The difference it makes to know that you're loved

One evening per week, I teach an online class on "biblical counseling" to pastors in training. When appropriate, I share case studies with them regarding counseling issues that I've directly observed, experienced, or read about. Recently, I shared a case study with them about a woman who was struggling with a high amount of negative self-talk. She was always putting herself down and minimizing her value in God's eyes. In connection with some of her background experiences and family history, she regularly engaged in preaching the false message to her heart that she was unloved and unlovable. She preached this message to herself so frequently that she became convinced it was true, and unfortunately, she tried to soothe that emotional pain in several very unhealthy ways.

One of the messages that God goes to great lengths to communicate is that He loves His children. Regardless of what your past history or present day struggles might look like, this is a truth that He wants you to understand and embrace. Knowing you're loved makes a big difference in your life. It impacts your perspective toward your circumstances, your relationships, and your eventual future. It also impacts the way you relate to God Himself. Romans 8:31-39 demonstrates the depth of God's love for His children with the goal of thoroughly convincing our hearts of this truth.

I. Who can come against those God loves?

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? 
— Romans 8:31-32, ESV

Rhetorical questions can be useful to ask when we're trying to invite others to wrestle with deeper concepts. Throughout this portion of Scripture, Paul employs this approach to help the readers of these verses do just that, and he asks us to wrestle with the reality of what it looks like when God is "for" us.

In this world, there will be plenty of things that may set themselves against you. There are people who will oppose you, ideologies that might be working against your best interests, adversarial circumstances, and even spiritual forces that might come against you. But how do each of these forces of opposition stack up against the power of God? Is there any person, power, government, or life circumstance that possesses a greater strength than our God who spoke the universe into existence and upholds it by His powerful word? If God is for us, who can be against us? No one.

But even with this knowledge firmly planted in our hearts, we may still feel like major portions of our effort and energy are being spent on survival. We have daily needs. We have long-term needs. Does God see these needs? Do these concerns rise to His level of attention?

Look at what Romans 8:32 tells us about God's desire to meet our needs. "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?"  Our greatest need was new spiritual life and a restored relationship with our Creator. To meet that need, God gave Jesus Christ, His Son, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin.

“He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.”
— 1 John 2:2, NLT

If God is so concerned about what we need that He's willing to give His own Son for us, how much anxiety should we allow ourselves to internalize about our other needs? How much anxiety should we allow ourselves to internalize about future challenges, seasons of adversity, or trials? I think the proper amount would be "zero" because none of these things can successfully come against those whom God loves.

I read a story recently of a family that just purchased a new vehicle. Their older car was still useful, but it wasn't worth very much. Instead of trading it in, they decided to place an online ad that listed it for a few hundred dollars less than it was worth. Then they waited for an interested buyer, with a genuine need, to come along so they could surprise that person by giving them the vehicle for free. A single mother of three children reached out to them. To her shock, they blessed her with the car and they also hid an additional $500 in the glove box for her to discover later.

If we, with our limited resources, can meet each others needs and help each other overcome adversity like that, how much more can our Lord do on our behalf and for our good?

II. Who can accuse or condemn God's children?

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. 
— Romans 8:33-34, ESV

While demonstrating God's great love for His children, Paul transitions his comments to an additional form of adversity and opposition. In these verses, he speaks about the reality of accusation and condemnation. Have you experienced either of these challenges throughout the course of your life? I suspect you have because this is often a daily reality for some Christians.

Something I've noticed, by observation and personal experience, is that accusation and condemnation can often come in conjunction with obedience. I realize that seems really odd, but it's definitely been true in my life. There have been several seasons of my life when the Lord has made it clear to me that I was supposed to obey Him in particular areas that stretched my faith and involved some big changes. I have noticed a recurring pattern in those moments. Each time I said "yes" to God, I also had to deal with some level of worldly accusation or condemnation. I experienced that when I first agreed to become a pastor. I experienced it when I became involved in church planting, and I experienced it when I agreed to oversee a ministry that helps plant churches on a greater scale.

When those seasons come, we need to understand the source of those accusations as well as the remedy. Revelation 12:10 tells us that Satan is the "accuser" of God's people, and I believe he inspires others to join him in bringing accusation and condemnation against those who live for Christ's glory. But at the same time, let's also remember the remedy for unholy accusation and condemnation. Jesus who died to pay for our sins, and rose in victory over sin, Satan, and death, intercedes on our behalf to the Father who declares us righteous. Unholy accusation and condemnation cannot stick to the one whom God has already justified.

So nothing can ultimately come against, successfully accuse, or eternally condemn God's children. This is convincing evidence of God's love, so Paul takes a moment to elaborate on that concept by also explaining that nothing can separate God's children from the love of Christ.

III. Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

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.”
— Romans 8:35-36, ESV

Won't it be nice when the day comes and we no longer experience suffering? That day is coming, but in the meantime we need to realize that in this world we will experience things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the threat of physical violence. This is the sad reality of what it looks like to live in a fallen world. But even though these things may come, they are only temporary challenges when viewed next to the bigger picture of our life story.

And even though these challenges may weigh on our hearts, they only have the capacity to bring us momentary pain. They don't have the power to separate us from the eternal love of Jesus Christ. Paul emphasizes that there is no earthly power or circumstance with that capacity. In fact, as we see demonstrated through Romans 8, Paul makes a point to demonstrate this truth from just about every angle imaginable.

Several years ago I heard the story of a tragedy that took place in the family of Christian musician, Steven Curtis Chapman. His son was a new driver, and while he was backing his car out of their driveway, he accidentally ran over his little sister who had wandered behind the car without him seeing her. Sadly, she later died, but as Chapman picked his daughter up and placed her in the car to race her to the hospital, he said he felt compelled to yell to his son, "Son, I love you!" He knew his son was going to be emotionally devastated and he wanted to assure him that even in the midst of this painful and consequential mistake, his love for him wouldn't change. Isn't that precisely what the Lord is using a passage like this to tell us about His love for us? Those who trust Christ cannot be separated from His love.

IV. God wants us to live with confidence regarding His perspective toward His children

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.
— Romans 8:37-39, ESV

I love how this chapter of Scripture resolves. We're told here that we aren't helpless victims to the struggles of living in this world. Rather, through Christ who loves us, we're made conquerors who do battle with the power He graciously supplies.

This hopeful portion of Scripture is actually a passage that I often make a point to read when I'm officiating for funerals. Precisely at the moment when we seem the most helpless, the moment of our physical death, we can still maintain confidence in God's love. Death can't separate us from His love. Spiritual beings like angels and demons can't separate us from His love. Present and future tribulation cannot separate us from His love. Not a single thing in all creation can separate those who trust in Christ from the love of God that is anchored for us in Christ.

It's a love that never depended on us to begin with. We couldn't be good enough to deserve it, and we certainly can't be humanly perfect enough to maintain or preserve it. It's an unlimited, unconditional form of love that God delights to show to all those whom He has rescued and redeemed through Jesus.

It makes a difference to know that we're loved with this kind of love. When we're operating from a foundation that has the love of God at its base, we approach life differently. Acceptance of this truth impacts the message we preach to our hearts, the manner in which we respond to others, and the perspective we maintain toward the trials and tests we endure.

Be confident in the nature of God's enduring love for His children. Believe that He loves you.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
— 1 John 4:16, ESV

© John Stange, 2019