It’s a strange question but not a strange experience. I remember my first episode of thinking that my life was separating me from the love of God. I was about 9 yrs old when I ate too many apples from a nearby apple tree where I grew up. Before long I had an upset stomach, not because I stole the apples (old man Chris Hughes loved to share his possessions with others), but because I ate too many apples. But that’s not what I first thought: I thought that God was upset with me and the proof was my upset stomach. I thought that something about my life was putting a barrier between me and God’s love for me.
Before I go any further let me be clear about a not so sweet truth: our sin has separated us from a loving God because he is also holy. God can no more tolerate sin than the devil can holiness. That said, and believed, as true children of God by faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, we can experience moments where we think that our lives can separate us from the love of God. I’ve wondered many times, reflecting upon my present sins and failures, that God’s love surely must be exhausted. Have you not done something so regrettable that you thought that God cannot love you – not after x?
I think this is why God led Paul to say,
“For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
I get the death thing – as a possible deal-breaker for God to not love me. As an experiential possibility, I can imagine upon my conscience death-bed, wondering in the back of my mind, “what if . . .?” But unlike our pending death, we don’t often think that our life can undo God’s love for us – until we are ashamed of ourselves. Now we’re tracking why Paul said this to assure our hearts. Shame in this present life paralyzes our hope in God’s promises. All the unbreakable truths of the golden chain of salvation seem to barely hang on when shame enters. (Romans 8:28-30)
What do you do when something shameful causes you to think that your life will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?
1. Don’t try to distract yourself by eating and watching tv. Confess that sin and God will cleanse you from a defiled conscience. No amount of entertainment or self-indulgent gluttony will do for you what God can. (okay – now you’re ashamed of eating the quart of ice-cream, sorry – but keep reading)
2. Stop looking at what causes shame and turn to the cross where all your shameful, regrettable sins have been obliterated. God has no future intention of humiliating you. (Romans 5:5)
3. Believe that the Spirit is interceding for you right now, with words that you could never utter before God. Not because you can’t speak, but because your groaning body is too weak to speak. (Romans 8:24-26)
4. Rehearse the truth that if God set his love upon you “while we were sinners” then now that the sin has taken place, his gracious love abounds further than your sin. (Romans 5:8, 20)
5. Remind yourself where the source of Christ-distracting accusation comes from: the devil (Romans 8:33). It’s the devil’s job to accuse the saints, pointing his crooked finger at us as if God is only capable of loving the perfect. But it must really annoy that wretched Liar to see God love us through the perfect work of his son. There is a difference between the Spirit’s conviction of my sin, and the Devil’s accusation of my sin: the Spirit makes it his goal to get my eyes back on Christ’s substitution for me on the cross. The Devil however, wants me to keep my eyes on my sin until I am drowning in my own helpless state and accusing God of injustice.
6. Turn away from self-atoning good works. When we sin, we often do something good, quickly. But this is often self-medicating the conscience and does not glorify God nor does it heal the heart in the long run. The best thing to do after sinning is to just sit there and be quiet before the Lord. Don’t do anything but, “upward I look and see him there, who made an end to all my sin.” Then, with a right motive, begin again to do good works because of God’s grace in your life and not because of your feeble attempt to balance the scales of right and wrong – Jesus already did that for you!
7. Finally, give thanks to your Father in heaven, for he knows your frame – he remembers that you are but dust – he knows how frail your life is (Psalm 103), and he knows what he got himself into when he set his love upon you. I assure you, because of the future glory of Christ, he has no regrets of adopting you! (Romans 8:15)