More than conquerors
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Romans 8:35-37
Why do people turn away from the faith? I’m sure it is true that abundance can create an apostate spirit; however, people don’t normally turn away from the faith because their bank accounts are full and their health is good and everyone is slapping them on the back and telling them how great they are. People fall away because the way of faith became too difficult for them. Our Lord himself anticipates this in several places (cf. Mt. 13:20-21; Lk. 14:25-33). We can see why Paul would mention things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (35). He does so because when a person who claims to be a Christian is faced with one or more of these things because he or she is a follower of Christ (36), this is when our faith is most likely to break under the strain. If even one of these things could cause us to stop loving Christ, then one of these things could in fact separate us from the love of Christ, the very thing that the apostle does not allow.
So we see that Paul is not just saying that tribulation, etc., are not signs that God has stopped loving us; rather, he is saying something much stronger. He is saying that God’s love for us in tribulation will keep us from turning our backs on him and becoming apostates.
That’s not to say that sometimes true Christians won’t momentarily bend under the pressure. Like Peter, we might even deny Christ for a time. And yet God rescued Peter (“I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail,” Luke 22:32) and made him one of the greatest of the apostles. And church history tells us that Peter even went on to suffer a martyr’s death. He was finally faithful unto death.
Another example of this is Cranmer, the sixteenth century English bishop who was forced to watch as his friends, Ridley and Latimer, were burned alive at the stake during the reign of Bloody Mary. I’m pretty sure that would be enough to make anyone’s faith waver. And at first he did decide to recant his faith in the gospel. But he soon recanted his recantation and was himself burned alive at the stake for his faith. He too was finally faithful in the end.
Do you know why the true believer won’t finally fall away? It isn’t because they are extraordinarily brave. It’s because underneath their faith is the sustaining power of God. Our Lord put it this way: “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt. 24:24). Why did our Lord put it that way? I think he did so because it is not possible. And it is not possible because no one can successfully be against those who have God on their side.