I have heard many anecdotes about students reflecting on their seminary training and realizing that during these years they read the Bible less than ever before. Based on my own mandatory extra-biblical reading schedule it is not hard for me to imagine this to be true. Thankfully, this semester in my Systematic Theology II class our professor, Dr. Bruce Ware, has assigned us to read six passages twenty-one times each over the course of the semester. A crucial aspect of these readings is that they must be done aloud with the idea that this will help us to be more deliberately thoughtful as we read. At the mid-point of the semester we were to write a short essay on how the first three passages of Scripture affected our lives and ministries. The three Scripture passages for the first half of the semester were Romans 5:12-6:23, Psalm 8, and Psalm 51. If you are interested in reading my thoughts, then it may be helpful to follow the links and read (or at least scan over) the passages.
This passage of Scripture contains many marvelous themes concerning our salvation in Christ and the way it affects the rest of our lives. The first way, then, these verses influenced me was to help me praise and thank God for such a great salvation. By meditating on this passage I was able to thank God using the language of Scripture itself. Many times I blessed the Lord by saying, “Thank you God for this ‘free gift of righteousness’” (5:17) or “Thank you Father that ‘where sin increases, grace abounds all the more’” (5:20). Having the language of Scripture in my praises and thanksgivings gives a richness and variety to my words. It keeps my communion with the Lord lively, as opposed to if I just tried to entirely make up my own words.
In regards to my ministry I think Romans 5:12-6:23 provides some needed balance. On the one hand God’s free and abundant grace to us in Christ is held up again and again. On the other hand the Apostle is clear that we are not to “continue in sin that grace may abound” (6:1). The former truth gives comfort and hope to the saint who is weary with temptation and tough battles with evil desires. The latter truth gives a strong warning to the professing Christian who may be using his “salvation” as a license to sin. I can think of a multitude of cases in which I have needed to communicate this balanced understanding of the gospel to both broken saints and licentious “Christians”.
This passage as well has helped me utter high praises to our God whose majesty fills the earth (v.1, 8). Because I am writing a position paper on biological evolution this psalm spoke to me most poignantly, the reason being because of the exalted status given to man by God that this psalm speaks about. “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5). These words seem to be a play off of the idea in Genesis 1 that we are made in the image of God. In regards to biological evolution, I have had a tough time squaring the fact that man could be so highly regarded by God, but at the same time brought into being by such cruel and impersonal forces such as natural selection and the other proposed mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. On the other hand, the accounts of man’s creation in Gen. 1-2 show God’s deliberate intervention and intricate care in bringing about the existence of the first pair.
This psalm also drew me to the worship of Christ for I thought of how He is the One who most ultimately has been crowned with glory and honor. It is only because of His glorious life and His gruesome death that I could be converted and begun to be shaped back into the image of God that I was originally created for. Praise Christ!
This psalm may be one of the most practical passages of Scripture there is. How often do I need to repent before God! And how consistently does this psalm help give impetus to my repenting and help me form words and thoughts that are in accord with what I need to say and think as a sinner before God. This psalm doesn’t make repentance easy, but it does give us a model for what to say. It also breeds hope as it shows David clinging to God’s mercy for cleansing.
Some of the words in this psalm that have been most impactful for me are in v. 15: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Week in and week out I gather with the people of God, and it is not a rare occasion where I find my heart is simply not as lively as it should be. We’re talking about the worship of the living God, the risen Christ! I should be more passionate, more excited, more sincere in my worship. In these times this petition gives me hope. It tells me that God does not just want my worship, He is able and gracious enough to create it in me and draw it out of me. Verse 17 is hope-giving in this regard as well. God doesn’t just want impressively passionate singing; He wants broken and contrite hearts that fall on His abundant mercy.