No Charge... No Condemnation... No Separation
The text for this message is Romans 8:31-39.
Imagine what it was like for Casey Anthony to sit in the courtroom, day after day, and hear all the accusations and evidence presented against you. Or imagine what it was like for Michael Vick facing charges of animal cruelty. Or for Saddam Hussein sitting in the courtroom, knowing you face a grisly judgment.
But, dear Christians, you don’t really need to imagine that much do you? You know what it’s like to be in their shoes. Oh, you may not be facing prison time or the death penalty, but you know what it’s like—for you are constantly sitting in a courtroom, hearing judgments against you—judgments from within, judgments from without. Daily you are judged by your friends, co-workers, employers, and family members. You are “let go” because your productivity doesn’t measure up to others. You are constantly compared to your brother or sister. You are always being told how great “so-and-so’s” spouse is—which is a backhand way of saying that you’re not so great.
And the judgments that come from within—your own conscience—are even more severe. You are constantly making comparisons with others and find yourself falling short of your own expectations and ideals. Again and again your conscience burdens you with your failures, your selfishness, your thoughtlessness, your laziness, your wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. You know your sin, and it is constantly before you.
Judgments from within and judgments from without. Such a life leaves one parched. Such judgments leave one certain of temporal and eternal punishments.
To borrow the words of St. Paul, “What then shall we say to these things?”
There seems to be only one answer—“I am guilty.”
In light of this, these words of our text have always astounded me. St. Paul is no different than you or I. Just one chapter before this one he confesses his own inner conflict: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7). How can he say then with such confidence that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God—not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword—not death nor life, angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth…?
We may very well question the validity of this assertion when people become angry at God and fall away… or when tribulations come, and life in the Church fades away… or when worries about the future choke out the faith sowed in the believer. Christians do fall away on account of these very things. Sadly, we’ve all seen it happen. Like a school of piranhas—these servants of sin surround and swarm and slaughter the souls of the saints.
What an amazing statement we have in verse 39 as St. Paul wraps this all up by saying, “For I am sure that… [nothing]… in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Think about that for a moment. Nothing in all of creation. Not the visible things. Not the invisible things. Not those things known since man first walked the earth. Not those things that are yet to be discovered. None of the sin that has infected man sin the Fall. Nor the new perversion that creeps into society. Nothing in all creation. Nothing is left out.
Take away all the created things, and what are you left with? God—the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This one almighty God is the Creator—the Creator of all things. None of these created things can separate us from the love of God because He (the Creator), is greater than all of creation.
This is reflected in our Collects when we pray through Jesus Christ who “lives and reigns to all eternity”—in our liturgies when confess that Jesus “rules and reigns” over all things. It’s all under Him. It’s all under His control.
Now, it is true, all of creation, fallen in sin, wages war against God; but it cannot overcome God’s love—that love which is “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, it cannot undo Calvary. It cannot spoil Good Friday. It cannot reverse the resurrection. And it cannot steal away God’s grace revealed and given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ has been offered up as the sacrifice for all sin—once and for all—and nothing in all creation can take that away.
That’s not to say that this life will be easy sledding. We still live in a fallen world. Christians are not immune to tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword. St. Paul experienced all of these in his life. And we, also, are regarded by the enemies of our Lord as sheep to be slaughtered. Since the devil and His minions can no longer strike the Shepherd, they will do their very best to scatter the sheep. Since they cannot conquer God, the focus of their attention shifts to you. Our three great enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—will take hold of the fallen creation and use it to try and lead you “into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”
Just as the devil used the fruit to tempt Adam and Eve… just as he used the rocks and hunger to tempt Jesus… so also the creation is constantly being used as a weapon against you. It’s not that the creation (in and of itself) is wicked or evil, but the devil uses it for his evil purposes, chiefly to snatch you away from God, to separate you from His salvation. To lead you into unbelief.
You see, that is the one thing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord: unbelief. Famine, nakedness, unemployment, and all the other troubles that are bound to happen in this world hell-bent on destruction can’t affect your standing before God. Only unbelief does.
That’s why when you contemplate troubles to come or are overtaken by them, the question Paul would have you ask from this text is not, “How am I going to endure this or that trouble?” The answer to that is, “The Lord will deliver you, for you are among His people.” The better question is, “How might I be protected and delivered from unbelief, which would separate me from God?”
Make no mistake: the point of this text is that the devil will use every last trial on every last day to try to wreck your faith. Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” because the devil is going to use every trouble he can to accuse you and say, “God is against you. God’s got something against you. The Lord’s still holding you guilty for something you’ve done.” And Paul asks, “Who is to condemn?” because the devil would love to grind you down until you despair and think that you are condemned—that there is no hope in God for you.”
So the question to be asked is, “How might you be protected and delivered from unbelief? How might your faith be strengthened so that you’re always comforted that God is for you?”
The answer is as obvious as it is humble: the means of grace—God’s Word and His Supper for you, His baptized children. These seem like such little things and quaint rites when compared against the fears and pains that trouble can bring, because we are always tempted to view death and destruction as far more powerful than God and His grace. But if your faith is to be strengthened, go to where God strengthens faith—His Word and His Supper. God grants you this ongoing diet of heavenly food so that you can be sure that He is for you. He’s not just for you, as in “on your side.” He is “for you,” as in “present in His means of grace.”
You’ll always be tempted to think of the Lord as the football coach on the sidelines, who sends in the play, puts the ball in your hand and then hopes that you don’t get stopped or too hurt along the way. But the Lord is not simply on the sidelines urging you to victory; He is with you. He already joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism. He dwells in you through the hearing of His Word. He comes to you in His Supper and says, “So that you may be certain that I am for you, here is My body and blood, given and shed for you.”
God who is for you is also with you. And because He shares His cross with you, He shares His victory with you. Therefore, even when assaulted by all sorts of trouble you can be sure: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Conquerors—through Jesus Christ.
I’m not sure what the New Year will bring you. There will joys. There will be sorrows. There will be victories. And there will be setbacks. There may well be tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. Only God knows.
But that is the Good News. God does know. The Lord is in control. The Lord is for you. The Lord is with you. The Lord loves you. And because He does, I am sure of this: Nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.