Power of God
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
Back in the 1970’s, my wife Beth and I were in an airport, preparing to board a plane, and a stream of passengers were coming through the gate, debarking from a plane. It was summertime and most of the passengers were wearing shorts and tee shirts, with a scattering of business types in suits. But then I saw two women. They had beehive hairdos and long dresses, the hem came down almost to the ankles, with long sleeves that came down to their wrists and the collar buttoned up to their necks. They had on no makeup and no jewelry. Beth said, “They are church of God missionaries.” Now I did not investigate to find out if she was right, but she probably was.
That incident reminds me of all the rules and regulations that have been inflicted on God’s people in the name of God. I remember as a teenager, churches teaching that it was a sin for a woman to cut her hair, and some women did not ever cut their hair. They put it up in a kind of beehive hairdo or something. Some churches also taught that men ought to have short hair. The churches were scandalized when the Beetles showed up with what they called, at the time, long hair. In fact, by our standards today, the Beetles had rather short haircuts.
Some churches have taught that Christians should not wear gold jewelry, even to wedding bands. I had a Bible teacher in college that believed that. He was talking about it in class one day, saying that Christians should not wear gold, and a student pointed out that he had on a gold watchband. He was so taken aback by this that he immediately took that watch off, and after class he went out and bought himself a watch with a black band. He was sincere, but I always thought he was a little strange.
Back in the fifties, some churches forbade their members to watch TV. My wife’s father told me this story. A group from the church went to see one of the elders of the church, and they said to him, “Brother, we see that you have the devil’s horns over your house.” He said, “What do you mean?” They said, “That TV antenna; that is the devil’s horns.”
I suppose that at one time or another, churches have been pretty much against everything, and they claim to derive their contrariness from scripture, but if we start looking at the pure gospel of Christ, we quickly realize that all these rules and regulations for Christians derive more from man than from God.
Let us be blunt: Religions are into keeping rules and regulations; Christianity is not. The gospel is not about that sort of thing.
Well you ask, what is the gospel about? Let us think about that. In particular, let us think about v16 of Romans chapter 1.
Paul tells us that he is “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” The gospel is not in competition with other religions so that we have to defend its claims, or, failing to do so, be ashamed of it. Sometimes, well-meaning believers get worried about how Christianity stacks up against other religions. They are anxious that our faith may somehow fail in comparison. Paul emphasizes that there is no comparison. There is a branch of theology, which is called apologetics. Apologetics is the field of study concerned with the defense of the faith against philosophies and religions. Paul says, in effect, that we do not need Christian apologetics. We do not need human defenders of the faith to defend us against manmade arguments and manmade religions, because the gospel is of a different order of being.
Sometimes today people say to me, compare Christianity to Islam. Paul would say that is like comparing apples to oranges, because the gospel is so radically different from all other religions that there is no basis for comparison.
The gospel is the power of God. That power was shown in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the OT, one of the commandments was that we should worship no other Gods. We should worship God alone because God alone is worthy of worship. In the NT, in the resurrection of Jesus, God proves that he alone is worthy of worship. The resurrection is the supreme miracle by which God makes himself known.
In Acts 17, in Paul’s great speech on Mar’s Hill, he says to the Athenians: “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (v23). In other words, when it comes to the worship of God, you Athenians do not really know what you are doing and I intend to straighten you out on this subject. I will tell you about the real god with real power. We know that God is real because he resurrected Jesus from the dead.
Later on in Romans 1, Paul is going to blast people for their sins. He says everyone knows enough about God to know that we ought to do right and not do wrong. We are hardwired with that knowledge. We are created knowing something of God’s holiness and righteousness. Moreover, we learn something of God from the creation. In v19-20, Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
We cannot say that we did not know there was a God. We were born knowing that, even though we may deny that spark of divine knowledge. Everyone knows that there is something else. We may call it a divine power, a force, a ground of being, or simply God. Moreover, this inborn knowledge demands that we live a certain way. We sense a higher power that is holy and we know that we should live our lives in accord with this higher power. What Paul is saying is that this is a basic revelation that everyone has by virtue of being a human being. From the most intelligent professor in our best university to a bow and arrow carrying Indian in the Amazon rainforest, everyone has this basic knowledge of God and of God’s demand on our lives. We know we should be holy, and we know that we are not. We strive to be, we strive to be holy, but we are not. All the religions of humankind, all the philosophies, are attempts to somehow reconcile our sense of God’s power and holiness with our striving for power and holiness and failing to get to where God is, failing to get to a divine level. All religions and philosophies are manmade; therefore, ultimately, they all fail. They may have valuable insights, but they do not bring us to God, because they start in the wrong place. They start with people. The gospel starts with God. The gospel is a revelation of God’s power and love.
Without this revelation, we can never get to God. We are born with some knowledge of God, we see something of God in the creation, but all this is rather vague, and leaves us with more questions than answers. That is why we need what theologians call a Special Revelation of God. That special revelation is the gospel. God in his mercy has chosen to reveal himself to us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the point of this revelation is to reconcile us to God.
That is why Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation.” In effect, Paul is saying that in this world, we are all in prison. It is a prison we made for ourselves by our sins. We laid the bricks, we put in the bars, we locked the door. We separated ourselves from God by our lack of holiness. Our sins make us despicable in God’s eyes.
In Rom 1:18, Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” That is the condition of all people in the world. Everyone is under the wrath of God. No one is acceptable to God. You could even say it this way. Because of our sinful nature, God does not like any of us.
However, God still loves us. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? God does not like us because of our sins, but God loves us. That is a condition that we find even in human affairs. I had an uncle who taught me a lot about hunting. When I was a teenager and even a young adult, I used to go hunting with him. I loved him. He was also an alcoholic. He was totally addicted to white lightning, cheap moonshine whiskey, so addicted that he literally drank himself to death in his early forties. I hated him for his alcoholism, for the way he treated his wife and children when he was drunk, for the way he wasted his life. God is that way, and infinitely more so, about us. God hates us for the way we ruin our lives with sin, but God still loves us and through the gospel, God has provided a way to make us likeable, to make us acceptable to him, to save us from his wrath.
The gospel speaks of God as God is. It speaks of the creator who is our redeemer and the redeemer who is our creator. The gospel offers us a complete transformation from a bound and chained condemned sinner into a free child of God. The gospel proclaims the forgiveness of sins and victory over death. This is the gift of God to us.
But the gift is received only by faith. Paul writes, the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” That is to say, only a believer can perceive that the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation.”
In the gospel, we are saying that the man Jesus was an ordinary human being in every way and was also God incarnate. How can that be? That same Jesus died on the cross for our sins. How can that be? How can we know that? We can know it because God has revealed to us in the gospel. The resurrection was the promise and guarantee of our resurrection. Again, how can we know that? We know by faith. The gospel is a contradiction and a paradox. We cannot reason through it and say, “Yes, this makes sense; this is logical.” It is not logical at all. We only come to it by faith.
When we deal with the things of this world, we can use all our powers of logic and analysis. I have no problem with that. I have no problem with Darwin or Newton or Einstein. When we talk about quarks, stars, or whales, we should use the very best of scientific analysis. But we cannot approach the gospel that way, because it is not of this material universe at all. The gospel is from God, and when we start to reason about God we get all tangled up in paradoxes and contradictions and end up worse off than when we started. So the gospel can only be believed. It is a matter of faith. The gospel demands a choice of us. It demands a response from us. It demands faith.
Faith is awe in the living presence of God. Faith is love of God who has already loved us. Faith is awareness of the resurrection as the turning point in world history and the turning point in my life.
A believer is a person who puts her trust in God and God alone. The believer discovers in the gospel the power of God. The believer sees, with the eye of faith, that god has been faithful in and through Christ to save us
Paul concludes verse 19 by saying that this is for the Jew and for the Greek. This is his way of saying that the gospel is for everyone—without exception. Everyone is a sinner; everyone is under the wrath of God--red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, smart and dumb. Everyone is condemned. By the same token, everyone who believes is saved. Again, all the distinctions that we use to divide people do not matter. Skin color does not matter. Language does not matter. Financial status does not matter. Smartness or lack thereof does not matter. The only standard when it comes to receiving the gospel is faith. Do you believe that the gospel is god’s power to save you? Then you are saved.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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