“The Gospel vs. Religion”
September 14, 2008
Religion is a dud; the gospel is dynamite. I did a little fact-checking on dynamite this week:
• It is not the same as “TNT”; in fact, the only similarity between them is that they both explode!
• Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel, whom we know better for instituting the Nobel Peace Prize, given annually to people who promote peace, and occasionally to people who spin outlandish tales involving pseudo-science.
• For many decades, the leading exporter of dynamite in the world was South Africa.
• Dynamite is actually largely made of nitroglycerin, so if you have a heart condition and stick it under your tongue, you should either get relief or explode. At any rate…
Last week we took a look at the theme of the book of Romans, and today we continue. We said last week that the point of Romans was the gospel, and that the point of the gospel is Jesus Christ, that without Him, we have nothing.
I. Paul’s Deep Regard for the Romans
Before Paul gets into the body of the letter itself, he wants to make certain to say some very personal things to the Roman believers themselves.
A. “I am thankful” - :8
If “all roads lead to Rome”, then what was happening in Rome was being found out in the rest of the world, and the gospel had taken root there. Roses were springing up; Christians were being made in the cultural center of the ancient world, and word was getting out!
B. “I am praying” - :9
Two prayer requests: one, for them generally; two, for his ability to visit them for the purpose of strengthening them in the faith. I think that both types of prayer requests are valid. It is great to pray for God’s general blessings on others; it is also important to pray specifically at times for particular things. And Paul says, “I pray without ceasing”. I fear that for too many of us, “out of sight is out of mind”, and yet for Paul, unceasing prayer, even for people he’d never met, was altogether appropriate.
C. “I want to minister to you” - :10b-11
What does Paul mean by “some spiritual gift” that he longs to impart to them? Usually, when we think of “spiritual gifts”, we first think of individualized gifts that the Holy Spirit grants that will differ from believer to believer. Some of us have one gift, and some have another, but the point is that in Scripture, notably Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, it is clear that it is the Holy Spirit who gives spiritual gifts, and not a given apostle of God. More likely, because he doesn’t know their particular situation and their particular needs in detail, his desire is to find out in what way(s) he can best benefit them, and share in that way with them.
D. “I want to be ministered to by you” – :12
If you ever are tempted to think that our relationship as pastor/parishioners is some one-way thing whereby I do the giving and you do the receiving, please, please think again! Paul’s attitude is that there are some things that he lacks which can be supplied by the Romans!
E. “I want to win some in Rome to Christ” - :13
As Paul makes clear, if it’d been entirely up to him, he’d have already been in Rome by now, but anticipating the time when he’ll actually get there, he says, “I want to reap some harvest among you”. Paul had a genuine concern for lost people, and thus he speaks of his desire to win some to Christ. Let me tell you this: as a follower of Christ, there is no greater joy than helping another person come to know Him, a joy I hope each of you experience!
II. Paul’s Deep Desire to Minister the Gospel
Religion is a dud, but the gospel is dynamite. And Paul has a deep desire to minister that gospel. Note his attitude:
A. “I am obligated” - :14
Our text uses the word “obligated”, and that’s my word in the outline, but there is an even deeper meaning in view, a sense of “debt” (KJV: “debtor”). In what sense is Paul a debtor to the Romans? Have they given him anything which he is responsible to pay back? No…but there is another way to be in debt to another. If I give you $1000 with the charge to pay it to another party, then you “owe” that third party the $1K. It is in this sense that Paul is in debt to Greeks and barbarians; i.e., to both the cultured and the uncultured, because God has entrusted something to him with the directive that he pass it along to others. And notice the “target” of Paul’s preaching, if you will: “Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish”. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, but not just to the educated; his mission was to the uneducated as well. In other words, everybody! I don’t want to steal too much thunder from the text below, but the gospel is for everybody, and we as believers have an obligation to anyone/everyone in this world. Here’s a paraphrase: “I owe the debt of sharing the gospel with whites and non-whites, to Americans and Indonesians and Europeans and Asians, to AIDS patients, to the poor and needy, to the wealthy who trust in riches rather than in God. I owe a debt to bankers and bellhops, to Ph.Ds and schoolboys, to lawyers and laborers.” Paul is obligated and therefore,
B. “I am eager” - :15
Paul had been called by God to proclaim the gospel, and thus he writes in I Corinthians 9, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel…” Paul’s have-to was matched by his want-to! In every culture, it is considered a dishonorable thing to leave a debt unpaid. This is why Paul is “eager” to discharge his obligation.
Here’s a fair question for us: what are we “eager” to do? I can think of a whole range of things: hunt/fish/watch the game; talk weather or politics or sports or current events; eat/drink/have sex; even attend church events and eat potlucks! But am I eager to know Jesus and share Him with others? Paul was! Third,
C. “I am unashamed” - :16,17
Jesus warned his disciples (Mark 8:38) not to be ashamed of Him, implying that such was possible, and so Paul makes it clear: “I am not ashamed”, and he didn’t just say that, but he lived it, taking that gospel to all. James Stewart made the trenchant remark in a sermon that “there’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it.” In writing to the Corinthians, he acknowledges that it was with “fear and trembling” that he came to them, recognizing that the message of the gospel was (and is) to many people “foolishness”. As John Stott says, “whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes, ridicule”. And yet, Paul was unashamed of the gospel because he knew its power (get to that in a minute!).
See, Paul knew what we sometimes miss, that the gospel of Jesus Christ can stand on its own two feet intellectually. Yes, there are today bombastic and pompous secularists who sneer at faith in Christ, who pooh-pooh the gospel and any talk of a living and saving God. And yet there’s plenty that they’re not telling us, plenty of fundamental questions that cannot be answered adequately by secular means.
• Why is there something instead of nothing?
• Without God, how can we speak meaningfully of right and wrong?
• How can the resurrection of Christ be explained away?
And so on. Paul knew the gospel to be far superior to secularism, and he knew it to be far superior to mere religion, because while religion is a dud, the gospel is dynamite! See, Paul had done the religion thing, but it was severely lacking: it didn’t produce love, but rather hatred; it didn’t produce humility, but rather pride; mostly, it didn’t produce salvation! There was lots of religion in the world when Jesus came on the scene; the last thing he did was to bring another religion! Religion, defined as man trying on his own to reach up to God, is appealing to the natural mind; “OK, so I’ve offended God by my sin; what can I do to settle the score?” So people try to do all sorts of things: penance, tithing, good deeds, church membership, etc., to try to reach God. Religion is a dud, while the gospel is dynamite!
What, then, is the antidote to any sense of shame that might creep into the mind/heart of the follower of Christ, with regard to the gospel message? By remembering the things that are true of that gospel, and thus Paul lists some of his
III. Paul’s Deep Convictions Regarding the Gospel
Here’s why we say that the gospel is dynamite:
A. It is powerful - :16 – “dunamis”
That’s what the word “powerful” means in the original Greek; it’s the word “dunamis”, from which we get the word “dynamite!” And it is dynamite in the sense of what it is able to produce: Paul says it’s the power of God “for salvation”. What does Paul mean by this? Do you realize that, Scripturally, there is more than one tense to salvation? We can say, with ample Biblical warrant, “I have been saved through Jesus Christ”. I have been converted; I am a convert, a Christian, a Christ-follower, etc. All the religions of the world can boast “converts”. But there is more to salvation than the past tense of it. Though we won’t get into it today, according to II Corinthians 2, there is a present tense to our salvation; it speaks of “those who are being saved”. Finally, there is a future tense, an ultimate sense, of our salvation, and noted Bible teacher John Piper is convinced that it is this future tense that Paul is talking about here. Here’s Romans 5:9 - “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” This is speaking of the fact that those who have been justified by God, accounted righteous before Him, will be spared God’s wrath, wrath poured out in divine justice against those who never confessed Jesus Christ as Savior.
In other words, the gospel is dynamite in that it alone has the power to bring us into final, realized salvation and everlasting joy with God the Father. Buddha can’t do that; Mohammed can’t pull it off; the 330 million Hindu deities are powerless, because all of their religion is a dud, whereas the gospel is dynamite!
B. It is entirely by faith - :16, 17 – “believes”; “from faith for faith”; “by faith”
The term “religion” is never used in Scripture of the means by which we become right with a holy God: never! Religion says that we have to prove to God in some way that we are good enough to merit his approval. But how will we know if we’ve ever done enough? And how can good things make up for bad things we’ve done? And what if we’re missing the depth of our own evil, since our capacity for self-deception is practically limitless? Religion can wear us out with nothing to show for it in the end. Hindus go through all sorts of rituals; Muslims have all sorts of rules by which to live; pseudo-Christian cultists attempt to add their own religious goodness to the equation; Buddhists seek to elevate themselves to a state of “enlightenment”. Common thread? Religion is all about reaching up to try to get to God—but if the gospel is true, it doesn’t work. Religion is a dud; the gospel is dynamite! Because the gospel, appropriated by faith, says that God has reached down for us when we could never reach Him!
Another way to understand the quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 is “he who through faith is righteous shall live.” Means of righteousness is faith; result of faith-righteousness is “life”, implying prior death. Sometimes Christians struggle to consider themselves “worthy” of salvation—here’s the good news: you aren’t. You’ll never be. You can’t achieve worthiness before God. Give up. But here’s the better news: you don’t have to! It’s not about you being worthy. This gospel is appropriated by faith in Christ, not by achievement of ours.
And what is faith, in a Christian understanding? Let’s define it as “actively staking one’s eternal life/destiny on Jesus Christ alone”. And according to the Bible, Christ can transform the worst sinner into a fully-justified saint in an instant, when that sinner places simple faith in Christ and His sacrifice. Religion is a dud, but the gospel is dynamite! And because of this,
C. It is all-inclusive - :16 – “everyone who believes”
The gospel reaches across the boundaries that man sets to say “who’s in” and “who’s out”. There is no one that is beyond the scope of God’s grace: no one. That’s scandalous to some people. People who think that God is rewarding “good people” for “good behavior” can’t imagine that God would allow rapists and murderers and child molesters to get his forgiveness, because those are “evil people”…but I’m going to propose to you through the course of this study that that is exactly, precisely what God does, and further, that God is perfectly right and just in doing that very thing. Religion rules out the “very bad” people, but the gospel says that forgiveness is available to “everyone who believes. As we said earlier, Paul felt an obligation to everyone. Here’s an email from our missionary Gary Smith, ministering with his wife Esther in PNG; we prayed for the salvation of the Dinangat people earlier this year:
Dear Supporting Friends and Family,
I just printed off the first ever worship song book in the Dinangat language for the believers to use during praise services! What a joy it was to see the songs come streaming in. If we ever doubted their understanding of the gospel, these songs wipe away any doubt. Listen to some of the songs:
Father God we say thank to you. You always thought of us and think of us. Therefore we say thank to you. You sent our savior Jesus; therefore, we say thank you to You. Father God we say thank to You.
O-o-o I want to go to where heaven is. O-o-o we people are not able to save ourselves. O-o-o but there is God's son, the Christ who is able to save us. He will save us and lead us to God's place (heaven).
We are not able to save ourselves. But Got because You exist You always help us. You gave us Your son. Because of our sin Jesus went up on the cross. Because of our sin He spilled out His blood. Because of Jesus You save us.
Great Father give us Your life. Great Father give us Your life. You give it to us, and we will hold it. You give it to us, and we will quickly hold it. We want to praise and praise God. We want to praise and praise God.
These people used to be trapped in a lifestyle of bondage to spirits and/or striving to earn favor from a God they didn't understand. And now they call Him "great Father." Now they sing praises to Him in freedom and truth because they see the great price the Son paid for them and they are free. Free to love Him, to serve Him, to worship Him.
Religion can’t find a way to forgive everyone, because it’s a dud, but the gospel is dynamite! Finally,
D. It reveals God’s righteousness - :17 – “the righteousness of God”
This speaks of the righteous status which God requires of man, and which God provides for man through Jesus Christ. It is contrasted throughout Romans with the “righteousness” which we can achieve in our own efforts (non-existent!). It is, in the words of Stott, “God’s righteous initiative in putting sinners right with Himself.” The wording refers to God’s activity; the problem is that we don’t have a verb in English that corresponds well; the thought is that God “righteouses” His people. Religion can’t wipe the slate utterly clean, so that God sees me as being without any sin at all; the best religion can do is to try as it might to “even the score”. But as we’ll see in our study of Romans, the gospel doesn’t just square our account with God; it doesn’t just “get us to ‘even’”; it declares that we possess a righteousness that is entirely and completely without blemish. Religion can’t do that; it’s a dud! But the gospel is dynamite!
In his book Meet Yourself in the Psalms, Warren Wiersbe tells the story of a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse, stop the wagon, and save the boy. But the child who was saved grew up to be a lawless man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for the crime of murder. As the prisoner looked into the face of the judge he recognized the man who had long ago put himself in harm’s way to save the little boy’s life, and on that basis, the accused man asked for mercy. But the words from the bench silenced his plea:
“Young man, then I was your savior, but today, I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged.” And one day, Jesus Christ will say to sinners, “During that long day of grace, I was the Savior, and I would have forgiven you. But today, I am your Judge. Depart from me into everlasting fire.”
The gospel is powerful; it’s dynamite. The question is, what is your own response to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Christ has done everything for you; salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone; will you place your faith in Christ?
• What are some ways in which the gospel of Christ might be considered “radical” to man’s way of thinking, according to today’s text?
• Paul was obligated, eager, and unashamed regarding the gospel. Yet many believers today seem to be the opposite of those three qualities. Why is this?