The Power of the Gospel, Part 3

Romans 1:16 – “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.”

In the previous two BLOGS I set out several verses showing how human beings are slaves of sin and in bondage to iniquity. This is in direct contradiction with the modern approach to evangelism and preaching, which is to set out some basic truths and tell people to choose between heaven and hell as if all depended on their free choices. The Scripture tells us that sinners must be translated from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son by God Himself (Colossians 1:13). This should be demonstrative evidence that the Gospel is one of the power of God and not simply the weak and ineffectual action of the power of the human will left alone.

We have come to think of power as very strong human beings lifting large and heavy objects. We might also think of power as that which politicians have in making decisions that impact others. The idea of power is the ability to effect something or have an ability that is able to accomplish something against resistance. Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It does not say it is the power of man to do as man wants to do, but it is the power of God for salvation. Whatever else is said the Gospel must always be in the sphere of the power of God to save sinners and so it is not sinners who save themselves.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin'” (John 8:34). This verse should be thought through in its own context rather than just dismissed out of hand. A slave is the property of a master and is under the power of that master. A slave is one that is to obey his or her master at all time. All the actions of a slave are to be under the authority of the master. A slave has no power over him or herself. Jesus is teaching us that a person that commits sin is the slave of sin. The word “commit” is a present active participle that could be accurately translated as “continuing to commit sin.” The idea is not that one sin means a person is a slave of sin, but that the continual practice of sin shows that one is a slave to sin. The context of the verse is a discussion Jesus had with the Jews over freedom and being the descendants of Abraham. He told them that His disciples knew the truth and that the truth would set them free (8:31). They responded by telling Jesus that they were the descendants of Abraham and had never been enslaved to anyone.

Jesus’ response to the Jews was that anyone who committed sin was a slave to sin. Notice carefully what He is doing here. He is giving a specific answer to a specific point. They asserted that they had never been enslaved and so did not need to be set free by Jesus. He told them that they were slaves to sin and needed to be set free by Him. In fact, He told them that it was the Son who could set them free so that they would be free indeed (John 8:36). What is clear from this text is that Jesus saw the Jews as being enslaved to sin and that He was the only one that could set them free. The Word of God is seen in the case of the Jews that argued with Jesus: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). What Jesus told the Jews seemed foolish to them and they saw no need of the power of God to set them free.

I Corinthians 1 goes on to say the same thing in other ways as well: 22 “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Jesus Christ presented Himself as the One who could set sinners free from their bondage. He was rejected. Paul sets out for us in I Corinthians that Jesus Christ is the power of God. The Gospel is the power of God precisely and only because it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of the Gospel is about Jesus Christ who is the power of God for salvation. The Gospel is not a mere message that is given to people; it is a message about Jesus Christ Himself who is the power of God to save.

If we are to be faithful to the Gospel and to the Christ of the Gospel, we must not just give people a message and leave all up to them and their free wills to make a choice to save themselves. We must present the Gospel in its context as Jesus did which involved telling people that they were slaves of sin. It is only if a person sees him or herself as a slave of sin will s/he understand that s/he needs the power of Christ for salvation. We present such a weak and anemic gospel when we leave it in the hands of human beings. We at least demonstrate the power of the Gospel in some way when we show that Christ alone can set human beings free from their bondage to sin.

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