By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org
(…continued) Second, Paul told me, as I waited for the doctor, the positive side of “This is not wrath.” He said, “God has not destined [you] for wrath, but to obtain salvation.”
This cancer is not wrath. It is the path to salvation. Salvation is the positive counterpart to no wrath. Did he mean, “The biopsy will come back cancer-free. You will be saved from having cancer”? No. That is not what he meant.
There is no question about this. Paul said, in effect, that I might die from the cancer they are about to detect. So what, then, does salvation consist in? He will get to that.
Third, Paul told me that God does not guarantee I will escape death from this cancer.
He said that I would be saved “whether [you] are awake or asleep.” This means “whether you live or die.” Paul called death sleep not because after death there is no conscious fellowship with Jesus (Philippians 1:23), but because the body of a dead Christian looks like it is sleeping, and that body will be raised from the dead (as from sleep) at the last day (1 Corinthians 15:20).
You might think this would be small comfort—not being told that I was going to survive this cancer. But that is not the way it worked. What I needed at that moment was a comfort far more solid and lasting and unshakable than a few more years of life after cancer. I needed just what I got: “This is not wrath. You are destined for salvation. And that is true—absolutely true—whether you live or die!”
Fourth, Paul gave the awesome answer to the question I left open at the end of number one: “How do you know this cancer is not the punishment of God for your sins?” Answer: because Christ already died for my sins. Cancer or no cancer, death or life, Paul told me that I was going to “obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for [you].”
At moments like these, we realize why Paul said, “I delivered to you as of first importance: . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). “Of first importance” is that “Christ died for our sins.” Why?
Because, if he died for them, we will not die for them That was the reason he came — that my condemnation under the wrath of God (John 3:36) would be endured by Jesus when he died on the cross (Romans 8:3). The person who is united to Christ by faith in him “does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
That’s why Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No condemnation because Christ bore the condemnation. No wrath because Christ bore the wrath. That’s why Paul said to me so clearly and firmly and joyfully, as I waited for the biopsy, “This cancer is not wrath.”
The final thing he said to me was very personal—namely, just what he meant by salvation. “God has not destined [you] for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for [you] so that whether [you] are awake or asleep [you] might live with him.”
Whether you live or die, you will live. But not just live in some misty, unspecified immortality, but very specifically, you will “live with him”—the one who died for you and rose again. Which means at least two great truths. One is that I will live forever, since the one I live with cannot die.” Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again” (Romans 6:9). The other is that I get to live forever with the one who loved me enough to die for me. This is a very personal and deeply satisfying promise.
The doctor called me the next day and said, “You have cancer. I’d like to meet with you and your wife when it’s convenient for you and discuss your options.” We took the radical option: take it out. That happened seven weeks later. That was twelve years ago.
How am I doing? I feel fine.
Lord Jesus, by your death you took away the sting of death. Grant to us, your servants, so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake in your likeness; to you the author and giver of life, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
–Book of Common Prayer