A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Theme of the Epistle to the Romans
The gospel, of course, is not bound up in paper. You can go outside, stop the first man you meet on the street, and say, "Jesus died for your sins and rose again from the dead," and if he believes it, instantly his sins are blotted out forever. He stands righteous before God, and the eternal life of Gd enters into his soul. The words which you have spoken have been the power of God. Someone will say, "Is it possible that mere words can save the soul of man?" In Acts 11:13-14, the angel came to Cornelius and said for Cornelius to send to Joppa for Simon, who would come and "tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." God said words would save him, and they did. Peter came to the home of Cornelius, and they were all gathered together waiting for him. He began to speak words, and the record says, "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word" (Acts 10:44) and they were saved! Peter had nothing we do not have today. We have the same words of the same gospel, and it has the same power - to save the souls of men.
The Greek word which is translated "power" in Romans 1:16 is the word "dunamis". From that Greek word we derive our English words "dynamite, dynamo, dynamic." It is possible therefore to translate the verse like this: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the dynamite of God unto salvation." Or, if you want to put it this way: "It is the dynamo of God." Those two English words are very appropriate words with which to describe the mighty power of the gospel, for the power of the gospel has two aspects. "Dynamite" is a destructive power, it blows things to pieces. A "dynamo" has a constructive power, it produces energy. The gospel too tears down; it blows to pieces the old life. But at the same time it has the constructive power to build up the new life. It is absolutely true that the gospel is not only the dynamite of God but the dynamo, too.
Power is a dangerous thing if it is not handled carefully. Electricity is very useful. It lights our cities, cooks our food, washes our clothes; but if a man handles it carelessly it will kill him. Dynamite, too, has been very useful; and yet if a man handles it carelessly, it will blow him to pieces!This is true also of the gospel. Let men beware how they handle it: it is a "savor of life unto life," and "death unto death" (2 Corinthians 2:16). To the man who receives the gospel and has the right attitude toward it, it will bring the life of the eternal God into his soul; but to the man who turns his back on it, it spells eternal death to his soul!
We are told the church has no power today. The diagnostician and experts are running around in circles trying to find what is the matter and discover a remedy so that the church may recover its lost power. They tell us that all the churches must unite; that they must hold the young people; that they must get into politics; that they must teach the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; that they must cease preaching the theological dogmas of the Bible. All these are mere quack remedies. If the church has lost its power, it is because it has lost the gospel, because the gospel is power. God has vested His power in the truth we preach. The church is not the power nor the preacher nor the members in the pew nor methods, organization, and money. Some say we ought to pray more. "When we pray more, we will have more power." That is true. But the most astounding spectacle in all the universe is an apostate church which, having cast away the true gospel, is now on its knees praying to God for power! An astonishing contradiction, and yet, that is the tragic situation today: on the on hand, throwing away the power, and then praying for sunlight; or going on a hunger strike and praying for food; refusing to breathe and at the same time praying for air. It must make the angels weep and the devil laugh!
To add on to the first: "It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." The gospel is for everyone. The word "Greek" in the text was a term very often used by the Jews to mean all the Gentiles. The gospel has no racial boundaries. It even ignores degrees of goodness or badness. The ignorant and the wise, the high and the low - the gospel is for all. It is like the air we breathe, the rain that falls from heaven - it is for everybody.
The Holy Spirit is gracious to tell this at the beginning. The human writer is about to begin the first section of the book, and in that section he will prove that as far as sin is concerned, every man is lost. "All have sinned." But before he takes that awful plunge into the condemnation of the world, he must first assure us (thank God!) that the gospel goes just as far as even sin has gone. In other words, before he shows that every man is a sinner, he tells us that the gospel saves sinners.
That thought accompanies the reader through the gloomy section of the book which takes man, brings him down, and stands him naked before the judgment bar of God. The Holy Spirit must have anticipated that a good many people who started to read this section would need comfort before getting through. Logically, the discussion of the gospel belongs later, but the Holy Spirit mercifully reveals it first.
The sold condition attached is faith. The gospel is "to everyone that believeth." There is no other condition. The gospel is not the power of God to everyone who is circumcised o baptized, or who keeps the law. "It is the power of God unto every one that believeth"; that is the only condition. If any other condition were attached to the receiving of the gospel, then it would not be for everybody. For if God required any work or character before a man could receive the gospel and be blessed by it, then certain individuals would be excluded. There is one thing that everyone (man, woman, and child) can do, and that is believe. No matter where you are, what you are, you can believe, you can trust.
What does faith mean? The book of Romans speaks of faith many times. Faith is nothing complex and mystifying, as some theologians have implied. But faith is just the simple, trusting acceptance of what God gives. God says, "I give," and the heart responds, "I take." An illiterate, simple man was once asked, "What is faith?"; and his answer deserves attention from the wise as well as the ignorant. He answered, "Faith is the hand of the heart." That agrees perfectly with what Paul said: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10).
The last statement: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith." That is the secret of the power of the gospel. The sixteenth verse never should be read apart from the seventeenth. God has joined those two verses together, and "what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6), whether it is a man and woman or two verses in the Bible.
The explanation of the gospel's power is in the seventeenth verse: The gospel is the power of God for salvation because in the gospel is a revelation, and that revelation is a manifestation of the righteousness of God; that is the reason the gospel has the power to save a sinner. Man has no righteousness; but God, in the gospel, has provided a righteousness, and He give that to man if he will only take it. This fact makes Christianity different from every other religion the world has ever seen. Every great scheme to save men has failed on just one point: its success depended on man's righteousness, when in reality there is no righteousness in man. Christianity attacks the problem at this point of righteousness. It recognizes that man has no righteousness and then brings the righteousness of God and clothes the man in that righteousness and saves him!
In the very next verse the wrath of God is to be revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. We are to stand and hear the thunderings and the crash of the judgment of God; we are to stand and be stripped of every rag of our own righteousness. But before He reveals His wrath, He reveals His righteousness. We are not to feel the wrath of god until we know there is a righteousness for all those who need it; we are not to know anything about that wrath of God which is against us until we know that there is a righteousness of God for us. In other words, righteousness is before wrath. He always anticipates our needs and He supplies them fully. It is the old story of the Lamb slain "before" the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20) - before human sin ever started. Isn't that right? Righteousness comes first.
Paul was preaching not a plan, not a philosophy,but a "Person" - The Lord Jesus Christ - in preaching the gospel. When he says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel," in reality he is saying, "I am not ashamed of Jesus," for He is the gospel. There is an echo there of those words of our Lord. "Whosoever ... shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Paul says, "I am not ashamed of Him," and he never was ashamed of His Lord nor of the gospel that told of His Lord. Paul was called to stand before the dignitaries of the world, before the high priest of Israel, before the philosophers at Athens, before the governor, the emperors of Rome, even before Caesar himself, and not once in the record can be found the blush of shame upon his face for His Lord. Almost the last word we have from him was written to Timothy, from his dungeon in Rome, with the chain upon his hand; and he wrote this: "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).
May we go out as Paul did, with a gospel that is the power of God for salvation, and not be ashamed of it - or rather, I would say, not be ashamed of Him, for that is who it is!
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 17 - "The Pagan World Under Sentence of Condemnation")