Romans Lesson 14 - Gripped by the Gospel
When Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, did you know that the Greek word he uses for 'power' in that passage is translated 'dynamite' in English?! Paul is saying that the Gospel isn't just power . . . its explosive power! And he watched it explode in the lives of thousands of men and women throughout his ministry. So if you're feeling weak or ineffective today in your own outreach, this is a message you don't want to miss.
Gripped by the Gospel
Have you ever read a book and then described to a friend, “I was gripped by that book . . . I couldn’t put it down.” Have you ever watched a movie or a live play and found yourself utterly gripped by the unfolding drama. Have you ever listened to a symphony play such beautiful music that you didn’t want to breath – you were mesmerized by it’s score.
There are certain things in life that can grip us. In fact, we tend to define life in terms of those things that control us – some are not so positive.
It might be the grip of your assignment at work or school. Perhaps you’re building a house or starting a new job or business. That seems to dominate everything in life and any conversation with you will involve at some point a discussion about that chapter in your life.
Others among you are in the middle of raising small children – one day blurs into the next. It’s one diaper pail after another. I can well remember that moment years ago when our twins were less than a year old and Marsha and I discovered that she was expecting again. That was quite a moment. There were days when I left for the office, leaving behind a mother and three children under the age of two – whenever I left the house in those days, I tried not to look too happy, you know! We had a little ritual we’d go through before I left for work. As we kissed goodbye I would ask her, “And what are your plans for today?” She would respond with one word, “Survive.” Which she did wonderfully well, I might add.
Certain seasons of life tend to dominate our thinking and our energy.
Perhaps, for some, the dominating passion in life is some revolutionary idea or philosophy.
I read a few months ago in a book by Ravi Zacharias about the dominating energy and misguided passion in the life of Joseph Stalin. Ravi was in the home of Malcolm Muggeridge, a brilliant journalist of the 20th century. Muggeridge relayed this event to Ravi. He said that on one occasion he was visited by Svetlana Stalin, sometime after the death of her father Joseph. On three different occasions during her prolonged visit, Svetlana talked of her father’s death. Stalin was a small man, about five-foot-four and not very imposing, but a man of steel in terms of personal godless ambition. His daughter wanted to know if I could explain why her father had done something very peculiar on his deathbed. She said that just before he died, he sat up in his bed, clenched his fists towards the heavens, then threw himself back on his pillow and died. Muggeridge explained her father’s hatred of God and His word. Stalin had followed other leaders who constantly shook their fists as it were in the face of God. Stalin himself obliterated 15 million of his own people who refused the communist party line. And on his deathbed, the man who called himself “steel” or “Stalin” which was not his given name, he, even on his death bed shook his fist in the face of God and continued to reject the truth of heaven.
What a difference in being gripped by some self centered philosophy and gripped by the liberating gospel truth.
My friends, if you want to live with forever in mind; in fact, if you want to get a grip on life in general, the next few verses in Romans chapter 1 provide the life changing, life consuming formula.
Paul writes, “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 gospel that is; for in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16, 17
Paul was consumed by the gospel – it was his life – it was his every breath.
And he says emphatically, “For I am not ashamed.” Why would he say that? Because the Romans would be prone to wonder. Because Paul himself had been intimidated at times, such as in Corinth.
He is telling them that he is not ashamed, kind of like you tell someone, “Now, I’m telling you the truth.” Why would you say that? Because the one you’re talking to might think you’re going to lie, right? Or because you might be in a situation where telling the truth will not be easy.
Of all the places in the world to be intimidated, and frightened and anxious to stand for Christ, it would be in Rome.
“With its polytheism, the gospel would meet its greatest religious test in Rome.
With its imperialism, it’s worship of Caesar, the gospel
would meet its greatest political test in Rome.
With its paganism, the gospel would meet its
greatest moral test in Rome.”
Adapted from Ralph Lauren, Romans, Kregel Publications, p. 27
The Romans believed that Zeus was the creator and giver of life. They believed that Zeus miraculously caused the birth of his son Dionysius. When Dionysius was killed by the Titans Zeus in effect resurrected him from the dead and then incinerated the Titans and from their ashes created humanity.
Dionysius, the son of Zeus came to become the god of celebration or the god of wine.
In fact, an entire religious system saturated the Greek and Roman world with its belief in Dionysius, who was in reality the god of drunkeness and revelry. All sorts of perversions came under the umbrella of this false god.
The worshipers of Dionysius, one commentator wrote, [committed atrocities with human organs; they engaged in orgies of sexual perversions, along with music and dancing and feasting. They built the great temples to Dionysius where they carried on their orgies. In the very center of the temple in Damascus, whose ruins can still be seen to this day, there is a decorated area in the center of a large room that includes a deep pit - the hole was built and beautifully decorated, but it was for nothing less than a place where the drunken worshippers could come from their feasting and revelry and literally vomit as if they were offering a sacrifice to their god of wine, and they would then return to indulge themselves all over again.]
Adapted from John MacArthur’s broadcast transcript, #1943
What do you bring to a world like that? A world filled with utter wickedness and depravity; a world where worship involved and welcomed sexual perversion; a world where drunkeness was encouraged; a world where self centeredness was an attribute to be admired; a world where the gods were as wicked and sinful as the people; a world obsessed with it’s lusts and evil desires.
What do you bring to a world like that? The same thing you bring to your world today.
You bring the gospel.
1) And you declare that the gospel’s Creator is God.
The gospel is spiritual.
Paul has already discussed this truth when he wrote earlier in chapter one that this was the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. (Romans 1:2)
This was the gospel of His Son who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh; who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:3,4)
No Roman god had any truly good news for humanity. In fact, the gods seemed as lost and wicked and uncertain as humanity.
But this God, the true and living God had a “gospel” – a euanggelion – a good news.
The gospel might be intimidating; it might be offensive; it might be considered foolishness; but to the one who is sick of sin; to the one who is laden down with guilt; to the one who senses that there is something more to life than self – the gospel is good news of sin washed away; guilt removed; scarlet stains on the soul and heart, made as white as wool.
The gospel’s creator is God.
2) The Gospel’s Character is power.
That is, the gospel is operational!
Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power (the dunamis – the dynamite – the dynamic) of God. . .”
He did not say that the gospel contains power – or that the gospel needs to be accompanied with power.
What the world considers absurdity; what the world considers foolishness is, in fact, the power by which God transforms men and women and takes them from the kingdom of darkness and brings them into the kingdom of light.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to Him, that you might show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
No wonder that the Thessalonians, after hearing the gospel “they turned from their idols and their false gods to serve the true and living God and to wait for His son from heaven. (I Thessalonians 1:9, 10)
3) The Gospel’s Confrontation is that it calls mankind from sin unto salvation.
The gospel is not only spiritual and operational, it is also transformational!
The Gospel is not a self help process. It isn’t 3 steps to a better self image; it isn’t 9 ways to feel good about the world.
The gospel confronts the unbeliever with his sin and calls him to salvation.
Terms like salvation and being saved are droll – they are ludicrous to the natural mind because it smacks against the pride of the human heart.
What do you mean I’m a sinner?! What do you mean I need to be rescued from hell? “I’m all for turning over a new leaf, and trying to be nicer to people on the freeway – but this idea of depravity and sin and judgment and redemption, that’s not for me.”
The first century society would mock Christianity for the same things. The idea of sinful humanity being redeemed by a God who sacrificed Himself for the world was ludicrous to their minds. A god who was killed by humans couldn’t be a true god.
Archeologists, digging among the ancient ruins of Rome discovered a mural that scorned the Christians for this very idea of redemption. It depicted a common slave bowing down before a cross with a donkey hanging on it. The caption read, “Alexamenos worships his god.”
Christianity was considered the belief of fools. One writer named Celsus wrote a letter in which he said,
“Let no cultured person draw near, none wise, none sensible; but if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any is a fool, let him come to Christianity.” He compared Christians to a swarm of bats, to ants crawling out of their nests, to frogs holding a meeting in the swamp and to worms crawling in the mud.
William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, Westminster, p. 21.
What’s at the heart of this derision – this mockery? It is the confrontation of the gospel that calls mankind sinful and in need of salvation.
The word Paul uses here in Romans 1:16 is salvation – soteria. He uses the noun 19 times in his letters, 5 times in the letter to the Romans. The word speaks of rescuing the helpless; it refers to deliverance from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God in the place of torment called Hell.
Salvation isn’t a term we came up with. It is a Biblical term, inspired in the heart of Paul, by the Holy Spirit.
Salvation is the hand of God reaching down to lost humanity of rescuing those who believe.
The salvation of God as first preached in the New Testament dispensation in Acts chapter 2 where Peter, we’re told in verse 40, “solemnly testified and kept on exhorting his audience, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”
Any true preacher of the gospel basically says the same thing, 2000 years later.
In Matthew 18:11 we’re told that Jesus Christ has come “to save that which was lost.”
In fact, the angel delivered a message to Joseph that night recorded for us in Matthew 1:21 and told him that Mary would bear a son and His name would be called Jesus – deliverer – why? Because He would save His people from their sins.”
Paul repeated that in I Timothy 1:15, “it is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
That’s why the world doesn’t like the term salvation, or saved. Because it’s offensive. It’s confrontational. It doesn’t speak of a dose of self help – it speaks of total depravity and lostness and sinfulness.
And the human heart doesn’t like that message!
When you are driving your car along the road and you see a sign that says, “Slow, curve” and it gives the picture of a curving line.
Now you can do one of three things. You can receive the message of that sign by immediately slowing down. You’ve believed the message – and you accept it as truth.
But, instead of receiving it’s message, you reject it’s message. “Why do they keep putting signs up along the road. Don’t people have anything better to do?” And you maintain your current rate of speed.
But you could also rebel against the sign. You not only don’t believe it, you not only reject it – but you’ll rebel against it and speed up. “I’ll show that sign.”
My friend, the truth remains. No matter how you respond to that sign, the curve in the road is just ahead. You can believe it, ignore it, reject it or rebel against it.
My friend, have you been saved? Have you accepted this plan of salvation by admitting you’re lost and sinful. That you must be redeemed by placing your trust and faith in the work of Christ alone who died on the cross to pay for your sins; and you, a guilty sinner came to Him and asked Him to deliver you – to save you by His power alone.
If you haven’t, I am here today to confront you with the truth of the gospel. Believe the gospel and you will be saved.
Let me stand here and speak as a signpost of warning. Judgment is coming. Refuse the gospel and you will not be lost – you will remain lost. You will walk in spiritual darkness, and then one day be given what you chosen – eternal darkness.
Someone in Rome might have asked, “Is this salvation for me too? Oh, you don’t know the things I’ve done – is this gospel message for me”
Paul goes on to give them and us 4) The Gospel’s Call
The gospel’s call is universal!
Paul wrote two important words in verse 16. The gospel is
the power of God for salvation to everyone.
Now he’ll clarify in the next phrase with the condition of the gospel.
But for now, the gospel is delivered to everyone.
Did you catch the passion of Paul in verse 14 – I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Paul is saying in effect, “I don’t know if anybody will believe, but I want everybody to hear!”
The call of the gospel is to everyone.
For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whosoever/whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21)
Let him who hears say, “Some!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take of the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)
The invitation of the gospel is universal and unlimited.
Paul states in the last part of verse 16 that the gospel invitation goes to Jew and Gentile alike.
Now many have misinterpreted the phrase, “to the Jew first”, to mean that the gospel efforts to reach the Jew today must be given first priority.
They don’t understand the fact that Paul is speaking chronologically. They misunderstand the progressive unfolding of God’s plan of salvation.
The gospel did come to the Jew first. In fact, when Jesus commissioned his disciples for the first time in Matthew 10:5,6 he said, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The Jewish people were the chosen people of the old dispensation, and they were given the message through the prophets that the Messiah was coming. And when the new dispensation was ushered in by the message that the Messiah had come, the Jewish nation heard it first.
The gospel went to the Jew first . . . but Paul’s point is that the gospel now can go to both Jew and Gentile.
Paul will explain the stunning truth in Romans 10:11, 12 “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. The very next verse, verse 13, “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
No matter what your race; no matter what your heritage; no matter what your station in life might be – “. . .the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone . . .”
However, while the invitation of the Gospel is universal, the effective work of the gospel is limited.
Notice the next few words in verse 16 give us the Gospel’s Condition
The gospel is personal!
Paul writes, “The gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
Believes – “pisteuo”. Literally, “to everyone who exercises faith.” The word means to place your complete trust in; to entirely rely upon.”
When you came in here this morning – every one of you had an invitation to be here. Some decided the traffic was too much and left; others didn’t want to wait and so they went to Burger King Community Church. But you came in and eventually placed your faith in that chair. The only thing keeping you from falling on the floor right now is that chair. Now before you sat down you believed it was a chair – you could describe the chair – you even believed it could hold you up – but it wasn’t until you sat down in the chair, that you exercised “pisteuo” – faith. When you sat down, that’s when you completely trusted in; you entirely relied upon that chair.
Salvation is an invitation to everybody. But it is granted only to those who rely upon and trust in Christ alone for salvation. Those who’ve sat down, as it were, in the finished work of Christ.
Paul was one who never completely recovered from his salvation. He was entirely consumed by . . . gripped by the gospel.
When you’re gripped by the gospel at least three things happen:
- The failure and sin of life in the past is re-titled forgiveness.
Pure and simple. Not faultless, but forgiven. Not perfect, just pardoned.
The hymn writer put it wonderfully and simply:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God I come, I come.
And when you come to Him, the Lamb takes the ledger of your life and writes in summary beneath every deed, every action, every thought, the word – forgiven.
When you’re gripped by the gospel . . .
- The mundane things of life in the present are re-directed with purpose.
For now, it might just be diaper pails. But even that receives fresh purpose as you remember an eternal soul occupies that little body. When you live with forever in your mind.
And even when that chapter is closed and another one opens, who knows what God has in store.
That’s why, this third thought came to my mind.
When you’re gripped by the gospel . . .
- The uncertainty of life in the future is redefined with confidence.
The past is retitled with forgiveness.
The present is redirected with purpose.
The future is redefined with confidence. Why?
Because, you are gripped by the truth that God was powerful enough to save you in the past and powerful enough to satisfy you in the present, then He must be powerful enough to guide you into the future.
And what is the future to Him? It’s someplace He’s already been. And He has come back to lead you there.
I received a letter a few years ago from a man who used to attend our church. He had moved away to begin a new job as an 18 wheel truck driver. Before he moved away, he had talked to me about how the Lord might use him on the road as a witness. We talked about him taking a subtle CB handle that he could use to hint that he was a Christian – maybe that would open some doors. Well, he wrote me and said, “. . .As I was driving north on I75 toward St. Thomas Ontario, was prompted to write you. My CB handle is “Chaplain of the Highways.” I thought, that’s subtle. “I send out a message a dozen times a day briefly explaining the gospel and inviting anyone who is interested to go to channel 24 to talk about the Lord. I get several responses every day . . . so far I’ve had the privilege of leading 6 men in prayer to receive Jesus as their Savior.
There’s a man, gripped by the gospel. A messenger to his generation.
No wonder people like him who are gripped by the gospel live with forever on their mind.
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