision do that? It can’t.

    One other thing to remember here is that Paul is speaking to Christians, not everyone. All of those who are not saved are by definition separated from God, and that includes his love in some sense. Paul is explaining the P of TULIP, the perseverence of the saints. Those that God chose before time as part of His elect, will persevere. Nothing can separate them from the love of God, including ourselves and our decisions, because God is more powerful than our decisions. This is a comfort. If my decision could separate me from the love of God, what comfort would that be??

    Brett

  3. God created man… Man created free will… Therefore, free will could NEVER exist without FIRST having the creation of God. God can hold the universe as any of us can hold a pen, but man struggles to hold his ill created ideas with all of his being. In the case of this article, free will is simply one of those ideas. Just an idea. An idea is a noun (check your local dictionary), which means it can be referenced in context as if it were a physical object. “Nouns are often thought of as referring to persons, places, things, states, or qualities.” -dictionary.com

    Free will is an ideas as much as an idea is a thing. This reminds me of a simple math postulate. “If A equals B and B equals C, then A must equal C.” So, if by definition, an idea is a thing and free will is an idea, then free will is a thing.

    Free will CANNOT separate us from God’s eternal love.

  4. Here, here. I knew I was at least a 2 point Calvinist! I did just fine in this whole thread except…
    Brett,
    You said, “All of those who are not saved are by definition separated from God, and that includes his love in some sense.” Huh? God doesn’t completely love everyone? I don’t get that thought! If “God is love”, that means His nature is love (among other things), right? If His very nature is love, how can He only partly love pre-Christians?

  5. Hughstan,
    Thanks for commenting.
    Romans 8:33 quoted at the beginning of my post sums up the focal point of it. ‘Who shall bring any charge to God’s elect?’ Those God has chosen to save by his grace are the subject matter. Those whom God chooses, no one or no thing can take them away from him. The lost are not discussed here at all.

  6. Pastor Edwards,
    Do you really believe God loves those in hell just as much as those who are in heaven?
    Did he love other nations as much as he loved Israel?
    Did God love Jacob just as much and in the same way as he did Esau?
    Did Jesus love Judas just as much as the other disciples? If so, why didn’t he sit down and talk some sense into him rather than say ‘do what you came to do.’

    Lastly, doesn’t the bible say God is angry with the wicked and also hates them?

    I’m not saying God doesn’t have a kind of love, a common grace, for all men, because he commands all alike to repent. He has made the sun shine and the rain pour on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

  7. Hey Pastor Edwards,

    Brandon above sums it up nicely. Not partly love, but love in a different sense. Look at Ephesians 5:22-33. Husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her. Now, I would like to think that I love all people, but I certainly love my wife differently than I love my kids, and love my neighbors differently than I love my kids and my wife. Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her (the church), not for everyone else. There is certainly a common grace in which God send the rain and makes the crops grow and hold the universe together (as Brandon said so well above), and He does this for everyone. However, Christ loves the church differently than He loves the world. See the various Scriptures in John epistles and gospel. Another great resource is the littlebook by D.A. Carson called the Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Don’t let the name put you off. It is short (100 pages) and is packed full of meat, yet easy to get through.

    Just some thoughts!

    Brett

  8. Brandon and Brett,
    I appreciate your replies. They indeed are thought-provoking. I’m still a bit baffled, however. I certainly won’t attempt to explain away what the Bible clearly says about God “setting” His love in Israel (Deut. 7.7), nor will I deny that the Bible clearly says that God hated Esau (Mal. 1.3, Rom. 9.13).

    However, you have automatically excluded Esau from heaven! What is your basis for that? And, with the complexity that is God’s nature, why can’t he fully love and fully hate at the same time? I see no biblical reason to suspect that God did not love Esau as much as He loved Jacob.

    And why wouldn’t God love all people? Doesn’t He love us IN our sin?
    What about John 1.29 and 1 John 2.2? I know this violates the L, but doesn’t that clearly indicate that Jesus died for the world? If God didn’t love all, why did He say Jesus died for all? (let’s not go down the universalism road – I certainly don’t buy that)
    And isn’t God’s desire that none would perish? If so, why? My guess is…because He loves them.

    I know I’m not suppposed to be baffled by salvation because it is logical to comprehend :>), but I still am. I don’t think I’m an intellectual sloth, but I’m OK with mystery, even though that clearly indicates I am emergent :>)

  9. Pastor Edwards,
    You ask several good questions that I neither have the time nor energy to give a full treatment on here. I plan to engage problem texts in my limited atonement series. However, at the pace of writing I’m on right now, I wouldn’t expect my posts on the ‘L’ to be published until 2010 😉

    However this remark from you baffles me:
    QUOTE: However, you have automatically excluded Esau from heaven! What is your basis for that? And, with the complexity that is God’s nature, why can’t he fully love and fully hate at the same time? I see no biblical reason to suspect that God did not love Esau as much as He loved Jacob.

    Do you realize the serious theological implications of a God who ushers people into heaven who he plainly states he hates? God hates sin because sin is ultimately rebellion against him. How can heaven possibly be full of God-hating rebels dwelling in the presence of a sin hating God? That is absurd. When you say you see no biblical reason that God didn’t love Esau as much as he loved Jacob you are simply ignoring the text when it says ‘Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated.’

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