August 8, 2014 Broadcast

The Power of God Unto Salvation

A Message by R.C. Sproul

The word “gospel” carries several different meanings in the English language. For example, we refer to the “Gospel of Mark,” and we talk about “sharing the gospel.” But if you were to ask most Christians to explain the gospel, they might have trouble giving an accurate biblical definition! In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains the gospel that is “the power of God unto salvation.”

From the series: Meaning of the Gospel

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Power of God's Word

  2. article

    Pop Atheism and the Power of the Gospel

  3. devotional

    The Power of God for Salvation

The Power of God's Word

Central to the biblical worldview is the power of the Word of God. Scripture presents this truth in various ways. Isaiah tells us that just as precipitation is sure to cause plants to grow, God's Word accomplishes its purposes (Isa. 55:10–11). Paul explains that the Lord saves His people by means of the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor. 1:18–25). In today's passage, Jeremiah makes the point by saying, "Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29).

Jeremiah originally spoke these words when he had to deal with the problem of false prophets who told God's people that they would remain safe despite their following of their own stubborn hearts, not His law (vv. 16–17). These ungodly messengers, we have seen, believed that the Lord's promise to dwell among His people in His temple meant Jerusalem would not fall (7:1–4). Of course, the problem with this message was not that it was wholly devoid of truth; rather, the problem was that the false prophets only believed part of what God had revealed. The Lord did promise to give His people victory in battle (Num. 10:1–10), and there was the assurance that God would save Zion, that is, Jerusalem (Ps. 69:35). Yet the false prophets did not remind the people of Judah that the Lord's presence was contingent upon faith and repentance, upon the good-faith effort to do the will of God and contrition when there was failure (Lev. 26).

The false prophets preached only the comforting passages of Scripture, neglecting its hard truths. True, the Lord dwelled with His people in Jerusalem, but His presence was not bound to that city. Since He also fills heaven and earth, He is sovereign over space and time (Jer. 23:23–24), and in His omnipresent lordship He could cast out the covenant community while remaining with the faithful remnant in their exile. His Word is forceful and fiery, bringing about the destruction it promises upon the impenitent and nourishing the souls of His children just as grain nourishes the body (vv. 28–29).

This same Word guaranteed that after the exile, a righteous descendant of David would sit on the throne and rule just as the leader of God's holy people should—in justice and righteousness (vv. 5–6). The Lord would bring the remnant of Judah and Israel back from the countries to which they would be sent, and this salvation would surpass in glory the exodus from Egypt (vv. 7–8). In Christ, God has kept these promises.

Pop Atheism and the Power of the Gospel

Dan DeWitt

"Meanwhile, I am left with the Atheist on my hands," Dorothy Sayers once penned to C.S. Lewis in a letter in which she sought some practical advice from the popular Oxford apologist. She went on to write, "I do not want him. I have no use for him. I have no missionary zeal at all."

While many Christians likely attempt to project a little more enthusiasm for evangelism, I'm not sure they do not, deep down, resonate with Sayers' sentiment.

With the relentless barrage of new atheist bravado over the last decade, believers are liable to grow weary in well-doing. Much of the contemporary anti-God campaign now serves as a mirror image of religious fundamentalism, with iconic leaders such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris standing guard as dogmatic defenders of a secular orthodoxy. Many students have imbibed their sacrilegious sound bites, adopting a brand of pop atheism that makes rational discussion seem virtually impossible.

But, as one theologian recently quipped, "It's easy to hate atheists until you find one to love." And we can be certain that in an increasingly secular society, they will be much easier to find. Our real challenge will be to find pathways into charitable conversations.

As conservative Christian convictions continue to be marginalized, I fear the evangelical response might be something other than courageous love. We could be tempted to shrink back in fear if we aren't properly propelled by the power of the gospel. Like Sayers, we may wish they all would just leave us alone.

This is a good reminder that apologetics is simple and uncomplicated until you actually try it. It's much easier to caricature skeptics and write them off as unreachable than it is to nurture a mutually respectful dialogue. We can find more intellectual affirmation if we hunker down in our Christian echo chambers and delight ourselves in hypothetical conversations that always end in conversions.

But if we want to be faithful to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we will be motivated by love to step across the threshold of our security and enter into a meaningful relationship with someone who might think our deeply held beliefs are delusional. Love for God and neighbor compels us to sit down with those who are far from grace. I think Jesus did something very similar. And He bids us to do the same.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus to befriend sinners and skeptics will require the utmost trust in the gospel, understanding that it is neither overshadowed nor intimidated by rival truth claims. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation—of this we need not be ashamed (Rom. 1:16). But we do need to be prepared to offer careful and winsome answers for the questions we will face (1 Peter 3:15).

The starting point for cultivating an effective witness is to become better students of the very Bibles we dust off every Sunday morning as we head out the door for corporate worship.

If this sounds counterintuitive to the American church, somewhere along the way we have bought into a defective view of apologetics. As Francis Schaeffer once said,

God's Word has many times been allowed to be bent, to conform to the surrounding, passing, changing culture of that moment rather than to stand as the inerrant Word of God judging the form of the world spirit and the surrounding culture of that moment.

Some well-intentioned Christian leaders are quick to jettison biblical inerrancy in order to placate the objections of skeptics. This is a tactical error. It reminds me of the person who decided to move out of state after learning that most automobile accidents happen within thirty miles of home.

In the same way, some apologists think it is possible to avoid conflict by acquiescing to naturalistic critiques of Scripture. In reality, they are only setting themselves up for failure. We are to build our witness on the unassailable substratum of Scripture. The erosive act of relegating God's Word will not be satisfied with the small plot of biblical ground that is surrendered to navigate the debate of the day. More will be demanded tomorrow.

That's why we must remember that our arguments are at their very best only temporary; only the Word of the Lord will endure forever.

The best terrain for evangelism with skeptics is found in the overlap of revelation, reason, and rhetoric. When our witness is motivated by love, our arguments rooted in Scripture, and our words seasoned with salt, we will have discovered optimal ground for sharing the gospel with the college student in the coffee shop who is sipping a latte while reading the latest anti-God best seller.

When Dorothy Sayers joked with C.S. Lewis that she didn't possess any missionary zeal for her atheist correspondent, Lewis responded by confirming that the letters would inevitably continue. He spoke from experience. And as a former atheist himself, Lewis could relate. He modeled a sincere love for skeptics coupled with an unshakable trust in the power of the gospel. May the same be true for you and me.

Who knows? Maybe that atheist kid in the cafe will be the next great apologist for Christianity for a generation bombarded by doubt.

The Power of God for Salvation

Rome was the commercial, political, and cultural center of the first-century world, so Paul's desire to preach the gospel there makes perfect sense (Rom. 1:15). All roads led to Rome, so proclaiming the good news there and building up the church would have universal ramifications. To reach the ends of the earth, making Christ known in Rome was essential.

We should not miss the connection between the Apostle's eagerness to minister in Rome and his declaration that he is "not ashamed of the gospel" (v. 16). The news of a crucified Messiah was not "seeker sensitive" in the first century. Crucifixion was the worst way to die, and the simple message "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" lacked the philosophical intricacies that occupied the most renowned secular thinkers (Acts 16:31). Many found the resurrection downright laughable (17:32). If anything should have caused shame, it was the foolish notion that an unknown Jewish teacher in the backwater region of Palestine is the path to eternal life. But that is to look at things according to the ways of the world. Paul's view was changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (9:1–31). Having experienced the power of God in the crucified and risen Christ, he had no reason to be ashamed of the gospel message even in the city of Rome, where a vast number of residents would be "cultured despisers" of that message. The Apostle needed confidence to do ministry in that city, and he had this fearlessness because he was convinced of the truth of what the world deemed foolish. Today, the church must be convinced afresh of the truth and power of the gospel. If we are not, we will water it down in the hopes of making God more acceptable to those who despise Him, and spiritual disaster will follow.

Today's passage also introduces the relevance of the gospel for all of humanity generally and for the Jew particularly, two themes that will occupy Paul throughout the rest of the epistle. God's gospel is no respecter of persons—"it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). Jew and Gentile alike enter the kingdom in the same way—by faith alone (Rom. 3:21–5:21)—and they grow in faith and persevere in the same way—by the Holy Spirit according to God's sovereign election unto salvation (6:1–9:18). Still, the gospel is for "the Jew first" (1:16). "Salvation is from the Jews," and to them God entrusted His oracles (John 4:22; Rom. 3:2). By grace alone, the physical descendants of Abraham have a special place in the Lord's plan, and we must never forget that.

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