When I was back in school, I remember loving the song ‘Feel’ by Robbie Williams.1 I had it on a CD and my family used to love listening to it blaring really loud on our stereo system, and feeling the floor shake when it got to the chorus!
The song itself tells a journey of someone who is restless, and the chorus begins with an evocative lyric that echoes the deep longing of the human heart. He sings:
‘I just wanna feel, real love’ – Robbie Williams
Real Love and COVID-19
As I write this, COVID-19 restrictions have been putting us in and out of lockdowns for over a year now. This season of lockdowns, quarantines, testing, vaccine delays, and constant disruptions to long-anticipated plans have been really, really tough for many of the people I know. Amongst the stresses of job security, staying infection-free, and working and churching from home, one father puts it aptly:
‘One of the most difficult aspects of this virus is the way it separates us’.2
One of the things I’ve missed the most is being able to hug my family. Being able to embrace my friends. And I know for some people, the separation caused by this virus has meant that you will never get the chance to embrace your parent or child or friend again.
It’s heart-breaking. Are you feeling it too?
I just wanna feel, real love…
If that’s where you are at today, I believe God wants to minister to your heart through his word. I believe God wants to show you real love. I believe God wants you to feel his real love.3 And if you want to grasp the depths of God’s love for you, there’s no better place than Romans chapter 8. Romans would have to be some of the most magnificent words ever written down. And the end of chapter 8 are my favourite verses in the whole Bible—I’m not kidding.
The Apostle Paul reflects on the amazing work of God in the life and saving ministry of Jesus. He reflects on the power of the Holy Spirit in confirming the adoption of you and I as children of God. He thinks about what all this means for our daily experience as Christians. Then Paul asks: ‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things?’ (Romans 8:31a)
What does Paul say? Four things:
1. God is for us (8:31)
First Paul asks: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31b)
Can you believe that? What the gospel means for our lives is that ultimately God is for his people. The creator and sustainer of the world is for us… the God of the universe is for you! And if God is for us, everything else that rails against us in our everyday lives, as powerful as they may appear, everything else, even COVID-19, is ultimately powerless by comparison.
We have a God who is for us! Do you feel that?
2. God is generous to us (8:32)
Have a look at Romans 8:32:
‘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?’
In other words, since God has already done the impossibly hard thing in giving up his own beloved son for us, there’s nothing else he can’t do for his people! God as our adoptive father is generous to us and wants us to approach him as freely as a child approaches a kind father (Romans 8:14–17).
Our God is lavishly generous toward us! Do you feel that?
3. God will not condemn us (8:33–34)
Paul poses another question in Romans 8:33–34:
‘33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.’
If you are feeling like you aren’t worthy enough to be loved by God; if you are feeling anxious that you will get to the end and God will turn around and reject you; listen to these words! In Mike Bird’s view, Paul is saying:
‘The only one [even] capable of condemning us is Christ Jesus. But he has died, risen and ascended for [you] and is now interceding on [your] behalf… he’s not going to turn around the next minute and condemn [you]!’4
And so, the verdict of Romans 8:1 stands firm: ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’! Do you feel that?
4. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (8:35–39)
In light of all the above, Paul asks the big question: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Romans 8:35a)
‘35b Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.’
Who or what can possibly separate us from being loved by Jesus? Will COVID-19, unemployment, sickness, death, distress, our foolish decisions, the secular government, the evil of others, our own weakness separate us from experiencing the real love of Christ? NO! Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
I just wanna feel, real love…
Is your heart singing: ‘I just wanna feel, real love’? The wonderful news is: YES! Yes, you can feel real love, and it’s lavishly available to us in Christ! American Pastor Tim Keller once wrote about the love God offers to us. He said:
‘To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well… It is what we need more than anything.’5
Doesn’t it just blow your mind that God knows everything there is to know about you, warts-and-all, and yet he loves you deeper and more completely than anyone else can? And in Christ Jesus, we are loved like this!
I’m reminded of the final words of the hymn When I Survey the Wonderous Cross. It ends with:
‘Love so amazing, so divine; Demands my soul, my life, my all.’
From God, we have an amazing, divine, real love, that demands all our energy, all our affection; all our lives in return.
Do you feel that love?
God, our loving keeper
In 2020, the Christian world heard of the passing of much-loved theologian and Anglican churchman J. I. Packer. Packer himself reflects on the comfort of Romans 8 in his book Knowing God. And as we conclude, I thought it would be fitting to share his words that particularly encouraged me when I first read them, many years ago. He writes:
‘God is adequate as our keeper. ‘Nothing… can separate us from the love of God,’ because the love of God holds us fast… Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.’6
However the coming years of COVID pan out, be encouraged. Embrace the real love that God offers to us in Christ, and let’s keep on persevering and walking with him.
‘38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.’ (Romans 8:38–39)