Nowhere in scripture do we have a clearer of more concise definition of the gospel than in Rom. 1:16. The gospel, as Paul puts it, is “the power of God at work bringing salvation to all who believe.” What this says is that the gospel is not a religious statement but an existential reality. Not a lifeless message but a vibrant encounter. You read it or hear it, Yes, but primarily you experience it. It speaks to the heart. Hear the apostle once again, the gospel is “the power of God at work bringing salvation to all who believe.” The gospel is not so much about God as it is God himself at work. It is this dynamic quality that makes the gospel unlike any other message. The famous Dwight Moody, evangelist of the 19th century said the gospel is like a lion; all the preacher has to do is open the door and get out of the way.
That the gospel has a power of its own is so often forgotten. Apologists develop logical plans to prove the truth of the gospel and preachers raise their voices, but all they have to do to convince the unbeliever is to “let it loose.” Paul was struck blind on the Road to Damascus, not simply because of the bright light but because Christ was, as it were, the light. The gospel is not a story about something but the experience itself. Wherever the gospel is proclaimed God is there telling his own story. Narrative becomes reality.
The purpose of the gospel is not to inform but to transform. It is a gospel that ”brings salvation.” The words of the gospel may be discussed but the purpose of those words is to bring salvation. At its core the gospel is not something to learn, but to accept and experience. It is the power that can move us from darkness into light. Man’s traditional approach to salvation was to work hard and earn it. Righteousness, we once thought, was the result of all the good things we had done. As a result we would earn our way into heaven. Not so! insists Paul. The answer is faith all the way – “from first to last.” As scripture teaches: “The righteous will live by faith.”
This basic teaching on salvation is so important and so different from competing ideas because it is securely based in an historical event. Events are not ideas but truth. We now know that what God wants is not our labors but our hearts. It takes humility to acknowledge our weakness and turn with empty hands to One who wants to give us the righteousness that we could never have earned. Free gifts are hard to accept if one is determined to earn them. And freedom asks you to relinquish your proud accomplishments as a ticket to heaven.
I know that theology tends to leave the mind a bit confused but we are not responsible to master it. When we stop for a moment and remind ourselves that God dwells in another and higher realm than ours we see why our understanding is less than we might want. Because a third grader can’t understand the quantum theory doesn’t make the theory wrong. Because the human mind can’t fully understand such things as eternal life – that’s never ending, No, not a long time but NEVER – doesn’t mean that it is wrong, Like the third grader we are not equipped. The good news is that God asks us simply to accept.