Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 1:16c-d (continued) “. . .the power of God. . .”
The Romans prided themselves on power. Rome itself was a city whose nickname could have been “Power,” and they made no qualms about where their strength came from. Their notion of power was legions, swords, spears, and iron yokes on the necks of the conquered peoples.
Rome’s power did generally make for justice, order, and stability. This was often the end result of their conquests, but the conquering itself was frightening. It was a matter of wholesale destruction and a rude iron hand which smashed its opponents. The tramp of the legions was the march of death. It was true of them what was later said of the cruel invaders of Europe, “Where their horses’ hoofs had once stamped, no grass ever grew.”
Romans did not put much stock in ideas and philosophies. They would have scowled with contempt if they had been told the chained prisoner coming up the Appian Way possessed the mightiest thing in the world.
Nevertheless, Paul was undaunted. Knowing the Romans deified power, he seized on this historic fact to tell them he knew of a power greater than theirs. He offered a power sufficient to stand the real test of strength–everyday living.
Christianity is not just another method of living, or system of ethics. It gives instructions for living, but also provides power to enable one to follow the instructions. Christ tells us how to live, and then provides the power. We allow Him a life through which to exert His power.
Law can not help, whether Roman or Biblical. The power is in the Gospel, not in Law. The Law was never called power. It is a light, a lamp, a mirror, a revealer, a prosecutor. Law tells us what is wrong, but the power is found in the Gospel.
When we are down in the depths, and everything else has failed, we learn to appreciate the power of God. We often have to get very low to appreciate the Lord’s “lifting” power.
The Gospel not only passes the test of everyday living; it also passes the test of time. The Gospel’s power continues on; but Rome’s power has long ceased. The message of Christ will long outlive its critics.
Cries of victory from the hardened world are premature. Timid voices in our own ranks are immature. Let us set our mind on the unshakable gospel and allow the taunts, jeers, and poor-mouthings to roll off our backs. In every way, the Gospel means power, but its primary objective is. . .
Romans 1:16e “. . .unto salvation. . .”
I. FROM SELF
Romans needed deliverance from sin, self, fear of the unknown, death, emptiness, boredom, etc. They could diagnose their problem, but did not know the treatment. Paul, however, knew the cure. God can reach down into the ugliest and deadest of sinners and give him salvation.
Only God has a process of salvation which begins inside a man, in his heart, and transforms him first and foremost. Unless you change a man’s heart, you are only giving a surface treatment. It is like giving cough syrup to a man who has a tubercular cough. You may quiet the cough temporarily, but soon it will break out again worse than ever. And in the meantime the patient is much farther down the road away from cure.
Salvation was the one thing men in Paul’s day wanted. Suicide was common, almost acceptable, behavior. Life had no deep purpose or meaning. Everything was on the surface. The drive was to find new nerve endings to stimulate, but pleasure and indulgence can only carry a man so far.
Philosophers were struggling desperately to help. Epicurus called his teaching “the medicine of salvation”; Epictitus called his lecture room “the hospital for the sick soul,” and said men are seeking a peace “not of Caesar’s proclamation but of God’s.” Seneca, Paul’s contemporary, said all men were looking for salvation and needed “a hand let down to lift us up.” He said men were overwhelmingly conscious of their “weakness and their inefficiency in necessary things,” and considered himself a man not to be tolerated. In despair he wrote, men love and hate their vices at the same time. Philosophers were trying to help man cope, but their efforts were in vain.
II. FROM OTHERS
Men not only needed salvation from their inner problems; they also needed deliverance from the world’s infection. Peter said people needed to be spared from a crooked and perverse generation (AC 2:40).
The world’s way means death. It leads to heartbreak and disaster. Men need to come to Christ and surround themselves with Christian fellowship. It is an antiseptic which helps keep them from being infected by the evils of this world.
III. FROM GOD’S WRATH
Men need salvation from the wrath of God. Make no mistake. There is a God of Justice. Without Jesus, men stand condemned. There is a power of God unto punishment and destruction, as well as unto salvation. “Fear Him Who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (MT 10:28).
There is a salvation which delivers from self, others, and wrath. We now consider how this salvation can be received.
Romans 1:16f “. . .to every one that believeth;”
Salvation must be appropriated by faith. God never saves a man against his will. God never takes from any of us our awful freedom. The Gospel is a power only to those who believe, and to no one else. This sounds simple, yet many find it difficult.
The Gospel is built on principles totally contrary to the natural man’s bent. To the intellectual it is foolishness. To the wicked it causes bitter resentment. To the strong it is too humbling. To the legalist it is too easy.
The Gospel brings down human reasoning and pride of intellect. It exposes man’s great idol–ego and self-esteem. It demands absolute submission. To give in to it requires a confession of weakness.
The Greeks refused to kneel in worship. They felt it was too humbling, because it was the position of a slave before his Master. Forgiveness was a word of insult to the proud Romans. They despised any hint they needed to undergo the humiliating conditions of penitence and faith. They felt that would be a degradation. Men still scorn at such thoughts.
Modern man cries out, “Ask me to give money; ask me to come to church; ask me to read the Bible, but do not ask me to admit I have been wrong for a lifetime and cannot help myself.” Nevertheless, faith is required, and believing means acknowledging your own inability, and depending upon Another’s ability.
The key is repentance. “Repent” is derived from a Greek military command for “right about face.” The man who has trusted himself and his own ability has had Christ behind him, despised and rejected.
We must realize our own efforts cannot save us. About face! Realize our only hope is in what God has done for us in Christ.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream.
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel the need of Him.
Romans 1:16g “. . .to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
First in time, not in importance. The Messiah was from their number. He lived among them. Hence, they were naturally the first to hear.
Jesus specifically commanded the disciples to begin at Jerusalem (LK 24:46-47). This showed the Gospel was to be preached even to the hardest of sinners. His mercy is highlighted by the fact forgiveness was to be preached first to those who initiated His crucifixion. Jerusalem was the gospel’s first center, then Antioch in Syria, then Ephesus. Later came Rome, then Luther’s Germany, then England, now America. Where next? Korea? Brazil? It does not really matter. The message is universal.
Wherever there is a man, there is a Gospel for him. Whether Jew or Gentile, the Gospel applies. Herein lie the blessedness and beauty of our message. It is adaptable to every human being’s necessities. From the human viewpoint, this is a major reason for the Gospel’s success. It fills the bill of what men need.