Watch Now

Deep Grace: God’s Unstoppable Love


God’s Unstoppable Love

Romans 8:31-39


Fear is a powerful, powerful motivator. When we’re afraid, changes happen in our bodies that make us less able to think and more likely to react. I want you to think about something, an object, an actual thing, that you are really, really afraid of. You got it? Ok. Mine is snakes. I hate snakes. If I’m out on our property doing something and I see one, I’ll be 50 feet away before I even realize what’s happened, before I even realize I’ve seen a snake. When I was a teenager I saw one and cleared a 5’ tall bush trying to get away. Fear does that, it makes us reactionary.


The thing is, fear is also normal. It’s something we all experience. Every one of us. My guess is when I asked you to think of something you’re afraid of, you didn’t have a very hard time thinking of something. Psychologists have even come up with some interesting names for some of the weirder things we’re afraid of. is a collection of the names and descriptions of more than 500 fears that a man named Fredd Culbertson has collected and organized. He also sells a poster-size version of the entire list that can be hung on your wall. Mr. Culbertson claims all of the phobias mentioned on his site can be found in reference books or in medical papers.


Among the unusual fears he lists:


Peladophobia: fear of bald people


Geniophobia: fear of chins


Aulophobia: fear of flutes


Entheraphobia: fear of mother-in-law


Pteronophobia: fear of being tickled by feathers


And then there’s “friggatriskaidekaphobia.” That’s the fear of Friday the 13th. It’s named after Frigga, the Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named, and triskaidekaphobia, meaning fear of the number thirteen. Statistically, Friday the 13th isn’t unluckier than any other day, but people are afraid of it.


A study done by the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in 2011 revealed that “17-21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day.” The head of the study said, “It’s been estimated that $800-$900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do.”


Why fear a simple number like 13? Apparently, numerologists considered 12 to a “complete number” because it represents the number of months in a year, the gods of Olympus, the tribes of Israel and the apostles of Jesus. For this reason the number 13 has long been considered unlucky because it is not 12 and thus causes a lot of anxiety in the world when it lands on a Friday.


We face many fears in this world, both real and imagined, so it isn’t surprising that the most frequent biblical command is “fear not.” And yet … we all feel fear. As a country, we’re all afraid right now, but for different reasons. Some of us are afraid of the virus. Others are afraid of government overstep and increasing governmental control. And others are afraid of the economic impact of the shut down. We’re afraid of losing jobs and businesses, of not being able to provide for our families. And then there are the really unfortunate ones who are afraid of all 3.


As we conclude Romans 8 today, St. Paul gives us hope. Now remember, hope isn’t wishful thinking, it is patient but eager expectation. Hope is a trust in something that is very real that has not yet happened. And the hope that Paul offers is hope that nothing that we experience in this life will get the final say. Hope that in Christ we WILL overcome. Turn with me to Romans 8:31-39.


Now, it’s important to notice that nowhere does Paul promise us that we won’t suffer. He doesn’t promise us that we will always be comfortable and well-supplied. He doesn’t promise us that our businesses will always prosper and churches will never close their doors permanently and job will never be lost. He doesn’t promise us that we’ll never be taken advantage of, lied to, lied about, or trampled on. He doesn’t promise that we’ll always be protected from physical or emotional harm. Suffering happens. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” All aspects of life, the good, the bad, and the ugly happen to all of us. Faithful followers of Christ experience fender benders and serious auto accidents, have their property damaged by storms, experience financial hardship and disaster, and contract and die from Covid 19. We are not guaranteed protection from suffering.


And suffering places pressure on us, and we feel vulnerable. We feel physically vulnerable, or financially vulnerable, or psychologically vulnerable, and when we feel vulnerable, we become afraid. We experience fear. And for some of us, when we experience fear, that fear is expressed as anger. Why are we seeing so much anger expressed in society and on social media these days? Because we’re afraid. English author P.D. James said, “Perfect love may cast out fear, but fear is remarkably potent in casting out love.”


Paul is writing to the Roman Christian here, sometime around the year 59, and they were in the midst of some incredibly uncertain times. All Jews and Christians had been summarily expelled from Rome in the year 49. They’d lost their homes, their businesses, their livelihoods. They had been allowed to return 5 years later, in the year 54, so after being expelled from the city roughly 10 years earlier for 5 years, they had been permitted to return, but their lives were destroyed. They had to rebuild. So at the time of Paul’s writing they were about 5 years, give or take a year or two, into that rebuilding. Do you think they still felt vulnerable? Absolutely. What Caesar had done once he could very well do again. Nothing in their lives was secure. And in about 5 more years they would experience an incredibly deadly persecution under Emperor Nero. They may not have realized how far things would go in that persecution, but they could surely see trouble on the horizon.


It is for frightening times, in frightening times, that Paul offers hope. And that hope is based on, built on, two things – God’s work for us in Christ and God’s love for us in Christ. Look at Vv. 32-34.


If God didn’t even hold back the Son, but gave him up on our behalf, how can we think he doesn’t continue to hold us in the palm of his hand even as we face trouble and suffering in this life? Paul is actually drawing on an image from the Old Testament here. In Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to do the unthinkable. Abraham, along with his wife Sarah, now both well into their later years had gone a lifetime without a child of their own. And miraculously, in their old age, God had provided them with a son, Isaac. An heir. The beginning of God’s fulfillment of his promise to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. And now God was asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him. To build an altar, and lay his son on that altar, and offer him as a sacrifice. And Abraham obeyed until God stopped him, providing a lamb to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. In V. 12 we read, “He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”


So why would God ask Abraham to do something as morbid as this? It was a foreshadowing of what God would himself do in Christ, offering his very son. Only in God’s case, the son himself would be the lamb. No other lamb would be provided. God would do for sinful humanity the unthinkable. He would not hold back even the Son. God wants us to recoil in protest at the request God made of Abraham and of Abraham’s obedience, because he wants us to understand the depth of the sacrifice he made for us in Christ. So we may be accused and condemned in this life, in this world, but in the Court of the Kingdom of God no one can accuse us. Why? Because Christ, who died for us, on our behalf, in our place, is our advocate. And because the Father, who is the judge, has already justified us in Christ. We have nothing to fear. People may speak falsely of us in this life. They may speak harshly to us, and they may treat us poorly, but before God we are already justified and have nothing to fear.


When Satan tries to remind us of our past mistakes, the times in the past when we have fallen short, missed the mark … when others throw our past in our faces and wonder how someone like us can do anything good … when we and others wonder how we can be seen as being worthy of love given all that we have done in the past, we need to KNOW, to TRUST, in HOPE, that there is absolutely no condemnation of us in God’s presence because of what Christ has done for us. The prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 50:8-9 says “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.

Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?” That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is, “No one.” And not only does God justify us, declare us righteous, even though in our own strength and humanity we aren’t, he will also vindicate his people. In other words, he will show himself to be faithful before the entire cosmos. And the only answer our detractors, our judges, including Satan himself, will be able to say is “You were right to follow Christ. You were right.”


Our hope in times of fear is based first of all on God’s work for us in Christ. It is also based on God’s love for us in Christ. Look at Vv. 35-39. Absolutely no amount or level of suffering can separate us from God’s love. Nothing in our past can separate us from God’s love. Nothing we are experiencing in our present can separate us from God’s love. And absolutely nothing we will experience in the future can separate us from God’s unstoppable love. No disease. No political regime. No financial collapse. No loss of business or income. No natural phenomenon or catastrophe, no supernatural force, no economic power or pressure, no political power or pressure, no psychological force, no social force can separate us from the love of God. The only thing that can separate us from God’s love is our own decision to turn away, and even then God keeps loving on, calling out to us, offering us forgiveness and grace if we’ll just turn to him.


In his book The Pleasures of God, John Piper shares why God’s love is superior to any love we will find here on earth:


Sometimes we joke and say about marriage, “The honeymoon is over.” But that’s because we are finite. We can’t sustain a honeymoon level of intensity and affection. We can’t foresee the irritations that come with long-term familiarity. We can’t stay as fit and handsome as we were then. We can’t come up with enough new things to keep the relationship that fresh. But God says his joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. He is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasures and honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is trying to get into our hearts what he means when he says he rejoices over us with all his heart.


And add to this, that with God the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite in power and wisdom and creativity and love. And so he has no trouble sustaining a honeymoon level of intensity; he can foresee all the future quirks of our personality and has decided he will keep what’s good for us and change what isn’t; he will always be as handsome as he ever was, and will see to it that we get more and more beautiful forever; and he infinitely creative to think of new things to do together so that there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums.[i] Absolutely nothing can remove God’s loving grip on you. Only you can wrench yourself free and turn your back on him.


Pain is normal. Suffering is normal. And Paul want’s us to understand that. Pain and suffering and difficulty and trial are not proof that God’s hand isn’t on you, or that you have some hidden sin in your life. That CAN be the case, but it often isn’t. Most of the time, its just our existence in this fallen world that causes our suffering. Suffering happens and we aren’t guaranteed protection from it simply because we are following Christ. Now, it’s okay to pray for God to end our suffering, to bring healing and safety and prosperity. But what God is really doing is shaping us into the image of Christ, right? That, and that alone, is ultimately God’s will for our lives, that we accept and receive his grace and forgiveness and that we are shaped into the image of Christ. And sometimes, to do that, God removes other things that we depend on, and when that happens, we get scared. Look closely at V. 31. Paul doesn’t say “Who can be against us?” The answer to that question is “Lots of people, lots of forces.” We have lots of opponents. What Paul says is, “IF GOD IS FOR US, who can be against us?” And the answer there is “No one.” Why? Because absolutely nothing at all can separate us from him and in him we are more than conquerors of everything we’ll face in life. We might still lose our business or our job. We might still lose our loved ones. But in it all, we can be sure of God’s love for us, for death itself cannot separate us from his love.


We pray for God to prop up our dependence on our own ability to earn money and run a business, when he wants us to learn to depend on him, and on him alone. And to learn to depend on him alone, sometimes the other things we rely on, like our financial stability and the size of our savings account, are removed. But when we really, truly depend on Christ alone, when we really live in the knowledge that absolutely nothing and no one we will ever encounter can separate us from God’s forgiveness and love, we are set free to live courageous lives in troubling times. St. John, in 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” And the author P.D. James said, “Perfect love may cast out fear, but fear is remarkably potent in casting out love.” Are we living in fear, or in love? Is God’s perfect love casting out our fear, or is our fear casting out our love and making us angry?


The Christians in Pakistan comprise only 2.5 percent of the total population, just a “fly on the wall” in this officially Islamic nation. (Ninety-seven percent of Pakistanis are Muslims.) The Rev. Munawar K. Rumalshah, a Christian leader in the northern city of Peshawar, reports on the government-endorsed “social and economic suffocation of the Christian community” in Pakistan. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws pose a constant threat for Christians. In addition, Rumalshah said that in his province alone local mobs have publically urinated on Bibles and closed four churches.


However, despite this overt hatred towards Christians, Rumalshah isn’t bitter. Instead, he works for better relationships with his Muslim neighbors. He views the persecution as an opportunity to display Christ’s love to others, even militant Muslims like al-Qaeda members.


Rumalshah summarized how his church responds to persecution: “We clean the wounds of those who hate us and those who would kill us.”[ii]


If God is for us, who can be against us? No one. Why? Because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, and death itself, the ultimate ruin in this life, cannot separate us from his love.

[i] John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Multnomah, 2000), p. 188

[ii] Douglas LeBlanc, “We Clean the Wounds of Those Who Hate Us,” The Living Church News Service (3-8-11)