For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:16 ASV

With reference to any possible slander to the effect that he was ashamed to preach in the sophisticated capital of the empire, Paul challenged and refuted it with the smashing declaration here.

A lesser man than Paul might indeed have quailed before the arrogant sophistication of Rome, but Paul was a man absolutely beyond the reach of snobbish intimidation.

What Rome meant then is almost beyond our comprehension.

We must imagine as one all of the capital cities of our own day, from New York and London to Tokyo.

He, the itinerant Jewish preacher, is to conquer Rome for Christ. By what means?

By the message of a Galilean who was executed as a criminal!

In face of the wisdom and might of Rome, to set up “the foolishness of the Cross,” this glorification of the powerless one!

But the apostle’s thought barely touches upon what might have been so natural, namely, the failing of his courage when confronted by this contrast.

There are no inferiority complexes here and no false humility, but an unbroken consciousness of power. “I am not ashamed; for it is the power of God.”

The gospel is not only an epoch-making power for salvation; its effect reaches into eternity, just as itself derives from eternity.

Paul’s mention of not being ashamed of the gospel is appropriate, because in the city of Rome were all the trappings of human glory, pride, selfishness, power, and cruelty, also every extravagance of intemperance, vice, and idolatry.

Raw, naked force was enthroned there.

Those fierce Romans had controlled the world for centuries; and, in their lustful exploitation of power, they had shamelessly held all human honor and virtue expendable.

Ruthless, unprincipled, power-politics sat naked and unmasked upon the throne of the Caesars; and, if there had been a place on earth where the gentle teachings of the Son of God were despised, the great harlot on the Tiber was that city.

Jesus had warned his disciples that God himself would be ashamed of any who were ashamed of Jesus and his word (Mark 8.:38); and in this epistolary war-cry, Paul hurled the challenge of his faith in Christ like a steel gauntlet into the face of proud and arrogant Rome.

How could he do it?

The answer is in the next clause.

It is the power of God unto salvation …

Ah, yes. Here is the power to save people from sin, from the inevitable fate of the wicked, and from eternal death.

This gospel is power unlimited, eternal, and irresistible within the framework of God’s eternal purpose, and fully sufficient to achieve all that God intended.

This tremendous power is primarily the power to save from sin and death, being fully efficacious unto redemption, the nature of which is revealed in the terms of the gospel itself.

It is salvation from the wrath of God and eternal death of the soul, a salvation of such a nature that only God could provide it or make it available to people.

No human scheme or device could ever be effectual for such a purpose as salvation from sin and death and the endowment of mortals with the glory of eternal life.

And, pray tell, what is the gospel?

In a word, the gospel is the good news of salvation from the wrath of God due to man’s sin, a salvation made possible through the death of Christ, and therefore pertaining (as Paul himself summarized it) to the death of Christ according to the scriptures, his burial, and his resurrection on the third day, according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).

By extension, this gospel of Christ is the sum total of divine revelation in the sacred scriptures, that is, the Bible, and is composed of:

(1) facts to be believed

(2) commandments to be obeyed

(3) promises to be accepted

It is a gospel which must be received as the word of God (Acts 17:11), a gospel which must be believed (as stated in this verse); and it is a gospel that must be obeyed (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

These plainly documented characteristics of the gospel should be kept in mind at all times, especially in the study of Romans; because advocates of human error have been very diligent to make Paul’s letter to the Romans a charter of salvation by “faith only.”

If the gospel means that people may be saved by faith only, why did Paul write the Thessalonians that the Lord Jesus would execute vengeance upon them that “obey not the gospel”?

The world, the flesh, and Satan. These powers must be overcome in salvation; nothing short of God’s power can do this; but the gospel does it, hence the propriety of calling it God’s power for salvation.

It is his power because it proceeds from him; it is for salvation, because it is ordained to effect it.

The salvation under consideration, which is promised in the gospel, is no mere alleviation of social unrest, nor any such thing as the psychological easement of human tensions, nor an infusion of tranquillity for troubled minds.

Such results indeed may come as collateral and tangential benefits, but the gospel is designed for something utterly beyond things like that.

It is to save people from everlasting destruction from the presence of God and the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

The gospel is not a message of peace for the disobedient, but a message doom, and has the dual character, mentioned by Paul himself, of being either “unto life” or “unto death,” as it may be received or rejected (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

The power of God … The word “the” is inserted by the translators but does not add anything to the meaning.

Whatever power is needed to convert sinful people, all of that power is available in the gospel; and there is no need for any special illumination of the heart, nor for any fiat on the part of the Holy Spirit, nor for any special act of God to strike the sinner down and convert him.

The gospel itself is that illumination that can save him, the fiat of the Holy Spirit making salvation available to him, and the special act of God calling him to be saved. Let the gospel be preached; and, as Jesus himself said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).

To every one that believeth … is a synecdoche, that is, one of a group of related things being mentioned in place of and standing for all of them, and was absolutely not intended to announce faith as the sole condition of eternal life.

“Believing” excludes everything except the confidence wrought in the soul by the divine power of the gospel and by this alone.

This expositor is absolutely certain that nothing Paul ever wrote was intended to exclude obedience as a precondition of salvation; and, although perfect obedience must surely be reckoned beyond the power of human achievement, the sincere intent to obey and some semblance of compliance with God’s commandments appears to be absolutely required by such statements as those of 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9

Upon what grounds do some people declare that “believeth,” as used here, “excludes” everything else?

If that is what Paul meant, could he not have said so?

Was Paul ignorant of such words as “alone” and “only” which come so readily to the lips and pens of scholars today, but which he pointedly omitted using; or, on the other hand, is it that people are guilty of importing their own theories into Paul’s words?

And, if it be inquired what are the group of related things represented by “believeth” in this passage, let it be answered that repentance (Luke 13:3-5), the new birth (John 3:5), holiness (Hebrews 12:14), and obedience (Hebrews 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:8) are all, according to the scriptures, absolutely required of all who hope to be saved.

When the Pauline theology, as “discovered” by some commentators, is thought to offer salvation without the new birth, without holiness, without repentance, and without obedience, somebody has simply got to be mistaken.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
1 Peter 4:15‭-‬17 RSV

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