God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 8
Romans 1:16-17 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
Many years ago while on a return flight to Spokane from Portland, I sat next to a very dignified man dressed in a sharp suit and tie. Shortly after the plane left the runway, we began a conversation that lasted until we landed in Spokane about an hour later. I soon learned he was a lawyer who had an established law practice located in downtown Spokane. At the time, I was a young aspiring Bible college student in my early twenties, neither of which he was the least bit impressed. Soon after we introduced ourselves, we somehow began talking about God, the Bible, and Christianity. Right up front, he made it adamantly clear he did not believe in either of them. He was an avowed evolutionist/atheist ready to back up his beliefs with his own confident reasoning. Needless to say, I felt my simple challenges were no match for his well-articulated answers. The entire hour felt like being stuck in a boxing ring trying to spar with a boxer who far outmatched my skills. It was all I could do to stay on my feet! Even though I knew his thinking was riddled with gapping flaws, I remember feeling incredibly intimidated and overwhelmed by his sheer confidence. Have you ever had an experience like that?
We’re in the opening verses of the book of Romans. This morning we’re going to look at what is really the great theme of the Paul’s letter. 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 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, NAS). Paul was looing forward to sharing the Gospel with the Romans (v.15), but it was not without knowing what he was up against. Paul was well aware of Rome’s unrivaled stature in the world. Rome was in fact the proud centerpiece of the world’s elite intellects, philosophers, and religious adherences. Rome was the very place the world’s prestigious emperors dwelt and were worshiped. Rome was where the muscle of its nation-crushing power was the greatest. Everything about Rome reveled in intimidating superiority.
According to tradition, Paul was an unattractive little man with beetle brows, bandy legs, a bald head, hooked nose, bad eyesight, and no great rhetorical gits (M.R. James, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, p. 273). He was a laughable threat to the great power and intellect of Rome. What could this one little Jew hope to accomplish against the proud might of imperial Rome? (Stott, p. 58). Yet, this same Paul boldly announces he is looking forward to sharing about how a poor Jewish carpenter named Jesus had been crucified on the cross (a form of capital punishment reserved for the lowest of Roman criminals) and rose again from the dead on the third day. This Jesus, Paul says conquered man’s greatest and most dreaded powerful enemy – death, sin, and the grave – a feat unrivaled of by the world’s mightiest of men or fiercest of armies.
Paul was under no delusions going to Rome. 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). The Gospel is unattractive and unappealing to the world. Paul says it is the fragrance death to those who reject it (2 Cor. 2:16). The gospel exposes our sin, reveals our immorality, warns of our eternal lostness without Christ.
Paul understood what it is like for a person to live in a culture where the Gospel is despised. No different than us, he wanted to get along with others; to be loved and accepted by them. Being laughed at for being a follower of Christ or ridiculed hurts. The fear of rejection can intimidate us into silence. Paul understood this well. But he was willing to endure rejection and ridicule because understood the importance of the Gospel. The same would be likened if you had the cure for all types of cancer. Would you really care what people said? If you had the joy of watching terminally ill patients leave their hospital beds healed and whole; able to enjoy life, would the ridicule of others really concern you? Paul knew the power of the Gospel. He’d seen people’s lives transformed by it and was unconcerned about the empty opinions of others. For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die (Philippians 1:20, NLT).
How Can We Strengthen Our Confidence in the Gospel? 1) Be confident of the power of God’s salvation. 2) Be certain of the gift of God’s righteousness. 3) Be courageous in the sharing of God’s Gospel.
- Be confident of the power of God’s salvation. 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 1:16). Paul announces the gospel is the very power of God for salvation. There are a number of words Paul could have used for power, but the one he used is where we get the word dynamite from (δύναμις – dunamis). We need to be careful here. Paul was not saying the Gospel is dynamite to blow up false religions. Gun powder had not even been discovered yet. No, what Paul had in mind is the Gospel is the all-sufficient power of God that alone can rescue us from sin and death and make us right with God. God’s gospel has the power to do what all other religions can only promise but never deliver. God’s Gospel has the power to change us; to change our morality, our identity, our eternity.
I read this last week about a man named Randy who was unsure about his choice of clothes for church so he sought some counsel from his wife. He asked, “Do you think I should change?” She took advantage of the opportunity and replied, “It depends—are you talking about changing your shirt or making a wholesale change as a human being?”Everyone recognizes life is disturbingly out of balance; something wrong with us and with our world that needs to change. We want to feel better about ourselves. We want to feel less guilty and more at peace. We want the world to be a better place. But we are powerless in ourselves to bring these changes about. It was the famed physician/theologian Albert Schweitzer who remarked, Man has changed his world in many ways but has never been able to change himself. Paul realized this about the world as he shared the Gospel. He knew the great belief systems of the world had been tried and were found desperately waning. The world had long grown fatigued of the Greeks mighty philosophers and great mythological gods. The same was true of the Romans. Paul reminded the Corinthians your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God(1 Corinthians 2:5). Hebrews reminds us only God’s salvation in Christ can cleanse our guilty consciences of sin (Hebrews 10:2). Only God’s Gospel can make us a new person (2 Cor. 5:17). Only God’s Gospel can give us eternal hope (Col. 1:5).
Paul knew the world was ready for the Gospel unlike any other. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4). He had witnessed firsthand the power of God in the many broken spiritually impoverished cities he’d preached the Gospel. Rome, like every other dying city was a spiritual metropolis with a destitute soul. Paul says this Gospel is the power of God for salvation. Salvation literally means safety for all eternity and soundness for all of life (Briscoe, p. 36). It was this gospel Paul was confident in and therefore not ashamed.
This is a good place to pause and ask: Have you accepted God’s salvation? Have you turned from your sin and trusted Christ as your only means of being rescued from your sin and death? Coming to terms with God’s offer of salvation means realizing our complete inability to save ourselves. You may be a champion swimmer, but if you were thrown overboard in the middle of the ocean, your great ability to swim would no be enough to reach the distant shore. The Bible tells us we are overboard in the sea of sin. Nothing you can do for yourself will save you. Accepting God’s salvation means being honest about how lost and helpless you are. It means realizing without God’s saving grace, you’re finished. In short, the Bible calls this repentance – turning from your sin and trusting Christ as the only One who can rescue you. Have you done that?
This brings me to another important question: What does it mean to be saved? Did you know when the Bible talks about your salvation, it refers to it in three ways? God’s Word says you are saved (past tense), you are being saved (present tense), and you will be saved (future tense). The Bible calls this regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. These three ways explain why we have safety for all eternity and soundness for all of life.
- Regeneration: I am saved from the penalty of sin. For the wages of sin is death, but the
free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). The moment you turn from your sin and place your trust in Christ, you are forever rescued from the penalty of your sin. Regeneration means you’re born again (John 3:3 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God). Before that time, your soul was separated from God. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides(John 3:36). Donald Gray Barnhouse said if you were reduce Christianity to its most elemental concept it can be expressed in three ways: I deserve Hell; Jesus took my Hell; there is nothing left for me but His Heaven (Barnhouse, pp. 172-3). When you trust Christ, you are saved (past tense) from the penalty of your sin.
- Sanctification: I am saved from the power of sin. This is present tense – the ongoing work
of God working His salvation out in your life. Sanctification means God is doing the work of changing you to become like His Son (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 2:13). It means you now have the power through God to say “No” to sin. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14).
Someone has said the process of sanctification can be compared to an iceberg, which is almost 90% under water. As the sun shines on the iceberg, the exposed part melts, moving the lower part upward. In the same way, we are usually aware of only a small part of our sinfulness and need, which is all we can deal with at any one time. However, as the light of God’s work in our lives changes us in the areas we know about, we become more like Christ and as we do, we become aware of new areas needing the work of God. Sanctification is a life-long process.
- Glorification: I will be saved from the presence of sin. these whom He predestined, He also
called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Romans 8:30). Paul speaks of our glorification in the past tense, as through it was already completed. As far as God is concerned, your eternal destiny in Heaven is so certain it is as good as done. Ours would be a sad Gospel if our hope was in this life alone. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Do you see why Paul was so confident in the power of God’s salvation? The other day I was talking with one of our people and she made the comment, “I’m ready.” She is ready to go to Heaven because she knows God has promised it to her.
- Be certain of the gift of God’s righteousness. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith (Romans 1:17a). Paul is saying God’s righteousness is revealed in the power of His Gospel. This is so important; Paul is going to take the rest of the book of Romans to unpack. But let me say briefly here, the righteousness Paul is talking about is something God gives us in exchange for our sin. In other words, when Christ died on the cross, He took on our sin on Himself and in turn gave us His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 1:30). Isn’t that amazing? It means God unconditionally accepts and loves us in the same way He unconditionally loves and accepts His Son! How can we be accepted by God? Paul says by faith. There is no other way. Why faith? Faith is the great leveler; it does not matter who you are or where you come from. It makes us completely dependent on God and not ourselves.
If we look through a piece of red glass, everything is red; through blue glass, everything is blue; through yellow glass, everything is yellow, and so on. The amazing truth is that when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, God looks at us through the Lord Jesus Christ. He sees us in all the white holiness of His Son. That is the great gift of God’s righteousness. Jesus of our sin to the account of Christ and His righteousness to our account.
How does Christ’s gift of righteousness help us not be ashamed of the Gospel? One of our deepest needs in life is to be fully accepted. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, we lost that acceptance. For many of us, our lives have been a roller-coaster when it comes to acceptance. We’re up one minute and down the next. Our sense of sense of value and acceptance is based on how others treat us. Now, because of Christ, our acceptance is no longer based on the shifting sands of the opinion of others, but on God’s unchanging, unconditional love for us in Christ.
God met me in a special way once when I was struggling with my earthly father’s acceptance. It was a work God did in my heart that totally changed me. There were no audible words, but God spoke to my heart telling me I did not need my father’s acceptance, I had my Heavenly Father’s acceptance. When you know you have God’s complete love and eternal acceptance, you no longer need to be threatened by others or need to compare yourself with them. It frees you to share the Gospel with a confidence others see and long for themselves. Second, strengthen your confidence in the Gospel by being certain of God’s gift of righteousness.
Because we can be confident of the power of God’s salvation and we can be certain of His gift of righteousness, we can be courageous in sharing His Gospel.
- Be courageous in the sharing of God’s Gospel. For I am not ashamed of the gospel(Romans 1:16). We can be and must be courageous in telling others about Christ. Not only because it is the all-sufficient power of God to rescue us for sin and death and secure our eternal destiny, but because Jesus tells us This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come(Matthew 24:14). I find John Piper’s observations especially helpful in driving this home. Jesus does not say this Gospel should be preached. Nor, it might be preached. But, it will be preached. This is not a great commission, nor a great commandment. It is a great certainty, a great confidence. Who can talk like that? How does He know it will? How can He be sure the church will not fail in its missionary task? Answer: …Christ can promise universal proclamation because He is sovereign. He knows the future success of missions because He makes the future. All nations will hear!… The cause of world missions is absolutely assured success. It cannot fail. Is it not reasonable, then, that we should pray with great faith, that we should invest with great confidence, and that we should go with a sense of sure triumph? … Not one life spent in the cause of world evangelization is spent in vain. Not one prayer or $1 or one sermon or one letter of encouragement or one little light shining in some dark place – nothing in the cause of this advancing Kingdom is in vain. The triumph is sure.
I can tell you as I prepared this message, I found myself filled with a mixture of excitement and conviction. Excitement because of the reminder of the sure and triumphant confidence we can have in the Gospel. Conviction because I realize there is so much work to be done before Jesus returns!
In his book, What God Wants to Know, Bruce Larson shares this story: Lincoln often slipped into the Wednesday-night service at New York Presbyterian Church where Dr. Gurley was the pastor. To avoid disrupting things, he would listen from the privacy of the pastor’s study which adjoined the sanctuary. Lincoln’s young aide, John Hay, usually came along. On one particular night, Hay asked Lincoln how he liked the sermon. “I thought it was well thought through, powerfully delivered, and very eloquent” was the reply. “Then you thought it was a great sermon?” the young man continued. “No,” said Lincoln, “it failed. It failed because Dr. Gurley did not ask us to do something great.”
I shared a few weeks ago that for the first time in two-thousand years the Great Commission Jesus gave His disciples to take the Gospel to the world will see its completion in our life-time. If there ever was a time God is asking something great from us, it is now. Ours is the generation God has chosen to see His Gospel reach the world. Now is the time we need to: Be confident of the power of God’s salvation, Be certain of the gift of God’s righteousness, and Be courageous in the sharing of God’s Gospel.