He Will Hold Me Fast - Part 3

Romans 8:31-39

Tom Pennington  •  September 2, 2018
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Today we come to the end of our study of Romans 8, and I do so with, I must admit, some sadness in my heart. It's been such a wonderful and magnificent study. This great chapter lays out seven reasons that all true believers are secure in Jesus Christ. We're studying the final paragraph and the final reason that we are, in fact, secure in Christ. Reason number seven is this, God has loved us eternally in Christ. That is the message of Romans 8:31-39, that we just read together.

If I had to condense those verses into a single affirmation, it would be this, there is no one and there is nothing in the universe that can separate us from God's eternal love in Jesus Christ. He begins in verse 31, "What then shall we say to these things?" With that question, Paul introduces what is really a summary of the entire section of the letter, that begins in chapter 5 verse 1 and runs through the end of chapter 8. Having asked that question, in the rest of verse 31, he answers it with two great affirmations: one, God is for us, and two, no one can successfully be against us. God is for us! In essence, Paul is really asking this question, is there anyone who can successfully undermine our justification before God? Is there anyone who can successfully undermine our justification before God?

He then considers every being in the universe who could potentially accomplish that, one by one, and he proves to us that there, in fact, is no one who can undermine our security in Christ. We've already learned that it certainly will not be the Father, in verse 32. In verse 33, we learned that it will not be Satan, the great accuser. In verse 34, we learned that it will not be Jesus Christ who condemns us, because He died for us. Last week, we discovered in verses 35 to 37 that it will not be a human being.

He begins these verses by detailing those experiences that Christians often have, what we can face in this life. He talks about the normal trials of this life. That's under the word tribulation. He talks about extended periods of trial. It's a word which means to be in a narrow place, the word distress. Religious persecution. The word famine reminds us that we can face natural disasters. The word nakedness, financial poverty. The word peril, personal danger of all kinds. And then he ends verse 35 by talking about the sword, physical violence and death. And we shouldn't be surprised, Christians, if we experience any of those things. Verse 36, "Just as it is written, 'For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'" God has not promised to exempt us from life's troubles, including all of these things.

But, here's the encouragement, if God allows one of them or all of them into our lives, He will not allow a single one of them to undermine our security in Christ or to separate us from His eternal love. Having detailed what we often experience in verse 37, Paul explains how Christians, in facing those things, always endure. He says, "in all these things," that he's just talked about, "we overwhelmingly conquer." I shared with you last week that the Greek word translated "overwhelmingly conquer" is one word in the Greek but composed of two words that have been put together to form that one word. The word huper, huper really is the way it's pronounced, but it becomes, in English, the word hyper or super, and then the Greek word nikao, which means to conquer. So literally this word means to super conquer or to be overwhelmingly victorious. It describes a lopsided victory in which the opponent is completely routed. How does that happen? Verse 37 says "we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." You see, left to ourselves we would fail, our faith would be destroyed. But we, instead, overwhelmingly conquer through Christ our Lord.

Now that's where we've been. Today, we come to the last two verses of this great chapter. And here we learn that if our justification is to ever be threatened, it will be by nothing that God created. That's the message of verses 38 and 39. In these verses, Paul states, in his own personal conviction, what he has promised is true in the preceding verses. Now, these two verses are really a summary. They're a summary of verses 31 to 38 and all those things that can never separate us from God's love. They're also a summary in a very real sense of the entire eighth chapter. In fact, I could describe these two verses this way, they provide us with the ultimate statement of our security in Jesus Christ.

Let's look at them together. They begin with what we can call an unshakable confidence, an unshakable confidence. Paul writes in verse 38, "For I am convinced," "I am convinced." The Greek word convinced means to reach a position of certainty about something, to be certain. It's translated, as it is here, "to be convinced," but in other places in the New Testament it's translated, as it is in 2 Timothy 1:5, "to be sure." We could define it like this, it is a firm and settled conviction, a confident certainty. It is to be so convinced about the truthfulness of something that you stake your own trust in that truth. The tense of the verb, by the way, that Paul uses, perfect tense, implies that at some point in the past Paul had reached this conclusion, and by the time he wrote the book of Romans it was permanently fixed in his mind, like the North Star, it simply would never change. He was convinced.

Now understand that Paul did not come to this conviction because of his feelings. A lot of Christians live by their feelings. Paul is not convinced because he feels this way. No, this word describes a logical, rational, reasonable conviction. How did he come to this conviction personally? How did Paul come to be convinced? Listen carefully, because I think this is very important. I believe that it's clear in this chapter, since Paul states this personal conviction at the end of an entire list of arguments, that Paul became convinced of these truths through the same arguments that he's presented to us. This is how Paul became convinced. Read the eighth chapter of Romans. This is how he was persuaded and became convinced, and it's the only way that you and I will ever be as well.

Now, what exactly was Paul convinced of? Well, let me first tell you what he was not convinced of, because this is where a lot of Christians go astray. Paul was not convinced that his circumstances were going to change. In fact, he continued to experience all of the things that he mentions in this passage. He writes Romans in the mid-50's A.D. Read about the rest of his life, he continued to experience these things. In fact, he was imprisoned twice. The first time for two years; and at the end of the second imprisonment he was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ by the Roman Emperor. Well-intentioned Christians often try to encourage other Christians who are going through trouble by saying something to them like this, "Listen, just hang in there; things are going to get better." How do you know? You don't know that's true. God has not promised us that our circumstances will improve. That is not comfort. A second thing that Paul was not convinced of is he was not convinced that he would be exempt from all these things that he mentions in verses 38 and 39. In fact, I think he was convinced he would face them.

So what was Paul convinced of? Well, he was unshakably convinced that he and every true Christian enjoys, secondly, an unbreakable love. He had an unshakable confidence in an unbreakable love. You see this, how he says, neither this, nor this, nor this and he goes on to include a list. In fact, Paul lists ten potential threats to our security in these verses. And if you look at them, it is certainly not unreasonable to think that any one of these things could, in fact, potentially separate us from Christ.

Now look at that list of ten in verses 38 and 39 there, you'll see that the first pair; in fact, let me step back and say one thing first. When you look at them, you heard how I even read them, there really are four pairs. There are four pairs, and then there are two that seem to stand alone. So the ten items, four pairs, two alone. The first pair promises that our security in Christ will be changed by nothing in life or in death, by nothing in life or in death. Look at verse 38, "For I am convinced," I have considered the biblical evidence and I have certainty "that neither death, nor life."

Now he begins with death, I think probably because he's just referred to death back in verse 37, the death of martyrdom. But most commentators agree, and I do as well here, that in verse 38 he's not referring to a specific kind of death, but rather to death in a general sense, in whatever way it comes. You know, man fears death. People can talk bravely about facing death, until it comes. Men fear death. Francis Bacon said, "Men fear death as children fear the dark." This is what the Scriptures teach. Turn to Hebrews 2, Hebrews 2:14; the writer of Hebrews says,

Therefore, since the children [that's us] share in flesh and blood, He Himself [that is, Christ] likewise also partook of the same, [that is, He took on full humanity, including a body that could die, and here's why, in part,] that through death [His death] He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those [notice this in verse 15, this is all humanity,] might free those who through fear of death [all humanity has a fear of death, but he's freeing those who've become His own, who are believers, who] were subject to slavery, [that is, the slavery of the fear of death] all their lives.

This is how men live. It's how we live. And the writer of Hebrews says that it's because of the one "who had the power of death, that is, the devil."

Now that statement should bother you or at least raise a question in your mind. In what sense does Satan have or had the power of death? Let's be straight about this, God alone has the ultimate power over death. It's described in a number of ways in Scripture. Christ Himself, in Revelation 1, is said, "to hold the keys," the authority, "over death and the grave." So what does he mean here when he says, Satan had the power of death?

Satan, under the power and authority of God, can incite people to sin and to acts of violence and to acts of foolishness that lead to death, their own or the death of others. I mean, a great example of that is the very first death. It came because Satan incited Cain against Abel, his brother, to murder him. That was not from God, it's ultimately an expression of Satan. Jesus says in John 8, "Satan was a murderer from the beginning." He is the one who lies behind the temptation to do such things.

But the point here in Hebrews 2 is that men fear death. And in one sense, it's right that we fear death. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul calls it an enemy. Why is death an enemy? Well, because it separates. It separates us from life itself. It separates us from the places we know, the people that we love. It separates our souls, the immaterial part of us from our bodies, the material part of us. And we were not made to be disembodied spirits. We were made to be body and soul. And without Christ, death separates us from God eternally.

In fact, let me just say, if you're here this morning and you're without Christ, you need to understand that you will die. If Christ doesn't return, everyone in this room will die. We don't like to think about it. We try to shield our minds from it. We try to pretend it's not going to happen to us. It will happen to you. And if you die without Jesus Christ, you will be eternally separated from God your Creator.

Death is a great separator. But for the Christian, it cannot bring separation. We don't have to fear death because Christ defeated it. In fact, in 2 Timothy 1:10, we read that our Savior Christ Jesus "abolished death," that is, He rendered it powerless ultimately, "and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even the great separator, death itself. John 10:28, Jesus says, "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand," not even death. "To be absent from the body," for the Christian is, "to be at home with the Lord," 2 Corinthians 5:8. It is to be reunited with those we love who have died in Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. In fact, in Philippians 1:21, Paul says that for the Christian, "to die is now gain." And verse 23 of that same chapter, "to depart this life and be with Christ is very much better." In 1 Corinthians 15:57, he says, "thanks be to God, that in death He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Listen Christian, you don't have to fear death, because even in death, you are His. In fact, I love Romans, look at Romans 14, Romans 14:8, he says, "if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord." And then he says this, and I love the statement, "therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." Nothing changes that; death doesn't change that.

What about life? Back in Romans 8 he says, "death and life." For some, life at times seems crueler than death. And it's true, life does bring many potential threats to our security in Christ; its trials and its troubles threaten our spiritual well-being. Even more so, its pleasures, its amusements, its distractions threaten us spiritually in a variety of ways. But Paul's point here, Christian, is that nothing that you will encounter in this life and not even death itself will ever alter the love of God for you.

Our security can be threatened because of, secondly, nothing from angels or demons, nothing from angels or demons. He says in verse 38, "nor angels, nor principalities." At times, the New Testament uses the word angels to refer to all of those cosmic spiritual beings, both good and evil, but usually it refers to holy angels, and that's likely what Paul means here.

Now you say, why would he mention holy angels as some sort of threat to our security? Well, obviously, they're ultimately not, right? Hebrews 1:14, says that angels are "ministering spirits," "ministering spirits, sent to render service to the saints." Do you realize that? There are angels who are rendering service to you, Christian. You may not know it, you may not know how that's happening, but that's just the reality. The whole idea of guardian angels is not so much a biblical idea, unless you go back to Psalm 91; there's a reference to the angel of the Lord protecting those who are His. But in Hebrews 1 we are told they "are ministering spirits, sent to render service to the saints." So they would never actually undermine our faith. So Paul is rather speaking theoretically. He's saying, listen, is it possible that holy angels could somehow undermine our security? He's speaking like he does in Galatians 1, where he says, what happens if an angel shows up and preaches another gospel? Would that ever happen? Of course not! Here, he's saying, what happens to your security if an angel threatens it?

Then he uses the word principalities. That word, the Greek word, can refer to human authorities and does, on occasion, in New Testament. But most often, it refers to powers or rulers in the spiritual world, at times specifically of those who are evil. For example, it's used that way in Ephesians 6:12, where we're told we don't wrestle "against flesh and blood, but against" all of these spiritual powers of darkness, these beings who have rebelled against God, and are set against us under Satan. In Romans 8, Paul places this word principalities opposite of angels, and so most likely it refers to demons. But regardless of the specific identity of these two terms, angels and principalities, Paul's basic point is clear. Listen carefully, those powerful cosmic beings that inhabit the spirit world, both holy angels and demons, including Satan himself, can do absolutely nothing to separate us from God's eternal love.

Our security can be threatened by nothing in time or eternity. This is the third point Paul makes here. Our security can be threatened by nothing in time or eternity. Again, verse 38 says, "nor things present, nor things to come." Clearly, this is a reference to time. In fact, as one author puts it, "Time is powerless against believers." Nothing time brings can hurt us.

But there are two possibilities here in terms of what Paul means when he speaks of things present and things to come. The first possibility is Paul may mean only our lives here on this planet. And if that's what he has in mind, then here's his intention. He wants us to understand that the circumstances you are facing right now, think about those for a moment, don't get distracted, stay with me, but think about what you're facing right now, that's the things that are present. And then he's saying, you don't know what's coming in your life here, you don't know what tomorrow brings, you certainly can't predict where the rest of life is going, those are the things to come. And none of those things that can happen to you on this planet, present or future, can separate you from God's love.

Another possibility is that Paul is talking about this age and the age to come, in other words, time and eternity. And I think that's really where this is leading us. If this is what he means, then he wants us to know that nothing that we will ever face in this present life, and think about this for a moment, nothing we will encounter in all of eternity, can ever separate us from God's love, will ever change God's love for us.

I have one line left in finishing a hymn on Psalm 103 and I've enjoyed working my way through that wonderful chapter. And in Psalm 103:17 we read this, listen carefully, "the steadfast love of the Lord," so we're talking about His love, "the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him." What does that mean, "from everlasting to everlasting"? As Derek Kidner describes it, he says, "If you could go back into the past to the vanishing point and if you could go into the future to the vanishing point, you would find God's love in both places." From vanishing point in eternity past to vanishing point in eternity future, you would still find God's eternal love. As Leon Morris puts it, "Whatever time brings, the love of God triumphs." "Whatever time brings, the love of God triumphs."

Fourthly, our security can be threatened by nothing miraculous. Notice he uses that expression, "nor powers." Now I have no idea why Paul left this word unpaired as he does the others, as he pairs them. I can't explain that to you, it obviously came as a separate point that he wanted to make under the inspiration the Spirit. But what does he mean by powers? At times, Paul uses this word to refer to, again, powerful spiritual beings, angels or demons. He does that, for example, in Ephesians 1:21, in 1 Peter 3:22. If that's the idea here, then this is just another way to say angels and demons. But in other places in Paul's letters he uses this word not to denote spiritual beings but rather spiritual power, specifically, miracles, miracles, spiritual actions, activities. Although we can't be sure which he means, it seems likely to me that this second explanation is what Paul has in mind here. He's already given us the two sweeping categories of angels and demons, and so it seems likely that this is a new and fresh idea. And if that's true, then here's what Paul is saying, not even powerful miraculous works can undermine our security. He's already talked about the beings, and now he talks about what they can accomplish, and he says, it's not going to separate us from God's love.

Our security is threatened, fifthly, by nothing in heaven or hell, by nothing in heaven or hell. Notice verse 39, "nor height, nor depth." Now those two terms are frankly the most unclear and the most controversial in this list of ten. It's very hard to know, what does he mean, "nor height, nor depth"? Well, there are again two primary possibilities. This may just be another reference to spiritual beings. The reason I say that is because, in the first century, in astronomy, these two words, height and depth, were used to describe the celestial space both below and above the horizon. And thus, in the first century mind, it came to refer to the celestial beings that they believed inhabited that space below and above the horizon. So it could just be a reference again to angels and demons.

The other possibility, and I think the one that seems to fit better with how Paul uses these terms, is that together, height and depth describe the entirety of the universe. In other words, he's using it in the simple sense of space or dimension, the far reaches of the universe. In Ephesians 3:18, he uses these terms to describe the "height and depth" of the love of Christ. He simply means that the sheer space of it, the sheer dimensions of it. If that's how he intends it, and I think he does, it's like Psalm 139:8, which says, "If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there." That's the idea, height or depth.

Let me put it to you like this, Paul is saying that if you were to span the vast reaches of the universe, if you were to travel to hell, and then to heaven, and if you ransacked the far corners of this universe, you would find nothing in the deepest depths or the highest heights that could in any way threaten your security in Jesus Christ. Search all you want. If you could travel anywhere that is, you would find not one single thing that would threaten who you are in Jesus Christ.

Now, in a desire to leave nothing out, Paul finishes this list of spiritual threats with what is really a comprehensive summary. Our security will be threatened by, number six, nothing in all creation, nothing in all creation. Notice how he says it, "nor any other created thing." He now intentionally includes everything that exists except for God Himself. What has been created? Everything but God. If you go back before creation, all you will find, you will not find time, space, or matter; you will find only God in the trinity of His person. Everything else has been created. So this is a far sweeping, all-inclusive statement. He says, "not any created thing," notice how he puts it, "will be able to separate us from the love of God."

Now, notice carefully what Paul says. He doesn't say, "will separate us." That's true, nothing will. That's not what he says. Instead he says, "will be able to separate us." And specifically he uses the Greek word dunamai which is a word for power, capacity, ability. And so Paul is saying not only will this never happen, but none of those things has the power, has the capacity to separate us from the love of God; it simply can't happen because they lack the power to accomplish it.

Now what is this, separate? Well that's the same word we saw last week in verse 35, and I explained to you then, it's a word which means to put space between. So Paul is saying that if you could ransack the farthest ends of the universe, you would find absolutely nothing that has the power, that has the ability, that has the capacity, to put space between you and God's personal love for you. We have an unshakable confidence in an unbreakable love!

Thirdly, don't miss an unmistakable application, an unmistakable application. He says in verse 39, nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God." Whom does Paul mean by us? Well obviously, all true followers of Jesus Christ. But in context, he's defined it, right? Go back to verse 28, it's all "who love God." Verse 29, it's all "whom God foreknew," that is, all on whom God set His eternal love, all whom God predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, all of those He irresistibly, powerfully called to Himself through the gospel, those He justified, and those He will glorify. Look at verse 39, it's all who have submitted to Jesus Christ as Lord. In other words, every true Christian, you're included in the word us.

If you are in Christ, if you have repented of your sins, and you have put your faith in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as your only way to be right with God your Creator, then no one and nothing has the power to put a space between you and the eternal love of God. Why? Because, look at verse 39 again, it is "the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That's why, there's the reason you can never be separated from the love of God. God's love for us will never, can never change, because of our relationship with His Son.

Let me show you how important this is to this section of Paul's letter. Paul begins this part of the letter with this reality. Go back to chapter 5 verse 1, I just want you to see this. This permeates it. Chapter 5 verse 1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God [how?] through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the same way that every part of this section ends. Every unit of thought within this entire section ends with the same concept. Go to chapter 5 verse 11, the end of the first section, "we exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."

The second part of this section ends at verse 21 of chapter 5, "so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Then in chapter 6 he deals with the issue of sin in the lives of believers and notice how he ends in verse 23 of chapter 6, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." In chapter 7 he deals with the Christian's relationship to the law. Notice how he ends in chapter 7 verse 25. He says, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Chapter 8 begins with this truth. Look at verse 1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." And chapter 8 ends, "I am convinced that there is no separation from the love of God for those who are loved with the love that is in Christ Jesus."

You see, all of this really goes back to that profound theological section in the second half of Romans 5. It was there that we discovered the legal basis for justification, how can God accept the righteous life and the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ in your place? There's only one way, there's only one way Jesus could secure your justification and it be legal, and that was for God to appoint Jesus as your legal representative in the same way He appointed Adam in the garden. It was the only way He could do it and He did.

You are in Christ, Christian, in this sense, God has appointed Jesus Christ as your permanent legal representative. That means you get the credit for everything He has done and you get the credit for everything He deserves. You are in Jesus Christ. Jesus enjoys the Father's eternal love, and therefore, so do we. Do you understand where your security comes? Do you understand why God's love for you will never change? It's because He's appointed Jesus as your legal representative, and you are in Jesus Christ. He could no more stop loving you than He could stop loving His eternal Son.

Paul said, look at verse 38 again, "I am convinced that nothing will ever separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Let me ask you this morning, and I want you to really answer this question in your mind, are you convinced of that reality? Are you certain of that? Are you confident of that? If not, let me encourage you, first of all, to make sure you understand the true gospel. You've heard it this morning. You've heard it in Milt's testimony earlier. You sang it in the songs that we sang. You've heard me explain that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came, became one of us, took on flesh and blood, became fully human, lived a perfect life, the life you should've lived, then He died to satisfy the justice of God against the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Him, including you if you'll believe in Him. And then God raised Him from the dead to show that He had accepted His work. He took Him back into His presence, He's at the right hand of God, and someday He will return to this planet and He will end the charade that goes on here, and He will judge those who live on this world and those who love Him will be with Him forever. That's the gospel.

Let me just ask you, have you repented of your sins? Have you turned from your rebellion and put your faith in the work of Jesus Christ alone as your only hope of being right with God? If you haven't, you can do that today.

But if you have, then Christian, in response to this, if you're still not certain, if you've done that but you're still not convinced like Paul was convinced, you're still uncertain, you're still not confident, then you need to do two things. Number one, you need to remind yourself of and meditate on the arguments in this chapter for the believer's security because it was these very arguments that the Spirit used to convince Paul of his security, and he has simply shared them with us here. And you will only be convinced if you come to really grasp these truths.

Secondly, you must believe God's Word. Christian, stop living by your feelings, stop listening to yourself and your own flawed thinking, believe the Word of God, believe the gospel, believe God's promises, and live daily in the light of the arguments of God's Word and not your flawed and sinful feelings and your flawed and sinful thinking.

Charles Hodge writes, "In these two verses the confidence of the apostle is expressed in the strongest language. He heaps words together in the effort to set forth fully the absolute inability of all created things, separately or united," listen to this, "the inability to frustrate the purpose of God or to turn away His love from those whom He has determined to save." He will hold me fast. Specifically, His eternal love will hold me fast. Let's pray together.

Our Father, forgive us. We certainly have been convinced through the gospel of Your love for us. We understand that to a certain extent, and yet Father, forgive us that we have been so badly influenced to think poorly of You, for doubting Your benevolence, Your goodness, Your generosity, Your great heart, Your promises, Your Son. Forgive us Father and help us to rehearse these arguments; and by Your grace, may we stop living by our feelings and may we instead start preaching the truth that's in this chapter to ourselves. May we, like Paul, become convinced based on the evidence that nothing will ever separate us from Your love.

And Father, I pray for those here this morning who are not in Christ. Help them to see the beauty of the gospel. Help them to see Your love in Jesus Christ. And may they run today from their sin and rebellion. Like the prodigal son, may they see that You, their Father, their Creator, is good and generous and benevolent, and may they get up from their sin and run to You, and find You running to meet them with open arms. May that happen today. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.