What is it that you are really passionate about? For many people, it would be family. We love our spouse, our children and grand children. Nothing makes us happier than to be with them and to see them enjoying life. For other people, it is their career. Their career is not just a job, not just a way to pay the bills. Their career is the means by which they express their creativity and they thrive when they have opportunities to tackle new and difficult situations. Other people are passionate about their hobbies. They love gardening, model trains, comic books, wood working or whatever. They endure work so they can get home and get back to doing what they really enjoy doing. All of these things are good and it is important for us to have a passion. What was the Apostle Paul’s passion? Paul’s passion was the Gospel! The Gospel? That seems like a strange thing to be passionate about. How could someone really be passionate about some theological doctrines or a few Bible stories? The reason is that Paul did not see the Gospel as just a few interesting facts. Paul had a real encounter with the risen Jesus Christ and he experienced the transforming power of the Gospel himself. Paul knew the hope and power of the Gospel in his own life and was excited to share it with others, that they may receive the same joy. Let us take a look at the nature of the Gospel and why Paul was so passionate about it.
Many people see religion as being weak. It is a weak option for weak people who can’t confront their own weakness. Perhaps that is true for some forms of religion. But that is not how Paul sees the Gospel. As Paul explains why he is not ashamed of the Gospel, he does not say that it is because the Gospel is beautiful or precious or delightful. The first thing that Paul says is that the Gospel is the power of God. Power! What is power? Power is not something that we just look at and admire. Power is something that is able to do things, to transform, to make into something new. We have electric power coming into our homes, not because we enjoy paying Hydro, but because that power is useful for very practical things. Paul understood this about the Gospel. The Gospel is not weak. It is not something light and fluffy. The Gospel is about the power of God. That power is something to be respected and treated with awe. I remember as I was about make my faith personal that I feared the Gospel. It was not an unhealthy fear as if God was going to do something terrible to me. It was an awareness that the Gospel was going to change my life, that it was powerful enough to rip me out of my comfort zone and make me into something new. That is power. If people think Christianity is only for the weak, they are wrong. Christianity is for those brave enough to embrace the Gospel of power.
So the Gospel is the power of God. That is great. But it is not just general power that just sits there. The Gospel is about the power of God for a specific purpose. Paul tells us this Gospel that he is not ashamed of is the power of God for salvation. Salvation is one of those church words that gets thrown around all the time but rarely gets defined. Salvation assumes that we are saved from something. What are we saved from? Many Christians will say that we are saved from hell. There is truth to that but there is a problem. Paul talks a lot about salvation but never talks about hell. If Paul thought of salvation primarily in terms of hell, you would think that he would mention that. So what are we saved from? I would say that Paul sees salvation primarily as being saved from a broken relationship with God. The letter to the Romans deals partially with relations between the Jews and Gentiles. One of the questions is about who is connected with God. The Jewish Christians have this long heritage of what God has done through Israel. The Gentile Christians have the freedom of knowing Christ in faith rather than the entanglements of the law. We will work through that in a later message, but for now realize that the question is about who is in right relationship with God. What Paul is going to show is that salvation from a broken relationship with God comes not from being born either a Jew or a Gentile, but from the power of the Gospel. Have we deeply reflected on this idea of salvation? Do we understand what we have been saved from? I once was lost, now I’m found, was blind but now I see. We were far from God and he has come to us, not out of wrath but in love, desiring to adopt us as sons and daughters. That is our salvation!
Within this conversation, Paul speaks of righteousness. Paul says that from the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed. What is righteousness? When some people think of righteousness, they think of holy living. They think of living a religious life accord to the rules. It is about people abstaining from worldly pleasures and focusing on religious pursuits. Righteousness sounds like law-keeping, fun-avoiding and religion-thinking. However, that is not the primary understanding of righteousness. A study of righteousness in the Bible reveals the word is used to describe the nature of God’s activity. When God brought the people out of slavery in Egypt, that was God’s righteousness. When God brought victory to the Israelites as they are being attacked by a larger enemy, that was God’s righteousness. As God side stepped human mistakes to make sure that his plan was carried out, that was God’s righteousness. What God does, that is righteousness. So why does Paul refer to a group called the righteous here, a group presumably made up of people? If righteousness is what God does, how can people be righteous? Well, it is not by following the rules closely enough. Righteousness cannot be earned. Righteousness is what God does. What did God do? God sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross so that our relationship with God can be restored. That is God’s activity. When we embrace what God has done, we are incorporated in that. God invites us to be a part of what he is doing, and when we do that we are brought into his righteousness. Our righteousness is not about how good we are but who we are joined to. On any given day, I do not feel particularly righteous from the common definition. But when I remember that righteousness is what God is doing, and I have joined with what God is doing, then things seem more righteous after all.
This brings us to the big question. There is a great big Gospel out there. It is a Gospel of hope and power. In this Gospel we can find salvation from our separation from God. This will bring us into God’s righteousness. That sounds great. How do we get it? Can you imagine if I told you there was a way you could get free gasoline for the rest of your life but I didn’t tell you how? Well, not telling how to receive this salvation would be much worse. The first things that people think of when it comes to religion are rules and rituals. There are long lists of things you are supposed to do and things you are not supposed to do. Well, God indeed cares about the things that you do and don’t do. These are important. But you can not receive what God has for you through obeying the rules. There are some rituals that we observe, outward signs that point to internal and eternal truths. But you cannot receive what God has by participating in a ritual. Paul makes it very clear as to how we receive the Gospel. It is by faith alone. This was turning point for the great reformer Martin Luther who had tried and tried to earn God’s love and approval. Luther discovered faith and it changed his life. Faith can change our life as well. It is hard to do this, to just reach out and respond to grace of God. We do not value something that is free. We want to earn what we have, we want it to be because of our own hard work. That is unfortunate because there is no way to get this on our own power. Faith is the opening of our hand so that God can give us his grace. I tried to find other ways. I tried to be active enough in church. I tried to learn enough about the Bible and about religion. But it was only when I reached out in faith that I received what God has for us. Faith is the only way.
The Gospel. Are you bored of the Gospel? You shouldn’t be! Paul understood the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is about hope and power. The Gospel is not weak, it is powerful beyond description. That power is not just for display but rather is focused on bringing salvation from broken relationships with God. That salvation makes a radical change by gathering us into God’s righteousness. All of this is available to us only by faith. Paul understood this and it was his passion. May we have that same passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.