Nothing Can Separate

You know that verse from Romans that goes, ‘Neither death nor life nor angels or principalities–‘ yeah you know the one:

38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

Here’s the thing: I used to believe there was one thing that could separate me from the love of God – me. When asked the question, “So what can separate us from the love of God,” I answered “Me.” every time.

And I grew up believing I could absolutely do something to separate myself from the love of God. Like let’s see–the “unforgivable” sin? (And what is that, anyway?) How about free will – if I just decide that I’m going to go sit in a corner and stare at the wall of unloveliness that should do it. But I believed that I was much closer to the outside of God’s love than any of those things already because of course. I’m a dirty filthy sinner and it’s only because I went and begged and pleaded at the foot of the cross where I promised on my life I could cut the burden off my own back and change.

So how about this. Maybe you’ve also heard the verse that says He [Father] sends rain on the unjust and the just. Loving on purpose whether you like it or not.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor[g] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,[h] 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren[i] only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors[j] do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

– Matthew 5:43-48

Did you catch that? God doesn’t even hate his enemies. Perfect love. So what makes you think you can do anything to keep him from loving you? It’s harder than you think. It’s harder than I ever thought.

There really isn’t anything that can separate me from God’s love. There’s nothing you can do to stop Father from loving you. You can’t shade the world from the sun and the rain, you can’t stop flowers from growing or trees from bending in the unseen wind. You can’t stop the rocks from shouting about Father’s love for you. And you can’t change that he gave one son to death, Himself, so that his love could go the rest of the distance and create a way back home. There’s nothing you can do to lose God’s love for you.

But what about that unforgivable sin, anyways?

Right along with my belief in my ability to separate myself from the love of Father I grew up hearing about this thing called the unforgivable sin. To this day I’m not even entirely sure that term is even Biblical.

Actually, I had no idea what this unforgivable sin could possibly be. I mean, if God is so forgiving and gracious and kind and loving–if God is who He says He is–how is it possible there could even be an unforgivable sin? But it must be true because there are so many people teaching about it even if they are using words and language they themselves might not even understand.

It is true, but it’s not what you think.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

– Mark 3:28-30

You can find the same story recorded in Matthew 12 and Luke 12 – I chose Mark’s record because it includes an explanatory note; the Pharisees had said earlier that he was acting in the power of Satan–they spoke against the Holy Spirit. And by Jesus’ allusion, they weren’t forgiven it.

But why? You can probably guess. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the new covenant which means one thing: no Holy Spirit = no new covenant. Holy Spirit also produces Jesus’ life in us; no Holy Spirit = no genuine change. Speaking against the Holy Spirit means speaking against the very power that makes forgiveness possible–not to mention the myriads of other benefits included in the new covenant (righteousness and eternal life come to mind).

But I’m willing to bet it took a very difficult, conscious and intentional choice or set of choices before those religious leaders crossed the line.

So what does all this mean? It means I’m free. It means I don’t have to worry about an angry, upset Father too disgusted with me to turn his face back on me till I repent – it means I don’t have to have faith to be loved because I already am. It means no one is too far gone to be beyond hope. It means love wins.

Reunited With I AM (The New-Covenant Sinner)

One question in various forms I’ve heard over and over again is, “So you’ve done away with the law – now you can freely do whatever you want without consequence because grace means tolerance?” The thought is that discontinuing observance of the Law is the same as being without moral and free to do every wrong.

I respond to this testing question with a resounding “No. No. No!” I am not preaching freedom to do anything you like! If you’ve ever read James, you’ll see that grace does not now allow us to live in sin and still inherit life. Paul did not preach this belief that grace licenses us to live in sin and lawlessness either.

A regularly-quoted scripture showing this is Romans 3:31 which says, “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Now, many people jump in with this verse alone to prove that the old covenant Law is still in effect, but they miss the rest of the chapter in which Paul declares that the purpose of the law is to show sinners how sinful they are, and that they need Jesus Christ’s free gift of righteousness to be righteous before God. The Law was never intended to make us righteous but to show us our unrighteousness. Does Romans 3 prove that the Law is done away with to those who keep the new covenant? Not necessarily, but I’ve covered scriptures that do in previous posts so I won’t go into detail on it here–that’s not where I want to focus today. Suffice it to say, the Law was meant for those still outside of the new covenant, to guide them to the new covenant.

So now we’re getting in on the new covenant, Jesus has saved us, cut away our sinful nature and we find rest abiding in Him. Do we now do whatever we wish? Certainly not! Then are we still living in accordance with the Law? Some may see it that way, but no; we live in accordance not with the Law of the old system, but rather with the Spirit of God.

Let me take you back a while – a long while – to understand this. We’ll look right back to the garden of Eden when God placed Adam and Eve on the earth and directed them to rule and reign. This is something I’ve had on my mind for a few days, and shared briefly the other day. I’ll go a little more in-depth here.

In Genesis 2:15-17 we find God’s commission and command to Adam: 15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God gave Adam charge of the garden and gave him a command: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat … “

Genesis 3 tells the saddest tragedy we all know – the fall of man, the moment of sin’s entrance into a perfect world. We’ll take a look at verses 1-13.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

                                                  –  Genesis 3:1-13

Here’s my first question: where is the sin in this picture? I’ll tell you this, the problem was a lot bigger than Adam’s wife eating a bit of fruit. We see the real root of it in the serpent’s first words: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”He brought into question God’s knowledge and understanding. And when Eve confirmed that God had, indeed, said this, the serpent came back with “You will not surely die.For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And that certainly was what the tree would give Eve – a concept of right and wrong. But we see the sin in the next verse, the rebellion and separation from God’s instruction in the next verse:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

So when the woman saw. What did she see? That the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. This is, I believe, where it all took place. Eve chose to disregard the instruction of God (based, might I add, on His understanding of His own creation) and trust her own understanding of how things were. She disregarded God’s understanding and chose her own understanding, which seems to have been rather limited. She deviated from God’s direct instruction and took her own perspective from what the serpent had said; that the tree was good food, pretty, and desirable to make her wise. And so, having chosen to rely on her own understanding rather than the understanding of the Creator, Eve at the fruit–and then gave some to Adam who was right beside her, and he ate some too.

And did the tree work? You bet. Suddenly they realized they were naked–and afraid–and they made clothes out of fig leaves to cover themselves.

Suddenly they realized something was wrong–something was missing. And they happened to notice they were naked – that must be it! Let’s fix up some fig leaves, maybe that will help our situation. But then God came along, and they hid from him. Alright, what? They hid from God.

I laugh a little at this – Adam and Eve were so innocent. First they hid from God, and then when God called for him, Adam goes “Hey, I’m right here… hiding from you…” The wave of knowledge and emotions that must have hit them that they had no idea about…

Verse 10 says Adam heard God’s voice in the garden and he hid, because he was naked and afraid. What has happened here? Adam and Eve are in the garden, they’ve realized they’re naked. They’ve probably realized a lot more than that but don’t have any idea what all these other things they’re experiencing even are, they’re practically children. Adam knows two things: he is naked and he is afraid. Why afraid? Probably because now he has a concept of right, wrong, and consequence, and that the wrong he’s done will be followed by consequence – death. (whatever that is?) And not only is there a sense of right and wrong but there is a sense of inadequacy, the real problem behind the nakedness. Why inadequacy? Because they chose separation from their Beginning and End. Choosing to step away from God meant choosing to step away from their completeness in Him. It may have only been a small thing–the choice to disregard one instruction–but the sense of separation it brought them, having never before felt any amount of separation from God, must have seemed massive. Oh, to be so innocent, so sensitive to such separation!

So to finish out verses 10-13,

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

There’s one more effect of the tree; neither Adam nor Eve could give God a straight answer.

God: “Adam, where are you?”
Adam: (doesn’t really answer the question;) “I heard you coming; I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
God: “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to?”
Adam: (still avoiding the question) “The woman that you put here with me gave me the fruit and I ate.”
God: (now to Eve) “What have you done?”
Eve: (definitely avoiding the question;) “It was the serpent’s fault, he tricked me into eating it.”

They couldn’t outrightly admit to God that they had eaten from the tree. Adam even completely overlooked God’s question of who had told him he was naked. Now as a brief aside, who did tell Adam he was naked? Was it the serpent? If so, it’s not recorded, but I’m sure the serpent didn’t need to tell Adam that. It was the tree that opened their eyes to their own nakedness, and this is the nature of the old covenant Law also, that it opens our eyes to our inadequacies. Keep that in mind for later. Now, I don’t know how things were back in the garden, but I can guarantee Adam and Eve’s circumstance would have turned out a lot different if they had come right back to God to say “God, we ate from the tree and now something’s terribly wrong and we don’t know what to do, we’re scared, please help us.”

But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, they continued to rely on their own understanding of what was happening to them, rather than going back to the Creator to get His assessment of the situation. At this point perhaps we can derive a basic definition of sin; since God is, in essence, life, and sin leads to death (the wages of sin is death) then the core of sin in action must be willful separation from God, from life. This was the root of Adam and Eve’s problem when they chose to go by their own understanding rather than God’s instruction.

To say more I would have to begin repeating myself. So going back to Adam’s nakedness and the Law, the purpose of the Law was to show us our sin, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:19, 7:7-10 for example. The law’s purpose was to give us knowledge of sin versus the perfection of God, just as the tree’s purpose was to give knowledge of good and evil–the difference between ‘sinful‘ and ‘sinless’. So we see that the Law and the tree had the same purpose. The law was given to show the people of Israel that sin was still an issue, otherwise they wouldn’t later understand the need for Jesus to come.

But the Law wasn’t given as the solution. God did not give the Law as the solution to the sin problem! He gave His only son to do that. When Jesus died, He restored our right–which Adam lost–to approach God freely and blamelessly. Because our original position with God is now restored, we live in a similar state to that which Adam and Eve held in the garden. No, the world still is not perfect – yes, there still is sin and satan’s judgement has not been passed. But God has called us righteous and blameless through the blood of Jesus Christ, and if we believe in the name of Jesus then that is what we are. On our acceptance of Jesus’ free gift for us, we receive the Spirit of God who dwells in us, and we abide in Christ through God’s spirit. The Spirit of God produces good fruit in our lives–the works which James declares keep our faith alive–and we live once again complete in our Creator.

Now here’s the crunch: Jesus removed the sin separation problem and invited us back to God; this is the new covenant. The tree of Life–the other tree in the garden that we so easily forget about–was there to provide eternal unification with God. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and brought in the new – essentially uprooting the tree of knowledge and replanting the tree of Life for all to eat from. And it isn’t that the tree of knowledge wasn’t good–God declared everything he had made to be good. It was that the tree of Life was so much better, and of so much more importance. The Law is of no purpose to the one who believes in Jesus. It is and has always been about our reunification to I Am through Christ, and since Christ’s death, we are united with God in Christ through His blood.

So what does sin look like in the new covenant? Choosing again our own knowledge, as Adam and Eve did in the beginning, and stepping out of unity with Christ. That doesn’t mean stealing, killing, committing adultery and all the rest are now justifiably right, it means that we get to the root of the problem now, while all those things were only ever the after-effects–mere evidences–of the original sin separation problem begun by Adam and Eve in the garden 6,000 some years ago.

The final question is, where then does that leave our morals? At the root of the tree of knowledge. All Adam and Eve had to know about right and wrong was that God knew and would do what was best for them. In essence, by stepping into the new covenant we put the knowledge of what’s right and wrong back at the throne of God where it belongs, and put our entire trust in God to direct us step by step in what is best for us.

I think part of what makes this so difficult for others to understand is that I live this in theory; this is the goal I aim for, and while the work of the Spirit leading me to perfection is not yet complete, and I can’t honestly say I live moment-by-moment with 100% of my trust in God’s knowledge of right and wrong for me, I’ve come a long way, and at the end of the beginning of the story, I’ll be right back where I belong. But this IS the good news, that the focus is no longer on my knowledge of right and wrong but on God’s knowledge of what is best for me, since Christ made it possible for me to be once again completed in my Alpha and Omega, Creator God.

Intimacy = In-To-Me-See

 “God, You are my God, and I will ever [always] praise You

   God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You [right now]

   And I will seek You in the morning [before all else]

   And I will learn to walk in Your ways [teach me]

   And step by step, You lead me [I follow]

   And I will follow You all of my days [forever].”

I will follow You Today.

If I call [cry] He will answer me–will not be able to resist answering.

If I speak audibly He will respond audibly.

If I speak clearly and with clarity, He will respond with clarity.

This is what I wrote in my prayer journal on November 18, 2011, about the kind of intimacy God wants to have with me:

“God is indescribable. He is amazing. He is wonderful, beautiful, incredible… My Father…

“This is what He showed me last night. I was praying and thinking about how I wanted to hear Him audibly. And so I asked Him out loud, “God, if I speak audibly to You, will You speak audibly to me?” I asked three times before I suddenly heard… this ticking of a clock.. the babble of my artificial waterfall… even my own heart-beat crying out “Yes!”

“I had just turned out the light when I heard the puppy crying in the entryway. God told me to go minister to the puppy, and as I walked out to the entry He gave me the scripture to use–“Be still and know that the LORD, He is God.” After declaring this to the puppy several times I went back to my room and God began speaking. The puppy had begun to cry much louder after I left and I could hardly resist. God showed me that it is the same when I cry to Him; He can’t resist coming to me when I cry to Him like that puppy did.

“A little while later I asked Him a question and I wasn’t sure what He was saying, my mind became so boggled. And so I asked Him this. “God, if I speak with clarity will You respond with clarity?” and I made sure to talk audibly and ask clearly. He said yes. Then I asked Him my question again, with clarity, and He gave me a clear, clarified answer.

“Thank-you Jesus. I am learning to speak sincerely with You in the secret place. You are amazing… More than amazing!”

—–

The new covenant is chalk-full of this intimacy:

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

–Jeremiah 31:33 – 34

God promises essentially to personally teach us His ways; “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts.” Not only do we receive His direct instruction, we receive it deep within us, written on our very hearts. God promises personal relationship with everyone, made possible by Christ’s offering on the cross which bridged the gap between God and man. Now, all have an opportunity to know God personally. And the final promise: “and I will never again remember their sins.” There is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1, 33-34) in this relationship; God is free, even in all His holy justness, to be intimate with men–even such as you and I. And there isn’t a thing in existence that could ever separate us from this love God has for His people, revealed in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39). I used to think Paul left out the obvious; that I could, if I wished, choose to separate myself from God’s love. But how can I? How high, how wide, how deep is the Father’s love for us? It is displayed in all creation. As long as I live in this universe, I can’t get away from the reality of God’s love for me. And there is only one separation from God – the eternal death of sin, which none need fear who belongs to Christ.

BAM! Take that.