Romans 8:1-35. I have often said that this chapter in the Bible is surely one of the most foundational for Christian living. I was therefore thrilled to discover that John Piper would be preaching from it this evening. In fact, Piper went on to claim that this is the greatest chapter in the entire Bible. As is always the case when he preaches, the audio and video of this sermon will be made available very soon, and I will add the links to this post.
Dr. Piper began by saying that he believes in what this New Word Alive conference event stands for. The text this evening, like the one that Don Carson spoke on this morning, hit upon the very reason for the existence of this conference. Even Piper’s opening prayer was instructing. It was clear that he was leaning heavily on God’s strength and ability to help him in preaching. He prayed for us, his hearers, that we might be prepared to face future suffering that will inevitably come to each of us.
There is a real danger that Christ becomes merely the means and not the end of our salvation. Why is this? It’s because he is the means of our salvation. If he had not died, we would be judged. But there are forms of teaching, such as the “prosperity gospel” and other less obvious ones, that all mean we never quite get to the end of the gospel. Even forgiveness and justification are not the end. They are in order that God might bring us to Christ.
Treasuring Christ would change everything in our lives. It is the answer to our current world. Matthew 13:44 is Piper’s favorite parable. The man found a treasure, and in his joy he went and sold everything he had and bought that field. When Christ came into the world and offered himself for us it was in order that we might have him. He is to us a treasure beyond all value. There is no sacrifice when we give up things in order to have Jesus. He is that valuable. If we love even our family more than Jesus, we are not worthy of him. He is more important than our life. Love of the Lord is better than life.
Do we truly treasure Christ? It is right to receive him as Lord and Savior. But we have to get beyond merely those things that Jesus has done for us. He wasn’t simply useful to get us to heaven. He is not just “useful”—he is everything! He is King.
In John 17 Jesus prayed for you and me—that we might be with Jesus and see his glory. How thin is our concept of this. Even some Evangelicals are fearful of this idea. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The good news is the glory of Jesus! We will spend eternity beholding—with ever increasing joy—his glory.
Decisions are easy. Perfection is impossible. If you feel you don’t treasure him enough, join the club. Every day John Piper prays about his failing emotions. He said that his main battle is with the way his own heart is drawn to his computer, his family, etc. This is what the Christian walk is all about.
Turn the word “treasure” from a noun into a verb. Then preach in such a way that your people learn to value Christ above their jobs and careers, above money and health.
The experience of life that causes the value of Christ to be seen most clearly is when he is treasured in suffering. When he is treasured in spite of all the terrible statistics, or maybe even because of them. When everything goes wrong and you say, “Christ is all.” That is how we move from conviction to action. In Acts, a persecution led to 10,000 Christian refugees. It seems that this was needed for the Great Commission to be fulfilled. They went everywhere telling the good news. Only because they treasured Christ more than the church and city they had just lost could they have shared the gospel in those ways.
If all is going well and you say you follow Christ, no one will be impressed. But what if you lose your wife, your home, and your health? What it they then look at you and see that you are contented. They will ask you, “What are you hoping in?” Your reply should be, “Christ is more valuable than all of this.” And then they just might believe you.
In Romans 8:16-17 we see the call to suffer. There is a condition here. That we suffer with him. We suffer in order that we may eventually be resurrected and be glorified in heaven. If you reject the call to suffer, you will not go to heaven. Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God. This is not meant to call into question our standing with God. In verse 30 we see the clear affirmation that the called are glorified. Thus, God will see that those who he has justified will come through their sufferings looking like gold. Eternal security is not mechanical. It is absolutely certain, but this is in the sovereignty of God. Tomorrow morning God will make sure you wake up wanting to get to glory. Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. The glory makes suffering worth it.
Someone might argue, “Sin was condemned, but not Christ.” Piper then explained: Imagine I got you on stage and said, “I’m going to hit you in the face, but it’s not you I’m hitting, it’s just your attitude.” NO! It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. God made him to be sin who knew no sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. He was wounded for us. His punishment set us free. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He struck him. It was God the Father who killed Jesus. It is considered today to be appalling to teach or sing this. Piper said it is not appalling to him, it is his very life!
The Spirit manifests himself in many ways later in the chapter. Then we come to suffering in verses 18 to 25. He starts as follows—it is worth it. Sufferings are not comparable to the glory. It’s hard to feel this when we are in it. He steps back from our pain. We have to be careful how we do this. There is a regular rhythm between standing by a sick bed and behind a pulpit in a long-term pastoral ministry.
Suffering is Universal
God is not included, nor are the non-fallen angels. Everyone else and everything else suffers. The whole creation is groaning. It was given over to futility. It is not just about me. It is not because of my sin
specifically necessarily. Something global has brought this horrid reality to pass.
Suffering is Historical
It has a beginning in history, and will continue to the end of “this present time.” There was a specific event that led to suffering—it “was subjected.”
Suffering is Judicial
This is most important, most controversial, and most helpful. In verse 20 it is clear that somebody took the universe and disordered it. Someone brought painful disorder to our relationships, workplaces, etc. GOD did it. We know it must have been God because it was done in hope! There can only be two other candidates—Adam and the devil. Did Adam and Eve sin in the hope of a future new heaven and earth? They didn’t have a clue about that when they fell! Was it the devil’s design to do it in hope? No! Only God did this in hope. God judged the universe because of sin. This is not moral consequentialism. Hell is explained that way, the atonement is explained that way, your suffering is explained that way. People are becoming deists. Without Romans 8 deeply gripping your soul, our first reaction is to distance God from suffering. It is as though we want to defend God! Deism hasn’t comforted a human soul in the midst of pain in a thousand years. Piper said he has buried many people, has walked through people’s divorces, and has seen wayward children. We need something that will help us face suffering.
The meaning of all misery in the universe is that sin is horrific. All natural evil such as floods, disease, etc. is a statement about the horror of moral evil. God looked upon sin, and he said, “Here is my response to that.” He subjected the entire creation to this. Until you see the moral outrage of sin in proper proportions, and the magnificence of God in proper proportions, that will seem to you like an over-reaction. The world will say, “That’s ridiculous! He saw one sin and he did all that?” The reason for suffering is to teach you about your heart. You don’t even get close to understanding the horror of the way you treat your wife. There is a moral scandal about falling short of God’s glory.
If you see a soldier tripping over his own entrails and then dying, choking on his blood, you see a tiny fraction of the horrors of the world. Without this text that God subjected the world to futility in response to moral evil, we don’t understand how bad sin is. He has to use bodies to show that to us. We wouldn’t understand otherwise.
Nobody says it was unjust of God to save us! We all think we deserve him to save us. He says to us, “If you want to know how horrendous your sin is, look at AIDS and cancer.”
The gospel is good news for everybody who will receive the Jesus who suffered for them. Don’t conclude that because there is no condemnation we will have no suffering. Our light and momentary troubles will appear as nothing when we are with Christ.
Piper then closed with prayer, thanking God for the smell of the green pastures that we have coming towards us. The day is coming when suffering will be over. He promised to explain all this further tomorrow evening.