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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 14

The Gospel: Man‘s Need

If there was one thing that got the Apostle Paul out of bed in the morning and filled his waking hours with a burning passion it was the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the risen and glorified Savior revealed Himself to Paul—then a young Pharisee known as Saul—on the road to Damascus the whole course of his life changed forever.

In a few short traumatic days young Saul was forced to abandon his deeply held belief that righteousness before God was to be obtained by keeping the law of Moses. He came to realize that, not only did God have a very different plan for making men righteous, but that he—Saul—had been chosen to be His ambassador, carrying God’s message to—of all people—the Gentiles! What a revolution!

And so it was, many years later, he was moved to write to believers in Rome, believers he hoped soon to visit in person. He wrote out of a desire to see them established in the truth he had been commissioned to proclaim. In Romans 1:16-17 he wrote, “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. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

To Paul, the expression, “the gospel,” which means “good news,” uniquely identified the message that burned in his heart. He saw clearly the intimate connection between this message and the salvation that men so desperately needed.

He called it THE gospel because he knew in the depths of his soul that there was no other message that would avail. The world is full of religious opinions and messages but there is only one true gospel, only one message that brings salvation. There is no “Baptist gospel,” “Catholic gospel,” “Presbyterian gospel,” “Pentecostal gospel,” “social gospel,” or any other.

Satan’s Attack

It did not take the devil long to mount a full-scale attack on the one message that he knew spelled his defeat. Even as Paul traveled from place to place, risking his life preaching God’s truth, Satan stirred up false ministers to corrupt and confuse the message. Paul was so incensed by this in the first chapter of Galatians that he actually pronounced a curse on such ministers! For him it was not merely an issue of differing opinions and interpretations. He saw a battle between truth and error with eternal consequences. It was bad enough when real believers were misdirected and hindered in their Christian walk. This kind of error caused men to miss salvation completely.

Galatians 1:6-8 says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”

Why was Paul so sure? Listen to what he wrote in Galatians 1:11-12, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (I wonder how many could say that today. I wonder how many preach tradition handed down from other men and call it the gospel.) Many years later Paul was led to go to Jerusalem and share with Peter and the others what he had been doing and preaching and they recognized the call of God upon his life and the truth of the gospel he preached.

Paul’s concern over the issue of a corrupted gospel is plain in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

Listen to what Jude felt compelled to write in Jude 3, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” He saw, as did Paul, the influx of false brethren and false ministers corrupting the gospel.

What about today? If Jude felt the need to write as he did about contending for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints way back in the first century ought we not to do the same? In our day, virtually any minister who is considered to be “Christian” is said to be a “minister of the gospel.” But what does that mean? What gospel is it that is preached? Just what is the gospel anyway? It is obvious that what is preached in the name of Christ varies tremendously.

If you believe—as I do—that Paul did indeed receive a direct commission from Jesus Christ to proclaim the one true gospel that brings salvation, ought we not to inquire as to what that is—and to preach it boldly without compromise? Or should we just blindly follow our traditions? I pray that God will raise up in every land ministers who will be able to preach with great clarity the same gospel Paul preached—the message that alone brings salvation.

And that is the object in view when the one true gospel is preached. It is the salvation of the hearers. The key words Paul used in Romans 1:16-17 have acquired many strange meanings over the years—words like “gospel,” “power of God,” “salvation,” “righteousness,” and “faith.” But what did these words mean to Paul? That is the question.

What is Salvation?

Undoubtedly the word nearest to the heart of the gospel message is “salvation.” But what exactly is salvation? Who is it that needs saving and from what?

The word “salvation” implies several things. One implication is that there is a danger from which deliverance is needed. If there is no danger then why would anyone require “saving”?

Another implication of “salvation” is that one in need of saving cannot help himself. It is not salvation if someone merely points out a danger and tells us how to avoid it or how to escape it through self-effort. Salvation is not merely a “helping hand.” Nor is it spiritual “self-help.” Salvation means that the one in need is ensnared in some danger and has absolutely no hope in himself of escape.

There is a point beyond which a drowning man cannot help himself. In fact, if he persists in trying to help himself and does not surrender completely to the efforts of a capable rescuer it is very doubtful that he can be rescued at all. And that illustrates another implication: “salvation” requires a “savior,” one who is not himself ensnared by the danger and who also possesses the ability to rescue the one in danger.

Defining the Danger

And so clearly defining the danger in which men find themselves is necessary if we are to begin to understand salvation and our need of it. That is precisely what Paul does in the passages following Romans 1:16-17.

He chronicles the descent of men from a knowledge of God into a depraved state of slavery to sinful lusts. This descent was marked by a willful rejection of truth and righteousness and a defiant choice to serve those lusts instead. Man is not an innocent victim but a deliberate rebel against his Creator. Even those who have only the light of creation are without excuse. Romans 1:20.

We human beings are very prone to comparing ourselves one with another. We imagine that among men there are both good and bad, righteous and wicked. And since we can always find plenty of evil men around us we suppose ourselves to be “good,” or, at least, better than most.

People were no different in Paul’s day. The Pharisee who went into the temple to pray had convinced himself in his own mind, “I am not like other men.” Luke 18:11. He even went through the motions of thanking God for that supposed fact yet even his thanksgiving was merely part of the self-deception. He wasn’t thankful. He was proud, proud of his own efforts to be righteous. But all he had was simply classic self-righteousness—and God was not impressed.

Paul spent some time in his letter discussing these outward differences among men. He spoke of those Jews who prided themselves on possessing the law and of Gentiles who did not possess the written law yet had a God-given conscience. His conclusion is clear: there is no difference. Not when it comes to the need of salvation.

Rom. 3:9-18 says, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.’ ‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” In verse 22 he says specifically, “There is no difference.”

So, are you and I like everyone else? Yes, we are. As Romans 3:23 continues, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned against our Creator and are in need of the same salvation as everyone else. No one is better than another. There are no “good” sinners and “bad” sinners; there are just sinners.

Have you ever told a lie? Then you are a liar. Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you? Then you are a thief. Have you ever so much as entertained lustful thoughts concerning someone? Then, according to Jesus, you are an adulterer. Matthew 5:28. Have you ever hated someone? Then you are a murderer. 1 John 3:15.

Why? Because men only look on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7. We are very good at putting on a front in order to appear well before others but in our hearts we are all the same. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment. He gave his answer in Matt. 22:37-40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Who among men has measured up to that standard? Are not the greatest sinners those who break the greatest commandments? What about you?

Judgment

Now if sin had no real consequence then none of this would matter. But God’s word says, “...man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Hebrews 9:27. Sin matters.

Revelation 20:11-15 pictures this judgment. Books will be opened and men will be judged by what is written in those books. Heaven has a perfect and complete record, not only of every act of sin, but also of every evil thought and motive. The secret things hidden in men’s hearts will no longer be secret on that day. What will heaven’s record reveal about you? Measured by the standard of God’s own holiness how will you fare?

And what can you do about it? Can you travel to heaven, find the books, and erase the record of your sins? Do you hope to convince God to overlook your sins on that day by promising to “do better,” or by piling up enough “good deeds” to outweigh the bad? Will you blame someone else for your failures?

No. The facts are inescapable. We are all sinners. Heaven has an accurate record of every thought, deed, and word. Death and judgment are appointments we will keep. We will not be able to say, “I don’t believe I can come, Lord. Death and judgment just don’t fit into my plans.” All will be there, small and great. And there is not a man alive who has the power to erase the guilt of his own sins. That fact alone makes a savior necessary if we are to escape the hell we deserve.

All Fall Short

But the danger doesn’t stop there. Suppose just for a moment that we were somehow able to convince God to overlook our past sins in return for a promise to do better. How would that work? Not at all, I’m afraid.

When Paul wrote, “all have sinned,” he was referring to acts of sin from the past. But when he added, “and fall short of the glory of God,” he was referring, not to the past, but to an ongoing problem. All of our promises to “do better” are empty ones.

I have often written of the shocking lesson about which Paul wrote in Romans, chapter 7. There he learned—the hard way—that, no matter how sincere he was, no matter how hard he tried, he simply could not keep God’s law. And God showed him why. God showed him that there was a law operating in him, the law of sin and death, that made living up to God’s standard impossible.

He now saw sin not just as acts of disobedience against a lot of divine “rules” but as a terrible power that enslaved him. The very core of his natural being was hopelessly infected by this thing called “sin,” a wicked principle that puts “self” at the center of everything. Paul really wanted to do right. His persistent failure caused him to cry out in anguish, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24. Paul realized his need of rescue.

There is no more destructive power in the universe than sin. It ruins and destroys all caught in its web. Even if you could somehow conform your behavior to righteous principles it wouldn’t change your heart. We are not sinners because we commit sins; we commit sins because we are sinners. A salvation that only deals with what we do and not what we are is no salvation. God’s eternal kingdom will not be populated by people who have learned how “to keep the lid on,” to control their sinful inclinations. Citizens of that blessed kingdom will have been delivered—inside and out—from sin, period. Can you accomplish that for yourself?

And so, just as no one can cleanse himself from his past sins, we are all helpless to change our own hearts. If help does not come from outside ourselves then we are all doomed.

The Power of Satan

It would be bad enough if all a man had to contend with was his own sinful heart. That fact alone makes his natural situation hopeless. But it is worse than that. This present world order is ruled over by Satan and literally hordes of demons. They are real. And the sin that dwells in the hearts of men gives Satan all the leverage he needs to rule over mankind without mercy. And so men are not merely slaves to the sin in their own hearts. They are also, because of that sin, slaves to wicked spirits whose only intent is to use, abuse, and destroy them in order to gratify their own evil natures.

I have met people who had the mistaken idea that they didn’t have to serve either God or the devil, that they could somehow be “free” and do what they wanted to do. Apart from the divine miracle of salvation every member of the human race lives out his days under the dominion of Satan. If Satan cannot rule over a man one way, he will another whether the man is aware of it or not. Men are hopeless addicts of sin and all the power of Satan’s kingdom is devoted to keeping them that way. And Satan knows which “buttons” to push.

In Acts 26:18 Paul recounts what happened when God “arrested” him on the Damascus road and called him to preach the gospel. His call concerning the Gentiles was “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God....” Remember in Romans 1:21 where Paul says that as a result of choosing sin over the knowledge of God, “their foolish hearts were darkened.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Listen to Paul’s description of men in Ephesians 2:1-3: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” All of us!

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Salvation is described in Colossians 1:13 in these words: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

God’s servant is instructed in 2 Timothy 2:25-26, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

1 John 5:19 tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”

And so, not only are men guilty, and powerless to change, but they are also helplessly under Satan’s dominion—and blind to that fact.

It Gets Worse

But it gets worse! The world of which we are a part has no future—at least not a long one—and it may be much shorter than people think. Both the flood of Noah’s day and the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah are held forth as examples for us of what is coming. They remind us that God judges sin and does not allow it to go on indefinitely.

In 2 Peter 3:5-7 we read Peter’s warning to scoffers: “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

This day will come without warning for Peter goes on to say in verse 10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” As Paul also said in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, “...the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Pay close attention to that last part: “they will not escape.”

Many other scriptures could be cited to demonstrate this truth, that this present world will have a sudden fiery end. Suppose it were to happen today? Would you be ready?

Back in the days of the Roman empire the Romans found a way to use condemned prisoners to serve their ends. If a man was condemned to die for crimes he had committed—and was strong and healthy—he might well be sentenced to be a galley slave. Along with others he would be chained to a bench in the lower parts of a ship and forced to row to help power the ship. Often these were war ships and the fate of the galley slaves was completely tied to the ship they rowed. If the ship survived the battle they lived to row another day. If it sank they sank with it. If one died another would take his place.

But this is not a bad picture of this present world. Because of sin men live under the power of Satan, rowing his “ship” until they die—or until the ship goes down, taking them with it. What a sad, meaningless existence. How far removed this is from God’s purpose in creating man in the beginning. All of the proud accomplishments of men in this present world are destined to go up in smoke. And judgment lies beyond.

Put simply, men are in desperate trouble, blind to their danger, and completely unable to save themselves even if they were aware of their plight. This is what drove Paul to proclaim—at the risk of his own life—the one message able to bring salvation.

If help is to come it must come from God. The world, the devil, and man’s own heart are allied together to bring about his destruction. But does he deserve God’s help? Surely not! Every fiber of his being hates and resists the light that would expose his sinful condition. He is not an innocent victim but a defiant rebel. Why would not a God who has the power to fling the galaxies across the universe simply blot out mankind and put an end to his wickedness?

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