Last week we looked at the three things Paul uses to identify himself:
- a slave.
- an apostle.
- set apart.
But what for?
Apparently in the mid 1950’s there was an evangelistic campaign called “Tell Scotland”, many local churches all committed to joining in. As the campaign approached, one minister from the North is said to have written this to the organisers: “we have our committees organised, our literature prepared, our schedule set, our promotion underway. We are now ready to take part in “tell Scotland”. But pray, tell me – what are we to tell Scotland?”. This may be a mythical story, but it does illustrate the point, that many Christians have absolutely no idea what to say to people. I think it’s probably one of the largest barriers to evangelism. For the most part what stops people witnessing is fear, but it’s not fear of ridicule, it’s not even fear of persecution. It’s fear of not knowing what to say. This is true of my own experience and I’m convinced it’s true for others as well.
I am going to tackle this today, firstly look at what Paul says about the gospel, I pray God will light the same fire in our bellies as He did Paul. What does Paul say about it? Let’s read Romans 5v1-5 again:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
But exactly what IS the gospel? If we are to become messengers of the Gospel, we need to know what it’s all about, we need to be familiar with it, and we need to be constantly reminded of its truth and importance. I am going to look at what Paul says about the gospel in these verses which gives us more of a handle on it.
The Gospel is God’s Gospel (v1).
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.
If you have ever watched YouTube videos of the apologist Frank Turek doing Q&A sessions after his presentations, sometimes people will accuse him of trying to impose his morality on people. One of his responses is “it’s not MY morality! I didn’t make this stuff up!!”
I come across this regularly. Many people without faith simply see religion as something man made up. Ancient man created God, they say, to help him make sense of the world. My older brother believes that God and the Devil are merely anthropomorphic images of the concepts of good and evil. He says they are simply a way of helping us to make sense of the world that modern evolved man really has no need of such archaic concepts. This is a very common belief, and many, if not most, people nowadays believe we’ve “outgrown” God.
Setting aside that there is no experimental or scientific evidence they can cite for this belief, I didn’t make God, He made me! Another thing to understand is God stands above faith AND unbelief. My faith does not make God exist and an atheists unbelief does not kill God. Nietzsche famously said “God is Dead”, but actually the truth is, Nietzsche is the one who is dead, not God!!
When I read the Bible, I am not just reading the words of man, I am reading the very words of God. When I share my faith, I am not presenting my own good idea or even the ideas of another man, I am presenting God’s message to mankind.
This is what The Bible attests …
Mark 1v14 “after John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God”.
1 Thessalonians 2v13 “and we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you, who believe”.
So, given that we are presenting something which is the very message of God to world, as Paul calls it “the gospel of God”, then:
- We need to understand it.
- We need to be convinced of its intrinsic power.
- We are not responsible for the response (though this does not relieve us of the responsibility of asking for one).
The Gospel is not new (v2).
“the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures”.
I don’t know if you know this, and this is not a contradiction of Paul! But the first hint at the Gospel comes way before the prophets. We see it first in Genesis! Genesis 3v15 is known as “protoevangelium” (from “proto” meaning first and “evangelium” which means gospel). In the interaction immediately after Adam and Eve fell, as well as the consequences mankind stuffer, God says to the serpent, “ I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. This ‘first Gospel’ proclaims that the one who will defeat the serpent will be descended from Eve. Jesus, Eve’s seed par excellence, did exactly that. Jesus, the second Adam, as to his humanity was descended from Adam and Eve (as all humans are), defeated satan. Colossians 2v15 says He “disarmed the powers and authorities” and that “He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”. This is the gospel.
The Holy Scriptures Paul is talking about is what we know as the Old Testament, and the Prophetic books in the Old Testament are pregnant with prophecies about Jesus. It depends HOW you count them (is Genesis 3v15 one prophecy or two? It says he will be human, and it says he will crush Satan’s head) as to how many there are, but I have seen figures in the 100s.
The point here though is that, for Paul, the Gospel is not something which God suddenly decided on, but something rooted back in history. See Isaiah 45v21: Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me.
God has promised the Gospel through his Prophets as written in the Scriptures. This is recognised by the New Testament writers: Galatians 3v8. “the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham”.
See Peter’s speech at Pentecost in Acts 2. He quotes the prophet Joel 2v17ff. (“in these last days I will pour out my Spirit”) as a prophecy about Pentecost, he also showed that King David understood about Jesus, quoting the Psalms (Psalm 16 and Psalm 110) in v25-28: David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ (Acts 2v25-28).
When we look at the gospel, we can sometimes be deceived into thinking that God’s love for man starts with Jesus. This is not true! We know that God loves man and that is the reason for Jesus coming. John 3v16 says “for God so loved the world that ….” In other words, it was his love for us which was his motivation for sending Jesus. Right back into history we read about the love of God. Malachi tells us that God loved Jacob – 400 years before Jesus came.
The Gospel is about Jesus (v3).
“regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David”.
Our message is fundamentally about Christ. It’s not about doing good things, or praying regularly, or going to church or any of the other things that people seem to think make you a Christian.
Quite often in our evangelism and apologetics, we allow ourselves to get bogged down in unnecessary details. We become preoccupied with all sorts of things, from talking about evolution/science to issues around life and death (abortion, war and so on), to the ungodliness of Christians, cultural imperialism, things like the Crusades and so on. It IS important that we grapple with these issues, but don’t get sidetracked into them.
Paul says to Titus “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3v9). He says something very similar to Timothy.
In other words, let’s keep the main thing the main thing. The Gospel is about Jesus and evangelism is all about heralding Him to the world.
- 2 Corinthians 4v5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
- 1 Corinthians 2v2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
- 1 Corinthians 1v23 “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.
In Acts 4v18, the Sanhedrin only try to impose one thing on the apostles – to stop talking about Jesus. They don’t as far as we are aware tell them not to distribute food to the widows, they don’t even tell them to stop gathering to worship. They merely try to close down the preaching about Jesus:
Acts 4v18, 5v28 and 5v41 say this:
- Acts 4v18, “Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them (Peter and John) in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
- Acts 5v28, the Sanhedrin arrest the apostles again and say to them: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,”
- Acts 5v41, “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”
Paul reminds us here of two important facts about Jesus:
- v3 ‘human nature’* – a historical Jesus, a man, and descendant of David. (Note Genesis 3v15 He is a “seed” of Eve, so He IS human)
- v4 ‘the contemporary Son of God’. Jesus is not just Human. He is divine. He is God, He is the second person of the trinity. In fact his claim to be divine is the reason the Pharisees and teachers of the law gave for wanting him put to death. Paul says here that his resurrection is the proof of that: “who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead”
v3,4 are among the clearest Bible verses from which we understand that Christ has both a human and a divine nature.
The Gospel is summed up in one phrase. “Jesus Christ Is Lord” v4B.
“by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Generally speaking, a lord is someone with authority, control, or power over others; to say that someone is “lord” is to consider that person a master or ruler of some kind. In Jesus’ day the word lord was often used as a title of respect toward earthly authorities; so, for example, when the leper called Jesus “Lord” in Matthew 8v2, he was showing Jesus respect as a healer and teacher.
Calling Jesus “Lord,” is much more than a title of honour or respect. When when Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, and Thomas says to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20v28), he connects Jesus’ Lordship with his deity. Saying “Jesus is Lord” is a way of declaring Jesus’ deity.
The Apostles’ teaching follows this concept. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost contained that theme: “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2v36). Later, in Cornelius’s house, Peter declares that Jesus is “Lord of all” (Acts 10v36). And in Romans 10v9 Jesus’ lordship is linked to His resurrection: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Matthew 28v18 “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” The gospel declares Jesus to be Lord of heaven and earth. It is about a King and a Kingdom – and therefore about Lordship – the Lordship of Christ.
When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we commit ourselves to obey Him. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6v46). An acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship is logically accompanied by a submission to Jesus’ authority. If Jesus is Lord, then He owns us; He has the right to tell us what to do. Author John Chapman has said “I may not have Jesus as my saviour if I will not acknowledge Him as my Lord”.
Romans 10v9 “If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” a recognition of Jesus’ Lordship and his resurrection are crucial to salvation.
Finally. Jesus is Lord irrespective of whether people recognise Him as such. He IS Lord, He WILL come again and judge the heavens and the earth as Lord of all. Someday whether you want to or not, you WILL be acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. The only thing you have to decide is whether you want to do that as a friend or as a defeated enemy. I know which I prefer!
The Gospel is all about grace. (v5).
“Through him we received grace and apostleship”.
Being a Christian is not about being a good person, going to church or living a good life. It is not about what you do – it is about grace.
Romans 6v23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. “gift” here is the Greek word “χάρισμα” (charisma). It appears again in Ephesians 2v8 “it is by grace (“χάρισ” charis) you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.”
==This is an important point==. Salvation is something that you don’t have to do anything for, which makes it available for everyone. If you had to pay for it, the poor would be excluded. If you had to good works, the bad would be excluded. If you had to do door to door witnessing or street evangelism, or preaching, then the shy would be excluded. If you had to do hard manual labour then the infirm would be excluded. If it was a matter of understanding complex doctrines then the less intelligent of us would be excluded. I could go on, but you get the point — the truth is that salvation is a free gift.
We are not inviting people to come to a faith that sets loads of rules and regulations on them to follow before they can have a place in heaven – we are offering a free gift! So many people struggle to get close to God – Christianity is the only faith that says there is nothing you can do – it is all the free gift of God.
This is a theme which runs through Romans – it runs through it like a rich vein of Gold. It may feel like we’re playing a cracked record at times, but hopefully by the time we’ve got through the letter, we will know what it means to be saved by grace and be able to explain it to anyone who asks!
The Gospel is for all people everywhere (v5,6).
to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Romans 3v23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
2 Peter 3v9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Revelation describes heaven, and in his vision John sees men from every nation every tribe every tongue worshipping the Lord in heaven.
If you were to travel abroad and spend time with Christians in other nations, you would discover very quickly that Christianity is not a religion which imposes culture on people like some other religions do.
This is, of course, notwithstanding the fact that ALL human cultures are sinful and in some way opposed to the Gospel. So there is a sense in which the gospel does challenge culture. What it does not do, however is take one human culture and impose it on another. I have been involved in mission to a greater or lesser extent for in excess of 35 years, all over the world, and I can say with confidence that no missionary I’ve ever met has wanted to take anything other than the good news of Jesus Christ when they go on mission (and that includes the Americans who have unfairly been accused of trying to impose culture). They certainly are taught about adapting TO culture when they prepare. They try to learn the language and understand the cultures they feel called to BEFORE they go out on the mission field. Christianity is not a white western religion, it never was, it isn’t now, and it never will be.
So the result is that in the church at least, indigenous churches retain cultural distinctiveness. For example, I have been to many countries all over the world, and it is very interesting that when I was in Korea, the church felt like home, but it was totally unfamiliar to me, it felt Korean. The same is true of the churches I went to in Uganda, India, Brazil, France, Belgium and so on. Every church was distinctively cultural, and in that sense felt foreign to me, yet there was a very familiar feeling of being at home among family.
In fact things like the war on terror and the practice of sending troops to other countries to help impose democracy are far more imperialistic than any missionary activity ever is.
Christianity IS a proselytising faith, we DO want people to become Christians, because we don’t believe all faiths are equal (and, in fact, neither do people of the other faiths in the world, it’s only the irreligious who think that — but that’s a preach for another day!), but it’s not about imposing culture on other nations, it’s about sharing good news with them and offering them the means to be saved.