‘THE GOSPEL OF GOD’
Last week we ended our series on ‘Trustworthy Statements’ in the pastoral epistles, looking at
Titus 3. The emphasis was on the new birth; that God saved us not by deeds done in ‘righteousness’ but
according to His mercy. This morning we turn to the ‘Gospel of God’ as presented in the first chapter of
Romans. I want to look at the instrument that God uses to bring new birth in our lives through the Holy
Spirit. Let me first offer some brief introductory remarks: Paul the apostle is the author of this letter. He
writes to those Christians in Rome around 57AD. He did not plant these Churches, and, despite his
attempts, he has been prevented from visiting them. The churches in Rome are a mix of Jews and
gentiles, most being predominantly gentile during this time. One of the key themes throughout this
letter is that Paul wants to promote unity in the Church. He makes the clear point that the gospel of God
is for Jew and gentile alike, and he reminds them that in Christ, both Jew and gentile are one people.
What is the Gospel?
We see from the reading of God’s word in Romans 1 that Paul was set apart for the gospel – that
is in his ministry as an apostle. We see in verse 9 that he says, “for God whom I serve in my spirit in the
preaching of the gospel” and then again in verse 15 “I am eager to preach the gospel to you”. Then he
says in verse 16 “for I’m not ashamed of the gospel”. So, we see that the use of gospel runs throughout
these first 17 verses in Romans. What does it mean exactly? Gospel is a translation of the word evangel
which means “good news”. Yet, it is not enough to simply say ‘believe the gospel’ – believe the good
news. The question, then, is, good news about what?
Tracing out the text that we read this morning, we will look at the gospel in its (1) content and
power, (2) its ongoing application and work in our lives, and (3) our response to the gospel. On this third
point, we will specifically look at unbelief and its consequences – those that reject the Gospel – and then
we will briefly turn to belief and its consequences.
The Content & Power of the Gospel
Let us turn to our first point, the content and power of the gospel. In verse 2 the gospel is (a)
something that was promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Where do we get
the gospel? We see that the gospel is proclaimed, and it is prophesied in the Scriptures – here Paul has in
mind the Old Testament (OT). We see throughout the writing prophets in the OT that they look forward
to a King that will rule with justice and peace, and restore God’s people (Isaiah 9, 11). They also look
forward to a suffering servant that will die in the place of His people (Isaiah 53) and pour out His Spirit
(Joel 2.28-32; Ezek. 36.25-27).
Second, we see in verse 3 that the gospel is (b) about “His son”. Jesus is the content, the
substance of the gospel itself. It is not just a proclamation that you are saved from your sin and
suffering, but it is a proclamation that Jesus the promised seed, our redeemer has come. God-incarnate
has come and He comes to save us. The verse continues, “who was born of a descendant of David
according to the flesh”. According to His humanity, He is from the line of David. He is the promised king
who will sit on the throne of David eternally (2 Sam. 7). In the fourth verse we read (c) “who was
declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of
holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord”. To be raised from the dead implies first the death of Christ. The gospel
proclaimed in the Old Testament about Jesus, the descendant of David, proclaims His death – His
suffering and dying in our place – this points to His life marked by weakness, commonly called His state
of humiliation (His lowly estate; cf. WSC Q. 27-28). The resurrection of Jesus marks his exaltation; He
now reigns and rules at the right hand of the Father. He is raised by God’s Spirit (Rom. 8.11) and now
reigns with power!
I will return to this point on the “power” of the gospel, but first let us summarize: The content of
Paul’s gospel is based on the Old Testament scriptures, it is centered on Jesus Christ, and it speaks of His
death and resurrection. He is the descendant of David and the one that is raised from the dead by the
Spirit. He is the one that comes in weakness and humiliation to die in our place and now rules and reigns
powerfully as the exalted Son of God!
We see in verse 16 that Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it is “the power of God onto
salvation to everyone who believes”. Here, I just want to focus on ‘power’. The use of power here is tied
to the powerful reign of Christ in v.4. He is the one that “is able to save completely those who come to
God through Him” (Heb. 7.25). Because Jesus was raised from the dead – because He is the firstborn
from the dead – His exalted and powerful reign brings salvation through the proclamation of the gospel!
As you hear the gospel, Jesus powerfully works through the gospel to save us. He works through the
Spirit to bring resurrection to our lives. To put it differently, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, our
Lord, is declared in the gospel and applied to our lives through the Holy Spirit. To answer our earlier
question, the good news is that in Christ’s dying and rising for us, He reconciles us to God the Father and
pours out His Holy Spirit into our hearts. We were once rebels and exiles and enemies of God, but now
we are His children, His sons and daughters. This is the good news that Paul teaches in Romans.
The Ongoing Application of the Gospel
We see Paul’s next use of ‘gospel’ in verses 9 and 15. Twice he says that he is eager to serve
those in Rome by preaching the gospel to them. These two verses create a sandwich where Paul
expresses his longing to see those in Rome and his plans to come to them soon. The question, then, is
why does Paul desire to preach the gospel to them? They are already Christians! We read a verse 11
“For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is
that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both
yours and mine”. Paul desires to preach the gospel to those in Rome to further strengthen them; to
further establish them in the faith. They face internal conflicts because of their mixed identity as Jews
and Gentiles and they face external difficulties and persecution from Rome. Paul desires to build them
up and encourage their unity in Christ. He goes on to say that he also wants to be encouraged by their
faith. This is a mutual encouragement, a mutual desire to be strengthened and grow together. Here we
conclude that the very gospel that saves us is the very gospel that further strengthens us in our faith.
The preaching of the Word of God is what continues to nourish us. Imagine if you only ate one meal a
week. What would happen to our body? Our bodies would be mal-nourished! Similarly, we must
continue to return to the preaching of the gospel that our soul may be properly nourished and enriched.
I hope and pray that we would catch something of the passion and desire of Paul from this text
when he says, “I long to see you”. He has a deep desire and eagerness to share with those in Rome and
encourage one another. Like Paul, we should desire the maturity of one another. We should want to see
spiritual growth and a deepened understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ here in Christ
Covenant. With young children, even though we celebrate their many milestones, we do not stop there.
Imagine proudly saying “my kid is an expert crawler”! Imagine a 4 or 5-year-old that is still crawling and
when you ask the parent about this, there response is “oh yes, they’re the fastest; they’re the best”.
Wouldn’t you scratch your head and think, well by now your kid should not only be walking but they
should be running! Well, brothers and sisters, shouldn’t some of us be running (spiritually) as well? Or at
least walking? And, as the body of Christ, shouldn’t we be concerned when our brothers and sisters are
still crawling after many years in the Church? We should prayerfully desire our own growth and maturity
as well as the growth and maturity of our brothers and sisters. Isn’t that why we come to church and to
the bible studies? To grow in our faith – to be strengthened? To grow in our fellowship and love with
God and one another more and more?
I Am Not Ashamed of God’s Wisdom
I want to take a moment to return to verse 16, the last place where Paul uses the word gospel in
our text. Here he opens by saying “I am not ashamed”. Paul is saying that the gospel has brought
suffering and difficulty to him and his ministry. He recognizes that, similarly, it has brought difficulty and
persecution to those in Rome. Yet, Paul says “I’m not ashamed” because the proclamation of the gospel
of God accomplishes God’s ultimate purposes of salvation to Jews and Gentiles. It is the only means, the
only tool, that can bring us to receive Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1.23 we read,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but
to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of
God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger
Paul is declaring that the gospel is the wisdom of God. God does not act and save the way that
we would do it. If it was up to us, we would have sent Terminator-Jesus to deliver us. But in God’s
wisdom He sent the suffering servant, one that is meek and gentle and lowly in Spirit. He gives us a
redeemer who stoops down to wash the feet of His disciples and declares that He must die on the cross
to bring salvation to many. It is in this weakness, in this finiteness, in this cross shaped life that the
wisdom of God is displayed. So, pulling these two thoughts together, the gospel is God’s resurrection
power onto salvation and the gospel is God’s ongoing power to grow us in our faith – to grow us in
Our Response(s) to the Gospel
Turning to our third point, the gospel demands that we respond, either by believing and
accepting and trusting and clinging to Christ, or by rejecting Him. There is no third way. There is no a la
carte Jesus that is offered to us in the gospel, where we can accept His love but reject His commands.
We read in verse 17, For in it [that is, the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;
as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Martin Luther understood the righteousness
of God in forensic terms – or in ‘law court’ terms. Here he understands 1.17 to mean that through the
gospel, when we look to Christ with eyes of faith, and when we cling to Jesus with arms of faith, God
declares us to be righteous. We receive the ‘alien righteousness’ (that which is not ours, but outside of
us) of Christ, meaning that because He was obedient to the Father in all things, to the point of death, we
no longer stand as guilty sinners but as redeemed saints in Christ. It is according to the righteousness of
Christ, alone, that we are declared righteous before God. In the rich hymn, Rock of Ages, written by
Augustus Toplady in 1776, he makes this point clear and poetic:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee. Amen.
We come naked, with empty hands, receiving from the grace and fullness of Christ by faith in
Him. So, having been declared righteous by God and reconciled to Him, we now “live by faith”. Just as
the gospel is not a one-time thing we receive, faith is not a one-time thing we exercise. Paul pulls
together the words ‘obedience’ and ‘faith’ meaning that his preaching of the gospel aims to produce
obedience by faith in his hearers (Rom. 1.5). Those that are righteous in Christ live by faith in Christ.
Luther explains this well, “The righteousness of God comes altogether from faith, but in such a way that
there appears constant growth and constant greater clarity…signifying that the believer grows in faith
more and more, so that he who is justified becomes more and more righteous (Luther, 41).”
Unbelief and its consequences
There is a second group in verses 1.18-32 that, rather than live by faith, they live rebellious lives.
In this larger section, from 1.18-3.20, Paul extends his law court scene where he prosecutes both
gentiles and Jews, proving that they are all under sin (3.9) and subject to the wrath of God (2.5-8).
Focusing on 1.18-32 Paul deals first with gentiles and their godless ways outside of Christ.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who
suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them;
for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal
power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so
that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give
thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to
be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form
of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
We see here that God reveals Himself to all men (1) in their hearts (“within them”, 1.19) and (2)
through creation (1.20). This simply means that God places his law in our hearts. Our conscience
convicts us and keeps us from certain sins and evil. God also reveals Himself through creation – through
its order and divine design. It is important to note that this form of natural revelation (1.18), in our
hearts and in creation, serves to convict us. It can only show us that we have a Maker and we will have
to face Him. We will face His wrath. If we continue in rebellion and sin, God’s displeasure and wrath
grows against us. This is contrasted what is revealed (1.17) in the gospel, where Christ is revealed and
saves us from our sins and from the wrath of God. The wrath of God is not some angry, fiery, father
figure that enjoys beating his kids. God’s wrath here, as it means in most places, is “His just and true
condemnation” (Barnett, 42). This speaks of his “true and certain judgment” that comes upon everyone
that rejects Jesus. These things, the natural revelation of God in our hearts and creation, are, according
to Paul, evident and clearly seen. Think about this for a moment – the invisible God is “clearly seen”. To
the unbeliever, the issue is not that God does not reveal himself. The issue is that he is blind.
Outside of Christ they are “futile in their speculations”, they have “foolish” and “darkened”
hearts, and they exchange the glory of God, the creator, for images and crawling creatures. They are
depraved in their worship. Paul says this again in 1.24-25 “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of
their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the
truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed
forever. Amen.” Rather than worship God the Creator, they worship worthless things that are temporary
and passing away, things that are powerless and perverse. In response to their unbelief and growing
wickedness, God gives them over to their depraved desires and passions:
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural
function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function
of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts
and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to
acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not
So we see that because their worship is depraved – they exchange the eternal glory of the Creator for
corruptible things – their sexual practices are depraved. In rejecting the gospel of God, they turn away
from His good design and purposes and they exchange what is precious and valuable for what is dull and
insignificant. They exchange what is natural and fruitful for what is unnatural and fruitless. What we do
with our bodies informs and shapes our beliefs about God and the world around us. What we think
becomes reinforced in what we do.
We see in verse 28 that God gives them over to depraved minds and, because of this, they are filled with
empty things. With worthless things. With evil.
“…being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit,
malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil,
disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful”
To those that continue in their rebellion against God, they are haters of God. They continually grow
in sin and they find ways to invent and promote evil. We see that their mouth is full of gossip and
slander. They use their words to tear down. Their hearts are arrogant, boastful, full of malice, greed and
envy. They are never satisfied or content. Their lives and relationships are marked by division and
destruction, by hatred, and great difficulties they bring upon themselves. This is not a list of one-time
sins; even in Christ we all sin and stumble. This is a list of ongoing heart attitudes and actions that
characterize those that abandon God. Those that reject the good news of Christ are (1) depraved in their
worship, (2) they are depraved in their sexual practices (how they use their bodies), and (3) they are
depraved in their minds.
This morning, if you are fleeing from God, know that today is the day of salvation. Turn away from
your rebellion and cling to Christ. Entrust yourself to Him. He is a gracious and kind Savior, and He is
calling you to Himself this morning. You might have walked in this morning as a hater of God and an
inventor of evil, but I pray that you would leave this morning as a lover of God.
We read in Romans 12.1-2: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your
bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may
prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Belief and its Consequences
Those that cling to Christ and receive Him as Lord and Savior are (1) renewed in their minds. They
seek to practice and exercise and live according to God’s will, to do that which is good and acceptable
and perfect. They are (2) renewed in their sexual practices. They present their “bodies” not for shameful
acts but as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God. With these two first points, we see that both
mind and body is offered to God as our “spiritual service of worship”. We are (3) renewed in our
worship. Through faith in Christ, according to His many mercies towards us – these are the many
blessings and benefits of Jesus Christ for the sons and daughters of God – we now live for God. We must
be responsible stewards of the mercies of God, and put the gospel on display in our lives through our
actions, through our worship, and through the renewing of our minds.
This morning we have seen that the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ, His dying and rising in our
place and bringing us to God. The gospel is both God’s power onto salvation and onto continual growth
and maturity in Christ. Those that rightly respond to the gospel live by faith; they live transformed lives
that reflect God’s will and His proper design and purpose. Those that live by faith live fruitful lives onto
the glory of God. Those that reject the gospel of God live fruitless lives. Their bodies and their minds are
empty. Their hearts are darkened, their mouth is wicked, their passions and desires are perverted. They
are depraved. This morning these two paths are set before us. May we hide ourselves in the Rock of
Ages, Jesus Christ Our Lord, declaring “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling”.