Monday, January 9, 2017

Why the Gospel is so powerful - introducing Paul's Letter to the Romans

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Romans 1:16-17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Today we are considering what is arguably the most important New Testament book outside the Gospels: Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Bible Knowledge Commentary notes on the importance of Paul's letter to the Romans:

"This letter is the premier example of the epistolary form of writing, not only in the Pauline body of material and in the New Testament but also in all of ancient literature. It stands first in every list of the Apostle Paul’s writings though it was not first in time of composition. This bears witness to the importance of the work both in its theme and in its content."

A suggested theme for this great Bible book is: "God’s powerful Gospel". The key verse: Romans 1:16-17, gives us the core of this theme: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” 

As we consider the introduction to this magnificent literary masterpiece, today’s post is going to answer why the Gospel is so powerful to change your life. To answer this, we can first note that the Gospel is 

1. Based on powerful living words.   Romans 1:1-2
The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the words of God revealed and written by the prophets and apostles. 2 Peter 1:10-12 notes: "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look." 

When one considers the words of the Bible, and specifically, the Gospel message of which they compose, we discover that God has ordained the scriptures as His tool for the conversion of sinners. James 1:18 states: "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." Such words spiritual raise the dead sinner in the event of saving faith.

We understand from God's work of creation that He verbalized existence into being. Such an act was demonstration of His power as seen in Psalm 33:6 - "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host." 

As one traces other instances of God's power and His speaking forth through the Bible, we begin to witness a correspondence between God's speaking and power. For example, we find God's power and word at the Exodus described in Psalm 106:8 "Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name, That He might make His power known." 

We find further evidence of this relationship with respect to God's word in power in how He preserves the believer's salvation. The Apostle Peter notes in 1 Peter 1:5 "who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Or again, 2 Peter 1:3 "seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." These many examples ought to convey how powerful God's words are. His words, whether spoken over the creation or in written form, are powerful. Such words bring life and light. The Gospel is composed of such words and is powerful because of its basis in God's words. But notice why else the Gospel is so powerful...

2. Bringing forth of the powerful Christ to you. Romans 1:3-7

The marvel of Paul's opening to Romans is that he explains how Jesus Himself is brought to the sinner in salvation by the Gospel. Unlike all other religions in the world, only Christianity claims that at the verbalization of its core message (the Gospel), its founder (Jesus Christ) is brought to the sinner. 

Christ is brought not only in the salvation of sinners, but He is furthermore committed to remaining with the Christian throughout their post-conversion life (what we call sanctification). When we break down Romans 1:3-7, we gain understanding concerning who Jesus is , and why He is so powerful.  

A. First, He is the Divine Son in Romans 1:3a. Titus 2:13 reminds us that Jesus Christ is the "great God and Savior". John 1:1 rejoins with the emphasis upon the Son being co-eternal with God the Father. When Jesus Christ is brought forth in the Gospel, we instantly are brought into contact with the Personification of omnipotence itself!  

B. Secondly, we find that this Son came to be the man, Christ Jesus, in Romans 1:3b. In having the eternal Son, we now have Him as He is in His glorified humanity. His perfect humanity is accessible to our ever-perfecting, still-needing-to-be-completed humanity. We have the "right man on our side" as the hymn of Martin Luther proclaims.

C. Thirdly, this Son, who became man, came to die and rise from the dead to achieve salvation accomplished, as noted in Romans 1:4. Theologians often speak of Christ's overall redemptive work in two distinct ways: salvation accomplished and salvation applied. The former refers to His once and for all death and resurrection achieved in history (see 1 Peter 3:18). The latter occurs the moment the sinner responds in saving faith to His call in the Gospel (see John 5:24-25; Colossians 3:16).  

D. Fourthly, we find that this Jesus calls us by His Spirit to experience salvation applied in faith. Such saving faith in turn ought to lead to a changed life lived out in daily obedience to His Lordship. These realities are spelled out most plainly in Romans 1:6-7. 

As one follows the argument of the Apostle concerning the powerful Christ brought forth in the Gospel, we find that He changes lives. If a person who has heard the Gospel proclaimed remains unchanged, it is due to their persistent refusal to respond in faith to the Gospel. They may very well had "heard" the Gospel with their physical ears. However, there must be an inward work done by the Spirit to where the sinner's "inward ears-of-the-heart" are unstopped. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 notes concerning this work of the Spirit, called "regeneration":

"There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."

Therefore, the second reason why the Gospel is so powerful is because of the Person of Jesus Christ brought forth in it. 

Closing thoughts:
Today we considered the introduction to Paul's letter to the church at Rome in answer to the question: "why is the Gospel so powerful?" We discovered two reasons: The Gospel is based on powerful living words and the Gospel brings forth the powerful living Christ. Whenever we consider these two reasons together, we understand that upon reception in saving faith, changed hearts and lives result.  

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