‘Who Shall Separate Us?’
By Steven Botha
The Good News, May 1984
God wants you to succeed!
More than anything else, God wants you to fulfill your incredible human potential and be born into His very Family as an immortal spirit being!
Regular readers of The Good News know that the human destiny is tremendously greater than most people realize. Throughout history, God has worked with small groups of people for special purposes. He is doing the same today.
And our Father in heaven has never called a person to failure. He is totally committed to our success.
As true Christians, though, we all know that we must constantly face troubles and difficulties, many of them intense. Could these difficulties cause us to fail? Could problems destroy us?
The apostle Paul asked the same question. Notice Romans 8:35. Paul wrote: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
It’s a life-or-death question! Paul lists seven types of severe difficulties that God’s people on occasion have to endure. Will such pressures cut you off from God? Will they prevent you from winning your Christian struggle? Let’s look at these problems and discover how we can keep them from destroying our relationship with God.
Our Christian trials
Trials are common to all of God’s people. The apostle Paul himself endured some severe trials, and lists tribulation as the first type of problem that might separate us from God.
Writing to the Church at Corinth about his own experiences, Paul says, “We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, that we despaired even of life” (II Corinthians 1:8).
Here was the apostle of Jesus Christ suffering such intense trials that he wondered if he and his traveling companions would even survive! But did these problems destroy them? Of course not. The trials strengthened Paul. He tells us these trials taught the group “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (verse 9).
So rather than destroy, these afflictions inspired trust in God. Paul was able to put the difficulties he encountered in proper perspective. Are you? Tribulation can and will build our relationship with God, if we react properly to it.
The same can be said for distress. The Greek word from which distress is translated is stenochoria, which literally means “a narrowing.”
Perhaps you have been on a road that started out as a paved road, then turned into a gravel road, then into a dirt lane and finally ended up as a track through the brush. The apostle Paul uses this word for “narrowing” to illustrate what happens on occasion in our lives.
Have you ever felt that life was closing in on you? Mental and emotional pressures designed by the archenemy, Satan the devil, can destroy you. But do they have to?
Notice King David’s response: “Hear me when I call, 0 God of my righteousness! You have relieved me when I was in distress” (Psalm 4:1). David said God gave him breathing room — “You have relieved me.” God gave David the strength to cope with pressures and grow as a result of difficulties.
Paul says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10). A contradictory statement? No. Paul is saying that at times of vulnerability in your life — at times when, despite your best efforts, you cannot extract yourself from distress — God will come to your assistance, if you rely on Him and strive to obey Him.
What about persecution? Paul wrote to Timothy, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).
This is not a pleasant thought. None of us wish to be persecuted. We want to be liked and accepted by the society around us. Unfortunately, we often face opposition and even personal attacks from employers, fellow workers, school officials, government, even our own relatives who, unconverted, do not understand or agree with what we do.
However, Jesus warned His followers, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). He added, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22).
Should we allow persecution to devastate us? No. But that’s the only way it can — if we allow it to. If we are obeying God’s laws and have done nothing to unnecessarily provoke others against us, persecution serves as a reinforcement that we are on the right track. It builds spiritual muscle — and gets rid of spiritual flabbiness.
Notice what our Savior, Jesus Christ, went on to promise in Matthew 24:13: “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Nothing, perhaps, shows us more clearly how deeply committed we are to Jesus Christ than persecution.
When persecution comes along, we learn how solid our convictions are. One thing is absolutely sure, though: we can unequivocably depend on Jesus Christ to stand with us during any persecution we may suffer for His sake (Matthew 10:19-20).
So once again, we find that a pressure that could spiritually cripple us can actually strengthen us instead.
In want and danger
We are living in an age of dwindling resources. Severe shortages, which a few years ago were generally restricted to Third- and Fourth-World nations, are now affecting more and more of humanity.
Bible prophecy clearly states that these shortages will continue and intensify. How are God’s people going to fare during trying times to come?
First, let’s consider David’s words: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine” (Psalm 33:18-19). For reinforcement, the message is repeated in Psalm 37:25: “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.”
King David enjoyed absolute confidence that God would supply the needs of His people. Of course, David could reflect on history. He knew God miraculously fed the nation of Israel in the wilderness. He no doubt also recalled how God had supplied Israel’s need during his own day.
Jesus Christ reminds us that God will sustain us. Notice Matthew 6:25-33. Jesus tells us not to be overly anxious about what we will eat or drink or what we will wear. After all, the birds of the air are fed even though they don’t plant or harvest.
Then Jesus adds: “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (verses 28-29).
The message is plain: Jesus Christ and God the Father promise that our needs will be met. And not only will our needs for physical sustenance be met, but we’re also promised protection from peril and sword. In Psalm 34:7 David says, “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”
God assigns His mighty angels, who serve as ministering spirits, to watch over His people. Add to this that God says He will give us peace of mind: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Once again, we are assured that none of these difficulties can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.
Not called to failure
We have not been called to failure!
Paul understood that and emphasized it repeatedly. Look at I Corinthians 12:18 for instance. Here Paul tells us, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” It pleases God that a person is a part of the body of Christ. Paul told the church at Rome, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
After God calls someone He doesn’t stop and say: “Oops! What have I done?” Absolutely not. He is thrilled at the calling of a potential son of His. The angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10).
Once God has called someone, He is totally dedicated to his or her success. Paul tells us to look to Jesus Christ, who is the “author and [please note!] finisher“ of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). In the same letter to the Hebrews, Paul adds another encouraging note, when He reminds us that God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Let’s return now to Paul’s question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
Paul was confident that no external pressure could separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. In Romans 8:38-39 he says: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How fantastically reassuring!
God has given us strong encouragement that, once He begins to work with us, He intends to see us through to success — birth into God’s Family (Philippians 1:6). No external force can stop us. There is one way we can fail, however.
We can stop ourselves!
It would be unrealistic not to focus on a solemn warning Paul gave: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
No outside pressures could ever separate us from God — small or great — long or short — even all the power of Satan himself (God certainly won’t stop us — He is doing everything to help us succeed). But even so, we could separate ourselves from God. If we neglect our relationship with God, we can cause ourselves to lose out on the tremendous future that can be ours.
God is totally committed to our success. He wants us to be part of His wonderful Family. It behooves us not to neglect salvation!