The power to save
‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to them that believe’ (Romans 1:16).
We must be clear what the Bible is saying here. It is not saying that the gospel leads to power. The gospel itself, the Bible declares, is the power of God unto salvation. This is essential to grasp if we are ever to know the mind of God for our churches and ministries.
Usually, today, the gospel is treated as an ‘initial entry doctrine’. In other words, the gospel is good only for those who are not saved. The gospel, we are told, is merely to get lost sinners saved; but once we are saved we need to move on into the deep things of God.
In the minds of many, then, the gospel is merely an initiation. But Paul says in the previous verse: ‘So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also’ (Romans 1:15).
To which ‘you’ is he going to preach the gospel? He’s talking about those in Rome who are ‘the beloved of God, called to be saints’ (Romans 1:7). In other words, Paul fully intends to place the gospel where it belongs – in the church.
He is writing to people who are already saved and he plans to preach the gospel to them so that they will become ‘more saved’. Before I am accused of heresy, let me explain what I mean!
What salvation means
God saves the sinner when he believes but also saves the believer while he believes. The epistles are packed full of the gospel, but they were not written to get the lost sinners saved but to believers that they might understand salvation and reap its full benefits.
Paul writes, ‘Moreover brethren, I declare to you the gospel … in which you stand, by which also you are saved if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Believers are saved as they continue to keep the gospel in mind!
So what do we mean by ‘saved’? Anyone who has salvation is saved. But salvation is much bigger than justification. Salvation has three tenses – past, present and future. Believers have already been saved from the penalty of sin; they are presently being saved from the power and pleasure of sin; and they will, in the future, be saved from the very presence and possibility of sin.
Among other things, salvation includes sanctification, victory over sin, consecration, spiritual health, freedom from guilt, freedom from bitterness, freedom from fear and rejection, victory over Satan, reconciliation, redemption, adoption and glorification. It is a complete package.
And how do we experience and become partakers of this salvation? It is only through the gospel – for the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation.
For too long the gospel has been relegated by many churches to the business of ‘catching’ the lost. And, of course, we do ‘catch’ the lost with the ‘gospel net’. But the Bible’s way to clean the catch is to use the gospel sword.
Amusing the goats
While for many churches the gospel is only a doorway into the kingdom of God, there are other churches where you would think it is not even that! Although they say the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, they act as if this were not, in fact, the case.
To get sinners saved, they argue, we must provide a comfortable environment, have special music and a band to be contemporary. A spotlight would be just the thing on the preacher and above all, our services must be upbeat, enjoyable and entertaining. The right kind of church service has now replaced the gospel as the power of God for salvation. May God rescue us!
Here’s how Spurgeon saw the matter in his sermon, ‘Feeding sheep or amusing goats’:
‘The devil has seldom done a more clever thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out the gospel, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses!
‘My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel”…
‘Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people, or because they confronted them? Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the apostolic church to the world? “You are the salt of the world”, not the sugar candy…
‘Had Jesus introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his teaching, he would have been more popular. When “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”, I do not hear him say, “Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow; something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it! Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow!”’
Alpha and Omega
Just as the gospel is the only way to save sinners it is also the only way to save saints. If we, as believers, are ever to enjoy the full extent of sonship, we must be bathed in the gospel. The gospel saves us in the beginning, middle and end of our Christian life.
Christ Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of salvation. As he is the beginning, he is also the end – but we have forgotten that he is also everything in between. As we run this race, this Christian life, we are to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). This means that we must look away from ourselves and behold the excellencies and glory of God in the face of Jesus the Christ.
But, someone may reply, isn’t how we live the important thing to teach in our churches? Yes indeed, how we live is of vital concern, but unless the gospel of Christ is central in the church, then real godliness will not come!
Why not? Because, the power for real godliness comes through the gospel of Christ – it is the power of God unto salvation. The word used here for power is the Greek word dunamis – from which we get such English words as ‘dynamic’ and ‘dynamite’.
In other words, the gospel of Christ is explosive! Full salvation will come no other way than by the gospel. When a pastor is not gospel-centred – and the person of Christ and his completed saving and perfect work are not expounded and applied – his people are not growing in salvation. How could they? For there is no power for salvation in his message.
Making Christ visible
Since it is the gospel of Christ that saves both sinners and saints, then (contrary to popular belief) a holy lifestyle is not the power of God unto salvation. The idea that sinners will get saved when they see how holy we are, needs to be expunged from our thinking. Your life, no matter how holy and good, is no match for the perfect, flawless, impeccable life of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Christ they must see, not us.
Of course, they should also see that we seek to imitate Christ. But it is only as people are pointed to the perfections of the person of Christ – his doing, dying and dynamic resurrection – that they can be saved.
If you think that your life and example will save sinners, you’ve bought into something far inferior to the gospel. Certainly, people will know how good you are and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they’d be far better off knowing how good and great Jesus is and knowing that your life is merely a flawed attempt to mirror the Saviour, without whom all men will perish.
Miles McKee Ministries, Box 541, Kingston Springs, TN, 37082, USA