Meditations in Romans : 13 : The Power of the Gospel
Rom 1:16 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.
Possibly one of the biggest dangers we can face – apart from being totally apathetic or even hostile to the Gospel – is to accept a counterfeit form of the Gospel that is simply about believing some basic Christian beliefs, going to church on a Sunday and trying to be nice. In the eighteenth century John Wesley wrote of the days before he saw the light when he had a form of religion, “In this refined way of trusting to my own works, and my own righteousness…I dragged on heavily, finding no comfort … I understood it not at first. I was too learned and too wise: so that it seemed foolishness unto me.” Later as he heard the truth being read from Romans he testified, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This was the start of a dramatic change; he was born again (Jn 3:3)
This verse 16 is an amazing declaration of the truth that we each need burning in our hearts. It declares first that there is obviously a need for salvation that Paul speaks about. Wesley had testified how he had been locked into a life of trying to be righteous and yet it brought him no comfort. It was a life where he was burdened by his sins and he tried to overcome that burden by his own efforts. Without realising it, he was in fact godless. He was lost in self-endeavour and it did him no good. It was only as he heard the good news about Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit was able to speak to him and he responded in faith.
So if the first thing is that we are lost and in need of saving, the second thing is that there is hope for us because God has provided a way of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. It comes by simply trusting in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross, the fact of him dying in my place to take my sins. For this truth to be received is an act of faith. It is responding to what God has said. We don’t say these things because they seem a good idea to us; we say them because God has said them and it is the testimony of the whole of the New Testament. So, if God has said them, we do well to respond to them. The response of, “I believe, please forgive my sins, please wash me and cleanse me of my sins, please give me a new life,” is the door that opens up a new life for at that point the Lord responds and declares it done and imparts His own Holy Spirit to us to energise and change and guide us from then on. The truth of the Gospel is used by the Spirit to convict us, but the Spirit Himself is the means we are empowered, born again and given a new life. It is utterly life transforming.
But here is a mystery, I note after many years of watching, that for some people this life transformation is mightily dramatic and for others it is quiet and slow. I know not why! I don’t know why it is that the Spirit is able to convict some powerfully so that they turn with tears and are very obviously changed. Sometimes it is because they are great and obvious sinners, and sometimes not; it is just that the Spirit convicts like this. But then there are others who come quietly and gently – but genuinely – and the experience is far less dramatic. There are some, usually children in Christian families, who receive Jesus in their very early years and it is a very simple but genuine thing and they avoid the devastations of the obvious sins, it seems, but it is still a very real thing. My wife was one such young convert. Then there are others who, only later in life, find themselves in a corner being convicted of the Spirit of the truth of the Gospel, convicted of their need, and so turn in tears or at least deep anguish and find a mighty change. I was more in this latter category.
But it doesn’t matter when it occurred or even how it occurred, the outcome is always the same – change! Why? It is because there is a power at work, bringing us into a new life in a new way, a way that transforms into the likeness of Christ. It is a life that is no longer in darkness, a life that is no longer self-centred and godless and unrighteous; it is now a life that is God-centred, God-focused, God-energised and God-directed.
A final point: this is for all peoples and there are no exceptions. Paul speaks of Jew and Gentile which is a way of saying, those who appear religious and those who do not. It is nothing to do with class or culture or cleverness for we all have to come the same way, and having come, are all changed by the same way, by the good news of the work on the Cross of Jesus Christ the Son of God, and then by the convicting and empowering work of the Spirit. Thus we are saved!