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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Romans 1:16-17 – The apostle’s awareness of the gospel’s power

Paul could have said many things about the gospel as he introduced himself to his readers. Of course, he knew that he would elaborate on such aspects later in this letter. What aspect would we have chosen if we were wanting to mention one feature as we began a letter? No doubt it would depend on the circumstances we were in and in which the recipients were in. Paul here chose to highlight the fact that the gospel was the power of God. After all, he was writing to those who lived in the city whose rulers imagined that they possessed the greatest power available on the earth.
Those inhabitants would have heard about the powerful messages from the leaders of Rome as they described the ways in which their security would be ensured, no matter the abilities of those threatening their empire. So they would have grasped something about the importance and meaning of power. Could there be a greater power than that of political and military Rome? The answer of Paul was yes, and it was explained in and contained in a message, the message of the gospel.
Of course, Paul is not saying that all aspects of God’s power are revealed in the gospel. Instead he reminds his readers of important features of his power that are connected to the gospel. What are they? It is a power that delivers and not destroys, it is a power that is easy to receive, and it is a power that unites what nothing else could bring together.
We can see that it is a power that delivers in Paul’s use of the word ‘salvation’. What kind of salvation does Paul have in mind? He is concerned with deliverance from divine judgement. Later in the first chapter of Romans he will describe this awful prospect of divine judgement, and will do so elsewhere in the letter as well. The only way in which this delivering power is revealed, says Paul, is in the gospel.
The apostle depicts the easiness of experiencing this delivering power when he tells his readers that it is known by those who have faith in the One the gospel describes. We can imagine that it would be with difficulty that an individual could obtain access to Caesar and experience his power. In contrast, through the gospel it is easy to approach God and speak to him and experience his power. Faith is dependence on Christ, says the gospel message. Does the gospel envisage such faith to be an arduous experience? Of course, we have to watch out for false faith, but the possibility of false faith is not a reason for suggesting that true faith becomes complicated and difficult. Nor can we make the problems encountered in the life of faith a reason for suspecting that faith in the saving work of Jesus must be obscure and complex.

In addition to showing its power in salvation and in its availability to all, the gospel also shows its power when it brings together those who embrace it. Paul here mentions the big divide that existed between Jews and Gentiles, and how there was a complete separation between them. The gospel brought them together through first coming to the Jews and then going to the Gentiles. Paul was writing to a church in which Jews and Gentiles existed together. Later in the letter he will deal with complications that some Jews felt through having contact with Gentiles. Such had lost sight of the great wonder that had taken place when the gospel had united them together. The gospel does what nothing else can do – it removes all barriers caused by sin, whether they are barriers of age, class or race.

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