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 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. – Romans 8:35, 37-39
What good news! Nothing in this life, and furthermore, not even death itself, can separate us from the love that flows from God to those who are in Christ Jesus. Indeed, Christ’s love for us never lets go, empowering us to be overcomers – “more than conquerors,” regardless of our circumstances.
I serve as a local church pastor in suburban St. Paul, MN, and I’ve witnessed first-hand this tenacious love of Christ and its impact on the lives of many, notably my friend and parishioner, Ken Hull, who recently died after a nearly two-year battle with lung cancer. On February 23rd, I conducted the memorial service for Ken, which served as a stirring testament to both the comfort and the power of Christ’s love. Ken, along with his wife, Julie, and their 12-year-old son Sam, attended an Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat® in New York City in November of 2011, which was and will continue to be a cherished part of their family legacy.
Ken was more than a conqueror through Christ, who loved him. As he valiantly fought for life with a great sense of dignity and grace, he never lost sight of his Savior who loved him. He wanted his life to be a testimony. He often spoke of his life with cancer as a win/win situation. He’d say, “Either God will heal my body and make me cancer free, or I’ll go to be with Him. That’s a win/win!” Ken and Julie put together a Caring Bridge Journal that detailed their family’s journey in dealing with Ken’s illness. In reviewing the nearly 2-year chronology, the most memorable entry for me was written by Ken himself, dated March 26, 2012:
“Wow…what a wild ride! It’s been one year since I was diagnosed with lung cancer, It’s been the ‘worst of times’ it’s been the ‘best of times.’ I am currently sitting down, overlooking a beautiful golf course in Florida with my lovely bride. I feel like the luckiest man in the world!!
I know that there may be some trying times ahead, but I am so at peace within my life! I know it is not my strength that gives me this peace. This kind of peace can only come from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I never fully knew what was meant by a ‘peace that passes all understanding’ until I actually lived it.”
What gave Ken the ability to write these words? The answer is found in Romans 8, which, by the way, was his favorite chapter of Scripture. In this passage Paul cites seven circumstances that are unable to separate the believer in Christ from His love – trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. This is a rather comprehensive list, wouldn’t you agree? Paul goes on to make a staggering claim about the power of Christ’s love for us. In verse 37 he writes, “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In other words, during the toughest times in life, Christians are empowered not only to survive, but to thrive, through Christ our Lord, the One who loves us tenaciously.
Paul understood just how difficult and demanding life can be. No one endured greater suffering for the sake of the Gospel than he. But a key word in verse 37 is the little two-letter word “NO.” Can any of the circumstances cited by Paul separate us from Christ’s love? The answer is a resounding “No” for the child of God. “No, for we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Now, understand this, we have feet of clay. We sometimes give in to worry, fear, or doubt. We fall short in our love for Christ. We are in daily need of Christ’s forgiveness. But thanks be to God, NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US FROM HIS LOVE FOR US. His love for us is unconditional and unshakable. As Paul writes in verse 38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
One of the men from our church came to the hospice facility two days before Ken died to spend a few moments with him and to tell him what a difference his example had made in his life. That’s when Ken, ever humble but ever humorous, deflected the compliment, by saying in a voice barely above a whisper, but with an irrepressible twinkle in his eye, “Julie feels the same way, you know.” We all laughed. Ken wasn’t in it for himself, and even then, near death, Ken’s humor was his way of redirecting any praise intended for him right back to Christ, the One to whom it rightfully belonged. Ken wanted others to see, as he had come to see through his own suffering, that we are more than conquerors, not in ourselves, but through Him who loves us. That’s how powerful and wonderful the love of God in Christ Jesus really is.
Ken’s memorial service in a very real sense was a celebration of Christ’s tenacious and empowering love. What Christ did for Ken, He’ll do for each of us as we place our confidence and trust in Him. Blessed be the memory of my friend Ken Hull, and praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whose love for His own never lets go.