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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
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  • « Bible Logic Fallacies of Synergists | Main | What's In A Name? A Review of D. G. Hart's 'Deconstructing Evangelicalism' »

    There's Good News and Bad News by Pastor John Samson

    The book of Romans is the most comprehensive statement of the Gospel in the pages of Scripture. It starts with these words, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." (Rom. 1:1) Each word is significant, but one that is normally overlooked is the little word "of" in the phrase "the gospel of God." Here, the word does not mean "about" as in the gospel about God. The word "of" here speaks of possession. The gospel of God is the gospel belonging to God, or God's gospel.

    This little word "of" then has tremendous implications. It speaks of the fact that God is not only the author of the gospel, but that He owns exclusive rights to it. The gospel is His Gospel, and we as proclaimers of that gospel have no right to alter it, modify it, or shave off its rough edges in an effort to make it more palatable.

    According to almost all commentators on the book of Romans, in chapter 1:16, 17, Paul outlines the theme of the book when he writes, "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, 'the righteous shall live by faith.'"

    The book of Romans is the presentation of the gospel. The word "gospel" means good news. That always needs to be kept in mind. Yet the good news doesn't make too much sense without an understanding of the bad news.

    You might think that Paul would jump straight into the good news about God's love for man, and His saving purposes carried out through His Son Jesus Christ. But that is not where Paul goes. Not yet anyway. Starting with the very next verse, Romans 1:18, Paul announces the terrible bad news that all mankind needs to understand.

    A good doctor first diagnoses a patient's sickness before suggesting a course of action or remedy through medication. Once determining exactly what is wrong, the doctor takes as long as is necessary to make sure the patient knows the nature of the condition. He certainly doesn't just get a patient in his office and suggest some pills to take. He makes a thorough investigation of the patient and then explains the results he finds in a way that can be understood. Once a patient understands the serious nature of his condition, he then has an interest in the cure that is available.

    Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in much the same way, starts his gospel (Rom 16:25) with a thorough diagnosis of mankind's awful problem. The test results are in, and they are not good - not good at all. All mankind is under the wrath of God because of grevious sin against a just and holy God.

    That's where Paul starts. But that's not where most preachers start today - in fact, most preachers never mention the wrath of God.

    I preached in one Church just recently and asked “how many of you have ever heard a sermon on the love of God?” All raised their hands. Then I asked, “how many of you have ever heard a sermon on the wrath of God?” No one raised a hand. Not a soul. Of course, I remedied that over the next 40 minutes or so! I say this because we can’t understand the biblical Gospel without reference to the wrath of God. In the Gospel, God sent His Son to save us from His own wrath (Romans 5:6-10). We are saved by God from God, for God.

    But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to what Paul outlines for us in the early chapters of Romans. According to the first three chapters, God's wrath is against all of humanity because of the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18). In fact, from chapter 1:18, right through to chapter 3:20, Paul articulates the reasons why God's wrath (His righteous anger) is against mankind because of sin.

    In chapter 1, Paul reveals the sin of the Gentiles. I could imagine a self righteous Jew looking over Paul's shoulder as he writes saying, "let them have it Paul... go get 'em!" But while there's no doubt that all Gentiles are gunned down in chapter one, the guns of God now turn to the Jews in chapter 2. Just because the Jews were given the law, it doesn't mean they have kept the law, and in fact, all Jews, just like all Gentiles are in the exact same predicament - under the wrath of God because of sin. Romans 3:9, 10 states "What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one."

    All Gentiles and all Jews are under sin. If anyone was left not feeling the full weight of this fact, it is as if Paul then (starting with Romans 3, verse 10, right through to verse 18) loads his scripture machine gun and fires off text after text from the Old Testament towards any who would still try to hold out that they might be the one exception in all this.

    Only when Paul is convinced that all have got the point that all are under the judgment of God and every human mouth has stopped trying to justify itself (Romans 3:19) - only then - does Paul start talking about the remedy found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Earlier in chapter 1:16, 17 Paul stated his theme as the good news of the righteousness of God. From 1:18 to 3:20, Paul discussed the wrath of God, and only now in 3:21 and following does Paul get to the theme of God's righteousness found in the gospel.

    All of this, I believe, was by Divine design. We can’t understand the joy of being put right with God through the gospel of Christ without understanding why this is so essential. The reason this is so essential is because all mankind is under the wrath of God, with God having every right to throw all of us rebel sinners into hell, and then throwing away the key. All the angels would still be singing "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" and no one could ever say that God would be unrighteous in doing so. It is never wrong to execute justice, and mercy by definition can never be demanded - never. It is given soley at the descretion of the one showing mercy.

    In chapter 3:21, Paul moves from the theme of the wrath of God, to the righteousness of God - "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all (all Jews and all Gentiles) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith." (Rom. 3:22-25)

    Romans 5:6-10 "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."

    The Gospel is not about us feeling good about ourselves, getting acquainted with our inner child or finding purpose to life. Certainly these things are never mentioned in Romans, or anywhere else in scripture for that matter. Of course, we do find purpose to life through the Gospel – and that is to live for the glory of God. But the Gospel itself is about being put right with a God who has every right to throw us into hell for the cosmic treason we have committed.

    Just how does this happen? Not by human merit, not by human works, but by God's grace found in Christ alone.

    Romans 3:28 "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."
    Romans 4:4-5 "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness."
    Romans 5:1 "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

    With Scripture alone as the authority I affirm that salvation is by God's grace alone, received through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Wonder of wonders, God's gospel is this - God sent His Son to save enemy rebel sinners from His fierce and holy wrath, and all who put their faith in Christ will receive not only the forgiveness of sin (a cancellation of their severe debt to God), but the very righteousness of Christ (all Christ achieved by His sinless life and fulfillment of every demand of the law) transferred to the believer's account as a free gift of grace (Rom. 5:17).

    The good news is truly amazingly good news, but only in the light of a true understanding of how bad the bad news really is.

    Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

    Posted by John Samson on November 7, 2005 11:51 AM

    Comments

    John,

    Great post! I agree that we cannot understand the good news apart from the bad. Otherwise there's no context...but today everyone seems to believe (because they've been told!) that the "bad news" is a failure to reach your full potential, have good relationships, and to maximize your career. Basically, the Gospel is a way to feel better about yourself.

    I'll ask for your pastoral perspective: what would you recommend as a way to inject the true gospel (i.e. wrath contrasted with mercy) back into churches that have drawn thousands of new members precisely by avoiding the issue? If they mention wrath and sin, the legions at their churches will smell a "bait 'n switch" and will probably leave for something less harsh. I've discussed this with members of such "feel-good" churches and they reply something like, "they're better off here, than away from church completely!"

    Sort of like, "If your kid won't eat his vegetables, at least try to slip a few peas into his ice cream."

    Can this be remedied without a complete shakeup (and shakedown) of contemporary evangelicalism?

    Thanks for your comments Bill. I think I would answer by saying that indeed a radical shake up is needed in the church at large.

    Let's use our imagination for a moment and consider what would happen if the Apostle Paul was somehow allowed to preach on Christian television. We can only surmize here, but perhaps if he preached the content of Romans 1-3, the viewer ratings might well go down, which in television is everything, seemingly. Heresy seems to be tolerated as long as money is generated. If it pays it plays! If the ratings went down because Paul mentioned the wrath of God, or sin, and such like, would he be invited back to preach a second time? I don't know. I can't really answer that, though I can take a guess.

    But would Paul try to merely sneak a little gospel in to his message to fit in with the demands of the director? I don't think so. I don't think he would buy into the idea that crowds, or the number of viewers, or the amount of money generated is the test of whether something is of God or not. He would not buy into that kind of mindset. At least, not the Paul I read of in scripture.

    In Corinth, Paul knew what the Greeks wanted to hear (worldly wisdom), and what the Jews wanted to see (signs and wonders)... but undaunted, he preached "Christ crucified," knowing that the Jews would see it as a stumbling block, and it would seem to be just foolishness to the Greeks, "but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (see 1 Cor. 1:22-25).

    Paul didn't go door to door, taking a poll of the city of Corinth to find out what they wanted to hear. He already knew what the people wanted. But Paul preached God's message knowing that everyone except "the called" would find it objectionable. Yet he preached to please the audience of One.

    I see no other mandate in scripture but to preach the gospel as it is, and leave the results in the hands of God. The preacher has not been authorized to preach a gospel-lite message - there's only one true gospel, and anyone who messes with it, by adjusting it, diluting it or adding to it will face the consequences (Gal. 1:6-10). It is God's gospel, and He owns it. It is not ours to shape as we will.

    If we just want a crowd, lets just hire the latest and greatest pop idol for the night and forget content altogether.

    If we want a Church - one that the Lord will recognize as such, then I think our mandate is a clear one - we need to preach the biblical gospel.

    Preach the Word in and out of season.

    Will large congregations who have never heard the truth of the gospel preached before get smaller when it is finally done?

    Yes.

    Is this to be expected?

    Yes.

    Have I experienced this personally?

    Yes, yes and yes.

    I moved from a large liberal church to a smaller church because of this very reason.

    The gospel was not being preached from the pulpit or taught in class.

    When I started to really grasp the whole message of the gospel and preach to all who would hear, I found that not many in any really understood me.

    They were comfortable in their false assurance.

    They were comfortable believing that "good" people go to heaven without truly believing in Jesus Christ and "repenting" from their sins.

    It's "repentance" that isn't being preached in todays modern evangelical church and I'm sorry, but you cannot have salvation without repentance.

    If I were ever called to preach the Word of God to a flock, you had better believe that I would preach Christ and Him crucified and I would not leave anything out. I would preach the "whole" counsel of God.

    I've heard liberals try to teach that sin and repentance are offensive and turn people off. I've seen liberal seminary grads scwerm when they heard me talk about sin and repentance. It's everything they are against.

    But how are people going to truly come to Christ if they don't understand why they need Him?

    Being good enough isn't enough.

    John 14:6
    Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

    Isaiah 64:6
    But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

    Romans 3:11-18
    “ There is none righteous, no, not one;
    11 There is none who understands;
    There is none who seeks after God.
    12 They have all turned aside;
    They have together become unprofitable;
    There is none who does good, no, not one.”
    13 “ Their throat is an open tomb;
    With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

    “ The poison of asps is under their lips”;
    14 “ Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
    15 “ Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
    17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
    18 “ There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

    Y.B.I.C,

    Dave

    Your Posts always have a way of pointing me back to the main thing: the gospel. Keep it up I have enjoyed them.


    Marco

    Pastor John

    Thank you for the timely article. Your points are appreciated and a real blessing to us all.

    We had a computer crash around here yesterday so didn't have the opportunity to comment ... was busy repairing and recovering ... but beginning with your example, I would like to encourage all who contribute to this blog to do a series on the topic of "the gospel". It is so critical at a time when a diluted gospel is heard across this land that I believe it is imperative to wrestle with the implications of this central issue from various perspectives. What think you?

    Thanks again John. Many persons are being edified by your essays...

    JWH

    p.s. I was also thinking about the comment made on the offense of the gospel when preaching about God's wrath and the need for faith and repentance. While the gospel will always be offensive (because it strips us of any hope from ourselves), but one thing I believe to disarm folks a little is to train your guns on yourself as well. To be honest and forthright about your weaknesses, the reality of our own just deserving of God's wrath, without hope in the world save in Jesus Christ. And with this not only to ask people to repent of their evil but also to repent of trusting in good works as well. Our new life in Christ is a new birth and that means we have to leave behind all we trusted in before; good and bad. They are all rubbish, according to the apostle. When people see the church erroneously teaching only that they need to repent of evil they think of Christianity as merely a kind of moralism .. that if we are good God will reward us ... but when we even speak of repenting of our own goodness and laying aside all trust in our good, people begin to see the hopelessness of our situation in this world. That is exactly where we want them to be. Christianity is not a self-help program to just make us better. Jesus rather wants to make us new ... that means we must come to an end of ourselves. And only the Holy Spirit can do such a mightly work of grace in us, to disarm our resistance to this... for our natures rebel against this like none other....


    Hi John H.,

    Thank you so much for your encouraging words. They are always appreciated. As are your insights.

    Your idea of each of the contributors writing an article on the Gospel is a great idea. I am sure this will allow this vital subject to be covered from many different angles.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with the comments you made in your P.S., and pray that it will be widely read and applied.

    Every blessing,

    John Samson

    Hi John, I am from Limerick City in the south of Ireland. There are many Churches in our city these days but alas they are to a great degree arminian.(even though they do not openly declare that they are)

    We are to all intents and purposes experiencing a famine of God honouring doctrine in our city. We need the Lord to raise up godly men and send them to our impoverished city to preach the Gospel of Grace in all of its fulness! Please pray for us John?
    Your brother in Christ, Pat

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