The Power of the Gospel
© C. O. Bishop 7/23/15 THCF 7/26/15
Romans 1:16, 17
When I meditate on the two verses of Scripture we are about to read, and consider their meaning, I try to think them through one word at a time: I …am not…I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ…and so forth. Every word needs to be considered:
In the very first words, I have to ask: is this true of me? Or is it just a letter from Paul? Can I say this with Paul? I count on the rest of the passage as being true for me; how about the first phrase?
Ultimately, these two verses introduce the topic and theme of the entire book. This Gospel of Christ is precisely what (and who) the letter to the Romans is about. In verse 16, Paul begins to lay out the facts about the Gospel. He first states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the Power of God unto Salvation to everyone who believes it, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.
Let’s break that into bite-size chunks:
- I am not ashamed
- Of the Gospel of Christ,
- Because it is :
- The Power of God unto Salvation
- To those who believe it
- Jews first
- Also the Gentiles.
- To those who believe it
- The Power of God unto Salvation
Am I Ashamed?
Perhaps I should save the “personal questions” for last, but Paul addressed it up front, so I think I need to do so, as well: Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Does it embarrass me to tell another person about Jesus? Do I really believe it is what God wants? And, is it important enough to me, personally, that I will take the implicit risk, and at least give others the opportunity to personally reject the Lord, instead of just going along with a whole society that mocks Him? Better yet, am I anxious to give them a chance to change direction before it is too late?
If the truth is that I am uneasy about explaining to a friend or acquaintance how they can have eternal life, perhaps I need to ask myself why: Do I really understand the Gospel myself? And, do I really believe it, myself? Do I really understand and believe that I was on death row for years, with nothing to look forward to except eternal judgment, and not even the sense to know it was coming? Do I really believe that the Holy God whose Law I deliberately broke, deliberately took my deserved judgment on himself, being executed in my place, by people just like me? Do I really believe that the God who created the people who sinned, and the tree of which the cross was made, and the iron from which the nails were forged…allowed those sinners to nail him to the cross specifically to provide salvation for the very sinners who called for His death? If I really understand that and believe it, then I need to see how vitally important it is that they hear that message. And that He has entrusted that job to me. Why was Paul not ashamed? Because of all that we just mentioned and one more thing: It is the Power of God unto salvation.
The Gospel …of Christ
Paul doesn’t give much detail here—he feeds us the facts in order, and in bite-sized pieces. But the first thing of which we should take note is that it is not just any “Gospel” or “good news”, but specifically the Gospel of Christ: the good news about Jesus.
I am going to jump over to another passage, to compare references: 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 tells me the bare-bones facts of that good news. There, Paul said “I delivered unto you as of first importance what was delivered to me:
- That Christ died for our sins in agreement with the Scriptures (fulfilling Prophecy)
- He was buried (also according to the prophecy)
- And that he was raised again the third day (still fulfilling prophecy).
Why am I underscoring the fact that Jesus fulfilled prophecy at every step of the way? Because the fact that God can accurately tell the future, (he who tells the end from the beginning) is the pedigree of God’s word and His authority and His reliability.
That little outline Paul gave is the core of the Gospel: it assumes the bad news is understood—we need a savior because…we are lost sinners. Paul is about to give us all the bad news we can stand…and more, probably; but he is stating the good news first: Jesus saves! And the Gospel is how He does it!
On several occasions I have heard a preacher say that he was going to “really give them the Gospel!”, and then I listened very carefully, and was dismayed to find that they not only failed to “really give ‘em the Gospel”, but they did not even mention any portion of it.
- No mention of the Holiness of God,
- No personal guilt for sin,
- No coming judgment,
- No need for a personal Savior,
- No Cross,
- No Grave,
- No Resurrection!
What Gospel? It was certainly not the Gospel of Christ!
When I share with someone, I try to remember to explain all three points of the good news, as well as at least the core of the bad news…We need a Savior because we are Lost! And, quite honestly, sometimes I look back and realize that I left out one or more points of the Good News, and maybe all the “Bad News.”
I need to bear in mind that the message we are called to carry is specifically the Gospel of Christ; not “an enhanced life”, “great inner peace”, or any of the other social gospel “motivators” we try to share with others. If I am not telling people the bad news of coming judgment for personal sin, and the specific points of God’s power to save through Christ, then I am not “giving them the Gospel”. And I may even be causing such confusion that they will be driven away from Christ. It is a very simple message: I need to learn it, memorize it, and simply recite it if necessary…explain it if I am allowed to do so.
The Power of God:
Why would Paul say that the Gospel is the “Power of God unto Salvation”? How can that be? Why can’t He just “reach out and save people”? In Genesis 18:14, God even poses the rhetorical question “Is anything too hard for Me? (The implied answer being “No!”)
So what is the limiting factor, here? Is it our sin? Nope! There is no sin too bad for God to overcome and forgive, and heal. The limiting factor is the Righteousness of God, himself, which demands Judgment for sin; and the Holiness of God which says that God cannot compromise Himself. He cannot “wink” and look the other way. He is Holy! He cannot have partnership—fellowship—with Sin at any level. So, how can the Gospel give Him the power to reach past His own Holiness and Righteousness, and save a lost Sinner? Why is it called “the Power of God unto Salvation?”
The Greek word here is dunamis—it is the “can-do” power of God: God’s ability to accomplish a task. We use that word as the root-word for “dynamic”, “dynamo”, and other words regarding “power to accomplish something.” But there is another word, too, that is also frequently translated “power”; it is the Greek word exousia. Exousia is the authority to do something. When Jesus said “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth…”, He used the word “exousia”—all authority is given unto him in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18-20) So what did he say on the basis of that authority? “Bow down and worship me? Bring me all your money? Go attack my enemies?”
Nope, He said “Go ye therefore (because I have all authority in Heaven and in Earth) and teach all nations…” He used his infinite authority to tell us to take his “ability to save” (the Gospel) to the whole human race. Did you know that the Gospel of Christ is the only thing described in the Bible as being “the power of God to save” those who believe it? That is what Paul says, right here. He does not say it is “a” power of God, but the Power of God. This is it! This is Plan A, and… there is no Plan B.
To Save Those Who Believe:
It is interesting, too, that God did not direct his offer to those who could do something for Him, or who would swear loyalty to his cause, or who were specially deserving, or some such thing: He offered it to anyone who would take his offer…those who will take Him at His Word. When people asked Jesus (John 6:28, 29) “what must we do to work the work of God?” he said “this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Again, this is it! This is Plan A—and there is no Plan B!
So what does that plan entail? Jesus promised (John 5:24)”He that hears My Word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life (Now! Not “someday when you die!”), and shall not come into condemnation (Ever!) but has passed over (Permanently!) from death into Life!” No works are involved. In another passage (Ephesians 2:8, 9) He says we are saved by Grace, through Faith. Grace means it cannot be earned…at all. If you think you have earned it, it isn’t Grace and it isn’t from God.
“Faith” means being persuaded… believing… trusting. When you make the decision to believe the “Good News” regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and you trust His blood as full payment for your sins, then according to His promise, you are eternally saved from that moment forward. That is the Power of God to Save! And it is only effective for those who believe.
To the Jews First?
Well, what’s that about? I thought we were all equal in Christ! Well, we are… but, in fairness to those who had already waited for 1500 years to receive the promise of the Messiah, it was offered to the Jews first, wherever Paul went. He first located the local Synagogue, and he sat down with the elders, sharing with them from the Old Testament the prophecies they already knew, then showing how Jesus completely fulfilled all of them, including the death and burial and resurrection, as promised in the Prophets and writings. When they rejected the fulfilled promise (as they did for the most part), Paul immediately moved to the Gentiles and shared the same message with them.
As a rule, though, some of the Jews responded in faith, and some Gentiles did as well, collectively forming the nucleus of the infant local church. He spent as much time as he could with them, teaching and preaching. In some cases the local resistance was so violent that he had to leave before his presence became dangerous to the believers. (Thessalonica is a prime example—Acts 17:1-10) But that is how the local churches were founded, in virtually every case: Jews first, then Gentiles. It was the only fair way to approach the issue, at the time. And as a matter of practicality, the Jews who believed had already mastered the scriptures to some extent, and could rapidly grow, as believers, to a level of maturity enabling them to function as leaders and shepherds to the poor, ignorant Gentile believers. This was an ideal “soil” into which to plant the “seed” of the Gospel. To be sure, most of the Jews were hardened against the truth. But those who actually believed, and received the truth, immediately took hold and began to grow. So the Good News came “to the Jew First, and also to the Greeks.” He wasn’t holding out on the Gentiles. He was only doing things in proper order.
The Righteousness of God Revealed “From faith to faith”
Further, Paul states that the Righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. Our understanding of his righteousness begins as we place our faith in his character, but our understanding continues to grow as our faith grows. He says that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel from faith to faith…as our faith increases, so will our recognition of and our understanding of His righteousness.
Paul sums up the concept by stating that “The just shall live by faith.” This is actually a quote from Habakkuk 2:4, in the context of judgment coming on Israel, and stating that the righteous people would “live” (that is, survive) on the basis of faith. And, in truth, that is an eternal reality. Habakkuk was facing the physical destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. Those who believed God (and were thereby declared “just” or “righteous” by God) would physically survive (though not necessarily thrive…it was rough all the way around!)
Throughout the history of the Human race, it has been the same: the whole human race having died with Adam, those who believed God, survived the Fall of Man, and rejoined fellowship with God. Those who did not, since they were already dead in Adam, simply passed into a Christless Eternity and were lost. And that is what happens today as well.
Before I was a believer, I was already dead in Adam…already condemned, because I had not believed in Jesus. I was on “death row”, awaiting execution. Jesus had already taken my punishment at the Cross, but I was 18 years old before I placed my trust in His finished Work. Now I am safe in Him. I no longer face God’s Judgment. I already have eternal life. So I now have something truly precious to share with others, and a responsibility to do so.
If they refuse to hear, I am not accountable for their rejection, unless I caused it by my sin. But I am truly a debtor to all around me. I owe them the Gospel, and I owe it to Jesus to pay that debt.
There is no other way…this is plan A, and there is no plan B. And God says He will save all those who believe. We have to try, folks! This is all we can do.
God help us to be the faithful witnesses you have called us to be, praying for the lost, loving one another, loving the lost, and sharing with them in the power of the Holy Spirit!