I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | NIV84)
Ask almost anybody what “the gospel” is and they’ll most likely reply, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” That response is wrong on a couple of counts. First, those four men were apostles, not gospels. Second, they wrote things called “the gospels,” but that’s not what “the gospel” refers to. The word “gospel” really means “good news.” The apostle Paul frequently used the phrase “the gospel” in his writing, and he certainly wasn’t thinking about the four documents written by the apostles that refer to as “the Gospels.”
We’ve looked at “the gospel of grace,” and now we will turn our attention to “the gospel of power,” or, “the good news of power.” What did Paul have in mind when he penned Romans 1:16? Just what is this power the gospel possesses? Let’s take a look.
It’s a trick question: What was Paul’s greatest desire? A lot of seminary smarty pants get it wrong, but by his own testimony, here’s the right answer:
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong… (Romans 1:11 | NIV84)
Paul was desperate to get to Rome, for a number of reasons, but this one being the primary one. He wanted “impart…some spiritual gift” to the believers there. Obviously this doesn’t mean Paul wanted to just visit and pray for them. He could pray for his Roman brothers anywhere, which he did.
God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you. (Romans 1:9 | NIV84)
Paul wanted to preach to them; he wanted to teach the Word of God to the Romans. Look at the apostle’s testimony here: He served God with his whole heart. Paul was all in for Jesus Christ, and while a lot of believers claim to be praying for a lot of other believers, Paul linked his prayer life to what God knew about him! God knew Paul so well, He knew how often the apostle prayed for the Romans. That’s quite a statement to make. But Paul had that close a relationship with his Lord. Verse 10 shows us how close a relationship he had:
I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Romans 1:10 | NIV84)
Paul had his desires, but he subordinated them to God’s will. What a perfect example of man and God working together! Think about this for a minute. Paul really, really, really wanted to get to Rome to do a very good thing: Preach the gospel. He could have gone any time; nothing was stopping Paul from going to Rome. He went everywhere else! The man was always on the road preaching. What kept him from going to Rome? God’s will, that’s what. Paul always deferred to the Lord’s will in a situation. He knew he could have preached in Rome any time, but if he was patient and went at the right time (God’s time), he would have had God’s blessing and much more success. How many of us, I wonder, rush ahead of God, falling out of God’s will in the process, all the while trying to do something for God. It’s always a toss-up when you do that. Sometimes you’ll have success, sometimes not. There are no guarantees. But when you stay in the mainstream of God’s will, you can never lose. Never! And Paul did just that; he was waiting for God to give him the word. And it appeared like he would be going Rome sooner rather than later:
This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you… (Romans 15:22 – 23 | NIV84)
Yes, as one scholar noted:
Paul was the author of his purposes but not of his circumstances.
It’s the same with us, by the way. You and I make our plans but no matter how carefully we do that, circumstances often have their way us.
If you glance at verses 14 and 15, you’ll get a sense of what Paul thought about the gospel – that is, the “good news” in a general sense:
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. (Romans 1:14, 15 | NIV84)
Because God had saved Paul and called him to take the “good news” to those who needed to hear it, he had a moral obligation – literally a debt – to preach it to anybody and everybody. “Greeks, non-Greeks, wise, and foolish,” all people needed to hear the Gospel. And all people need to hear it today, too. You and I as Christians 20 centuries removed from Paul, are under the same obligation, and while you may not be called to preach or teach as Paul did, you owe the lost of your generation that same Gospel! There’s no other way to put it: We owe the Gospel to the lost. But how many of us are as committed as Paul was? He literally waited years for an open door to take the Word of God to Rome. Would we have just given up? How many of us care to take the Gospel to halls of a university or those of Congress? Would we take our lives in our hands to take the Gospel to South Side of Chicago?
But what was it Paul would preach in Rome and in Jerusalem? What is this “good news” that applies to anybody and everybody; senators and scoundrels alike?
It’s the good news of power
The answer to those questions lie in verses 16 and 17:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16, 17 | NIV84)
It wasn’t Johnny Cash that first recorded the classic, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” It was actually written in 1959 by an Aussie named Geoff Mack. It was made famous down under by Lucky Starr and then the immortal Hank Snow, a Canadian, got hold of it and adapted it for North American ears. But Lucky Starr, Hank Snow, and Johnny Cash never traveled as extensively as did the apostle Paul. And in his travels he preached and taught the Gospel to very educated people. There were many egghead philosophers in cities like Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and you can be sure there were intellectual giants in Rome. In spite of them, Paul boldly declared that he was NOT ashamed to the gospel. Period. End of discussion. He was not ashamed of the Gospel no matter what the eggheads thought or said. He had confidence in the “good news” because he discovered two very important things about it related to its inherent POWER.
First, the Gospel itself IS the power of God. That is, the “good news” about God is the power. That phrase, “…the power of God…” is not insignificant. The Greek word for “power” is dynamis, and refers to a power within itself. The Gospel has power – it is power – regardless of who is preaching it. In other words, a powerful sermon is such not because the preacher is so great but because the Gospel is.
But just what is “the dynamis of God?” As Paul uses the phrase, the power of God often refers to God’s wisdom, especially as contrasted with man’s wisdom. For example:
…but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24 | NIV84)
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 | NIV84)
God’s wisdom is what changes lives; the Bible, a compendium the wisdom, changes lives. A clever sermon based on the popular ideas of the day may sound good, and may contain very good and helpful ideas, but it won’t change a life. How can that be? It’s because the very revelation of God Himself is contained in the Gospel. But the Gospel isn’t just the story of God; it is a living revelation of God that changes a life – that implants salvation in life of a man.
Speaking of salvation, the Greek word is soteria, and it’s a very broad word that includes all the things God has done for us, does for us, and will do for us. In Romans alone, salvation includes the forgiveness of sins and acceptance before God, deliverance from the future wrath of God, the present life of the believer which is lived in the life of the Spirit, and salvation also includes the future resurrection of the body!
This divine power which infuses every word and phrase of the Gospel is not dependent upon human wisdom or expertise or virtue or action. The Gospel IS simply the power of God. Ceremony, good works, fancy words have nothing to do with the power of the Gospel. Paul makes it clear that it is the power of God alone that saves a sinner when that sinner expresses faith. Salvation is freely given, not earned in any way.
But second, Paul’s confidence was also in the substance of the Gospel, which is what verse 17 is all about. The substance of the gospel is simply “a righteousness from God.” Volumes have been written over the centuries about what Paul meant by that phrase, and even today there is some debate about what that phrase means. Because this is a key point, so let’s distill all the opinions into this simple paragraph.
Paul was a Jew, and therefore he thought like a Jew. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s righteousness is portrayed by the way He acts, especially they way He acts in maintaining His covenant. So the gospel, then, shows us what God does in the lives of His people, for His people. That’s good news! Yet it goes beyond just His action. God’s righteousness is also His character, because one’s actions descend from one’s character. God acts righteously, He performs righteous deeds, because His character is righteous. He is completely righteous in His Person and in His acts. That’s more good news about God because it means the way God treats you can never be swayed by anything or anybody. Not even yourself. That’s why when you mess up and sin or treat God poorly, He still loves you and He still treats you as His child because He is altogether righteous.
The power of the gospel is, as explained by Paul, that its scope is universal; it is for all people, from all times, from all places. The good news about God, when it is heard by people, will change their lives for all eternity. That’s power.