Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Power of God

I am not ashamed of the gospel,
because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
(Romans 1:16)

I am finishing up an excellent book which I received at Together for the Gospel in Louisville, KY, The Plight of Man and the Power of God, by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In fact, I am having LaDonna (our church secretary) look into obtaining large quantities for give away as an evangelism outreach. The first 4 chapters deal with the plight of man from Romans 1:18-32. The last chapter addresses, “The Only Solution.” This chapter is rooted in Romans 1:16 (cited above).

What follows is an extensive excerpt from that chapter.1

Rome was after all the great metropolis of the world at that time. She was the seat of the Imperial Government, which governed the whole of the world that counted then, and she, therefore, attracted unto herself everything that was prized and valued most of all. ... She was thus a proud city—the proudest city of the world. She boasted of her wealth and power, her learning and her culture, her religions and her polity; and her great buildings were famous everywhere. She seemed to be the perfect city, and in her human culture and progress seemed to have reached their very zenith. She was indeed the very embodiment of pride in human greatness and achievement, in a sense that scarcely any other city has ever been since then. ...To her nothing could be so ludicrous as the claim of the Gospel. To suggest that a small, insignificant sect of people, who belonged mainly to one of the poorest of their colonies and conquered territories, should possess the message that the whole of mankind needed was ridiculous. And the utter folly of such an idea was further demonstrated when it became clear that the very essence of that message was to believe that a man who belonged to one of the most despised towns, even of that country, and who, far from being a great scholar or philosopher, was just a common carpenter, was the unique Son of God. But what finally made such a claim sheer madness was the fact that He, far from being a great powerful conqueror who had subdued nations to Himself by His might and power, was actually crucified in utter weakness and helplessness between two thieves. This entire claim of the despised sect called Christian was folly to the Greeks, with their ideas of philosophy; to the Romans it was even worse. Its sheer weakness was an offense, apart from anything else.

Now, it was to people who lived in an atmosphere of that kind that Paul utters these words. To the proud, cultured, self-satisfied metropolis of the world, with all its wealth and power, he is prepared to preach his Gospel—nay, he longs to do so. He knows what Rome thinks of it and that she regards all who believe and preach it as being beneath contempt. But that does not worry him nor affect him. And when he gets there he will not feel crestfallen, or deem it necessary to apologize for himself or his message. For he is proud of it, he glories in it, he boasts of it and exults in it. To him it is something compared with which all that Rome is, and can boast of, pales into insignificance. Rome would try to pour ridicule, contempt, and shame upon any who believed it. She had done so and would continue to do so. But, knowing all about her and her proud claim, Paul is not ashamed, for he knows that what he preaches is needed by Rome as by every other place, and that it infinitely transcends in worth all they have and all they believe.

Now, it must be quite clear to all that the situation which confronts the Gospel and its preaching at the present time, in this and most other countries, is strangely similar to that which we have been describing.... From being recognised as right and true, it went through a phase when it was patronised and ignored. But by today it is being actively attacked and opposed. Indeed, we have even reached a stage beyond that: it is being ridiculed and dismissed. The claim today is that it is something which no educated, reasonable person can possibly accept and believe. It is placed in the category of folklore and superstition, and regarded as a mere survival of the days when men, in their ignorance, were the slaves of various fears and phobias. All this can be proved, it is contended, by the advance of knowledge, the result of scientific discovery, and the light which psychology has thrown on human nature and its strange behaviour. Certain aspects of the moral teaching of the Gospel are accepted and praised, though some would even reject that, but as for the central claims of the Gospel namely, the unique deity of Christ, the miracles He worked while on earth, His atoning death and literal physical resurrection, the Person of the Holy Spirit and the claims of the early chapters of the Book of Acts--all these things are rejected with contempt and sarcasm....

Salvation is to be found, according to the modem man, in the full use of the human capacities and powers which can he trained by knowledge and education. Man must save himself; man can save himself. He has it within him to do so. That is the essence of the modem creed. And if any one ventures to mention the Gospel of Christ, with its offer of a miraculous salvation, he is regarded as being so hopelessly behind the times as to be almost an idiot... And were he to go further and to say that the Gospel is the only hope for mankind, individually and collectively, he would be roared at as a lunatic or a fool.

Nevertheless, that is precisely and exactly what we assert today, as Paul did so long ago. And we do so without any sense of shame or apology. ... We need but point to the state of the world today, which is nothing but an appalling monument to human failure. We might add a request that those who reject the Gospel, in a manner which is so reminiscent of the attitude of ancient Rome, should acquaint themselves further with the subsequent history of that proud cultured and powerful city, and of other cities and countries that have maintained a similar attitude.

No! We do not hesitate to state that the only hope for men is to believe the Gospel of Christ. We say so knowing full well all the talk about science and learning and culture. We say so knowing that, at the end of this war, the world, in exactly the same way as at the end of the last war, will announce with confidence its plans and schemes for a new world, without taking any account of what the Gospel has to say. Why do we say so? For precisely the same reasons adduced by St. Paul in the words of our text. He states them quite clearly:

(i) First and foremost, he is proud of the Gospel because it is God's way of salvation. Herein it differs from all else that has ever been offered to mankind as a view of life and a way of life; and therein lies always the main and chief reason why we should boast of it and exult in it....

Some made their boast in Aristotle, others in Plato, others in Socrates, others in Zeno. But all the systems ultimately ended on a query. Each displayed great learning and much understanding, and each had its system. But there was another fact in the ancient world which proved how inadequate all the schools were finally. And that was the endless number of religions that were to be found. Thought alone was known to be insufficient. There was something behind the world; there were unseen powers and agencies. Life could not be explained without invoking the gods. And the Roman Empire was full of the various religions devoted to the worshiping of these gods and their corresponding temples....But Paul had something essentially different to offer and to preach. He knew of the other systems. But he also knew their limits and their inability to solve the problems. He could not make his boast in men and their systems. Before he could boast of a system it must have authority; it must have certainty.

It must not be a mere approximation to the truth, but the Truth itself. Speculations could not save, but the Gospel Paul preached was not speculation; it was a revelation from God Himself....

(ii) But a second reason for glorying in it and boasting of it is that it works it is "the power of God unto salvation." It is not surprising that Paul uses the word "power" in writing to Rome. That was their great word. And they tended to judge everything in terms of power. Rome was the great Imperial City, and power was to Rome what wisdom was to Athens. They would not consider anything unless it worked and had power....The Romans were essentially pragmatic and utilitarian in their outlook. That was their test and their standard. ...What had all their learning and culture and their multitude of religions really produced? If they were interested in results—well, let them produce them. What was the type of life lived by the citizens of the Roman Empire? What was the level of their morality? And he proceeds to answer his own question in the words found from verse 18 to the end of the chapter. That was the kind of life the people lived. Is that success? Is that civilisation and culture? Is that something of which to boast? What is the point and the value of all the philosophies if they cannot deal with the problems of life? They appear to be intellectual and are extremely interesting, but the business of a philosophy is not to raise problems, but to solve them. He, Paul himself, had once boasted of the Jewish Law and of his success in keeping it. But he came to see that all of which he had boasted was merely something external; when he came to see the real inner spiritual meaning of the law, he discovered that he was an utter failure....