Thursday, March 17, 2011

The divided man

Some months ago now I listened to a friend's sermon called Romans: an introduction and it had a deeply profound impact on me.

"This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes. Therefore I want to carry out my service and, with this preface, provide an introduction to the letter, insofar as God gives me the ability, so that every one can gain the fullest possible understanding of it. Up to now it has been darkened by glosses [explanatory notes and comments which accompany a text] and by many a useless comment, but it is in itself a bright light, almost bright enough to illumine the entire Scripture."

[Martin Luther]

If you haven't listened to it do and it may propel you into reading this letter as it did me. Romans is the letter in the bible that revealed the gospel to me while fly-fishing in Chile and now here I am leading a church. These past few months, I have listened to over 100 sermons in the early mornings and am now well into chapter eight. I have so often been in awe at Piper's ability to teach scripture and reveal grace. He is very often breathtaking in his handling of the word and is clearly a man of stunning intellect. I should imagine he may be a bit tricky to live with though :) Interestingly, as we now come to matters of the Spirit I am just starting to sense he may not be quite as strong but it may be too early to tell.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time you will have encountered Romans- if only picking it up for a bit and thinking 'what on earth is all that about?'. You see, it is a book that needs to be worked at systematically with thought and time being allocated to it and patience needed to wrestle things out. The Facebook generation want a quick click and an easy nugget neither of which works with Romans. Time, silence, solitude, a pen and notebook, prayer, discussion with others, struggle for meaning and if you read it enough shock- these are the things of this letter and most I don't think have the stomach for this sort of study.

The truth is Romans won't agree with you it will change you.

My first main encounter with Romans was a famous and brilliant five-week study my dear Vicar did in about 1995. I enjoyed it apart from one crucial thing and that one thing left me confused and in slavery for many years. The one thing was his take on Romans 7 and the question of how we struggle with sin. If you are saved and have received the Spirit you will know about this struggle. It started the moment you were born again. You screw up, you fail, you do things you don't want to, you think terrible things and all the while, at the same time, you love Jesus.

If you don't properly understand Romans 6 and 7 the struggle with sin can lead you into complete despair and utter joyless defeat. I think this is why so few actually speak of Jesus to others. You can so easily end up feeling the bible is a manual to a car that no matter how hard you try to drive it doesn't work as it's supposed to.  Put in simple 21st century lingo, how can the same person who goes to church on a Sunday and sing worship songs declaring their love for Jesus also be the person with capacities to watch porn on the internet or get smashed in the pub with their mates on a Friday night or put one over on a colleague at work for a promotion? Who on earth is this divided man or woman I have had to live with? You may, like me, have heard the very words of Satan accusing you saying "Give up- you're a duplicitous sinner, give up, give up, give up.". He seems in my experience to attack, confuse and deceive those who love Jesus the most.

I didn't know this then but there are two takes on Romans 7 (my vicar didn't have much truck with the other option sadly) and where you land on this is life-changing. The question theologians have batted around is whether or not this is the old Paul (which I was told categorically it was) or the new Paul who still struggles with his sin (no it can't be, I was told or certainly that is what I heard, because he is "victorious"). QED - I am victorious, Paul is victorious but David you are not and must try an awful lot harder until you can be like us and live in victory. I remember hearing Keller say years ago that his watchword for a non-gospel is the word 'try'. Everything in my experience told me this could not be the case and that this can't be the gospel. Everything.

Imagine my joy all these years later to find that John Piper, one of the greatest living bible expositors, agrees with the very thoughts I had all those years ago in that Church hall. I was right after all. I knew it. Wow. How helpful would it have been to have had this explained to me fifteen years ago? I guess that's just not how Jesus had it tumbled for me. Maybe you have following Jesus all sorted out (booey for you) but if like many you don't and you struggle with defeat, sin, battles over your mind, anxiety, sleeplessness and despair these few sermons I pray will set you free. Sermon 2 reveals Piper's stance on Paul.

It will take you some time to get this- hence it took Piper 6 sermons. Listen to them all and if you still don't get it listen to them again!

Who is this divided man Part 1

Who is this divided man Part 2

Who is this divided man Part 3

Who is this divided man Part 4

Who is this divided man Part 5

Who is this divided man Part 6

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