Even though I plan to write about items of concern generally to people of faith, to Christians, I will often post meditations especially on Paul’s beautiful letter to the Romans.
I have very good reason for my emphasis on Romans.
My former pastor, John Piper, told part of my story in his book The Pleasures of God. I was very surprised to come across it many years after he first published the book and some years after my company had transferred me out of Minnesota. John tells the story of “one of the most insightful and mature men of our church” praying intensely and emotionally reciting Hebrews 12:9-10 from memory. He then accurately says,
. . . the discoveries of grace were so profound in his college days that he had virtually memorized the book of Romans. It is not hard to see why, when you come to the climax of that greatest of books and read, ‘You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba, Father,’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . . Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:15-17, 19, 31) The Pleasures of God, 2nd ed., 307.
I had been converted during my college years, at the age of twenty, largely through reading Romans 5:5, “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” The verse created a crisis for me, demolishing my view of Christianity as a philosophical and moral system. Instead, Romans 5:5 undoubtedly described an infallible, certain hope, one that could never turn out to be a delusion, that was based on the very love of God. And, Christians can have, do have in normal circumstances, an immediate sense of that love given to them by the Holy Spirit, a mystical experience. After too many agonizing months of morbid introspection, very different from self-examination, my attention was finally drawn outward to the sufficiency of the work of Christ and I was flooded with the sense of the love of God for me.
I still have the same relationship with the book of Romans I had back then, forty years ago this coming fall, except the verse that controls my life is one that Pastor John skipped: Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This is a transitional verse that speaks of the suffering that all of us share, first, in our pursuit of holiness–“putting to death the deeds of the body” hurts–and, secondly, because we share in the effects of the Fall. I now have an incurable disease that makes me especially familiar with pain and weakness. (I don’t like to use the word “suffering;” it’s too big a word for what I experience.) Yet I spend very little time praying for healing. If present-time pain is not worth comparing to future glory, then relief from pain is not a priority, preparing for glory is. I do look for medical treatment–it is my responsibility to my family and others–but I don’t spend much time longing for healing.
I should note that I have not asked John Piper to use the quote from The Pleasures of God simply because it’s my story. Also I confess that I did not get his permission to use his name; worse, I’m using his name for purely mercenary reasons: it increases the chances that someone may read what I have to write.