SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time for year A continues our study of Romans chapter 8.—this extremely rich chapter in Paul’s masterpiece, his letter to the Romans. So the reading for today is from Romans 8, verse 35-39, and it touches on a topic that’s very controversial but that needs to be addressed. And that’s the whole question of what some Christians refer to as assurance of salvation—the idea that once I believe in Jesus and accept Him as Savior, Paul says:
...if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
And so some Christians will argue that what Paul means by that is, once a person believes and confesses, that they can’t do anything to lose salvation. There’s an absolute assurance of salvation or absolute certitude about salvation. And there are lots of different ways that this gets parsed out in various traditions that stem from the Protestant Reformation...that I’m not going to go into. But what is fairly common is that people who take that view of Paul’s idea of salvation is being—teaching a kind of absolute assurance of salvation—that nothing we can do can make us lose it once we truly believe in Jesus. And many people will point to the reading for today, Romans 8:35 and following, which says:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
And the answer is nothing. So I’m going to read through the text. I’m putting that idea first, because in my experience, that’s the most common interpretation of the passage we’re about to read. But I’m going to argue that it’s totally wrong, and so I want you to have that in mind as we read through the text itself. So let’s look at Romans 8:35 and following. Paul says this:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
And then the lectionary skips this verse, but I’m going to include it for the sake of context:
As it is written,
“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
That’s a quote from Psalm 44, verse 22. Now the lectionary picks up again in verse 37:
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 principalities, 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.
Alright, so this passage that I’ve just read is very popular to read at funerals. There’s a very famous Protestant biblical commentator I was just reading, who in his book on the afterlife, talks about how this passage is read at funerals. And rightly so, because it shows that nothing we can do can separate us from the love of Christ. So it’s a beautiful passage about the hope—and not just the hope but the certainty—of salvation for those who truly believe.
And many people when they read the text, that’s how they hear it. And look, he just said:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
...in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so some people will run with that to say, “It doesn’t matter what I do once I believe, whether I commit adultery, whether I steal, whether I fall into some sin of some sort. Whatever might happen after coming to faith...nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.”
Now, that has never been the traditional interpretation of this verse, certainly not among the Church Fathers and in the Catholic tradition...for a few reasons. Number one, and this is important: when Paul gives the list of things that can’t separate us from the love of God, he lists sufferings, not sins. Let me say that again. When Paul lists what won’t be able to separate us from the love of Christ, he lists sufferings, not sins. So notice, what does Paul say? Or actually, let me start by what he doesn’t say, because people read this in the text.
Paul does not say, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall fornication or adultery or theft or murder or blasphemy or idolatry or Sabbath breaking?” No, he doesn’t say any of those things. Notice, he doesn’t list violations of the Decalogue. He doesn’t list sins.
Notice what Paul lists here: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword. These are all things that happen to
us. That’s different than sins that we commit, which would be things like blasphemy, adultery, fornication, theft, murder, so on and so forth. So that distinction is crucial here, because the context—this is important. The context of what Paul is actually speaking about...is he’s addressing Christians living in Rome who may have experienced some persecution, some ostracism, or who may be on the cusp of experiencing persecution or suffering or peril. Or he himself—think about it—was adrift at sea for a night and a day, was beaten in various synagogues, was brought before pagan governors and rulers. He’s faced lots of opposition, lots of tribulation, lots of bad things that have happened to
him. But none of that stuff can separate him—or can separate any Christian—from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
But he’s not talking about sins that people commit. That’s why he quotes Psalm 44 about:
“...we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
He’s not talking about sinners not being able to be separated from Christ because of their sins. He’s talking about saints not being able to be separated from God because of their sufferings. He’s talking about martyrs. In other words, it might look from the outside like a person who is being persecuted or who’s being slaughtered for being a Christian...has been abandoned by God, has been separated from God, has been forsaken. But that’s not true. That’s not the reality. The reality is, Paul says:
No, in all these things…
...namely, in all these sufferings…
...we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
So what Paul is getting at is the fact that although suffering might make it look like you’re defeated in this life, it’s actually precisely through suffering that you become victorious, just as Christ did. Christ is the model here. On Calvary, on the cross, it looks like He failed. It looks like He was forsaken by God. It looks like He was abandoned. But it’s actually precisely through the cross that He is victorious over death.
And it’s fascinating, I was looking at the Greek text here when Paul says:
...in all these things we are more than conquerors…
The Greek is hyper-nikaō
—literally, we are “super-victors.” Hyper
means above or a super upon. And nikaō
is where we get the Greek word...Nike, like Nike shoes, it means victory. Niké
means victory in Greek. So hyper-nikaō
is we are super-victors. So it’s actually precisely through tribulations and suffering that we become super victorious in a transcendent way. That’s the context of Paul’s words.
And look, you don’t have to take my word for it. Just listen to what Paul himself says, because although in Romans 8 he doesn’t list sins...when he does give a list of sins, go to Galatians 5 for a second—in Galatians 5, verse 19-21. When Paul does list sins, he actually does make it very clear that there are certain sins that will
exclude you from the kingdom of God. So this is Galatians chapter 5, verse 19. Paul gives a list of sins. He says:
Now the works of the flesh are plain: [immorality]...
And the Greek word there is porneia
, so it means sexual immorality. It’s sometimes translated fornication, but it’s broader than that. Sexual immorality...
...impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit…
...which doesn’t mean, like, partying. It actually means like schism, divisiveness. Parties mean divisions within the Body of the Church.
...envy, drunkenness, carousing…
Now there is where he’s talking about partying. The Greek word for carousing literally means a drinking bout...
...and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now he’s writing this to Christians. He’s writing to the Galatians who are already baptized. They’re already believers. And he’s warning them that if you do these things—idolatry, drunkenness, sexual immorality, schism, envy, anger—those things will
exclude you from the kingdom of God.
So it’s very important here, that when you’re assessing what Paul says about salvation, that you look at it in context. That’s the key. When Paul’s talking about grave sins, violations of the Decalogue, like idolatry...he’s saying, those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But in Romans 8, when he’s talking about sufferings, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine—things that happen to us, especially things like that that are out of our control—that cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In fact, it’s precisely through suffering that you become a super conqueror, a super victor in Christ, through the One who loved us.
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