Does Paul Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in Romans 8:35-39?

Romans 8:35-39

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: ‘For you sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Again, the promise and security presented in this passage of Scripture is only for believers (“us” in verse 35).  None of these things are true of unbelievers and nothing in the passage suggests that faith cannot be abandoned or that love for God cannot grow cold (Matt. 24:12).  This passage gives assurance to believers who are suffering persecution that such sufferings should not be interpreted as indicating that God no longer favors them or loves them.  No amount of persecution or opposition can overwhelm the believer since the believer always has the victory in Christ.  Neither the turmoil of this life nor death itself can separate the believer from Christ’s love.  Through Him and because of Him we are more than conquerors despite any obstacle or battle that we may encounter.  However, just as in John 10:27-29 there is nothing in the passage to suggest that God’s saving love is unconditional or that believers cannot separate themselves from the love of Christ by abandoning Him during trials and persecutions.  The one who remains will certainly triumph but there is no such promise of victory for the one who shrinks back in unbelief (Hebrews 10:38; Matt 10:22, 28, 32, 33).  Indeed, the Scriptures admonish believers to remain in God’s love (Jude 21) and Christ’s love (Jn. 15:9).  If the promise of Romans 8:35 was unconditional then such passages as Jude 21 and John 15:9 would be rendered nonsensical. Forlines observes:

It is my opinion that this passage does not deal with the question of whether a saved person can ever be lost again.  Rather, it teaches that a person who is a child of God can never, at the same time, be separated from God’s love.  In other words, the believer is never to interpret hardships as meaning that God does not love him.  Instead, he should recognize that God’s love is still with him and should say with Paul, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Rom. 8:37)…Suppose the passage does deal with the matter of security.  It would be explained the same way as the statement of Jesus when He said, ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).  Paul would be saying as emphatically as human language can make it that our personal salvation is a matter between the individual and God.  He would be saying that neither tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, peril, sword (verse 35), death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come (verse 38), height, depth, nor any other creature viewed collectively or singularly can take a believer away from Christ.  I believe that. What Paul says in these verses in no way contradicts the viewpoint that if a believer turns away from God in defiant, arrogant, unbelief that God will take him out of Christ (Jn. 15:2, 6). (ibid.) 

Some believe that verse 39 gives just such an unconditional promise, “…nor anything else in all creation [or "any other created thing"], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  They reason that since the believer is a “created thing” then it follows that even the believer cannot remove himself from God’s love.  This appeal is problematic on many fronts. 

First, it ignores the context of the passage which is dealing with persecutions and tribulations that are brought to bear on the believer (forces, circumstances, and influences outside of the believer).  Verse 39 is still speaking about these things and therefore cannot have reference to the believer himself.  Indeed, this seems like a very awkward and unnatural reading of the text and I am fairly confident that one would never think to read it that way if they weren’t driven by a prior commitment to unconditional security, and trying to find support for the doctrine in this passage.  Grant Osborne captures this truth well when he writes, “Outside pressures can’t separate us from Christ’s love, but inward apostasy can (Grace Unlimited, pg. 179).

Second, the suggestion that the believer cannot separate himself from the love of God stands in contradiction to passages like Jude 21 and John 15:9 as noted above. Third, while there is a sense in which the believer can separate himself from the love of God in Christ by abandoning the faith, it needs to be remembered that according to Scripture the believer does not ultimately separate Himself from Christ (the sphere of God’s special and saving love) as Forlines pointed out above.  When a believer abandons the faith and becomes an unbeliever God Himself separates that person (now an unbeliever) from His Son (Jn. 15:2, 6), and God is not a “created thing.”

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

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7 Responses

  1. I would agree that this passage doesn’t speak to unconditional eternal security it does appear that Paul has addressed this earlyer in the chapter. Romans 8:7-8 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” So we are eather in the flesh or in the Spirit. Romans 8:9 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” We are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God dwells in us. Ch.8:11 “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” So we are quickened, or made alive, by the Spirit of God. We are also “the sons of God” ch.8:14. “And if children, then heirs” ch.8:17. Ch.8:29,30 = foreknew = predestinate = called = justified = glorified. If we have the Spirit of God and He has taken us from predestination to glorification I don’t see how we can undo this. Please point out any errors in my logic.

  2. Nick,

    I am having a hard time following your logic, so I can’t really point out any errors. Perhaps you can elaborate on why you think 8:29-30 means that the Spirit has “taken us from predestination to glorification”? What do you think “glorification” refers to here? If Paul is describing a process, why do you assume the process cannot be conditional? How would you address the many warnings Paul gives to believers about falling away, or being disqualified from the Kingdom, or being broken off from God’s elect people?

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for replying. 8:29-30, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” It’s a progression begining with “foreknow”. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…”, foreknow=predestinate. If one applys to you then so does the other. “He also did predestinate,” why,”to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” As God’s children we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of Jesus. In 8:30 Paul continues with the progression. If predestinated then called, if called then justified, if justified then glorified. Like the Apostles, who were predestinated and called by Jesus to be Apostles, we are predestinated and called. If we are called then we are also justified, or made righteous, in the presence of God. If we are made righteous then we are glorified which I beleave ties back to verse 17 which says we are heirs with Christ.

    I don’t know about conditional. I just see that if one of these words applys then all of them apply.

    As to Paul’s warnings to believers, I think this is for us to examine our walk. Making sure we are not only hearers but doers also. Making sure we are not leaning unto our own understanding. Making sure we will not stand before God and hear,”I tell you; I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” For many are on the broad path thinking it leads to everlasting life. The Pharisees sat back and led many down that path.

    I hope I addressed all of your questions.

    Sincerely,
    Nick

  4. Nick,

    You wrote,

    8:29-30, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” It’s a progression begining with “foreknow”. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…”, foreknow=predestinate. If one applys to you then so does the other.

    I take this as a description of the corporate body of believers. The language is corporate and “called” is probably being used in a naming sense, rather than in the sense of an invitation (cf. Rom. 9:25, 26). So Paul is saying that the corporate body of believers whom God foreknew as His covenant partners, through faith union with Christ, are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, etc. However, individual participation in the corporate body of Christ (i.e. God’s elect “in Him”, Eph. 1:4) is contingent on faith. So while it is true that the body of Christ will reach its destination, it is not necessarily true that those who are presently in that body will remain in that body. Remaining is contingent on faith (Romans 11:16-24- see my post on Romans 11). I will be dealing more with this passage (8:29-30) in a future post.

    As to Paul’s warnings to believers, I think this is for us to examine our walk. Making sure we are not only hearers but doers also. Making sure we are not leaning unto our own understanding. Making sure we will not stand before God and hear,”I tell you; I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” For many are on the broad path thinking it leads to everlasting life. The Pharisees sat back and led many down that path.

    But you maintain that no believer can ever be told to “depart”. That is the point. Paul’s warnings lose all meaning if it is impossible to fall away. Your interpretation of this passage is incompatible with Paul’s’ warnings. Especially see Romans 11:20-22 where Paul specifically tells those who are now “standing by faith” that they may be “broken off” if they do not continue in God’s kindness. This fits perfectly with my interpretation, but creates serious difficulties for yours.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  5. Supporting Ben’s response, Nick you should check out this post about perseverance/security and Rom 8:28-39: http://evangelicalarminians.org/Perseverance-Oropeza-on-Romans-8.28-39.

  6. Ben,

    I see what your saying but I don’t agree. I’m sorry that I am unable to be more specific. I don’t have an organized outline of my thoughts or a clear way to refute what you see in scripture. I must study more to know why I believe what I do before trying to point out any errors you may have. (First, remove beam from my eye. Second, remove mote from yours.) On a lesser note I also have poor typing skills making this like trying to have a detailed conversation in a forign language. I will continue to pray that God will show me truth and I will post further questions when I am able. Thank you for challenging me with your posts.

    Arminian,

    Thank you for the link. It’s givin me more to study and pray about.

  7. Nick,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. May God bless you as you continue in this important study.

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