TheGospel

The Sanctifying Power of the Gospel

 

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Romans 1:15

In the first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul introduces his most profound and dense letter to the saints of Rome.  Undoubtedly the most quotable verse of this chapter occurs just after the one quoted above.  Verse 16, “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” has garnered a significant amount of attention, and rightly so, but it has in part caused me to overlook what the Apostle has said right before it.

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

For me, the focus for this verse has often been on Paul’s desire to go and preach at Rome.  This is no doubt true, for Paul has prayed “that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you,” “long[s] to see [them],” and has “often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented).”  However, lost in the anticipation for Paul to preach at Rome is the content of the message he intends to bring to the saints there.  The Gospel.

Remember that in the opening verses of chapter 1, Paul is intentionally addressing the saints, i.e. the saved, collectively the Church.  He writes in verse 7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”  This is important not only for the passage we’re looking at today, but for the overall scope and direction of the letter.  It is not intended to be a letter for unbelievers.  Though we often use the “Roman Road” for evangelism, the Epistle to the Romans, like the other letters of Paul (and arguably the entirety of Scripture), was intended for the Church, i.e. believers only.

As it relates to verse 15, this becomes all the more significant in that Paul doesn’t intend to bring the Romans a message of high-theology, a second work of grace, or philosophical musings that will grant them a deeper understanding of the workings of God.  He intends to bring the message of the Gospel to the saints!  Perhaps a first or second reading of this chapter might leave one with the impression that Paul’s anticipated mission to Rome is one of evangelism, however the Church is his intended audience and the gospel his intended message.  We must step back then and ask why would this be his message?  Given our understanding of the gospel in so many of today’s evangelical churches, who see it as a first step unto salvation rather than the beginning, middle, and end of all the Christian life, it’s no surprise why this verse might be overlooked.

Throughout Paul’s writings, he views salvation as past-saved (Romans 5:1, et.al.), present-being saved (1 Cor. 15:1,2, et.al.), and future-will be saved (Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13, et.al.).  When he follows up his statement on his desire to preach the gospel with, “for it is the power of God unto salvation” I think it is helpful to understand that for Paul, salvation most always encompasses more than a past event.  Secondly, we must come to understand the significance of the gospel in our lives as an on-going reality of the finished work of Christ on the cross and the implications of this as we become more conformed to the image of Christ.  Practically speaking, the Gospel is the key, the fuel, and the destination of the Christian life.  It is inaugurated (justification), anticipated (sanctification), and consummated (glorification) in the life of a believer.

Note how Paul unfolds the Gospel in chapter 6 of his epistle,

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In verse 1, Paul begins his argument for sanctification in the life of a believer by asking the rhetorical, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (for complete context, refer back to Romans 5).  He then frames his argument by referencing the finished work of Christ on the cross, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” and the implications for us of His resurrection, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  This is the Gospel and woven within Paul’s description is the implication for how the believer ought to live a life of holiness.  The significance of Paul’s statements here is the union of Christ with the believer.  Again, this unappreciated doctrine, can be expressed in Romans 6 in terms of past (vs. 3,4,5,6), present (vs. 4,6,7,11), and future (vs.5,8,).  The elect of God have been united to Christ before time began, “Even as he chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” Eph. 1:4  Believers have been united to Christ by faith in the present (Eph. 1:7,11, 13; Gal. 2:20; 3:26; John 15:5) and will be united to him, as His bride – fully consummating this union, at His second coming having been saved from the wrath of God (Romans 8:1; Eph. 1:10,13,14).

This is the Gospel.  It is not an introductory Sunday School lesson for unbelievers or infant Christians.  It is the entirety of the Christian life and all that he or she is flows forth like a fountain from this great and powerful work of Christ through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Hasten to know the Gospel in and out, daily returning yourself to the meditation herein, for truly it was, is, and will be the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

Unless the Lord Builds the House

 

Charles Spurgeon, commenting on Psalm 127:1 :

1-crazy-house-527Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it. The word vain is the keynote here, and we hear it ring out clearly three times. Men desiring to build know that they must labour, and accordingly they put forth all their skill and strength; but let them remember that if Jehovah is not with them their designs will prove failures. So was it with the Babel builders; they said, “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower”; and the Lord returned their words into their own bosoms, saying, “Go to, let us go down and there confound their language.” In vain they toiled, for the Lord’s face was against them. When Solomon resolved to build a house for the Lord, matters were very different, for all things united under God to aid him in his great undertaking: even the heathen were at his beck and call that he might erect a temple for the Lord his God. In the same manner God blessed him in the erection of his own palace; for this verse evidently refers to all sorts of house building. Without God we are nothing. Great houses have been erected by ambitious men; but like the baseless fabric of a vision they have passed away, and scarce a stone remains to tell where once they stood. The wealthy builder of a Non such Palace, could he revisit the glimpses of the moon, would be perplexed to find a relic of his former pride: he laboured in vain, for the place of his travail knows not a trace of his handiwork. The like may be said of the builders of castles and abbeys: when the mode of life indicated by these piles ceased to be endurable by the Lord, the massive walls of ancient architects crumbled into ruins, and their toil melted like the froth of vanity. Not only do we now spend our strength for nought without Jehovah, but all who have ever laboured apart from him come under the same sentence. Trowel and hammer, saw and plane are instruments of vanity unless the Lord be the Master builder.

Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Around the wall the sentinels pace with constant step; but yet the city is betrayed unless the alert Watcher is with them. We are not safe because of watchmen if Jehovah refuses to watch over us. Even if the guards are wakeful, and do their duty, still the place may be surprised if God be not there. “I, the Lord, do keep it”, is better than an army of sleepless guards. Note that the Psalmist does not bid the builder cease from labouring, nor suggest that watchmen should neglect their duty, nor that men should show their trust in God by doing nothing: nay, he supposes that they will do all that they can do, and then he forbids their fixing their trust in what they have done, and assures them that all creature effort will be in vain unless the Creator puts forth his power, to render second causes effectual. Holy Scripture endorses the order of Cromwell—”Trust in God, and keep your powder dry”: only here the sense is varied, and we are told that the dried powder will not win the victory unless we trust in God. Happy is the man who hits the golden mean by so working as to believe in God, and so believing in God as to work without fear. In Scriptural phrase a dispensation or system is called a house. Moses was faithful as a servant over all his house; and as long as the Lord was with that house it stood and prospered; but when he left it, the builders of it became foolish and their labour was lost. They sought to maintain the walls of Judaism, but sought in vain: they watched around every ceremony and tradition, but their care was idle. Of every church, and every system of religious thought, this is equally true: unless the Lord is in it, and is honoured by it, the whole structure must sooner or later fall in hopeless ruin. Much can be done by man; he can both labour and watch; but without the Lord he has accomplished nothing, and his wakefulness has not warded off evil.

Sunshine Valley

The Son Shines in the Valley

I’ve spent my entire life living in an area surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains.  These mountains can be extremely steep and rugged, depending on where you are located in the range.  The mountaintops offer some magnificent views, while the valleys can often be cold and dreary.  Having spent hours upon hours in these woods either hunting, hiking, or fishing, mountaintop experiences are rare.  Generally speaking, more time is spent in the valley.  Valleys can be steep and narrow or broad and wide, depending largely on the stream that cut them.  However, in the steep valleys, those which are often cool, damp, and dreary, there is an eager expectation of sunlight.  I’ve spent many mornings sitting in these valleys shivering, when the first rays of sunshine begin to tickle the tree tops in the valley creating an anticipation of the warmth of the sun lighting on the skin.

The follower of Christ knows all too well of the mountaintop and valley experiences in their life.  As in traversing topography, mountaintop experiences in the Christian life are also rare and when they do come seem brief as compared to the valley that had to be crossed and climbed in order to get there.  In general, the valley experience of Christians is not one that is embraced.  After all, who likes suffering, affliction, sorrow, or a myriad of other “valley experiences” that impact the life of believers?  Yet it is in these valleys that the anticipation of Son-light should warm us.  It is in the lowest, darkest of places that the Son shines brightest and creates the most warmth.  Would we notice the warmth of a single ray of sunshine while standing on the mountain fully exposed to the entirety of sunlight?  Hardly, yet in the darkness a single sun’s ray is enough to offer hope.

It is in the valley where Ezekiel sees the vision of God’s glory (Ezekiel 3:23).  It is in the valley that God declares “Live!” to the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:2).  It is in the valley that David declares the Lord walks with him (Psalm 23:4).  It is in the valley where the wars of Israel took place, yet God triumphed over their foes (see Joshua, Ezekiel 39, Revelation 19; 20:9).  It is in the valley where Joshua slept before the defeat of AI (Joshua 8:13).  It was on the mountain that our Lord was transfigured, but the gateway to glory went through the Valley of Humiliation.  It is in the valley where the Lord causes His servants to rely on Him and anticipate the warmth of the Son’s rays.  He is the God of the Valley as well as the Mountain (1 Kings 20:28). 

I’m reminded of a small Norwegian town that is without the sun’s rays 6 months out of the year.  In order to combat this problem, they erected a series of mirrors on the mountaintop to project the sun’s rays into the valley.  In much the same way Christ descended into the valley and ascended upon the mountain now to reflect the rays of God’s glory upon His saints who travail in the valleys.  Oh that we would not be so quick to escape the throws of the valley, but let God have His perfect work in us as He molds us more into the image of His Son.  Know then that when the valley approaches on the Christian journey the Son shines brightest there.  Anticipate the warmth that He provides as He leads you through the valley and look forward with blessed hope to that day when Christ will fill every valley for eternity.

The Shepherd Boy’s Song in the Valley of Humiliation

He that is down needs fear no fall,         

He that is low no pride;     

He that is humble ever shall         

Have God to be his guide. 

           

I am content with what I have,     5

Little be it or much;

And, Lord, contentment still I crave       

Because thou savest such. 

           

Fulness to such a burden is          

That go on to pilgrimage;   10

Here little and hereafter bliss      

Is best from age to age.      

        – From John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Part II

John 17:17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.