So there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. — Romans 8:1
Oh how we long to get to this verse in studying the Bible. If we’re reading through, we may be tempted to rush it. It’s like working forward through a tragic book to the point at which we know there will be a happy ending.
Besides the theology, however, there’s also just the complexity of the text. Romans 7 is harder to read and to follow, and it’s certainly more controversial in its intent.
But the book of Romans is a journey. It starts by letting us know that humanity is all fallen, that there are no “good guys” who don’t need any salvation, but that we are all human together in need of God’s grace. It continues by telling us that God’s grace has truly been offered, but then it seems to take a side trip into the labyrinth of Romans 7. Surely that chapter is a place of torment for Christian readers, and it describes a place of torment for the Christian life.
But then comes chapter 8. If I’m choosing my texts on which to preach, I’d prefer to preach a nice upbeat sermon, letting people know how everything comes out.
But the fact is that there will be many people in any congregation who are living something that looks much like Romans 7. The solutions to problems may look very clear, but be nearly impossible to implement. It will often look very much like the person who is told that the solution to his or her problems is to train for a new job. But supposing the person is a single parent and has to arrange childcare and transportation, has to have money for tuition, and has to be able to live in the meantime. The solution is clear, but life remains in turmoil.
For such a person, preaching about the victory is important, but so is preaching about the struggle and how to live through it. I’m an Arminian, sometimes I say I’m more Arminian than Arminius. The stereotype is that Arminians hold Romans 7 to be a pre-conversion experience, while Romans 8 is after conversion. I disagree. I think everyone will have struggles, to various degrees, and everyone can benefit from realizing that struggle is a part of the Christian life.
My primary point in bringing this up today is not to expound on Romans 7 or 8, but rather to point out that it’s easy to skip the hard parts and jump right to the easy parts in studying, teaching, or preaching scripture. But the hard parts are there for a reason. The person who is struggling may not be encouraged by hearing a sermon about the wonders of victory; he or she may, instead, be discouraged, thinking that everyone else is living this gloriously victorious life.
We like to claim that the Bible is all equally inspired, but we often don’t preach and teach that way. Victory comes after struggle. Knowledge after study.
It works in life and in Bible study.