Separated from Sin; Inseparable from Savior (February 18, 2018)
Separated from Sin; Inseparable from Savior
How many of you feel isolated, lonely, or separated in some way? Are you a student trying to figure out who you are as an individual, yet at the same time trying to fit in with others? Are you new at your place of work, figuring out how to take up the reigns yet finding it hard to build up more than just polite “hi / bye” relationships? Are you retired, and struggling to still connect with people outside your own home and family? What’s the loneliness in your life? Where do you feel isolated or separated?
In this age of technology, sharing pictures and video chatting face to face, when reaching out to a friend is just a few keystrokes away – we try to bring people closer. We try to cut down the miles of separation and isolation, and in some cases it works very well. It’s amazing how loved ones far away can really sit with your family in your living room without ever leaving their home. But in other cases, we look at the seemingly perfect lives of others, and it gets us down. We look at how many comments this other person has, and how few we have. We send emails that gradually grow farther and farther between. Despite efforts to bring people together in our day and age, many of us still bear the weight of loneliness.
The apostle Paul lists a number of factors that can separate and isolate us. “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (Rm 8:35). Many of these things too, Paul points out, are specifically because we bear the name “Christian.” “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rm 8:36) he quotes from the Psalms. And boy did they have it bad in those days. We are just 4 chapters into our study of Acts in our Sunday morning Bible class, and already Peter and John have been thrown in prison and put on trial for preaching that Jesus is the Christ. Keep in mind that this is only a very short time after the day of Pentecost when the disciples started to go out and preach publicly. Before then, they remained in hiding and waited for Jesus to send the gift of the Holy Spirit as he promised because they knew that there was a sharp separation between what they believed, and the vast majority of their fellow Jews.
Today, it’s different. Not necessarily easier, just different. In those days they were threatened with their very own lives. Today, they may not take your life for being Christians – at least not very often in our country, thankfully – but they will take other things. They will ruin your livelihood if your business upholds Christian values. They will restrict your freedoms while promoting everyone else’s freedom. They will limit what you can say and do to the best of their ability, making you feel isolated and shut out. Jesus even said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Mt 10:16).
As Paul goes on, he elevates the stakes a little and lists a number of other things that threaten to separate us: Death or life, angels or demons, the present or the future, any powers, height or depth (Rm 8:38-39). These all threaten to separate us from one another, and from God. With all these threats mounting, and as we are continually faced with them day in and day out it’s a miracle if we escape them!
But so far, with all the things I listed that threaten to separate us from God, I would say that the list so far is nothing but non-issues. All these things may appear as if they can separate us from God and his love, but they can’t. Not really. What’s going on in our lives now, the present, or what could happen to us in the future can’t separate us from God. Trouble, hardship, danger or persecution – they might threaten, but they can’t do a thing. Not even death itself, which seems to be a separation from everything and everyone we have ever known, not even death can separate us from God.
There are a couple factors that can, however. There are strong warnings in the Bible against giving the devil a foothold (Eph 4:27). In one of Jesus’ parables, when he is talking about seed scattered upon different kinds of ground, he talks about people who hear the word of God, but then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved (Lk 8:12). Do not mess around with Satan. He comes with a guise of fun and games, pretending to be harmless, offering a bit of fun with little or no consequences. But behind that guise are sharp teeth!
Think of an angler fish. Do you know what that is? If you’ve seen “Finding Nemo” you’ve seen one. Angler fish live deep in the ocean – deeper than light can penetrate. If you were a fish swimming down that deep, all you would see of an angler fish is a pleasantly glowing orb that playfully bobs here and there. You may swim closer to check it out and investigate. And just when you think it’s completely harmless… SNAP! Huge jaws close around you. Angler fish use a glowing lure that protrudes from their foreheads to lure fish into their mouths. And that’s exactly what Satan does. He lures you in close, eases your guard down, and then SNAP! He’s got you. The apostle Peter even describes the devil as a prowling lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8).
The other enemy that can separate you from God, is you. The apostle Paul warns, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). By your own neglect of God and his word you isolate yourself from the one who can protect you from Satan’s schemes. And by isolating yourself from God, you suddenly turn all those “non-separators,” that I mentioned earlier, into very real threats. “Trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (Rm 8:35). height or depth, present or the future, powers that threaten, life and death (Rm 8:38-39) pose very real threats to you when you allow yourself to be separated from God’s love and care. Instead of these arrows harmlessly bouncing off the shield of your mighty protector, you are left exposed to all these dangers. Separate from your Savior, you will eventually feel the crushing blow of these dangers.
Satan’s tactic since the beginning has been to separate and isolate. Think about what he did with Adam and Eve. After the fall into sin, he whispered thoughts of hiding and isolation into their hearts. First from God. When God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” how did he answer? “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10). And then he worked on separating Adam from Eve. God asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen 3:11). And once again, how did Adam respond? By separating himself from Eve and isolating her, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Gen 3:12).
Think of it in this way. Do you know what happens when a lion attacks a herd of antelope? The antelope all run and scatter. Then the pride of lions targets the weakest one and takes it down. One by one, they are picked off from the herd. And that’s what Satan attempts to do. He tried to isolate you from the protection of the herd by driving wedges. And they don’t even have to be good wedges. How many petty arguments have caused divisions in churches and even caused people to leave because of it? And it doesn’t matter who started the argument or whether the person isolated themselves or the rest of the congregation shut them out, what matters is that a body of believers has left one of our own isolated, defenseless, and vulnerable to any kind of attack Satan might mount against them.
Don’t be antelope. Instead, be like water buffalo. I know it might not be very appealing to be called a water buffalo, but do you know what water buffalo do when they are attacked? They form a defensive ring. On the inside of the ring, they put their young and their weak. On the outside of the ring they put their strong and healthy – ones that can take a hit and stand their ground. They rally together and protect one another, not letting any of their weak fall without a fight against their strongest. Brothers and sisters, this is how we stand firm. By rallying together and having those that are strong and firmly rooted in the Bible come alongside those who might be struggling. By protecting them from the assaults of Satan and the attacks that stem from within. Together we are a unified body. Together we are stronger. And of course, the head of the body is Christ. Or to use the water buffalo example, he is the outermost ring. Our strongest defense.
But Christ became our strength in a very unique way. You see, God says that our sins have separated us from him. And God doesn’t change, he doesn’t ever go back on his word. So, since he loves you and couldn’t bear being separated from you for all eternity, he took that sin which separates you from him and placed it on his own Son, Jesus. And, for a time on the cross, God the Father really did separate himself from Jesus. We know this because Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). At that time, Jesus was paying the price of separation for every person for all eternity. In those excruciating hours on the cross, when Jesus bore not just physical pain but the spiritual pain of being separated from God – as he bore the torments of hell in your place – he was enduring the separation for sin so that you could be inseparable from God. God actually made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,” Peter wrote, “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” (1 Pt 2:24).
Isn’t that just amazing! I know some have said it’s just terrible to think that God would alienate and sacrifice his own Son in such a way. And yes, it is terrible to think of it. But at the same time, it just magnifies the love that God has for you! He couldn’t bear the thought of punishing you, the crown of his creation, and living an eternity without you – without the great multitude of his created sons and daughters. And so he gave the ultimate sacrifice. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. He separated himself from Jesus for a time, so that he could gain all of you for an eternity! You are bought and paid for children of God!
Now, with all that in mind, look at the reading from Romans 8 once again. Knowing that God has separated you from sin and brought you to him, look again at all the things that threaten to separate you from your Savior, but are powerless to do so when you remain in God’s protective care:
“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, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… 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 power, 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.”
You can see all those arrows of attacks coming at you, but none will be able to harm you. They all fall powerlessly to the ground. God has separated you from sin, and made you inseparable from your Savior.