When considering a book of the bible with which to start a “blog/study”, the book of Romans was at the top of my list. As a new follower of Christ at age 20, this was the book that ignited within me a passion for God’s Word, a book to which I’ve returned time and again ever since. How I got to into it, however, was a major turning point itself.
It started with a study group in a summer Chemistry class at the University of Tennessee. At that time I had few other cares in my life except to pass this class. I mean really, who wants to be sitting in a lecture hall in the middle of July learning about carbon chains? I already had to repeat Chemistry 120, and I definitely wasn’t going to repeat Chemistry 130, so I was focused. Perhaps I was a little too focused as I didn’t see the challenge – or opportunity – right in front of me, in the form of my little study group. It was composed of 4 students: myself, a Mormon, a Hindu, and an atheist. (Yes, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.) This particular study session fell between a morning lecture and an afternoon exam, so needless to say our energy and enthusiasm quickly waned. The old University Center and the couch on which I lounged no longer exist, but I still remember the setting as if I could walk over there today. As I dozed and they chatted, I could hear the conversation turn toward the religious, and in particular, Christians. With my hat over my face I had the convenience of buffering my reaction for a moment, an opportunity to gather my thoughts, and more importantly, my reaction. To be fair, their tone wasn’t defamatory, but for this new believer the shields were already engaged. It was my duty to defend the faith and fight for the faithful, and to my newly-regenerated ears, this was an attack. So after that moment to gather myself I was ready… or was I?
I never lifted my hat. I stayed in an opossum state, feigning sleep and ignorance while I listened helplessly. Looking back though, some of the things they were saying were stereotypical of Christians, while some were bluntly true. In any case, jumping in for a fight wasn’t what was needed, or even warranted. But the helplessness I felt in my own heart and mind were what paralyzed me. Even if there was an opportunity to engage in conversation (not a fight, as the years have taught me), I had nothing to offer, and that was the frightening part. What would I say? What would I use in my own defense? Six months earlier I had given my life to Christ, and in that moment I vividly recalled other moments when I would look at my bible sitting on top of my TV and lazily acknowledging my need to read it. “Yeah I really need to start reading that” was my usual admission. Now, in a flash, I suddenly realized why. It wasn’t to pick a fight or gallantly defend the faith, as heroic as I thought myself to be. No it was much more simple than that: I just didn’t know… anything. Sure I had a few memory verses stuck in my head, a few religious sayings that I could regurgitate, but what did I rally know?
We proceeded to the exam as cordially as normal, but my head was full of more than just equations and formulas. I knew I was in desperate need of more than this grade. When I came home that afternoon, my first move was to the floor of my bedroom, falling face down and sobbing in prayer. I needed God’s word. I was void of any real understanding of what it said, a true, deep, thorough understanding. Immediately I proceeded to my dad’s small bookcase and grabbed the first commentary that struck me – Romans. Little did I know the impact this book would have on my life, much less, I would soon learn, the impact it has made to the whole of Christian thinking throughout the centuries.
Though I had already placed my faith in Christ, I always consider this the point at which I truly began my walk with him. My desire to know him, to truly understand him through the power of his truth, was ignited by my first little trip through the book of Romans. To be sure, it was not an easy trip. This book can get theologically heavy and, if you allow it, deeply personal. But that’s the beauty of it. I sincerely believe God doesn’t want you to move from chapter to chapter without being changed. His word is truly “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4.12). So if you choose to follow along with this study, ask God to make it transformative for you and not just informative. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read or studied through this book over the years, and it still excites me to do it again.
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