Archive for the ‘The Gospel’ Category

The Power of the Gospel, Part 12

January 1, 2009

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.”

Colossians 1:13 – “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,”

If the Lord Jesus Christ who is King of Kings came to deliver His people from the dominion of darkness, Satan, and sin (Col 1:13), then a person only has Christ if that person is broken from the bondage of sin. A true believer in Christ is one that has Christ the King in his or her soul. The Gospel is powerful because King Jesus is powerful in the soul. The true believer is one that has been transferred from the domain and dominion of darkness which consists in the power of the loves and lusts of the self-centered heart. The true believer is one that is now in the kingdom of Christ which is to be under the reign and rule of Jesus Christ. It is not that the believer is just one who has prayed a prayer and made some changes in the behavior, but the true believer is the one that God has changed the heart. A believer is one whose deepest beliefs, convictions and loves come from the indwelling Christ.

This certainly does not mean that a person will be perfect, but simply that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does deliver a person from bondage by the power of the Gospel or the power of God in Christ. The true believer in Christ Jesus is one who has Christ Jesus as his or her true belief because Christ is the life of the heart of that person. No longer is that person is bondage to the death of spiritual self. No longer is that person ruled over by his or her own lusts of deceit. No longer is that person in bondage to the ways of the world. The believer is indeed not a perfect person, but now the believer has life in Christ. Now the believer has the life of Christ in him or her. Now the believer has the Holy Spirit restraining sin and working to extricate sin. Now the believer has the power of God working in him or her to kill sin and to bow in complete submission to the living God.

We are so used to hearing something called the gospel that depends upon the act of human beings. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends upon the acts of the living God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation and not the power of man to save self. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that the Gospel be the power of God because no human being has the power to overcome one little sin. No human being has the power to change his or her heart or to overcome the deceitful heart of self. No human being can do one thing to rescue him or herself from the dominion of the devil and of darkness. The devil has far more power than human beings and far more wisdom. He has a human heart that loves self to work with. No human being can outwit or overpower the evil one who works in the human according to that human’s love which is for self. All that the unbeliever sees is through the eyes of self. All that the unbeliever loves is out of love for self. The unbeliever hates because self-love is threatened. The unbeliever hates when the authority and sufficiency of self is threatened. So the unbeliever can and will never be able to extricate him or herself from the power and web of deceit that the evil one has thrown over his or her mind and heart. Only the power of God and His Gospel can do that.

It is said that the most dangerous thing to a lifeguard is the person that is drowning will fight too much and prevent himself from being saved and also be a great danger to the lifeguard. That is a picture of what happens when a false gospel is given to people. They are told that if they will pray a prayer or make a decision that they will be saved. Those are nothing but the actions of the dead self and cannot save because only the Gospel of God is powerful to salvation. A sinner must give up in total despair of all hope in self and look to the true power that will truly save. In 1671 Joseph Alleine wrote An Alarm to the Unconverted. In it he told sinners that “Never think you can convert yourself. If ever you would be savingly converted, you must despair of doing it in your own strength. It is a resurrection from the dead (Eph 2:1), a new creation (Gal 5:15; Eph 2:10), a work of absolute omnipotence (Eph 1:19). Are not these out of the reach of human power? If you have no more than you had by your first birth, a good nature, a meek and chaste temper etc., you are a stranger to true conversion. This is a supernatural work.” We read of the older writers saying things like this over and over. Today we are told not to offend people and to tell people things they can do. That is nothing more and nothing less than the devil would tell people. People must see the depths of their sin and the bondage they are in or they will not give up all hope in themselves and be turned to be like little children who look to receive Christ and Christ alone. The Gospel is of infinite power or we have no hope. The Gospel is the work of the power of God and He will not share His glory. We must be broken from self.

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The Power of the Gospel, Part 11

December 30, 2008

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.”

The Gospel of God and of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of power beyond what the mind can conceive. We have forgotten that it is the Gospel that is powerful rather than our presentation of a message and so rely on our ability to talk people into things rather than the power of God in the Gospel to change human hearts. We have learned to rely on human rhetoric and talking people into things rather than relying on the power of God. We have learned to get people to change their behavior rather than to point them to God who can change hearts. The utterance of words in a prayer followed by behavior modification is a poor alternative to the power of God to change hearts.

The old self is, as Ephesians 4:22 sets out, “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” The old self is in a continual state of corruption and needs a new heart rather than just some new behaviors. I Peter 1:14 says that obedient children are not “conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” To put the matter plainly, the old self will always be the old self. It will always be in a state of corruption in accordance with its lusts of deceit. The old self will always be conforming to lusts that are in ignorance. Even if a person says a prayer and follows some form of behavior modification, unless the heart is changed that person is simply a religious person following the lusts of the hearts in ignorance of itself and so continuing on in a state of corruption.

The nature of a human being is that it seeks to keep its pain at a minimum and to maximize its pleasure. This is to say that all human beings are hedonists by nature. We make every choice according to what appears best to the soul and that which will minimize our pain and lead to our pleasure. For some people that means taking up religion and following an arduous path of stringent religious activity. For others that means giving self to what is known as living on the wild side. The latter group is living for the present pleasure and the former group desires to live for what they think of as a future pleasure though they obtain a fair amount of pleasure or contentment by the honor they obtain in their religious groups. Both groups, however, are still living according to self rather than living by a faith that lives by grace. Both groups are at war with God though in appearance one does not seem that way.

Virtually all of the ancient philosophies said something about the good life and what that meant. The Pharisees, on the other hand, also lived for their own pleasure and they loved the honor they received by being so stringent (outwardly) in their commitment to God. They took pleasure in men looking at them and honoring them when they prayed. They took pleasure in men looking at them and honoring them when they gave money to the poor and fasted. The secular philosophies led people to pursue pleasure in various ways. The Pharisees sought their pleasures in a different way and yet thought it would be good for eternal things as well.

What both sets of pleasure seekers needed was the Gospel. All need a new heart so that they may repent of seeking their own honor and pleasure and live to the pleasure and glory of God. The Gospel is one of great power because it takes sinners who seek their own pleasure and changes their hearts so that now they love God and seek His pleasure. The true evangelist is to go about sowing seeds knowing that it is the human heart that must be changed. The true evangelist knows that a human heart will deceive itself and others by making a profession of faith and yet not truly be converted. The human heart is in such bondage to self and self-love that out of love for itself it will make a choice and some behavior modification. “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). There are those who make professions and yet without a changed heart the seed that was planted gets choked out with worries, riches, and the pleasures of life.

The seed of the true Gospel will bear fruit when it is planted in the soul by God. It is the Gospel which changes the heart and so the Holy Spirit is there and the fruit of the Spirit is love and joy. Those who have changed hearts have a different joy than the world. These are the ones who have food and joy that the world knows not of. These are the ones that have Christ the vine sharing with them His sweet nectar. These are the ones that know what it means to have the joy of the Lord in their souls. These are the ones that have the very joy of Christ in them. No longer is their chief joy and pleasure in the things of self, whether worldly or religious self, but now they have access to the true and living hope and joy of God in the resurrection of Christ who now lives in their soul. That is true power.

The Power of the Gospel, Part 10

December 28, 2008

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 text of Romans 1:16 there is another issue that we need to be very aware of. It is the issue of shame. Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel because it was (and is) the power of God for salvation. Today, however, there is evidently a lot of shame because people have watered down the Gospel to a gospel that is nothing more than the power of man. It is when men are ashamed before others to tell the truth of the depravity of man and therefore of the power of the Gospel that what we preach and teach becomes less than the Gospel in our mouths. It is embarrassing to stand and tell people that they are dead in sin and trespasses when that is viewed as archaic and foolish. It is embarrassing to tell people that they are in bondage to sin and that they love themselves so much they will not love God. It is embarrassing to tell people that they are their own idols and are in slavery to their own love for themselves. It is embarrassing to tell people that they cannot save themselves at all but are utterly dependant upon the power of God.

It is easier just to tell people to admit to a little sin here and then that all they need to do is to pray a prayer to be saved. It is easy to tell people that God loves them and wants them to come to heaven with Him. But it is hard to tell nice and even religious people that the wrath of God abides upon them and that they are headed to an eternal hell where His wrath will be poured out on them in perfect justice and holiness. Why is it hard? It is because we love ourselves and don’t want other people to get mad at us. It is because we love the applause of others and desire others to think highly of us. It is because we don’t want to get yelled at and we don’t want others to think lowly of us. However, what we must realize is that we live and speak in the presence of God and it is the living God that we are to please rather than other people. If we live to please people in and of themselves, we will not live to please the living God and we end up doing nothing positive for the souls of other people either.

Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel and was eager to preach it because it was the power of God for salvation. Perhaps we are not eager to preach it and ashamed of it because we have too low a view of God and of the Gospel. Maybe it is that we think too much power is in the hands of human beings and so we approach human beings as if the power is in them. Perhaps we think that if we offend them that they will not make a choice we are trying to get them to make. But the Gospel is offensive to unconverted people. It is offensive to those who openly hate God and it is offensive to those who try to hide their own hateful heart behind their religion. But all that we do is to be done for God. The Gospel is all about who God is. After all, the Gospel is the shining forth of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (II Cor 4:6). When we try to preach a gospel that is built on our shamed of the truth of who God is, we are preaching something other than the true Gospel. The Gospel requires that we declare the truth of who God is and how He shines forth in Jesus Christ. When we are ashamed of the Gospel we are ashamed of God Himself because it is the Gospel of God.

Let us review for a moment the words of Paul: “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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” (Romans 1:15-16). Paul was eager to preach the Gospel. Why was he eager to preach the Gospel? He gives us the answer. It was because he was not ashamed of the gospel. If we are not eager to preach the true Gospel, perhaps it is because we are ashamed of it. We can be eager to preach something like the Gospel for religious benefits, but we will only be eager to preach the true Gospel if we are not ashamed of it. Why was Paul not ashamed of the Gospel and so was eager to preach it? It was because the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

We have watered down the message of sin in our day because we are ashamed to tell people about sin. We are not eager to preach the Gospel because we are ashamed of it. Perhaps we are ashamed of it because it is foolish to us as well. Perhaps, then, the Gospel itself is almost lost in our day because we don’t see it as the very power of God for salvation. Maybe we are preaching a weak and effeminate form that we call a gospel and are ashamed of that. What we must know is that there is only one Gospel and it is a Gospel of power. People may see it as foolish and weak, but we must preach the Gospel of God’s power in His power. Even if they ridicule and mock, the Gospel of God’s power can still change their hearts. If we water it down, it is then and only then truly foolish and weak.

The Power of the Gospel, Part 9

December 25, 2008

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.”

It must be a continuing source of amazement to us that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The omnipotent God who brought all things into being by an act of His will and by definition is in the heavens and does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3) is the God whose power to save is described in the Gospel. When people water down the teaching of depravity, they are also watering down the nature of the Gospel and the very power of God. The Gospel is no longer thought of as the power of God for salvation, but it is thought of as within the power of the person to do what s/he needs to do to be part of salvation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of God is a Gospel of a power beyond what the human mind can conceive and we must be careful not to treat it as some common thing.

Ephesians 2:3 describes the lost sinner: “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” The sinner that Ephesians 2:1 describes as dead in sins and trespasses is one that lives in the lusts of the flesh. The whole life of the unbeliever is one that is lived in the lusts of the flesh. All that the unbeliever does is to indulge the desires of the flesh and of the mind. The unbeliever follows the desires of his or he flesh and mind and so is in the loving bondage of self. This is a slavery that the unbeliever cannot extricate him or herself from and does not want to be delivered from. This is slavery to self and the unbeliever loves self with all of his or her heart, mind, soul, and strength. The unbeliever, simply out of self-love, will make religious commitments and even a lot of moral and behavioral modification. But the unbeliever cannot deliver self from self. As long as the self is the intent and purpose of the action, self is an idol. The self is the motivation and the goal of each action. The self is the energy and strength of each action. As long as a sinner is not delivered from self, that sinner is in utter bondage.

The very nature of the unbeliever, as Ephesians 2:3 points out, is that of a child of wrath. The nature of the unbeliever is to live in unbelief which means that the unbeliever is living with the wrath of God abiding upon him or her (John 3:36). It is not in the power of a sinner to change his or her nature. As long as the unbeliever is in the power of self, that unbeliever will do nothing but follow the self which is to be a child of wrath. When self is our idol and we do all for self, then we do all out of love for our idol and idolatry is that which God’s wrath is upon. The problem of idolatry is not that the human soul serves other things, but that it uses idols to denigrate the being of God and then to serve itself. The real idol of idol worship is the self. God has been brought down to be a little god and self is trying to manipulate god for the purposes and loves of self. By nature, then, human beings are given over to the power and love of self and all that they do is in loving slavery to self-love. Human beings look to self for strength to do the desires of self and so all they do is for self and from self.

When Christianity loses sight of the glory of God and of what sin really is it degenerates into nothing more than a religion of self wrapped in the teachings about a God that serves us. It becomes a system of rituals and of ways that man tries to please God in some way in order to please self or for self-preservation. Scripture warns us very clearly that men will be religious for self and will do anything for self. The Pharisees were examples of that and indeed the nature of all unbelievers is that way. Apparently there were some who even tried to die in the name of Christ and yet did not have true love. I Corinthians 13:1-3 alludes to this and there were some reports that this was a problem in that people wanted to go straight to heaven. But the root of what they were doing was an attempt to earn salvation by their own suffering and death. That is nothing but self in the guise of religion.

Who can deliver us from this body of sin and of death? Who can deliver us from this great burden of the slavery to self and its selfish desires and loves even when the outward appearance is that of being a great servant? It is only Jesus Christ Himself who can deliver a human being from such an awful bondage. It is only Christ in the Gospel that promises to deliver from sin. What can take away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can change my heart from being in slavery to self to be in loving bondage to the living God? There is no power that can do that but the power of the living God in Jesus Christ. How we denigrate the Gospel of God when we think and talk of it as just a little message that a person only needs to pray a prayer over. No, no, and a million times no. The Gospel is the power of God to save and is not in the power of man to do so. It is to His glory and His glory alone.

The Power of the Gospel, Part 8

December 23, 2008

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.”

Many in the modern church operate by what they want and desire. They gather teachers to tickle their ears and they “worship” the way they do because “I like it.” We might think of this as selfish on their part, but in fact it is how the sinful heart operates. The sinful heart always does what it wants the most. The sinful heart is enslaved to its lusts and pleasures. The sinful heart is in bondage to its own lusts and pleasures and will always choose what pleases it the most. The sinful heart will become religious and even be very devout in that religion but it will not give up its control and it will still operate according to its own lusts and pleasures. The sinful heart, as set out in Titus 3:3 and Jeremiah 17:9, is a deceitful heart as well. This sinful heart can defend its sinful lusts and pleasures by giving spiritual and apparently rational reasons. It will also defend itself and even its own sinful lusts and pleasures by referring to the Bible. It will do this in the world and it will do this at church. The sinful heart follows its own lusts and pleasures rather than denying itself and following Christ. “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

The effects of following our sinful hearts are simply the effects of living for self rather than for God. All the destruction of the soul and body that follow sin are the result of following after the lusts and pleasures of the heart. The heart is deceitful above all else (Jer 17:9), but what the heart does in its deception is make excuses and give a rationale for following its own desires and pleasures. The heart is in such bondage to itself that it will follow itself to destruction. The heart that is in slavery to its lusts and pleasures will interpret all things in light of how to obtain and keep its lusts and pleasures. This is a heart that is in full deceit of itself and of others. This sinful heart will deceive others in order to obtain its lusts and pleasures. That kind of heart is one that will flatter others or curse others in order to obtain what it is lusting after. That kind of heart will make all sorts of arguments to defend itself and to give good reasons for what it did because, according to it, the heart will always have a good reason (itself) for what it did. After all, the god of each sinful heart is itself. So the heart was deceived by what it wanted and will continue to deceive itself when it commits acts of sin to get what it desires. The sinful heart is its own standard of morality and its lusts and desires determine for it what its own ultimate morality is. It expects God to agree.

We simply do not understand in our day that God must not only save us from hell to save us, but He must save us from our own hearts in order to save us. If God saved us from hell but left us in our sin, we would not be saved but have the brood of hell in our very own bosom. There is no hell apart from sin. It is impossible to save a person from hell apart from saving them from their sin. That is why the Gospel is a Gospel of the power of God. The book of Ephesians points to a few things in this regard: “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Eph 4:22). The word “corrupt” also has the meanings of ruin, destroy, lead astray and seduce. The lusts in the heart are deceitful. The lusts in the heart show us how we are being ruined and destroyed. The lusts in the heart seduce us and lead us astray. Much like the woman in the book of Proverbs (7:6-27) who enticed, deceived and persuaded the young man to follow her to sin, so our own lusts do the same thing to our own hearts. We see something and our hearts deceive us about it as the lusts entice and persuade us to do it. We want to do it, yet we are in bondage to our lusts which lead us to death.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be powerful to break the stranglehold of hearts that are deceived and yet follow after the lusts and pleasures of the soul. The soul that is enslaved to its lusts and pleasures is a soul that will hate the one that demands that the soul turn from its lusts and pleasures. It is not just that the soul must suffer in not fulfilling its lusts and pleasures, but the heart must be changed to having different desires and pleasures. The Gospel is not a Gospel at all if it leaves people in the bondage and enslavement of their old lusts and pleasures. The Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the power of God for salvation changes hearts and as such changes the pleasures of the soul in order that the soul will be a love-slave to God. The Gospel speaks of a God who is the pleasure of His people: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psa 16:11). Jesus came to change the joy and pleasure of the heart: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). Would it be a powerful Gospel without a change of the pleasures of the heart from being enslaved to self to love for God?

The Power of the Gospel, Part 7

December 21, 2008

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.”

The nature of the bondage and slavery of sin is necessary to understand for two reasons. One, it is necessary to understand the nature of this in order for people to see themselves as slaves who cannot truly free themselves from their bondage. Two, it is necessary to understand this for people to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ in truth. If the power of the Gospel is seen in its power to free slaves from the slavery and bondage to sin, then one will only understand the Gospel to the degree that they understand the slavery and bondage of sin.

One way that the Bible (Ephesians and Colossians) describes our bondage to sin is spiritual death. That spiritual death is seen as living and walking in sins and trespasses and being by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:1-3). In the book of Titus there is a shocking verse that describes the nature of sin in another way. “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This verse is shocking if we begin to meditate upon what people live for and by. It is shocking when we meditate on what it is that drives people and moves them to make decisions.

Human beings make decisions and choices on the basis of the nature of their entire soul. The soul consists of the capacity to think, the capacity to feel, and then the capacity to choose. However, what we see in Titus 3:3 is that human beings are slaves to lusts and pleasures. The word “lust” has the idea of a passionate longing, the desires of the soul, an earnestness of the soul and perhaps even the impulses of the soul. In other words, to be a slave of our lusts is to be a slave to the things we have passionate longings for and to the deepest desires of our being. It is not that the slavery human beings consists of making them do things they don’t want to do, but it consists in the very desires of the soul. The slavery of human beings in sin is in having and doing the desires of the hearts. This slavery is not in God forcing people to do sin, but in God withdrawing His restraining hand and giving people over to the slavery of the lusts of their hearts. “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them” (Romans 1:24).

The verse above should send waves of shock through our systems. God does not just give people over to outward actions; He gives them over in the lusts of their hearts. If God does not restrain the power of lusts in the human soul, then no one can or will. The human heart will carry out the lusts of its heart when it is no longer ashamed to do so before other human beings or when it no longer has other external constraints. The very judgment of God is in turning people over in the lusts of their hearts and so His judgment is in giving people what they want. Their very desire to be free to carry out the lusts of the heart is a deep form of bondage to sin. The ways of God are certainly above our ways.

In the book of Romans Paul sets out the nature of sin in chaper 1:18-3:20. He then moves to the Gospel in 3:21-5:21, though in chapter five he is speaking of original sin. In chapter six he begins a section on dealing with sin.
“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:12-14). The believer, as one that has been delivered by the power of God in the Gospel, is to consider him or herself as dead to sin and alive to God. Why is that? It is in light of that that the believer is not to let sin reign in the body so that s/he obeys its lusts. The Gospel has delivered the believer and so that believer is now under the reign of grace rather than the reign and bondage of sin.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is of great power because it delivers the sinner from the bondage of the lusts that masters him or her. Unbelievers are in great bondage to sin because they are under the dominion of their own lusts that they love. They are also under the dominion of darkness and of the evil one. They are also under the judging hand of God who gives them over to the lusts of their hearts in His judgments. The Gospel of the power of God is, once again, not just some bit of information to believe, it is about the living God who delivers people from the power of their lusts and gives them a love for Himself that controls them rather than the lusts (II Cor 5:14).

The Power of the Gospel, Part 6

December 19, 2008

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.”

The depravity of man is a subject that is not often dealt with and perhaps even less of the time dealt with thoroughly. It is not a positive subject and it is certainly far from a tickle to the ears of those who gather to themselves teachers that will tickle their ears. However, if we desire to deal with our hearts in truth we must struggle with how the Bible describes and exposes our hearts. Part of the “felt” nastiness of the teaching of depravity is that human beings are not just sinners, but are slaves of sin and are even in bondage to sin. This does not fit with our concept of free-will or of some sort of freedom of human beings. However, this is a different kind of bondage. As we have seen the Bible teaches without equivocation and without shame that human beings are slaves of sin and are in bondage to it. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Rom 6:20). “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (Romans 7:14).

If we teach a gospel that is nothing more than delivering a person from our version of hell, then we will not be teaching the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation. The reality that so many refuse to deal with is that human beings are slaves of sin. If a person prays for salvation or has some sort of experience but has not been freed from that slavery, then that person is not a converted person. The true Gospel is the power of God for salvation and part of that salvation is to free sinners from their slavery. But many look to their feelings or interpret reality according to their own desires rather than the spiritual reality that the Bible sets out.

Scripture sets out that human beings are slaves of sin and if now converted they “were slaves of sin.” Notice how the Bible sets things out for us. When a human being is a slave to sin, s/he is free in regard to righteousness. When a human being is freed from the slavery of sin, then s/he is enslaved to God: “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Rom 6:22). In other words, human beings are never completely free as they are always a slave. They are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. Human beings are always free in another sense, though. They are either free from righteousness or they are free from the slavery of sin. So people are correct to say that people are free, but that is not the whole point and does not get at the real issue at hand. It is a terrible slavery to be free of righteousness, yet it is true freedom to be the slave of God. It is in being a slave of God that one is set free by the truth and that one is able to be a lover of God which is true freedom. In fact, it is true life.

There is another truth underlying Romans 7:14 that points to another important point. The Law is spiritual and yet we are of flesh (sinful flesh). Those who are of the flesh and have not been born into the spiritual kingdom are in bondage to the flesh or to sin. The true meaning of the Law at its deepest points has to do with the soul and the spiritual nature of reality and how man is to be like God in the spiritual realm. But those who have not been born from above and are still in the flesh, they are dead to spiritual things and are in utter bondage to sin. They are in bondage to sin because they can do nothing spiritually and the Law can only be kept spiritually. Until a person understands the depths of the Law and its spiritual nature, that person will not understand the depths of his or her bondage to sin. The person in the flesh or the unregenerate nature is a person in complete bondage to sin. That person never obeys one spiritual command and so never fulfills the smallest part of the Law in truth. The person in the flesh has no power over sin because that person has no spiritual nature to do anything with or by. It is to be in the shackles and bonds of a master without any power to deliver self of.

But the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. The Gospel is not just a message with intellectual content to be intellectually believed, but instead it is God Himself in Jesus Christ actually delivering sinners from slavery and bondage. The Gospel is about a God who causes people to be born from above and so makes them alive to spiritual things. The Gospel is about a God that pays the ransom price of sinners and frees them from the debt that they were in slavery to. The Gospel is about a God that gives the free gift of righteousness so that sinners can be free to enter into the very presence of God. The Gospel is not just about intellectual things going on; it is about a God that actually does these things. The Gospel is about a God so powerful that He can do as He pleases. This is a God that actually does what He promises in the Gospel and so the Gospel is a Gospel of power. In fact, it is the power of God carried out in the souls of all who are delivered from sin. The glory of His power shines in the Gospel.

The Power of the Gospel, Part 5

December 17, 2008

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.”

Far too often the Gospel is thought of as a weak and effeminate message for people who need to choose Christ for themselves. It is thought that if we present the Gospel to people in a gracious and winsome way they will not be offended by us and perhaps make a decision for Christ. Other think that if we do good things for people they will see what we are doing and that will help convince them to decide for Jesus. What we must be reminded of over and over in order to tell the truth to others about their sin and the Gospel is that they are slaves to sin and under the dominion and power of the evil one. It takes a Savior with great power to rescue sinners and take them out of the kingdom of evil. This is beyond the power of sinners themselves, so it is all by the grace of God Himself.

The following verse shows us one aspect of what it means to be a slave to sin and of the type or kind of power that is needed to free those who are slaves. “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). According to this text, if we follow the line of thought, the slavery that we are in is to the old self. The flow of thought is this: The old self was crucified with him that the body of sin might be done away with. In other words, the old self or the self-centered and prideful self must be crucified so that the body of sin would be done away with. The purpose or result of this is so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. It is only when our old self is crucified that the body of sin is done away with. Only when the old self is crucified are we no longer slaves to sin.

The text actually tells us that the old self “was crucified with him.” The cross of Christ is to be seen by the believer as where the old self was crucified when Christ was crucified. The old self must die and in Christ one will die to that old self. But what we also must see is that as the blood of Christ was shed and now must be applied, so the self that was crucified on the cross must in some way be crucified and died to now as well. The fact that Christ was crucified one the cross is the guarantee that the old self of sinners will be crucified now so that they may be free from the body of sin and no longer be slaves to sin. What Christ did in the past will certainly be carried out in the present for those that His death was efficacious for. He was crucified which shows that some will beyond doubt die to self and be delivered from the slavery of sin now.

For the moment, however, we must look at the promises of the Gospel in this regard. The good news of the Gospel is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is also the good news of the Gospel of the kingdom of God. If any person is awakened to the depths of his or her sin by the mercy of God and the illuminating work of the Spirit that person will see that s/he is not just a sinner, but is a sinner that is in slavery to sin. That person will see the self-centered nature of self and realize that self does not have the power to cast out or kill the power of sin that resides in self. Here is the testimony of Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). Without debating the question of whether Paul was speaking about himself as a converted man or not in this passage, the point is still clear. Paul wanted to be set free from the body of death and of sin. He knew that the only Deliverer was Jesus Christ. The applied cross of Christ was the only way for this to happen.

Paul continues his thought in Romans 8:3: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” The Law cannot ever free the soul from the power of self and the flesh, because it was never made to do so. It is only the Lord Jesus Christ who can free the soul from sinful flesh. The thought is continued in Romans 8:13: “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” One must be freed from the slavery of sin in order to put to death the deeds of the body.

Colossians also makes the same point: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (2:11-12). The body of flesh must be removed in and by Christ. This death to self must occur in order to be set free from the power of sin and of self. It is Christ alone who can accomplish this by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No human being can do a work this mighty, but instead it takes the power of Christ Himself to do it.

The Power of the Gospel, Part 4

December 15, 2008

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 last BLOG we looked at the words of Jesus in John 8:31-36 and what it meant for sinners to be enslaved to sin and the need to be set free by the Son who is the power of God in salvation. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation because it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the power of God for salvation (I Corinthians 1:21-24). Acts 8 gives us another view of what Jesus was teaching when He said that those who commit sin are slaves of sin. “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:23).

The context of Acts 8:23 starts with verse 9. We are introduced to Simon in that verse as a man who formerly practiced magic in the city of Samaria. He would astonish the people of Samaria and claimed to be someone great. He was called “the Great Power of God” (v. 10). However, when the people who had paid attention to Simon heard the Gospel when Philip preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ to them, things changed. Even Simon himself believed and was baptized. Notice that Philip preached the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is the reign and rule of God, so Philip was preaching the kingdom of God that had great power. Simon began to follow Phillip and it was Simon who was now constantly amazed as he observed signs and great miracles taking place (v. 13).

The apostles heard that Samaria had received the Word of God and so sent Peter and John. They came down and prayed that the people would receive the Holy Spirit. When the apostles began laying hands on them, the people were receiving the Holy Spirit (vv. 14-17). When Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the hands of the apostles, he offered them money for this gift. Peter responded like this: “20 But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.'”

Peter’s response to Simon was straight to the point and would not have been considered gracious in our day. However, it was just what Simon needed. We must remember that the text said that Simon had believed (Acts 8:13). This is another time when the Bible tells us of people who believe after hearing the Gospel but were not yet converted. We must wake up to this fact in our day that people can believe the facts of a message (assuming that they hear what is being said) and yet not be converted or saved from their bondage to sin. Evidently Simon believed enough that he had left his magic and so had a moral transformation. But he was still in bondage to sin. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, takes the time to show us how highly Simon thought of himself and apparently loved the attention he obtained through his magic. When the Spirit of God began to work on people it was even better and more powerful than his magic. He believed, but his sinful heart that loved the attention and adoration of others had not been changed. Simon was still in the bondage of iniquity.

Simon had heard the message of Christ and believed in some way, but he had not been delivered from the bondage to iniquity. Simon had a moral transformation, but he had not been delivered from the bondage of iniquity. Simon could not deny the greater power of the Holy Spirit and the miracles that were being done, so he believed the message as to the facts of it. However, Simon had not escaped the death of sin and its death grip of selfishness and pride on his heart. He still wanted the applause and admiration of others. His heart had not been turned from its love of self to a love of God. He was still in the bondage of iniquity. This shows us the power of sin and the utter necessity of the new birth. Sinners are born dead in sins and trespasses and are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). As long as they do not see their helplessness in their sin they will continue to think that they can deliver themselves by believing and a moral transformation. What must happen to sinners is that a power greater than their self-love and pride must come and deliver them from the bondage of iniquity/pride. As we can see with Simon, he believed and had a moral transformation but he was not delivered from the very power of pride and self-love. He could not deliver himself from himself and so he remained in bondage to pride and self. The Pharisees were very religious but still in bondage to self. How many today have heard something of Christ and have believed in some way and made a moral transformation and yet are still in the bondage of self/pride? It makes one shudder.

The Power of the Gospel, Part 3

December 12, 2008

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.