For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1: 16).
The word power, as used in our text, is from the Greek word “dunamis”, and is used in the sense of ability. It is the same word as used in Luke 5:17 where it is stated that “the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” The latter reference indicates physical power to control disease or demons, but in Romans 1:16, the power is moral. It is the power of influence, as when pressure is exerted on a person to change such a one in conduct and action.
It was prophesied of Christ that he would come and set the captives free (see Luke 4:18). All who are in sin have been taken captive by the devil at his will. Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant (slave) of sin” (John 8:34). When Satan has once wrapped the tentacles of his evil influence around the life of a person, and thus influences his thinking, his action, and daily conduct, it is very difficult to change a character that has been a lifetime in its formation. The habits of life become deeply ingrained, and the individual is no longer the master of his actions. He is prey to uncontrolled desires that are the very woof and fabric of his life. He becomes a slave of his own passions and selfish desires. The alcoholic becomes a driveling drunkard when he loses control of his own will. The thief becomes obsessed with the belief that he can best promote his own interest through robbery or embezzlement and thus loses all sense of honesty. The selfish person, living only for self, is cruelly deceived into the belief that happiness is found only in one’s own personal gratification and thus is robbed of life’s greatest pleasure, the service that brings happiness to others. All the above and many other characters that are under the influence of Satan’s evil delusions need to experience a power outside of themselves to bring to them a realization of the folly of sin. Such a power is found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the time the gospel was first preached in Jerusalem in A.D. 34, polytheism, or idolatry existed in every part of the world. It had its myriads of temples and myriads of priests and was seated in the affections of a superstitious people, swaying a magic scepter from the Tiber to the ends of the world. Legislators, poets’ philosophers, and orators all combined to plead her cause and protect her from insult and injury. Rivers of sacrificed blood crimsoned all the rites of pagan worship, while clouds of incense arose from every village, town, and city in honor of the ancient gods of superstition. Men lived according to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. The gods whom they believed had no power to influence them to the purity of life. Vile practices were openly and unblushingly practiced, and a perfect carnival of licentiousness prevailed in every place. But over it all, the gospel triumphed. When that gospel was preached “in the demonstration of the Spirit and in power,” heathen altars grew cold, and their temples were deserted. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, said, “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God.”
The gospel not only turned men from idols, but from vices horribly and disgustingly practiced. To the Corinthians, the apostle said,
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor extortioners, nor revilers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Here, he mentions just about every vile sin to be found in the black catalog of iniquity. Such characters could be found in every community and every age. But we are astonished when the apostle declares, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11). What a remarkable change! The drunkards became sober; the thieves became honest; the vile and filthy became pure so that Paul could address such characters as those “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
No other power on earth has ever accomplished such a reformation. Only the old story of a sin-forgiving Christ dying upon the blood-stained cross of Calvary could accomplish such a glorious work on behalf of sinful men. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “And I if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). The lifting up refers to his death, and Paul, knowing the power of that story was divinely pledged to preach nothing but Christ, and him crucified. The compulsion of divine influence caused him to say, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
Today, the so-called Christian churches are giving people everything instead of the old gospel. They appear to believe that the power of redemption is in stately, expensive church edifices, in culture and education, in a super-educated ministry and upholstered pews. The appeal is not to the lower classes financially, but to the respectable upper classes. The preachers implant in the hearts of their hearers no consciousness of sins, and therefore, Calvary’s cross is largely ignored. The sermons are modernistic in design and composition. A social gospel is preached that deals only with intellectual ideas. These churches “love” the heathen across the sea but have no interest in the moral degradation of the slums of their city.
The drunkards, thieves, and outcasts of their own cities are treated as “the off-scouring of the world,” not knowing that such characters could be transformed and made decently pure by the regenerating power of the gospel. Men have become more interested in the power of the H- bomb than in the bomb of Golgotha.
There is power in the gospel to empty the prisons of its criminals, check juvenile delinquency, abolish the houses of ill-fame, reunite the broken homes, and make the policeman merely a guardian of public safety.
The warrior can be traced in his work of woe by the footsteps of blood, the groans of the wounded, and the graves of the slain; by the desolation of a country, the sacked cities, and burned dwellings. The triumphs of the gospel are succeeded by the sunlight of peace; men are elevated and sanctified, and the blessings of heaven are brought down to earth. Where the gospel is preached, purity will reign where corruption once ruled. The sorrowful mourners wailing at the grave of death are comforted with the blessed assurance of meeting the clear departed in a beautiful land that knows no night and no sorrow.
When the chill winds of winter give place to the warmth of spring, a great power is felt throughout the entire land. The dead fields spring to life and become verdant with the promise of bountiful crops. The barren trees, with their stark, naked branches, stir again to new life, and the green leaves and radiant blooms tell the story of Nature’s power. Even so, the life that is dead in sin, that finds its highest fulfillment in the sensual desires of the flesh is brought to a new life when the story of the cross is preached. The gross sensuality of the hearts gives place to the lofty idealisms of heaven, and the entire current of life flows in new channels of purity, righteousness, and peace. How wonderful it would be if all men felt the urgency of Paul when he exclaimed, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”