Has the Gospel lost its power in the world today? It seems like we're always hearing things on the news about the rise of Islam in the East or the rise of secularism in the West. It's almost as if the salt of the Gospel has lost its savor. But as Stephen reminds us in this sermon, the issue isn't whether the Gospel is still changing the world
“RECOVERING THE GOSPEL”
Some of you have traveled to Europe and have seen, as I have, some of the great cathedrals that took literally generations to build.
One of the most famous is the Cathedral in London called St. Paul’s Cathedral, considered to be among the ten most beautiful buildings in the world. The designer of that enormous cathedral was famed astronomer and architect, Sir Christopher Wrenn. (Not to be confused with Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh!) Christopher Wrenn was given the task of designing the interior of the Town Hall in Windsor. His plans for that interior project included massive columns that were beautifully carved and placed in such a way to support the high ceiling of the Town Hall. When construction was completed, the city fathers toured the building and they all expressed concern over what they considered to be a problem – those pillars. They were convinced that there weren’t enough columns to support the massive roof of the Town Hall, and, despite Wrenn’s protests, they ordered him to add four new pillars immediately. He did exactly as he was told – he added four new columns – and they remain, I have read, to this day. They’re not hard to identify though, because he cleverly designed them so that he could in fact prove they were unneeded. You see, those 4 beautifully carved pillars do not quite reach the ceiling. They support no weight at all. They’re fakes. He installed them to simply look good – and to satisfy the town fathers of his day who knew nothing of architecture. By the time his ploy was discovered, the Town Hall was already proven to be built solidly enough without them. But they were left standing. Beautiful columns, but merely ornamental – they serve no purpose other than to satisfy the eye. In fact, when it comes to supporting the building, they do no more than a picture hanging on a wall.
Adapted from John MacArthur, Pillars of Christian Character, Moody Press, p. 7.
In 1 Timothy chapter 4, Paul reminded Timothy that the church was the pillar and support of the truth. In other words, the church is to hold up the truth, just as a pillar of stone or steel is to hold up a ceiling or roof.
The church, Paul wrote was the pillar and support of the truth.
But, like those pillars in the town hall outside of West London, the church can merely look good. It can be more interested in ornamental things that satisfy the eye than Biblical truth that satisfies the soul.
The church faces the constant threat of the enemy, not so much of destruction, as distraction.
And the truth is, if the enemy of the church can distract our attention and focus, it has effectively destroyed our message.
If the church today has lost it’s power, it is because it has lost the gospel – and it has lost the gospel because it has become distracted and it has lost sight of the Savior.
The experts and church growth specialists are running around telling the church to invest in everything from telemarketing strategies to entertainment schedules.
One author wrote, “Plainly declaring the truth of God’s word is regarded today as unsophisticated, offensive and utterly ineffective. We’re now told we can get better results by first amusing people or giving them success tips and pop-psychology, thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they’ll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.”
Compare that to Paul who wrote, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11)
If you were on board a sinking ship when it began to go down, the last thing you would ever think of doing for someone else is getting something for them to eat, or grabbing another cushion for their chair.
One well know pastor made a new years resolution that revealed his deception by current trends when he wrote, “I will waste less time with long sermons and spend much more time preparing short ones,” he wrote, “people, I’ve discovered, will forgive even poor theology as long as they
get out before noon.”
In other words, bad doctrine is acceptable; a long sermon is not. The important thing is not holding up the ceiling of truth, but getting your audience out for lunch.
Trouble is, he’s not alone.
Thousands of churches in America today actually survey their neighborhoods to determine what it is the unbeliever wants and then promise them if they will come to church they will get it. If it’s casual clothes they want, then wear them; if it’s hot coffee, they’ll get it for free; if it’s short sermons you’ll get that every week; if it’s teaching that doesn’t mention sin and holiness but instead is filled with self-help tips on family and finances and feeling good about yourself – we’ll give you that too.
It’s simply called, consumer oriented ministry. Give people what they want. The audience has become sovereign, God no longer is. The gospel is not supported, the consumer’s desires are supported.
When it comes to holding up the truth, as Paul told Timothy the church was designed to do, the pillars today, don’t quite reach the ceiling. Although they look better than ever, in this analogy, the ceiling is actually cracking and beginning to give way.
Paul reminded young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4. and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
In other words, preach anything but Christ. Deliver to us news of anything but the claims of the gospel. Give us our self made religion, and a Messiah we believe we need. Don’t give us the cross of Jesus Christ.
And yet, the core of the gospel is Christ. If you went back to Romans 1:16 and 17 and just circled the key words – power, God, salvation, believe, righteousness, just, live and faith – what would those words mean without Christ?
Absolutely nothing. The words might sound pretty – and look good in your spiritual vocabulary, but without Christ
- What about the key word power?!
2 Corinthians 12:9 “And He said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness; most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may
dwell in me.”
Colossians 2:8. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10. and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and power.
Paul wrote, “That I may know him and the power of His resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10)
Remove Christ, and there is no power for forgiveness or even for daily living.
- And what about God: What is that word without Christ?
John 1:1 In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God...and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Plato once lamented, “Oh if only some logos, some word, some explanation would come from God.” In the beginning was the logos – the explanation. And the explanation was with God and the explanation was God. . .and the explanation took on flesh and lived among us.
You lose Christ, and you lose the explanation of God and from God.
- And what of salvation? The key word: salvation.
Simeon, the old man took up Mary’s baby in his arms and looked up into heaven and said, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Luke 2:30
Acts 4:12 And there is salvation is no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
Eliminate Christ and you eliminate eternal salvation.
- And what is it to believe without the Son of God?
Acts 16: 30 And after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31. They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”
I John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
- Another key word in verse 17 is righteousness. What is righteousness without Christ?
1 Corinthians 1:29 so that no man may boast before God. 30. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”
2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
By the way, a wonderful verse on the deity of Jesus Christ and His equality with God the Father.
There is no righteousness apart from Jesus Christ.
- Then the word “just” appears in verse 17.
The word “just” is simply another description of Jesus Christ:
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
- And what about the word life. What is life without Christ?
I John 5:11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
Paul wrote in Galatians 2: 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
- Finally, what about faith? How does faith relate to the person of Christ?
Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
I Corinthians 15:17. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
The gospel is Christ and Christ is the gospel. We do not believe in a plan, we believe in a Person; we do not follow some human method; we follow the Messiah; we do not adhere to, submit to and believe in religion, we adhere to and submit to and believe in the Redeemer.
It isn’t so much what you believe as it is Who you believe in.
Eliminate Christ – and you have eliminated the gospel!
Now Paul goes on to say in Romans 1:17 where he further explains the gospel; “For in it [that is, in the gospel], the righteousness of God is revealed. . .”
That word translated “revealed” comes from a Greek word that can be translated, “to take off or lift up the veil”. I never cease to be awed during those formal weddings I’ve officiated as the bride comes down the aisle partially hidden behind the veil. She’s been dreaming of this moment for years – my little 7 year old daughter and I were over at the new church site, walking around early in the evening and she sort of sighed and then said, “Yep, this is where I’m gonna get married.” Not if I can help it! You’re staying home with your mother and I for the rest of your life.
But here comes the bride – walking down the aisle toward the front of the church where her future husband stands, who is entirely unworthy of her. Then I say that one sentence that her father spent all night practicing – “Her mother and I . . . her mother and I. . .” The moment comes, and I ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” – I had one father once look at me and say, “My Mastercard and I”.
The bride’s Father says, “Her mother and I.” Then he leans over and lifts her veil and kisses her on the cheek. It’s as if she, at that point is already someone else’s. Then she turns, with an open face toward her groom – she has being ceremonially released; she has now been revealed to him – the veil is gone.
The righteousness of God was once veiled as a mystery. A thick curtain separated humanity from the holy of holies. But the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has taken off the veil. In fact, as Christ hung on the cross and said, “It is finished,” the veil in the temple of Jerusalem that closed off the holy place from the people ripped from the top to the bottom as if the invisible hand of God reached down and lifted the veil.
The gospel has revealed the person of God through Christ to us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
The veil has been lifted – we now have the full revelation of God through the face of Christ, as it were, revealed to us.
And just what has been revealed? Paul writes, “The righteousness of God is revealed . . .”
The righteousness of God is different from the righteousness of man.
The righteousness of God is what He is! God is perfect holiness and sinless righteousness. What He is, is what we can’t be:
Romans 3:9. for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10. as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one.”
God is holy and righteous and we are sinful and unrighteous.
But there’s more. Righteousness is not only what God is, but it is also what God has! And what He has we don’t have. Isaiah 64:6. For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
No wonder Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
The righteousness of God is what He is; it’s what He possesses. And it’s what we don’t have and what we are not.
Listen, anybody who thinks that the only difference between human righteousness and divine righteousness is just a matter of degrees – we just have less than God; or what we have is just somewhat slightly inferior – that person doesn’t comprehend the revelation of the gospel.
It’s isn’t that He has more of it – and if we work hard enough at it, we’ll get some of it.
That’s the religion of human invention and human effort and human self-centerdness and human self-sufficiency.
People think they’ll stand before God with 30% of their own righteousness and say, “Listen Lord, I’m 70% short – so I’ll need you to make it up for me.” Others think, “Oh not me – I’ll stand there and say, “Lord, I’m at 80% righteousness – I just need you to give me the other 20% and I’m in.”
That’s man’s gospel, not God’s. And it cannot satisfy or bring peace to the person who is well aware of their sin, because the person well aware of their sinfulness knows that they will never satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God.
The Apostle Paul once thought he had what it took to stand before God – he had his heritage, his pedigree, his education, his position on the Sanhedrin, his passion for God’s honor in Israel – but later, when he encountered the gospel of Christ, he said, “I considered all of the above as dung – as refuse – as trash – as rubbish” (Philippians 3:8)
That was much of Martin Luther’s personal agony as he struggled in the Augustinian monastery in the early 1500’s to keep the law and somehow earn the mercy of God.
You cannot study Romans 1:17 without intersecting the agony of this monk who would launch the reformation of the church and, ultimately, what we now call the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther agonized over his soul, even though he called himself an impeccable monk. In fact, in his desire to earn peace with God was so great, and his fear of standing before God so deep, having escaped being nearly struck down by lightning, he joined monastic life and nearly wore out his confessors with his daily confessions. He spent hours praying, confessing, going through the Roman church rituals; saying the full mass several times a day. But later when he earned his doctorate and began teaching at the University of Wittenburg, he began teaching through the Book of Romans. And it was this verse, chapter 1 verse 17, that brought in him great anger toward God. He said, “I knew that the righteousness or justice – which is same root word in the Greek language . . . I knew that the righteousness of God was revealed in the law – but why would the righteousness of God be also revealed in the gospel?
He wrote, “It’s as though it really were not enough that miserable sinners should be eternally dammed with sin, laid upon them by the law of the ten commandments; now must God go and add sorrow upon sorrow and even through the Gospel itself bring his justice and wrath to bear. I raged in this wise with a fierce and disturbed conscience. He later wrote, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice or righteousness of God”, because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. Although I was an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would satisfy God. Therefore I did not love a just God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant by the gospel revealed in the justice of God. Night and day I pondered until I saw that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the justice of God had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me the gate to heaven.”
R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone, Baker Books, p. 56
What Martin Luther learned is that God must intervene and give us something He is and we aren’t; God must grant us something He has that we can never come to be; something we can never create or generate in and of ourselves.
The gospel reveals that the righteousness of God is not only what He is, and what He has, but, listen, here’s what opens the door of paradise; the righteousness of God is what He gives.
It’s something that He provides to bankrupt sinners and all we can do is receive.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9. and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
So, the righteousness of God is not only something He possesses, but it is a righteousness which he provides through faith in Christ alone.
So redemption is a kind of Divine math. When you placed your faith alone in Christ alone, God subtracted sin from your account and added righteousness to your account.
All He could get out of your account was sin, and all you can get out of His account is righteousness.
The phrase “from faith to faith” can mean a number of things – I believe it is another way of saying, “The righteousness of God is revealed by and received through faith alone.”
Salvation is faith alone in the work of Christ alone, as revealed in the scriptures alone.
But Paul goes on to finish this classic verse by saying, (Romans 1:17b) – “The just (that is, “the justified; the redeemed”) shall live by faith.”
In other words, saving faith reveals itself in living faith. What you believe eventually affects how you behave. The justified man or woman demonstrates their faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His purposes.
There is a story involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron the power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. The teams were playing in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his famous chatter which both encouraged his teammates and distracted his opponents. As Hank Aaron came up to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, “Aaron, you’re holding the bat wrong. You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Aaron didn’t say anything, but when the pitch came he hit it into the left field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, “I didn’t come up here to read.”
If we ever hope to recover the gospel in our generation, it will require us to remember why Christ has left us on earth. We will have to remember the purpose of the church – we haven’t been left on earth to be entertained, accepted by the world and to be made comfortable. We have become the church which is supposed to be the pillar and ground of the truth – to deliver to the world the gospel of Jesus Christ. To live with eternity in view and forever in mind.
To passionately say with the Apostle Paul, “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 to faith, as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”