This week I listened to Pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jone’s 100th Friday Night Sermon on Romans, preached in 1959. His verses for that sermon had arrived at chapter six verses 12,13, & 14. He said this marked Apostle Paul’s departure from pure doctrine and his beginning exhortations on the application of the doctrine set down. Pastor MLJ said that many people love to study doctrine, but have no use for application, and many people want only to hear application, and dislike doctrine. Pastor MLJ went on to explain why both views are dangerous, but that study of doctrine without application is the worst of the two. He said that if we know and are settled in the doctrine, application makes more sense to us. The key doctrine expounded upon by Apostle Paul, according to Pastor MLJ is “Justification.” Six chapters written to Christians, the Gentile and Jewish Believers, in Rome, all on one doctrine–Justification. And Pastor MLJ expounded, from the pulpit of Westminster Chapel, those six chapters for one hundred hours. In our 21st Century, our culture of six-second sound bites, it seems amazing. I admit to times during those 100 hours that I thought to myself, “he’s said this before, exactly as he’s saying it again.” Repetition. Pastor MLJ mentioned it too. He does it with intent. Not malicious. He said Apostle Paul, as all good teachers, makes frequent repetition. Repeat. Add a bit to the repetition. Repeat again, add more. Give a general statement. Expound on part of the statement for several verses, then expound on the remaining part of that statement. Repeat in different terms. According to Pastor MLJ, it is like a wonderful musical composition.
Every once and a while I recall my first experience reading Apostle Paul’s letters. I thought him harsh, quick to judge, strict and almost legalistic. Then there was this time when the First Assembly of God in San Luis Obispo, CA, was praying for guidance in selecting a new senior pastor. 1st AG had a room behind the stage (er alter) that was I suppose a room to hold choir robes and gather the choir before its entry. That would have been in the days before things got more casual. Anyway, this room was used as a prayer room, and a 3-day prayer session was called for. I attended. I really had no clue what to do while there except to be on a vigil, sort of, so during my allotted hours, I read through the entire letter to the Romans. Maybe more than once. I recall how in doing so I learned that Paul truly was filled with love, and that what I took as harsh was a loving intensity. And what I took as legalism was a desire to obey, not out of fear of losing salvation, not out of a desire to gain salvation, but out of a sincere and pure desire to love G-D and love G-D’s people.
According to Pastor MLJ, when we fully understand that we were justified in Christ while still sinners, that we died to the reign of sin in our true selves, we are free to live a life of holiness. It is our love of G-D that enables us to move forward, not bogged down by the mortal body that is still subject to sin. It is the Spirit of G-D that gives us that power to love.