God's Inseparable Love: Facing the Adversary (Part III)
by James Lincoln on August 3, 2003
For the past three weeks I have not been able to free myself from that opening scene in the wilderness where Jesus took on the devil toe to toe and sent Satan packing. Jesus explained what He was doing there in Mt. 12:29 when He said,
"How can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man?" Then he can rob his house.
The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub (Satan). Jesus used this parable to show how it is that He could cast out demons. He entered the strong man's house and bound him up in terms of any influence he might have on Jesus. He seized his property (his demons) and took charge and control over them.
Jesus did not go into the wilderness merely to get away from the distractions of the world and get alone with God in an act of consecration prior to His public ministry. He went out in the wilderness, led (Mark says "driven") out by the Holy Spirit to invade the devil's territory and to serve notice that He would render him powerless and soon crush his head and destroy his influence in the earth.
But Jesus didn't go into the wilderness all decked out in armor and a sword. He went in the appearance of a man who was weakened, vulnerable, alone, and abandoned by the LORD. In his mind, Satan couldn't resist a circumstance he thought was to his advantage. He thought he could use the circumstance to suggest to Jesus that God the Father and His word could not be trusted. He suggested that things would go better if He abandoned God's word and started making things happen himself, or better yet, if He would serve him, He could rule the kingdoms of the world without going to the cross.
Of course the devil underestimated how much Jesus loved His heavenly Father and His word. Jesus wasn't enticed in the least and without hesitation responded in rapid fire to each ridiculous attempt. Why would Jesus not trust God's word to provide food for Him? God had just said to Him. "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." He provided manna and quail for Israel in their wilderness. Why would Jesus need to challenge the Father's love for him and put His Father in a position to prove to Him He loved and cared for Him by jumping off the temple? And why would Jesus want to rule over the kingdoms of the earth that were filled with sin and serve the devil? Remember, the devil showed Jesus the kingdoms and their glory but not the sin and the devastation caused by sin. Why would Jesus want to rule sin-wrecked kingdoms under Satan's ultimate rule? He was coming to destroy sin and crush the head of the serpent.
So, Satan's attempt to suggest that The Father's love and words were unreliable was really pathetic and Jesus decisively turned him away and rendered Satan helpless and powerless against Him.
Satan used two of his favorite weapons against Jesus: fear and accusation. He still does so today. But Jesus loved, cherished and prized the Father and His word more than the words of Satan. And where Adam failed in his temptations, Jesus prevailed.
In Romans 8 Paul brings up the same spiritual conflict. We too, by virtue of our union with Christ, also face the same adversary. And when we go into battle we need to know what our assets are. In 31-39 Paul unpacks two pillars or two rock solid guarantees God has made to His people:
The first pillar is that GOD IS FOR US. When Paul asks the question, "Who is against you?" He doesn't mean that there is no one against you. He means that no one can be successful against you. Now this is absolute. And the reason is not because you are so strong and courageous in your faith that you can't fail. The reason is that if you are a believer, you are united to Christ and just as God is for Christ, His Son, He is now for you. This was the focus of our message last week. The reason true believers will ultimately prevail is because God is for us. And the battle belongs to the Lord. Now, we are the ones in the conflicts of life. But, working outside of us, over us, around us, inside of us, behind us, is God who has promised us that more are those who are for us than those who are against us. This would be my first answer to the question of the assurance or the eternal security of the believer. I would argue just as Paul does here. God is for us.
Then we looked at how God has been for us. Paul says, look at the Immensity of His sacrifice (32). He did not spare His own Son. Look at the Extent of the sacrifice (32). He delivered Him over (at the cross) for all believers. Look at the Unassailable power of His choice (33). How would you explain Paul's point here? How is it that being God's elect and the object of His saving choice guarantee that no charge will stand against us? I think his point is this: No one is able to frustrate or stand against the sovereign choice of God. Is it not his argument that if God has chosen to forgive us, accept us, redeem us, who can frustrate His choice? I don't know how else to interpret his point.
Then Paul says, Look at the Extravagance of His Gift. Jesus has taken in His body all my punishment, all my guilt, and all my corruption, all my blame, all my fault and condemnation so that I might stand before a great and holy God, forgiven, reconciled, justified, accepted, and the beneficiary of unspeakable promises of pleasure forever and ever at His right hand. All of this he says is a free gift of God. So, think on these things: The Immensity of his Sacrifice; the Unassailable power of His choice and the Extravagance of His gift.
And then there is that greatest promise in the Scriptures: If He did not spare His only Son, will He not also along with Him give us all things? Here is the solid and unshakable foundation that is so strong and so secure that there is absolutely no possibility that the promise could ever be broken. And it is this promise that gives us an ever-present strength in times of peril or turmoil. Whatever else gives way, whatever else fails, this all-encompassing promise of His grace will never fail. If you are His child, God would rather have Jesus suffer hell and condemnation than fail you. Beloved, I hope that you can receive a thimble full of such love. No one can ever love you like this. Surely (it would seem) that it is more likely that God would spare His Son and not us. But no, He did not spare His son. And therefore it is impossible that He should spare us the promise for which the Son died—He will freely with Him give us all things. Giving us all things is the easy thing. Creating the world and running it for the good of His people is the easy thing for God to do compared to handing over His Son to ridicule and suffering. But He did. And He says that He did it for us, His people. By "all things" he means all things that will make us like Christ...all things that are good for us... all things that will make us noble, patient and loving. Not anything we can dream up in our imaginations. This must be because not every thing we can imagine is really good for us. We need God for that.
And if all of this is not persuasive enough that no one can successfully stand against you he says that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father (34) interceding and objecting to every charge your adversary would bring against you. The charges against you may be accurate; Satan may be right on target with his analysis of your sin. But when he accuses you, Jesus stands between you and the Father and says. "No, I object to that. We are not going to hear that because I have already been punished for that sin and God will not punish two people for the same crime." God is just. So, He tells the devil to stand down. And just as he slithered away in the wilderness, he slithers away before the bar of God's court when he comes against you.
All of this is to prove to us that no one can successfully stand against you and me and that no one has a case to condemn us. Now listen up. This is so critical to his argument. Notice that your capacity to stand against your adversary is absolutely anchored in the unassailable and irrevocable and certain fact that God is for you. He does not anchor your success in this to your great faithfulness and your innate determination. Now in ch.12 he will call us to our role, but it is critical that we know first how much God has funded those exhortations with the massive pillars of His power and His commitment to fight on our behalf and be our champion. In fact it is this glorious reassurance that inspires us to engage in a battle that we would otherwise run away from.
So I have to ask, "When you face your demons and the adversary, are these the things you remember and savor?" God is for us? You do not have to wait for God to be for you. You are His child. If you repent of your sins, trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord, this glorious and life changing truth becomes yours. In Christ you can face the adversary knowing that you will prevail because it is impossible for God to lose any battle against any adversary. This is the first massive pillar of our assurance.
The Inseparable Love of Christ for His People
Now the Second Massive Pillar of his encouragement to us in our struggles against the demons and the adversary begins in verse 35. Here, Paul moves away from the battle God is fighting for us in Christ in the courtroom of heaven --where he has reminded us that Jesus is our justifier, defender, champion and advocate-- he now call us to recognize and trust that God's love for us is an inseparable love. This massive Pillar of assurance is just as unassailable and secure as His advocacy on our behalf.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul piles up every possible threat to the constancy of God's love for us that he can imagine. He lists two sets of possible threats and after the first set he explains why they will all fail to separate us from God's love.
The First set of Potential Threats (35-36)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword.
Notice that he begins here by telling us that the ground of our assurance is the love that Christ has for us. In verse 32, the massive pillar of our assurance is the fact that no one less than God is for us. Now, this second Pillar is the irrevocable, unassailable and unquenchable love Jesus has for His bride or His people. So, our assurance of His constant love is in the character and constancy of Christ love for us. So, right at the beginning we can ask, "What are the chances that Christ will fail inHhis constancy and character?" How about ZERO? Again our assurance is not anchored in our love for Him. It is anchored in His love for us and it is that love that funds our love for Him. John said, we love Him because He first loved us.
Next, Paul lists the first of seven potential threats to that love:
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword.
These can be summarized by the difficulties of life or life as a Christian. Paul can say this by experience because he experienced every one of them (2Cor. 11:26-27 & 12:10). He can testify that none of these things cut him loose from the love of Christ.
Also, these are difficulties God's people have always been exposed to and they never disrupted God's love for them (Heb.11). That's Paul's argument in verse 36, he quotes from Psalm 44:22. I know we don't seek these things out, but the truth is that because Christ loves us so much, He is committed to making us noble people; people like Christ. And there is no such thing as nobility without serious suffering. So, instead of cutting us off from His love, the difficulties He ordains for us only serve to make us more like Jesus. We need to learn to say with Joseph in Gen.50:22, "What you mean for evil God means for good." A Christian asked me the other day how God could let such difficult things happen to His people. Then he listed how worthy his friend was (as if the more worthy you are the more exempt you become from difficulties). However, if that is true then Paul and Jesus Himself were not all that worthy. It sounds to me like God was honoring his friend to walk for a while in the shoes of Christ. What could be more honorable than that? Things that appear on the surface to contradict the love of Christ for us indeed turn out to actually serve His love for us.
In verse 37 Paul tells us why. And this is an absolutely amazing and glorious promise.
"In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer
through Him who loved us."
Now, I used to think this promise was that I would experience victory and a conscious sense of prevailing in every difficulty. But I don't think that is what he means. He actually promises more than this. So, look, not only are the difficulties of life not able to disconnect us or separate us from the love of Christ, but with respect to them we are more than conquerors or victors over them. In other words, these extreme difficulties not only are unable to detach us from God's love; they actually serve to work toward our good. I just love this. And we must learn to say with Joseph, "What you mean for evil, God means for good." This is true in every extremity of life (8:28). Ps. 84:11 "No good thing does He withhold from those who fear Him." Again, is it because we grasp what is going on? Is it because we can see the good in it? Is it because we are stoically numb to any the pains of life? Of course not. Paul says it is through Him who loved us. None of these things will ever separate the true child of God from Christ's love for him because Christ loves Him - period. We may not sense the victory. We may not feel victorious. We may not see how we are becoming victorious. We may only see the dark clouds of struggle. But as John Bunyan wrote in Pilgrim's Progress, "Only the dark clouds have rain in them." Regardless of our perceptions or our understandings, or our own progress. Paul says that we are more than victorious over all distresses and difficulties. Amazing love, how can it be! Even our sins will be used to humble us before God and His glory. And we can rest even when our souls are in turmoil and distress because the grounds for our victory is this promise and the unassailable love of Christ for His people. Paul says that we are more than conquerors in all of this and nothing can stop God's promise.
OK, the last list is in 38-39. Here Paul moves from asking rhetorical questions to his personal convictions about all this.
38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
On the basis of such massive pillars of God's promise and commitment to be FOR US (all the ways He has so graciously proven that); on the basis of the massive and unshakable pillar of Chris's protective and irrevocable love and covenant to us, Paul now declares his final list of things that have no power to sever His people from Christ's love.
1. "Neither life not death". Could the scope get any bigger? No matter what state of being you may find yourself in: dead or alive. It doesn't matter. Christ love for you is immutable.
2. "Neither angels or demons" No spiritual beings. Nothing in the spirit world can separate you from Christ's love.
3. "Nothing present nor future" There is no dimension of time and in verse 39 no dimension of space "Neither height nor depth" that can threaten Christ's love for you.
4. "Nor powers" There will be no display of power or wonders by anyone anywhere that can threaten our union and the permanency of Christ's love for his people.
2 Thess 2:9-12
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders,
5. And then to make sure that if someone might come up with some other possible threat that he has not mentioned, Paul says, "nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us fro the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
What more could be said or done to prove God is for us and that His love for us is unassailable?
1. "Is it wise to give people, especially young believers, such eternal and secure assurance? Won't they take advantage of such assurance and sense they are free to sin?
First, I can't and don't want to question Scripture. All I have done here is made Paul's argument. But there is a certain logic to this question. That is... if you leave out conversion. If you leave out the fact that when you become a Christian you are born again, that your heart gets melted by such love and grace, that your values change and that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your heart. If you leave out that All things become new, that you are a new creation in Christ, that you have a new heart, therefore you have new values, loves, hates and new appetites, that might be possible. But Grace not only acquits, it also transforms. If you have been converted by such love and power, there will be no lasting satisfaction in pursuing a life contrary to your new heart and nature. So, my answer to this question is, "No" we should not withhold such precious promises in the fear that we could take advantage of them. They are themselves the love that bends and melts our hearts His way.
2. But some will say, "All this is is rue nothing can separate us from the love of Christ but can't we separate ourselves from His love? Isn't our free choice to reject an implicit exception?
OK, but let me respectfully ask, "Why doesn't Paul raise this exception?" And when he says, "No created thing", are we ourselves not created things? In this context when he says, "nothing", it can fairly be interpreted to mean just that (without exception). I say this because he has explicitly and thoroughly listed every eventual possibility. So, I would say, "No, we cannot separate ourselves from such love. And one reason is that because our hearts have been born again and converted by such love, true believers will find no ultimate satisfaction in separating from His love. In addition to the fact that we are "kept by Jesus" (Jude 1) and His power we will not want to stay away for very long from His love.
Now having said that, I want you to know that there are believers who love the Lord more sacrificially, sincerely, and more thoroughly than me who disagree with me. They are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. But all I can do is ask you to look at the grounds Paul uses for such assurance. 1. God is for you and 2. Christ loves us with an inseparable love and He promises saying, "I will lose none that the Father has given to me." And I think that will move a true believer to love Him more, not less. This is a love we did not earn. Therefore it is a love we cannot lose.
3. Why does Paul go on and on about God's goodness and His unfathomable and unassailable love?
He does so because the devil's fundamental accusation against God is that He is not good to His people. Remember what he said to Eve in the garden: "Did not God say that you couldn't eat of any tree in the garden?" He exaggerated the prohibition. There was only one tree off limits. The devil said, "When you eat, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God." Again he was suggesting that God was withholding good blessings from her. But God says in Ps.84:11, "No good thing does God withhold from those who fear Him." Paul knows that the devil's strategy is to make us suspicious of God's goodness. So, when you are tempted by such nonsense, remember these words of assurance. And when you have been converted by such staggering promises and when your heart has been melted by such love, sinning against such love will no longer satisfy you. No one can love you like Jesus! And nothing can separate a believer from the love of God in Christ!