The Gospel is...
THE GOSPEL IS….. (Rom 1:16-17)
This morning we continue our study through the book of Romans. Open your Bibles to Rom 1.
Read Rom 1:9-12.
What do we see here? Paul longs to gather with these believers to strengthen and encourage them and he knows that he in turn is going to be encouraged as he ministers to them. But he has been prevented from seeing them, by circumstances, by other ministry responsibilities, by Satan’s wiles and behind all of those, the providential hand of the sovereign God – and so He appeals to God to move His hand to make this meeting possible.
But in the meantime he is writing to them to encourage them. This is the first century equivalent of an email or a WhatsApp message or a Zoom meeting. By the Spirit of God, this is not only used to encourage these Roman believers, but it becomes part of inspired Scripture which has continued to instruct and exhort believers for the last 2000 years. Because Paul was prevented from gathering with these believers in Rome, he temporarily resorted to alternative means to build them up in their faith and by God’s providence this is used for the greater good of the church as a whole.
From this text, it is clear that ministry we do over WhatsApp or Zoom, or via a phone call because circumstances prevent us from meeting in person, is valid, vital ministry. We can and should engage in every channel and form of ministry available to us.
But let’s also be clear that this is no substitute for in-person, in the flesh ministry. Paul longed for that and prayed toward that because that’s God’s way. God wasn’t content to merely give us His Word in writing, but as John 1 tells us, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. God’s ultimate ministry to us was to take on human flesh and come down and live among us and eat with us and fellowship in our homes and enter into our suffering and our joy. Jesus Christ made himself nothing in order to minster to our need in the flesh, by blood and sweat and tears, in person – because that was essential to Christ’s calling and its essential to ours.
And Covid and lockdown restrictions and comorbidities and persecution and financial constraints and other concerns are no excuse for neglecting our calling to evangelize the lost and edify the saints.
In the last 2 weeks I’ve been able to pray with other believers and share the gospel, worship and fellowship over a meal, use my spiritual gifts and serve in practical ways and be edified in the process. I’m not aware of any biblical command or “one another” that I haven’t been able to fulfill, without breaking any lockdown rules. I don’t say that to undermine the importance of our corporate gathering, but to say that Sunday Christianity and Virtual Christianity is no substitute for the vital Christianity we see described here in Romans 1 and prescribed elsewhere in the New Testament.
Yes, it now takes more creativity, and more effort and more sacrifice to really be involved in each other’s lives – but we can never settle for less. For years, Paul kept pressing on in the direction of Rome despite many obstacles and set backs because he was determined to fulfill his calling – and we should be too. This is our calling too, as we saw last week in vs 6-7 we are loved by God, called to belong to Jesus Christ and serve His purposes.
It was so encouraging to see over the course of last year, how many of you continued to pursue Christ and to find ways to build others up and use your spiritual gifts and connect with other believers. We saw people join new Zoom Bible studies and do online bible study courses together and get into each others homes or meet over coffee at a restaurant or form GAP groups, or take meals around to those who were sick, or make masks and pack food parcels together. Covid disabled many of our normal church programs that we run and many of you found other ways to strengthen others and be strengthened by them.
But that’s not everyone’s story and some of us are growing weary and we are looking at another year of this and feeling isolated and discouraged and overwhelmed and the church has failed us and this virus is wearing us down…..and we are starting to point fingers and blame others and make excuses to justify our backsliding….
This morning, I want you to just stop and wash yourself in the gospel again.
Listen again to the message of the gospel, which is not for the self-righteousness, or for the self-condemned but for sinners who will lay hold of God’s outstretched hand of mercy. Let this gospel work repentance in you and restore in you this fervent, passion to fulfill your calling, this longing to be with God’s people, to give and to receive in the fellowship that Paul describes here between himself and a church he had never even visited.
I’ve called this message “the gospel is…” because this morning we will be looking at what many see as the key verse which summarizes the main theme of the letter to the Romans. Romans is a systematic presentation of the message of the gospel for the purpose of grounding the believers in Rome and building them up in this message. At once we should realize that the gospel is not just for unbelievers, it’s not just the means by which people are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. The gospel is also the means by which we continue to be built up and established in our faith. We don’t begin the Christian life by laying hold of the gospel and then leave it behind in some deserted and forgotten corner of our lives – no, we bring the gospel out each and every day and clothe ourselves in it and somehow, the gospel doesn’t get worn out and faded by constant use, but its colors get brighter and its contours become smoother and its shine more dazzling with every passing day.
This message lights a fire in your bosom that cannot be quenched, this message makes you want to get on top of your roof and preach the gospel to anyone who will listen. This message, more than anything else makes you want to take a sword to your sin and slay it once for all. This message makes your soar and sing even though your body aches and your heart is broken. This message raises you from the ashes of your life every day to live and to fight and to win until Jesus Christ returns. So let this gospel do its work in you this morning.
Read Rom 1:15-17
The gospel is…..
· God’s glory
· God’s power
· God’s righteousness
1: God’s glory
So let’s just pick up on the context and the flow leading up to these 2 verses:
· Paul begins his letter, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel” (Rom 1:1).
· This gospel which is all about Jesus Christ (1-4).
· This gospel ministry through which God intends to bring about the obedience of faith for the glory of His name among all nations (1:5),
· This gospel which is the object of your faith and is proclaimed in all the world (1:8).
· This gospel which has captured my own heart and motivates me to zealous service of Jesus Christ (1:9).
· This gospel which has been bearing fruit wherever it goes (1:13) and which I long to glory in with you when I come (1:15).
For I, on my part, am not ashamed of the gospel (1:16)
And we say, well that much is clear Paul…
Illustration: We are ashamed
Could you tone it down a bit, you are making my work colleagues feel a little uncomfortable, maybe this is not really the right time or place to be having this gospel conversation. We need to respect other people’s opinions. He’s a Jew, He’s a devout Muslim, she’s a successful business women, he’s a self-made man, I don’t think he’ll be interested in the gospel. I wouldn’t know what to say… This mask, just makes it sooo difficult to speak to anyone… I preach the gospel with my life. I’ve have been praying for an opportunity to share the gospel with my friend….for the last 3 years, and the right opportunity still hasn’t presented itself.
Because let’s just face it – we are ashamed of the gospel….
We are embarrassed about it, we are sometimes not convinced people really need it or that it will radically transform their lives, we certainly don’t want have our reputation or friendships or careers damaged because of it.
But that’s not Paul’s perspective. I’m convinced, I’m confident, I’m proud…
· I’m just so excited about this message that I want to put in the middle of the dinning room table so that everyone is looking at it and talking about it over every meal,
· I want to replace the pictures of my grandchildren that are in my wallet and on my mantlepiece with gospel tracts and regularly call my guests over to show them the latest tract I have acquired.
· I want to polish it up and then go park it in the sun at the shopping center and just stand around so people can see that its mine and ask me questions about it.
· I want to make sure that I have gospel logos on all my clothing so nobody can be in doubt what’s my favourite brand and how rich I am.
The gospel carries shame
The gospel message has always been shameful in the eyes of the world.
· Crucifixion was a form of punishment specifically designed by the Romans to bring open, public shame. It was reserved for the worst of crimes. The guilty were stripped naked, beaten, disfigured and then lifted up on a tree in a public place, displayed as spectacle and their suffering prolonged so that this hideous sight was kept before their eyes as long as possible.
· To speak of a crucified saviour to Romans was absurd.
· The messiah was the greater David, who was supposed to be God’s deliver to deliver the Jews from Roman domination. To try tell Jews that their messiah succumbed to Roman crucifixion was nothing short of blasphemy.
· To tell Greeks that an uneducated Jew from Galilee was God’s Saviour for the world and the only way to the only true God – was to ask them to commit intellectual and social suicide.
And nothing has changed since the first century…. Yet this simple gospel message, which to the world is so useless, irrelevant and shameful, foolish, powerless, and despicable – is the clearest manifestation of God’s goodness and God’s glory and power this side of heaven.
The world boasts in academic achievement, in heritage, in status, in its technology, or wealth or power. The world of people boast in who they are, in what they know and have accomplished. The believer boasts in the gospel. What Jesus Christ has done for those who are nothing.
1 Cor 1:18-25
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The gospel is the glory, the goodness, the greatness of God put on display and should be our boast.
2: God’s power (16b)
Why does Paul boast in the gospel? Why is he not ashamed? For, since, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
Greek “dunamis,” it is the dynamite of God for salvation.
God says to Pharoah, the most powerful man in the ancient world at the time “16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Ex 9:16).
Human vs divine power
Human power is of one kind, divine power is of another. When we talk about God’s power, we are not talking about something that is just much greater than our ability, we are talking about something that is qualitatively different.
· Who can speak and bring into existence things that don’t exist?
· Who measures out the universe, which is around 100 billion light years in diameter, with the palm of his hand?
· Who summons the dawn and commands light and says to the sea – thus far and no further?
· Who controls the pathway of every drop of rain in a thunderstorm. Over 2 trillion drops all being moved by the hand of God at the same time.
· Who supplies food for every living creature every day?
· Who says to the dead “come out” or “arise” and they obey?
· (Examples taken from Job 38-41)
This limitless, supernatural, divine power of God adheres in the gospel message.
The gospel is not a message about the power of God. Look at what the text says, “for it” that is the gospel “is the power of God” for salvation…. In the beginning God said, and the words of God carried the very power of God to bring creation into existence. So the gospel contains the very power of God to save people.
In as much as the power of God delivered His people from bondage in Egypt and brought them into the promised land – the gospel conveys God’s power to deliver people from slavery to sin and certain and eternal death and bring them into a love relationship with Him.
Nothing, this side of heaven has more power to transform people’s life and eternity – than this simple message about Jesus.
· Nothing has more power to turn back sinners in their path of destruction, to heal marriages, to root out corruption, to break addictions, to overcome abuse, to transform cultures and to redirect nations.
· No power or force in the universe poses a threat to the gospels power. No false religion can undermine it, no political power can silence it, no ideology can supplant it, no hard heart can resist it.
· This simple message houses and conveys the limitless, matchless power of God to save, to deliver, to rescue.
Those who believe
But it only operates within and among a select group of people – those who believe. For those who have faith it is an irresistible force, a bottomless well of power, but for those who do not believe it is as invisible as the wind and weighty as the air we breathe….
Maybe you’ve seen one of the massive electromagnets they use in scrap yards to pick cars up and dump them in another place. The gospel is like an infinitely powerful electromagnet. Ferrous metals are drawn irresistibly to it, they cannot escape the power of its pull – but a piece of wood or plastic can be right next to this piece of iron and it experiences none of the magnetic pull.
Two people hear the same gospel message in a conversation – one person is cut to the heart and can’t sleep that night and their life is never the same. The person right next to them is bored out of their mind and confused and can’t quite understand what all the fuss is about.
The gospel conveys the power of God selectively – it is un unstoppable, irresistible attractive force to some, and imperceivable and irrelevant to others. To someone who has lost their sense of smell, the powerful aroma of the gospel has no effect.
to the Jew first
Paul is going to develop each of these themes in this letter in greater detail. Throughout this letter he is going to be highlighting the significance of the gospel to both Jew and Gentile and in Chapter 9-11 he is going to deal specifically with the question, “If Jesus is the Jewish messiah, why have the Jews not accepted Him?” “How has the gospel changed Israel’s relationship to God.”
But to summarize, this highlights the uniting power of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t only save individuals, it creates a new corporate reality, Jew and Gentile together in a new Covenant People. Every tribe, language, people and nation united under one glorious banner – Jesus Christ. Which is why, when we are called to Jesus Christ, we are called to cross cultural mission, to church planting and church strengthening. We are called to belong to God’s family and gifted to build up that family. So you can never just sit on your couch and content to be passively entertained – the gospel calls you to a corporate reality and a corporate responsibility. By the gospel you are reborn into the family of God.
So the gospel is God’s glory, God’s power – thirdly, the gospel is God’s righteousness.
3: God’s righteousness(17)
Notice the grammatical structure of these verses. 15 I am eager to preach the gospel for/since/because it’s the power of God for salvation. 16 It’s the power of God for salvation for/since/because in it the righteousness of God is revealed. So these are a series of subordinate statements where Paul is explaining or expanding on the statement he has previously made.
The gospel is the power of God because in it the righteousness of God is revealed.
· This Greek term here “apokalypsis” is in the present tense. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is now, currently, actively, presently being revealed.
· The term means literally to “disclose or reveal or unfold” and can refer to facts or truths which are being made known, or to plans and purposes of God which are now being realized, or enacted.
· If you look down at vs 18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” That’s not talking about God revealing new truths about His wrath, that is talking about God’s wrath unfolding, or being enacted against wicked people.
· So in vs 17 it is not talking about the gospel revealing truths about God’s righteousness, but the gospel actually unfolding or enacting God’s righteousness
So what is God’s righteousness here?
“Righteousness of God”
This phrase is used 8 times in Romans and only once outside of it in 2 Cor 5:21 so this is a critical phrase to understanding the message of Romans.
· In some places the righteousness of God is an attribute of God. Like God’s justice or His faithfulness, this is describing a characteristic of God’s nature.
· In other places what is emphasized is not the righteousness that God possesses but the righteousness that He gives to sinners. Rom 5:17 speaks of the “free gift of righteousness”. The righteousness of God describes the right standing that believers have before God in the gospel.
· Then again in other places the emphasis is not on a characteristic of God, or the status of man, but it is seen as an activity of God. The righteousness of God is the saving, delivering action of God. Is 46:13 “I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” God’s righteousness is pictured as His saving acts.
So if we put these three nuances together, we can say that in the gospel, we have the righteous, holy God actively and decisively reaching out to sinners to bring them back into a right relationship to Him.
In the gospel we have the power of God, the goodness of God directed toward sinners with a view to reconciling them to Himself.
The gospel is a message, but its more than a message, its more than facts about who Jesus is and what He has done, its more than a set of propositional statements which someone can affirm or deny intellectually. In this simple message, the power of God is directed toward those who are spiritually dead with a view to making them alive, toward those who are enslaved to sin with a view to setting them free, toward those who are lost, with a view to bringing them home, toward those who are alienated from God and deserving of His wrath – with a view to reconciling them and making them objects of His love and blessing.
All this theology is packed into this one simple phrase “in it the righteousness of God is being revealed” and Paul will unpack all this in the rest of this letter.
From faith for faith.
The last phrase I need to deal with in vs 17 is the statement “from faith for faith.” Paul uses to different Greek prepositions here “Ek” meaning “from or out of” and “eis” meaning “in or into.” From faith to faith, or out of faith into faith and a bunch of other variations have been proposed in the different English translations. There are so many different ideas about what Paul means here but I think we can get some help from the one place in the N.T where we find a similar Greek construction. In 2 Cor 2:15 Paul says, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…” We are the aroma of Christ, to those who are perishing it is a putrid fragrance which smells always and only like death. To the other it is the sweet smelling fragrance of life. So the 2 prepositions are used for emphasis to say “it is this and always this and only this and nothing but this.”
That interpretation fits well with the context of Romans 1:17 – in the gospel we have the power of God being channels toward sinners in order to bring them back into a right relationship with God always and only by faith and by no other means but faith.
What he says here is so radical, he must back it up with the authority of Scripture and so he quotes from Hab 2:4 “The righteous shall live by faith.” Throughout Romans he quotes repeatedly from the Old Testament to support his argument. Though the gospel is a radical message, it’s not contradictory to the way God has always worked. Justifiation has always been by faith, the righteous have always been saved and rescued from God’s wrath not by their goodness and wisdom and works but by their trust in God.
What Paul says in these 2 verse is so jam packed with life transforming theology that he will spend the next 15 chapters of Romans unpacking and explaining it. It is so controversial that he will spend the rest of his life defending it. It is so life transforming that he will give everything he has for the privilege of seeing the gospel unleashed in all the world.
It is the manifestation of God’s glory, the channel of God’s power the realization of God’s righteousness. In the Gospel, God is busy reaching down and extending His hand in mercy and grace to rescue and save and deliver those who entrust themselves to Him.
Do you believe it?... Have you been drawn by its sweet smelling aroma, crushed and humbled by the force of its conviction, healed and liberated and renewed by its balm of mercy and fortified and fitted for heaven by its unshakeable hope? Do you believe it?...
Are you reveling in this gospel, feeding on it every day, being transformed by it and looking for every opportunity to pass it on to others?
If not – will you open wide your sails today and ask the Spirit of God to direct the winds of the gospel to blow in your direction today and from today, every day.