Ultimate Safety (Romans 8:31-39)
I. Climbing the Cliff
Picture, if you will, a teenage boy who heads out to the desert with his friends, just to mess around. After exploring a while on ATVs, they discover a rugged, desert canyon with a sheer cliff face rising almost 200 feet from where they stand. The young man boasts about climbing the cliff, and in response, his friends pester him until he actually does it. But almost half way up, the climb becomes dangerous: cacti growing in the cracks, crumbling rocks, nests of insects, hot surfaces exposed to the sun. The boy's anxiety begins to rise. He slowly makes his way to a ledge of sorts, and hugs the cliff face. He feels trapped.
After some time, while his friends continue to goad him from below, the young man suddenly hears a voice from above. He looks up to see his father, hanging over the top of the cliff, lowering down a rope and harness. The boy is flooded with relief. As he attaches the harness, his father lets him know there's not enough rope to lower him down, so he'll have to keep climbing. While the dangers remain, with the secured harness and his father's encourage-ments, the boy is able to make the arduous climb and arrive safely at the top; exhausted, but profoundly grateful.
Now, as you think about that illustration, I want you to ask, “At what times was the young man not safe? At what point was he safe?” Keep that in mind as you turn over in God's word to Romans chapter 8. We'll be focusing on verse 31-39 this morning.
Learning to be safe is an important part of growing up, isn't it. We teach our children about hot stoves, about broken glass, and about how to look both ways before crossing the street. Why? To help them stay safe. But in a fallen world like ours, as fallen people like us, our perspective on safety can be critically injured; it can be damaged in a variety of ways. Why does that matter? Because if we don't genuinely know what is safe and what is unsafe, if we struggle with a kind of 'depth perception' when it comes to safety, when we struggle to feel safe, it can leave us fearful, confused, defensive, doubtful, discouraged, restless, frustrated, isolated, paralyzed. It can drive us to all sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy solutions as we search for some sense, some semblance of security.
This morning, I believe God wants to remind each of us about the ultimate safety that is available to us through Jesus. Interested? Let's take a look at what Romans 8 reveals.
II. The Passage: “Who Shall Separate Us” (8:31-39)
Romans chapter 8 is one of the most significant chapters in all the Bible. It represents a climax of sorts. Beginning in chapter 1, the Apostle Paul has had one grand and glorious theme: the gospel, that is, the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Paul's explains this emphasis, beginning in 1:16... For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. He goes on in chapter 5 to explain that this is good news for sinners, since it is good news that we can be “justified by faith” (that means acquitted of all charges), that we can therefore have “peace with God”, that we can obtain “access by faith into [God's ever-available, ever-sufficient] grace”, and that we can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:1, 2).
How is all this possible? Because, (5:8) God demonstrated “his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This means, (5:9) “we have now been justified by [Christ's] blood” and will “be saved by him from the wrath of God.” This is why Paul goes on to conclude in 8:1... There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
But in spite of this amazing news, Paul acknowledges in 8:18, “the sufferings of this present time”. From the phrase “the will of God” in verse 27, the Apostle goes on in verse 28-30 to explain what may seem like a tension between God's rescue and the reality of suffering. This is what he tells his readers (and this what God wants us to understand):
And we know that for those who love God all things [even things that are far from good... all things] work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
So the incomparable reality of these gospel blessings and gospel promises is exactly what Paul has in mind when he writes Romans 8:31–39. He asks...
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  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. [Amen? Amen!]
Consider Paul's initial question, “What then shall we say to these things?” This is Paul-ese for “What are the everyday implications of these amazing truths for you and me?” And he goes on to spell out these implications. I see three parts in what Paul has laid out for us here. Let's spend a few minutes on each of those.
First, notice that because God is for us, every threat is ultimately empty, but every heart is ultimately full. “God for us” is Paul's way of summing up the greatest blessing of the gospel, and therefore, ultimately, every blessing and every promise of the Good News. Is God for you? Yes, if you belong to Christ by faith. But how can Paul say, “who can be against us”?
Well, Paul is NOT saying that followers of Jesus will not deal with opposition, antagonism, threats, ridicule, hostility, etc. No. There certainly have been and certainly will be people “against us”. What Paul is saying is that though we face opposition, we will not be stopped. Though we face ridicule, we will not be shamed. Though we face threats, we will not be crushed. Though we face injustice, we will not be disappointed. But hold on. Not “stopped” in what sense? How not “crushed”?
We'll get to that in just a minute. Before we do, consider verse 32. Yes, sometimes we feel unsafe because of the antagonism of others. But there are other times when feeling safe or unsafe is connected to loss. Maybe the world feels unsafe because you've suffered profound loss. Maybe the world feels unsafe because you're dealing with a profound hunger (a hunger for hope, for help, for wisdom, for rest, for connection, for purpose, for love), but instead of finding satisfaction, you're hunger deepens; the hollowness deepens.
Listen to Paul's reassurance in verse 32. This is from the New Living Translation: Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? If God provided what is most precious to Him, to meet our most pressing need, how could we doubt his perfect provision, according to his perfect wisdom, in his perfect timing, for the rest of our genuine needs... both in this life and the next?
But we are also reminded here that, second, because God is for us, no religious verdict or personal failure can subvert our eternal standing. Notice that the issues in verses 33 and 34 are accusation and condemnation. You can imagine Jewish persecutors or Roman authorities bringing false charges against believers, threatening civil... or even divine punishment. But I also think this speaks to inward conflicts. Which of us doesn't wrestle at times with a heavy conscience and bouts of self-condemnation.
Let's be clear, Paul is not saying here that Christians are never guilty of wrongdoing or should not be condemned in private or personal settings for unrepentant sin. Paul is speaking here about our ultimate standing before God. Follower of Jesus, please hear this: no earthly or inward deliberation can ever have the last word on your spiritual standing and eternal destiny, for “it is God who justifies”. It is no longer about what YOU deserve. “Christ Jesus is the one who died... [and wonderfully]—more than that, who was raised...”. It is no longer about YOU pleading your case or justifying yourself. It's about Christ, “who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
And it's this emphasis on Jesus that brings us to the third part of this powerful passage. And this is the key: because God is for us, nothing can separate from the ultimate safety of His love in Christ.
Notice how Paul (as we talked about last time) acknowledges, in verses 35 and 36, the role of suffering in the life of every child of God. It is, of course, understandable when anyone feels unsafe in the midst of “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword”. But being in unsafe situations like those, even the most painful and most dangerous of situations, does not mean we are not ultimately safe.
This is why Paul, in verse 37, can describe believers as “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” No earthly defeat can ever reverse the eternal victory that is ours because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus, in light of these verses, I think we can say...
Ultimate safety is to be sheltered by and showered with the unchanging, ever-giving love of God, secured eternally by our firm anchor, Jesus Christ.
Why is that ultimate safety? Because what could be more dangerous than the absence of such love? The loss of such love? The rejection of such love, in favor of counterfeits? For those who do not know this love, who are not in this love, are presently and eternally vulnerable to that which is most dangerous and most destructive.
Consider just how reassuring these words really are, especially in light of the situations, the people, the memories, the questions, the pressures, that can cause you to feel unsafe...
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.
III. Held by the Father Above
Like that scared boy on the cliff face, have you experienced the Father's intervention? Though the climb is difficult, are you looking up, listening to his encouraging voice? Are you looking up, comforted by the fact that you are held up by his strong hands? He will not let go... ever.
Brothers and sisters, friends, that is what it means to be safe, truly safe, ultimately safe. Only when you know that safety, only as you meditate on that safety, only as you embrace, more and more, the reality of that safety, will earthly safety come into perspective. No, God does not guarantee us earthly safety. But he does guarantee, that through whatever comes, we are safe in his hands; that we are held by the Father above.
No, this is not a 'grin-and-bear-it-till-you-get-to-heaven' kind of thing. According to 5:3, we really can “rejoice in our sufferings”, knowing that, (8:28), “God causes all things to work together for [our] good” (NASB). We really are “more than conquerors” in the midst of the struggles, and it is possible to experience that victory.
So why are there so many, even so many Christians, who, deep down, do not feel safe? In many cases, it's because they were hurt badly at some point in the past. This means though they can understand, and to some extent, appreciate God's safety, unless they can work through those wounds, they will continue to feel unsafe.
How does one work through such wounds? Well, understanding the ultimate safety of God in Jesus can go a long way in helping someone open up and talk about those wounds with a trustworthy friend who's willing to listen and encourages them in these very things. Please don't hesitate to contact if you have that need this morning.
However you struggle with this issue, please take time to consider what God has revealed. Where is fear holding you back? Why are your 'walls' up so high? What is God saying to you through your hard times? What are you forgetting about the blessings and promises of the gospel? Wherever you are, it's time to look up and listen to the Father's voice. It's time to either feel the rope or take the rope. It's time to talk with him about the climb... about the struggle. Will you do that even now? He's listening. His love is the safety you need. Let's pray.