Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Gospel of God, the Power of God

As I was reading my Bible on the express bus to Minneapolis today, I decided to study some Romans. I started from the beginning and read 1:1-17, the last two verses of which go like this:
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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
And, as scripture sometimes does, it really jumped out and hit me in the face this time. I went ahead and broke down these verses in my head to savor them all the more, and I'll try to share some of the joy I found in them with you.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel...

Paul is really fond of his "for"'s, especially in Romans, which serve tie the various parts of his letters tightly together. Whenever a verse starts with "for" you have to look back at the context. In this case, the context is simply Paul's desire to preach the gospel to the church in Rome. (v15) It's not entirely clear, but it sounds like he means the church specifically, in which case you may wonder, "Hasn't the church already heard the gospel? Why not preach it to those who haven't heard it?" It's true that this is pretty unusual for Paul, who saw himself as laying the "foundation" of the church (1 Cor. 3:10) and would prefer not to build on someone else's foundation by preaching the gospel where it has already been preached. (Romans 15:20) So this must be some special, burning desire of Paul's, motivated by his love for them which he was just expressing. And, of course, even those who already know and believe in the gospel need to keep hearing it and preaching it to themselves to "keep the faith".

For it is the power of God...

This is the part that grabbed my attention. The gospel is not just about the power of God, it is the power of God. This should be encouraging to you when proclaiming or sharing the gospel to others: it isn't merely some words, a collection of facts on how to be saved, four spiritual truths, &c. There isn't just power behind it, it is the power of God, innately. We can expect that when the gospel is preached, the power of God will therefore show up in amazing ways; there is no better example of this than the book of Acts.

For salvation...

And what is the purpose of this power; what is it doing? Saving people. The gospel is for the salvation of sinners; it is God's power making this salvation freely available through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's also worth noting some things that this power is not for--it's not for our comfort or so that we might live a happier life, it's not a set of guidelines on how to be a better person, and it's certainly not just so that we can feel better about ourselves.

To everyone who believes...

This is the same free offer of salvation offered in John 3:16, 6:47, &c: if you repent and believe, you have eternal life in Christ. This is the essence of the gospel and what sets Christianity apart from every other religious system. Say what you will about whether we freely believe, or how God's grace enables us to believe, or your we are predestined to believe, but the offer is still real and standing. Eternal life is not found in obedience to rules, a perfect state of mind, or inside yourself, but in a Person who is God.

To the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Another important topic Paul addresses in Romans besides the raw gospel is the fact that it's for everyone. The fact that God was offering salvation to everyone instead of just His chosen people, the Jews, was still surprising to people at this time (Acts 10:45). Paul will later go on to reconcile this free offer of salvation with the Jews' special part in God's plan, and this fragment hints at their position. Similarly, Jesus made it clear that His first order of business was preaching to the Jews (Matthew 15:24,  10:5-6), yet God's mercy is also sufficient for everyone, not just the Jews (15:27).

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

The gospel is not only power of God, it is also clear evidence of His perfect righteousness. But not only His righteousness in a distant, unapproachably holy sense like on Mount Sinai, but a righteousness that is "from faith for faith", which is one of the cooler qualifiers in the Bible. It sounds like not only is this righteousness counted to us by faith (the verse ends with "The righteous shall live by faith"), but also it is "for faith", which leads to more righteousness, which leads to more faith, &c. It's a positive feedback loop of eternal life!

Sometimes the gospel feels to me like a late-night infomercial. Just when you think you've understood how great a deal it is, God says, "But wait, there's more!" Not only does God loved you and have a wonderful plan for your life, not only does He have a way for you to be saved from your sins, not only does it produce righteousness and enact God's redemptive plan for His created work, not only is it His power for salvation...I don't even feel right ending that sentence because however good you think the gospel is, it is better.

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