This is Part 4 of a series about my effort to memorize the entire book of Romans. Read the rest of the series here.
Today, I hit a milestone in my ongoing effort to memorize Romans that made my heart soar: I finally made it to the end of Romans 8. This is the rhetorical crescendo of the whole book, the “Mount Everest” of Romans– and perhaps the entire Bible. Some of the most precious phrases of our faith are here: “All things work together for good.” “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “Nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I practically let out a whoop just typing those. What could be better than promises like these? What could possibly be more comprehensive and sweeping than phrases like “all things” and “nothing else?” If these promises are true– and I have staked my life on their trustworthiness– then everything else in the world is only rightly understood when considered in their light.
There is a reason that Romans 8 is called “the Mount Everest of the Bible.” From the rooftop of the world, a climber can see for miles and miles in every direction. And from this vantage point in chapter 8, the entire landscape of Romans becomes clear. The long and winding road which began with Paul’s introduction in 1:1 builds to its climax here. Every lengthy argument, every “what then shall we say” and “by no means,” every “for” and “therefore,” have been stepping stones up into the stratospheric vista of 8:31-39. Looking ahead, the entire downslope of Romans 9-16 flows from the soaring heights of these promises.
For the past month and a half, I’ve been working every day on memorizing the book of Romans. Parts of the journey have been joyous– the shift from judgment to gospel in 3:21, “peace with God” in 5:1, and more. There have been other parts that have been more like a hard slog– like Paul’s convoluted sentence structure in 4:1-12 and 7:13-20. There have been many times when, to my shame, I would have preferred to occupy my mind with something other than God’s Word. But now, standing on the summit of 8:31-39, I can look back and say with confidence that the journey thus far has been worth it. Surprisingly, the most difficult parts of Romans are turning out to pay the sweetest dividends. Sections that I skimmed over before have sunk deeper into my soul and left an impression there. Passages that were hard to understand now hang together with the rest of the book in my mind, illumined by the light of Romans 8.
Let me give you one example: a couple weeks ago, I was caught in the thicket of Paul’s densely-argued flow of thought in chapter 4 about Abraham and circumcision and faith and grace. It requires some serious mental effort to keep up with Paul as he races from, “If Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about,” to “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” to “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith.” Then Paul deftly pulls all the pieces together at the end of chapter 4 with the example of Abraham’s faith: “In hope he believed against hope… He did not weaken in faith… no unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
When you’re simply reading through Romans, you can slog through Romans 4, get the general idea, and then move on to Romans 5. But when you’re memorizing it, you’re forced to slow down and think about the words, and you notice connections that you otherwise would have missed.
Like how the example of Abraham not weakening in faith (4:19) becomes in chapter 5 a lifeline to failures like us: “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6). Then that theme of weakness reemerges in chapter 8 with an incredible promise that ties it all together: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (8:26).
Or how the theme of Abraham’s hope (4:18) giving glory to God (4:20) reappears in chapter 5 as we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:2). That hope of glory then bursts forth in full bloom in chapter 8, where Paul confidently states, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… For in this hope we were saved” (8:18, 24).
The effect of connections like those is threefold sweetness. First, it makes the familiar verses like 5:6 and 8:18 all the more wonderful, as I see the deep roots of grace that support these precious promises. But that sweetness works the other way too; it borrows from the glories of the heights of Romans 8 and brings them back down to the more difficult passages in chapter 4. I love Romans 4 so much more now that I’ve tracked its themes up to the summit, like following a coursing mountain stream to its source. And thirdly, it heightens the anticipation of what is coming on the other side of Everest. These themes don’t disappear into the clouds at the top of Romans 8; rather, they reappear and flow down the other side of the mountain. That theme of “weakness” bubbles up anew in the practical exhortations of chapter 14 and 15: “We have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak.” “Hope” surges again at the close of chapter 15: “In him will the Gentiles hope; may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” And the theme of “glory” echoes from heights of Romans 8 into the mysterious caverns of Romans 9 (“riches of glory” in 9:23) to the glad shout at the end of Romans 11 (“to him be glory forever!” in 11:36) and in the final benediction (“to the only wise God be glory forevermore!” in 16:27).
I’ve read all those verses before and been moved by before. But now, moving slowly and meditatively through the book from beginning to end, I realize that I haven’t even scratched the surface. There are glories waiting to be uncovered here, life-changing truths I haven’t glimpsed yet, promises and hope to make my soul stronger, and a framework of thinking that I am confident will turn my life upside down.
All of this I’m just now beginning to see here at the summit of Romans 8. It makes my heart leap with excitement for the eight chapters still to come. Memorizing Romans may turn out to only take a few months. But this is a book I want to live in for the rest of my life.
Next: in Part 5, Romans 9-11 blows all my theological categories.