Text: “… the Gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1c).

The Bible is the most influential book in the world. No other writings have ever exerted so much power over mankind—a fact that any impartial observer can easily verify. In the Bible no book has been more influential for conversion than the Epistle to the Romans. Through it Augustine was converted, Luther was turned to Christ, and the heart of John Wesley was “strangely warmed.” In the history of the Church these were hinge men; because of their conversion experiences, doors swung open wide for new world epochs.

As a minister, I owe much to Romans. After I had been out of the seminary half a dozen years, I realized that I had not developed any simple technique for explaining the Gospel in a personal interview. In the city of Augusta, Georgia, where I lived, I looked about for help. My eyes inevitably rested on a Baptist minister in the city who was many years my senior. Knowing him to be a skilled winner of souls, I went to him and explained my plight. Never in the seminary had I learned anything so simple and so basic as that course he gave me in how to show another person the way to become a Christian.

My friend suggested a little run of verses from Romans. I memorized these verses and have used them in personal interviews many times. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of Cod” (Rom. 3:23). “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (6:23). “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (10:13). “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (12:1, 2).

The theme of this great Book of Romans is the Gospel. My text is a phrase from the first verse of the first chapter that dominates all the rest of the chapter: “the Gospel of God.” This appears in verse nine, “the Gospel of His Son,” and later in the chapter: “I am ready to preach the Gospel”; “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” Since with this text we are at the beginning of the epistle, let us consider the A B C of the Gospel.

Let A stand for Authorship. Long ago through his prophets God had promised his Gospel. Through Moses the Lord had said he would raise up unto the people a prophet like Moses, but greater than Moses. “Unto him ye shall hearken” (Dent. 18:15b).

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In his Son, God caused the Gospel to become real and personal. According to the flesh, Jesus was made of the seed of David. According to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, he was designated the Son of God with power (Rom. 1:3, 4). That was all by the working of the Author of the Gospel. Those who receive the Good News are enabled to do so by God. The application of the Gospel also goes back to the Authorship of God. From him Paul received grace and apostleship, to bear witness to Christ. As the gift of God, the Roman Christians to whom he wrote had their fellowship in Christ. So that from beginning to end, with reference to its past, its present, and its future, we may say of the Evangel: It is all from God. It is promised of God, produced of God, and received by those called of God.

Often we speak of human beings as inventors, but such a statement must be relative. In the absolute sense, no human being can invent a single thing. The only true originator is God. Man’s highest destiny is to think God’s thoughts after him. When a person invents a particular thing, he is really discovering something God through of in the beginning and then put somewhere in his creation.

All of this holds true in what we vaguely call religion. Whenever in religion you get human invention, you get distortion or negation, or both. The only author of spiritual truth is God. Therefore when we come to the Evangel, our proper approach is to ask, “What does God say?” It is the Gospel of God. He is the Author. This is the A of the Gospel.

On the canvas of this first chapter in Romans the Apostle paints the Background of the Gospel, a background that is dark indeed, for it all has to do with sin. When we approach the subject of human sin, we have to reckon with far more than first meets the eye. From modern psychology has come a phrase full of meaning and suggestion. “depth psychology.” The phrase rightly suggests that deep down in human personality lie vast hidden areas that are subject to violent storms. Out on the ocean, when all underneath is calm, mighty storms may rage on the surface of the deep. But in matters of human personality and sin the opposite often holds true. The surface of life may seem tranquil, but underneath may rage the awful workings of sin. Countless persons endure their days and nights with desperation known only to God.

Sin has also its open manifestations, which stand out in the latter part of this first chapter in Romans. Here Paul shows the length to which sin will go, and the detestable forms with which it works in human society. He points our gaze to three sorts of basic disturbances that sin causes in mankind: in the relationship of man to God; within man himself; and between man and man.

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The disturbances wrought by sin manifested themselves of old in three ways. One was perverted worship. Here you need only think of Sodom and Gomorrah, or of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which exchanged the truth of God for lies and for idolatry, which always debases. Again, there came perverted sexuality, wherein people exchanged the proper expression of marital love for unnatural relations that channeled the creative urges of life into dead-end streets of lust and frustration. Thirdly, there were perverted human relations wherein people exchanged the proprieties of justice and mercy for ways of passion and violence. In those societies, sin came to its bitter end. The Revised Standard Version sums up such sinners in these words: “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Rom. 1:31).

In that old world, where sin went on unrestrained, society lost its head and its heart. The modern world is not better. Have you with shame read a typical magazine article entitled “Sweden and Sin”? Have you with disgust kept informed about the recent increase of homosexuality in England? Do you read your own newspapers that mirror vices and show how sin breaks out in the open, often with volcanic force? Deep down where you cannot see it, sin keeps working so terribly that often you can watch its outworking in shattered bodies, shattered nerves, and shattered lives.

Does anyone feel that I am overdrawing the picture? If so, I ask you to do this one thing: Watch yourself. If you are careless about your soul, if you think that all this teaching about the dark background of sin is not relevant to you, watch yourself through these coming years. For if sin is not checked, it always gets worse and worse. It produces a deepening entrenchment of prejudice against God and the things of God, a hardening of the heart, an increased grasping after the grosser things of life.

Sin is always sin. In human beings, one by one, and in human society, sin still rages. If Calvin Coolidge were here today, he would gain the impression that I am against sin. So I am. So is Paul. So is our Lord Jesus Christ. So is God our Father. So is the Holy Spirit. So is every Christian who has any discernment as to the root causes of all the disorders in the world today. In sin lies the dark background of the Christian Gospel.

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Now we come to C, the Content of the Gospel. In imagination let us go into a classroom and take a test. Most of you have had a long course in the meaning of Christianity. You have come up through the Sunday school; you have attended many services; and, God bless you, you have listened to many sermons. Of course you know what the Gospel is. Even so, let each of us take a pencil and a piece of paper. We shall imagine that Paul is writing on a blackboard the question that constitutes our test, “What is the content of the Gospel?”

The person next to you says to himself, “This is easy!” Then he begins to write: “The Gospel is a code, a set of rules; it consists of God’s holy requirements. In the Old Testament these are found in the Ten Commandments; in the New Testament they stand out in the Sermon on the Mount, especially in the Golden Rule. We are supposed to live up to these requirements. To love God and love our fellow men, that’s the Gospel!” When the paper is finished Paul takes it up, reads it, shakes his head sadly, and marks it with a big zero. Then he says to the writer. “You got only to the edge of the Gospel.”

The person on the other side of you has even more confidence. He says to himself, “I know that the Gospel is more than a code of laws, with commandments and requirements. The Gospel is a philosophy; it’s an ideal; it’s the noblest of all teachings. We’re to try to aspire toward the realization of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. We are to follow such slogans as ‘Hitch your wagon to a star,’ ‘Follow the gleam,’ and ‘Ever onward and upward.’ That’s the content of the Gospel!” This person, too, has flunked the test. He has reached only the fringe of the Gospel.

Think about the matter in terms of a church building. It has front steps outside and other steps inside. The building itself may represent the content and heart of the Gospel, which is a message of forgiveness and deliverance from sin. The front steps may correspond to the law, the requirements of God. The inside steps may represent the ethical ideals that we strive to realize in our content. The front steps are not the church; the inside steps are not the church. The law of God is not the Gospel; the ethical ideals are not the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News of what God has done, in his Son, Jesus Christ, to secure for us sinners the power to keep the law of God anti to realize the ethical ideals of the Bible.

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The content of the Gospel is Christ. The inspired record tells of Jesus as made flesh here on earth: living among men, teaching them and doing many mighty works; dying on the Cross for our sins; and rising again in glory. The Gospel is the inspired record of how, when we receive Christ by faith, God accepts us as righteous and says, “Now I give you my Holy Spirit with power to keep the Bible law, and to realize in your own experience the ethical teachings of Holy Writ.”

If we know the Gospel, we have a twofold responsibility; to believe it and to share it. When Saul met the living Christ on the road to Damascus, that sinner believed in him and accepted him. For Saul that road meant the beginning of God’s forgiveness, favor, and power. Thereafter he could write: “I repudiate any righteousness of my own. I count it all as filthy refuse, that I may be found in Christ to have a righteousness which is of God in Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8, 9). In like manner God asks us to believe in Christ and thus to accept the Gospel. The effectiveness of the Good News depends on God, not on you. He says, “By faith receive it; believe that through my Son you can have my forgiveness, my favor, and my power.” Whether you are a Jew or a Greek, wise or unwise, the Gospel applies to you. If you have never before clearly understood the Gospel, receive it now. Through Christ you are free. Now live in his power.

As Christians we are also to share the Gospel. That is why Paul wished to go to Rome, to Spain, and to regions beyond. He declared: “I am a debtor to the Gospel. I am ready to preach the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I’ve got to go everywhere and tell this Good News: ‘You can be free, no longer a slave to Satan, no longer condemned because of sin. You may also have power, all the power you need; it’s here for you in Christ.’ ” Thus the Apostle kept saying, “I must tell the whole world about the Gospel of God.”

My friend, if you know and believe the Gospel, what of this compelling urge? In a little notebook do you have a prayer page where you list the names of persons who are not Christians, persons for whom you pray, one by one, and to whom you speak about Christ in terms of the Gospel? Do you have in your mind and on your heart a prayer page with the names of the unsaved whom you remember daily at the throne of grace? When did you last speak to someone about the Gospel? Not about the law, or about ideals, but about the Gospel! Or do you “clam up” whenever you have an opportunity to introduce Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord?

What a twofold responsibility] First to believe the Gospel, and then to share the Gospel. By the grace of God learn to say with Paul, “I am a debtor. I am ready. I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”—From Evangelical Sermons of Our Day, edited by Andrew W. Blackwood (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959; used by permission).

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