The Power of the Gospel
Romans 1:1 – 17
The Power of the Gospel
There’s nothing like a good introduction
This is my business card.
It’s very minimalist. It says “Clayton Fopp”
It says “senior pastor”, and my contact details are on the back.
Sometimes this is how I am introduced to someone. They read my business card, so they know who I am.
But Chinese businessman Chen Guangbiao has a very different method of introduction. Let me read to you what his business card says.
Most influential person of China,
Most prominent philanthropist of China,
China Moral Leader,
China Earthquake Rescue Hero,
Most Well-Known and Beloved Chinese Role Model,
China Top Ten Most Honourable Volunteer,
Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China,
And so on,
And only at the bottom do you discover he runs a recycling and waste management company!
“There’s nothing like a good introduction,” they say!
Presumably Mr Chen thinks his business card is the exception! Today we’re looking at the Apostle Paul’s introduction to his letter to the Christians in Rome, and our task today really, is to find out what kind of introduction it is!
Look with me, if you will, at the very beginning.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, and so on, and so on.
This is the longest introduction out of all of Paul’s letters in the new Testament. Perhaps that’s due in part to the fact that Paul is writing to a church he’s never visited and a church that wasn’t planted by him or his ministry team
But this introduction is so long, not because Paul wants to say a lot about himself, but because he has a lot to say about the gospel.
And you may have noticed as we read through it, how many times Paul makes reference to the gospel.
The gospel, the gospel, the gospel.
In staff meeting on Monday, we were talking about this chapter, and what we thought the emphases were, and I think it was Darren who said, “It really is just all about the gospel!”
I couldn’t help but think of that catchphrase from Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign. “It’s the economy, stupid”!
“It’s the gospel, !” I’m not going to call you stupid!”
But “It’s the gospel”! This whole introduction, indeed this whole letter is about the gospel.
Martin Luther, the 16th Century Reformer who wrote that preface to Romans we’ve been encouraging everyone here to read, in that document, Luther calls the letter to the Romans. “The purest gospel.”
But what is the gospel?
What do we mean when we say that word?
In the evangelism training we did a month or so ago, when we were trying to get better equipped to talk about Jesus, particularly in the light of the If You Could Ask God teaching series, one of the questions we wrestled with was, “what is the content of the gospel? What are we convinced that people need to hear?”
And that’s an important question that we find answers to here in this introduction.
But there’s a related question that we also see answered, and that is, “What do we know, about the gospel?
Where does it come from?
What is it good for?
Those questions are related to the content questions, but they’re slightly different.
And so in this introduction, as we see some answers to both those kinds of questions, my hope is that we might understand, and believe, and love the gospel, whether at this point, we might call ourselves a Christian, or not.
The Gospel is God’s gospel (v 1)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God
Paul here makes three statements about himself, but in reality, each of these is a reflection of the fact that he is completely given over to God’s gospel. As he says there, he is set apart for the gospel of God.
The word gospel, simply means “good news.” It wasn’t originally a religious term, it meant any announcement of good news. The writings of the ancient Greek historians like Plutarch, are filled with announcements of good news, from the battlefields, for example.
Or the good news of the birth of a child
The good news of a wedding being shared far and wide, that was gospel.
Gospel was the announcement of any good news that you wanted to share, before there was Facebook!
Over time, the word gospel came to be used for announcements of good news from God, particularly God’s acts of salvation in the Old Testament. Psalm 96 verse 2, Isaiah 40 verse 9 and others.
But Paul, particularly, out of all the New Testament authors, really changed the meaning of the word forever, because when Paul says gospel, he means, most simply, “the message of God’s saving work in Jesus.”
Therefore it is God’s gospel.
God is the source of this message.
This message is about God’s eternal purposes, to save people
This message flows out of God’s concern for his people,
And so on,
It’s God’s gospel.
And because it’s God’s gospel, God has made Paul to be,
a servant of Christ Jesus,
called to be an apostle,
and set apart for the gospel
Servant, really is “slave”, and some historians think that, up to a third of the population of Rome were slaves, so the Romans were pretty familiar with slaves. They knew that a slave belonged entirely to someone else, and submitted to that person 100%.
It’s God’s gospel, and Paul is entirely submitted to God’s purposes.
Paul was called to be an apostle, again, pointing us to the fact that God is standing behind his gospel message. God commissioned Paul as an apostle, that is, a messenger, an eye-witness of God’s good news.
You didn’t choose to become an apostle. You were commissioned by God, to testify to his gospel.
So if the gospel is God’s gospel,
If God is its source,
If it’s about his purposes,
What does that mean, for us?
Well if it’s God’s gospel, that means this good news, ranks way above any other good news, doesn’t it?
There is no message, that compares.
What the world needs now, is not, “love, sweet love”, or some other message,
God’s good news, the good news of God’s saving work in Christ, is above all other good news.
If the gospel is God’s, it also means that we are not free to change or adapt it for our own purposes.
One of the things that we do as a church is to share the resources that we produce, so that other Christians and other churches can make use of them.
And so when we publish articles,
Or upload a song we’ve produced onto the Internet, we do it under what’s called a “Creative Commons Derivative Works Licence”. Which is just legalese, for saying “if you want to take the thing that we’ve produced, and change it, make it sound better, for your situation, go your hardest!”
But God did not release the gospel under a Creative Commons Derivative Works Licence! We are not free to change it!,
To take out the bits that don’t seem to fit in our context,
Add some other bits that we think would make it more attractive!
The gospel is not ours,
It’s not Trinity’s
It’s God’s gospel.
The gospel was promised beforehand (v 2)
And God promised it beforehand, Paul says. See verse 2, promised beforehand through God’s prophets in the Holy Scriptures
Although that working definition I gave is “the message of God’s saving work in Jesus”, there is a continuity, between the work of God in the past, the promises of God in the past, and what God does through the life and ministry of Jesus.
When I was studying at Adelaide University, I remember they used to paint the doors and walls of the toilets white at the beginning of each year, which was especially handy for the graffiti artists, because they had a fresh canvas every 12 months!
And I recall, alongside all the rude comments about Arts degrees, and lecturers people didn’t like, someone had written a question,
“How can Christians reconcile the message of the Old Testament with the message of the New Testament?”
The New Testament? Yeah, that’s the good news, grace, all that kind of thing. But the Old Testament, that’s sacrifices, law, prophets, Perizzites, Jebusites, Vegemites,
The two things can seem, completely unrelated.
But for Paul, there is no such distinction.
Because the gospel is God’s, and has its origin in God’s character, and God’s eternal purposes, naturally then, it’s a continuation of what God has said and done previously.
And we can go one step further, and say that if the gospel was promised beforehand in the Old Testament, then the gospel is the fulfilment of the Old Testament.
If I promise to take my kids to Queensland for a holiday, well then once we get to Queensland, once the promised thing arrives, the promise is fulfilled isn’t it?
There is nothing left to be delivered.
The gospel is the fulfilment of God’s promises in the Old Testament era.
Think of the promise in Genesis 12, you may be familiar with God’s promise to bless all the world, through Abraham and one of his descendants. Well, through the proclamation of the gospel, that promise, blessing to the nations, is fulfilled.
That’s just one example.
Again, So what?
Why does it matter that we understand that the gospel was promised beforehand in the Old Testament?
Well, we aren’t waiting, for further fulfilment.
We don’t need to look elsewhere for God’s saving acts,
We’re not in the dark about how God will draw people to himself, and make end of the sin and rebellion that spoil creation, and spoil our relationships with God and with each other.
God’s saving acts were promised?
And now the fulfilment has come.
Of course it also means that God can be trusted!
God delivers on his promises.
And this also must shape the way that we read the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is just as much God speaking, as the New Testament.
And so if the Old Testament is God’s Word of promise, then we need to read, and understand, and apply the Old Testament, as fulfilled in the gospel of Christ.
The gospel is about Jesus; his identity and his work (v 3 – 6)
Let’s keep moving.
We hinted, in our definition, the gospel is about Jesus.
It is, regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord
The gospel is a message about Jesus, particularly, who he is, and what he has done.
A couple of years ago we ran a teaching series here called, “Why are Christians Always Talking About Jesus?”
And it’s a good question to ask!
The gospel, the heart of the Christian message, It’s not a philosophy,
It’s not a lifestyle,
It’s not a set of behaviours,
It’s a message about a person;, who that person is, and what that person has done.
So that’s why, when Paul describes his preaching in verse 9, he says he preaches the gospel of his Son
The gospel is about Jesus.
One of the key promises, that God made beforehand, was that a descendent of Israel’s King David would reign over God’s people forever.
And here Paul says Jesus is amply qualified, to be that one.
You know the difficulties President Obama has had, trying to prove that he is a native born citizen of the US, and therefore qualified for the job of president?
Well Paul’s providing Jesus’ birth certificate.
He is the king, the Messiah, the ruler from King David’s line.
But there were plenty of people who were descendants of King David, how do we know that Jesus is that descendant?
How do we know that God’s Old Testament promises really are being fulfilled?,
Well, because, he was, through the Spirit of holiness, appointed the Son of God in power
Since the Indian Ocean Tsunami, you know they’ve set up these early warning systems, so people will know, as soon as a tsunami starts.
In Old Testament times, the resurrection of the dead was like the early warning system that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled.
When you saw someone come back from the dead, that was the sign, that God’s promises were coming to fulfilment. (Is 26:19)
So Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the sign that God’s promises to his people Israel, are being fulfilled, in fact showing that Jesus is the true Israel, the fulfilment of everything the nation of Israel couldn’t be.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God before his resurrection. And in fact Paul’s language seems clumsy to us, because he wants to emphasise that he’s not saying that. See there in verses 3 and 4, regarding his Son, dot dot dot, who was appointed the Son of God.
The Son was made the Son!
It sounds a bit confusing, doesn’t it?!
You may have heard last week that an Internet company called Switchcam closed down. Switchcam had a system, that if different people uploaded video footage of the same event, say some dramatic news event they witnessed, the Switchcam computers would stitch the video together, so that as you watched the video, you could switch between the different camera angles that people had uploaded.
Let me do a Switchcam, and change our angle, on this funny statement about the Son becoming the Son, at his resurrection.
The other angle, is to say that in his resurrection, Jesus inaugurates, brings about, a new era, in which he reigns in power.
Who Jesus is, doesn’t change at the resurrection, but his function does.
God’s Son has been enthroned as the king,
Well, the gospel is about Jesus, God’s Son. That means that when God seeks a solution to the problem of rebellious humanity, God rolls up his sleeves, and gets involved.
God comes, in his Son.
Therefore, to spurn the gospel,
To seek an alternative pathway to God, is to reject the God who gave of himself.
For Paul’s original readers, it was Caesar who claimed to be the Lord, who held all power.
For us, we see power held not so much perhaps in our government, but in other structures.
There are movements,
And individuals, who seem powerful, who claim to be powerful.
The assurance here though, is that Jesus was appointed the Son of God in power;, he is above all powers and authorities.
Also, if the gospel is about Jesus, then the gospel isn’t about us being good enough, or doing good things.
If you’re here with us this morning, because you’re trying to figure out what does the Christian message call for, demand of you, here it is: A response to the person of Jesus.
And naturally then, we need to remember, there is no gospel without Jesus.
Take Jesus out of the Christian message, and there is no Christian message.
Evangelism then, is seeking to introduce people to Jesus.
Not to the church,
Not to an intellectual position, but to Jesus.
The gospel is for Christians, too (v 8 – 11)
But Paul goes on to show us that the gospel isn’t just for people who aren’t Christians yet.
See verse 11, I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong
This is the only time in the Bible that the words spiritual gift actually appear together in the original language. In places like 1 Corinthians 12, where some English translations say “spiritual gifts”, the original language actually just says “spirituals”, or “spiritual things”, or “spiritual people”, here, when Paul actually uses the words spiritual gift, what is it that he wants to give them?
Verse 11, I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
These are people who are already Christians.
They have a genuine faith, verse 8,
They are loved by God, verse 7,
And to these Christian people, Paul deliberately and unapologetically says, I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you
The gospel message, the story of God’s work of salvation in Christ isn’t the baby food that makes you a Christian, and then feeds you as a young Christian, only to be replaced with some other message when you’re a mature Christian.
There are some adults, aren’t there, who actually like to eat baby food?
I mean, the pureed apple is one thing, but enjoying mashed peas, sausage, salmon, and carrot out of a tube, that’s something altogether different, isn’t it?!
“Why haven’t you grown up?” we ask?
“Why are you still stuck there?”
That’s a question sometimes put to Christians, “Why are you still focussed on the gospel? Why haven’t you moved on to something else?
But the gospel isn’t baby food that we move on from.
We may work out the particular implications of the gospel, in more specific ways, and in deeper ways, as we move towards maturity in Christ,
But a mature Christian, is not someone who understands the gospel, and, a lot of other things,
A mature Christian, is someone who understands the gospel a lot.
A mature Christian is not someone who understands and knows everything,
A mature Christian is someone who understands everything they know, in the light of the gospel.
And so Paul’s goal in his preaching, is not just to win converts, but also to strengthen those in Rome who are already Christians.
For us then?
Don’t move on, from the gospel!
If you’re a Christian, don’t ever think that your days of needing to hear of God’s work for salvation in Christ are behind you.
It’s one of the reasons that almost every week here at Trinity, we will say something of God’s work for salvation in Christ.
The gospel is not the baby food, it’s the bread and butter, whatever your staple diet is!
Maybe for you it’s McDonalds! Whatever it is you have everyday, that nurtures and sustains and grows you!, That’s the gospel.
The gospel is for everyone (v 4 – 16)
So it’s no surprise, that Paul goes on to say, that the gospel is for everyone.
See in verse 16 he speaks of the gospel coming first to the Jew, then to the Gentile, non Jews.
And back in verse 14, I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.
He’s got a pretty wide angle lens, doesn’t he?
Literally he says, “to both Greeks and to Barbarians.” That is, people who considered themselves cultured, and people who were considered uncultured.
That’s the entire spectrum of humanity, and Paul says, “that’s who needs the gospel!”
But as if that weren’t enough, Paul adds another pair of all-encompassing opposites the wise and the foolish.
See there is no status,
No religion, that removes the need for someone to hear the gospel.
There is no people group beyond the gospel’s call.
Which is to say, there is not a single person you know, for whom the gospel is not relevant.
When you get home, I’d love you to stand at the end of your driveway, and look at all the houses in your street, and remind yourself, that every single one of those houses is inhabited by people for whom the gospel is supremely relevant.
Why do we partner with the Klein family in their ministry in South East Asia? Because the gospel is for everyone.
The gospel is God’s power for salvation (v 16)
And ultimately, this is because the gospel is God’s power for salvation. Paul says in verse 16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation, to everyone who believes:, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
Notice the flow of the argument:
Paul wants to preach the gospel to the Romans, to everyone,
Because, he’s not ashamed of the gospel,
And he’s not ashamed of the gospel because, it is the power of God that brings salvation,
And here we see how the Christian use of this word gospel, differs from how it was previously used in the ancient world.
Because the gospel message is not just the message about God’s salvation, it is the means of God’s salvation.
So the announcement of someone having a baby for example, that’s how you hear about the baby, but it’s not the means of having the baby is it?
It’s not that you hear the message about someone having a baby, and all of a sudden you’re giving birth!
If that’s how it worked, I would never go on Facebook again!
No, the gospel is not just the witness to God’s salvation, the gospel is the means of God’s salvation,
Because as people hear the gospel, they’re presented with the opportunity of responding to Gods’ offer of salvation in Christ.
God’s salvation can become theirs.
The preaching of the gospel, doesn’t just announce salvation,
It doesn’t even just make salvation possible,
But it brings about that salvation in those who hear it, and respond in faith.
And that’s Paul’s motivation, . for preaching the gospel.
There are actually other motivations for preaching the gospel, other motivations for talking about Jesus.
I’ve had conversations about Jesus with people, sought to explain the gospel to them, for other reasons;,
Because I’ve wanted to win an argument!,
Because I want to prove the logic of what I believe,
Because I want someone to stop engaging in some behaviour pattern that I don’t agree with.
But those are not Paul’s reasons for preaching the gospel, are they? Paul’s reason for preaching the gospel, is because it is the saving power of God.
Which means that nothing else is God’s saving power.
I am not the means of God’s salvation for this region,
You are not,
Our church is not,
The latest program is not,
What people need in order to receive God’s eternal salvation, is the gospel of God, concerning his Son.
When we make decision about where to invest our resources and energies as a church, this is what we need to bear in mind, isn’t it?
We can decide to hold out to people the power of God that brings salvation, or we can offer other things.
How cruel, we would be, if we forgot this.
The gospel reveals the righteousness of God (v 17)
And the reason, finally why the gospel brings salvation is explained in the very end of our section. The gospel brings salvation to everyone who believes, for in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed.
Righteousness is an absolutely crucial term in this letter to the Romans. But what is it?
Well, it’s a word that comes out of the law courts, and it means, what it sounds like, rightness.
Through the gospel message, particularly through the preaching and sharing of the gospel message, the rightness of God is made known.
But to say the he righteousness of God is made known, could mean 2 different things
It could mean the righteousness that God has in himself is made known.
The fact that he is always right,
God is always just,
He always acts in a right way,
That’s God’s own righteousness,
And so Paul could be arguing that the gospel makes known the righteousness of God’s character and his actions.
That’s option 1.
But the righteousness of God could also mean, the righteousness that becomes ours, because of God.
The declaration of a right standing before God,
The “not guilty” verdict that God declares in the gospel.
Can you see the 2 options?
So, one night this week, I said to our daughter Abby who’s 2, “Come here, so I can put your dressing gown on.”
And what was her reply?
“No, it’s too small for you!”
I didn’t mean, “put the dressing gown on me”, although my words could have meant that! I meant, “put the dressing gown on you.”
That’s exactly the dilemma we face in trying to understand verse 17.
Are we looking at God’s righteousness that is on him?
Or are we looking at God’s righteousness, that is on us?
Well, I don’t think we can entirely separate the 2, and say that Paul was thinking only of one aspect, and not the other, unlike me and the dressing gown!
But it does seem that Paul is thinking primarily, of God’s righteousness on us.
Despite the fact that all of humanity has rejected God,
Lived in God’s world but just ignored what God has to say, the reason the gospel is good news, is that because of Jesus’ death in our place, we can be declared to be right with God.
A right standing before God can be ours, and it comes to us through faith, through believing that Jesus has done it all.
And part of the reason I think that Paul is thinking particularly of this righteousness from God that becomes ours, is because if he was talking about God’s own righteousness, it would be odd to say that
that has anything to do with our faith. God’s own righteousness isn’t dependent on our faith, it’s just a matter of who God is!
Also, if God’s righteous character was all that Paul was thinking about, it would be hard to see how that could be described as good news, for sinful people. In fact, God’s character on its own would be very bad news, for sinful people!
But the gospel is the good news, that reveals the right standing we are given before God. And generally whenever Paul speaks about righteousness, that’s what he means, the gift of a right standing before God.
And so the reason that the gospel can be described as the power of God for salvation, is because in the gospel a right standing before God is given, a right standing before God that comes by faith.
And this link between righteousness and faith, well, actually it’s nothing new. Remember the gospel stands in continuity with God’s Word in the Old Testament, so Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, to demonstrate that this is always how God has worked, the righteous will live by faith. The way to a right standing before God has only ever been through trusting in God’s own provision.
The right family,
A religious background,
None of those things have ever been the way into a right relationship with God, it has only ever been by faith.
So, for the last time this morning, what does this mean, for us?
Well, we need to remember that this righteousness is revealed.
You’re not born with this righteousness,
Neither is it something that people can find out for themselves.
It is revealed by God. It is God’s job therefore, to make himself known.
You and I cannot convince people of God’s righteousness.
We can’t offer them a right standing before God.
We can, like Paul, want to preach the gospel, because the gospel reveals God’s righteousness, but unless God makes his righteousness known, a person will never see it.
So, please, pray for God to be at his work.
And please, proclaim the gospel, so that God can reveal his righteousness through it.
But do not be discouraged, if you feel that people are not “getting” God’s righteousness.
It is not up to you to make them right before God.
That’s God’s job.
And if you’re not a Christian, you know what I’m going to say to you, don’t you?! If you want this right standing before God, ask God.
There is nowhere to turn, but God himself.
And perhaps it’s not quite so obvious in our NIV, but the gospel’s revealing of God’s righteousness, it’s present tense.
Paul’s writing years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and yet he can say, the gospel is presently revealing, the righteousness of God.
That, when the gospel is preached, and I don’t mean just preached from here,
When the gospel is spoken,
When the good news of Jesus is given in answer to a question,
When a Christian is given an opportunity to explain the hope that they have because of Christ,
When the gospel is preached,
The righteousness of God, is, revealed.
The gospel, is God at work.
Turns out, it’s not entirely true, to say, “There’s nothing like a good introduction”, because Paul’s just given us one.
Here in these verses, is an introduction to the gospel, really, like no other!
D L Moody, was a pastor and evangelist in Chicago in the 19th Century. He once commented that the gospel is like a lion. All the preacher has to do, is to open the door of the cage, and get out of the way!
Well, I hope I’ve got out of the way,
And I’m definitely going to do so now.
Let me pray, and then I’ll sit down!