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Good News Of Which To Be Proud

1:16-17 I am proud of the good news, for it is the power of God which produces salvation for every one who believes, to the Jew first and to the Greek. The way to a right relationship with God is revealed in it when man's faith responds to God's fidelity, just as it stands written, "It is the man who is in a right relationship with God as a result of his faith who will live."

When we come to these two verses, the preliminaries are over and the trumpet call of Paul's gospel sounds out. Many of the great piano concertos begin with a crashing chord and then state the theme which they are going to develop. The reason is that they were often first performed at private gatherings in great houses. When the pianist first seated himself at the piano, there was still a buzz of conversation. He played the crashing chord to attract the attention of the company, and then, when attention was obtained, the theme was stated. Up to these two verses, Paul has been making contact with the people to whom he was writing; he has been attracting their attention. Now the introduction is over, and the theme is stated.

There are only two verses here, but they contain so much of the quintessence of Paul's gospel that we must spend some considerable time on them.

Paul began by saying that he was proud of the gospel which it was his privilege to preach. It is amazing to think of the background of that statement. Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Beroea, laughed at in Athens and in Corinth his message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling-block to the Jews. Out of that background he declared that he was proud of the gospel. There was something in the gospel which made Paul triumphantly victorious over all that men could do to him.

In this passage we meet three great Pauline watchwords, the three foundation pillars of his thought and belief.

(i) There is the conception of salvation (soteria, Greek #4991 ). At this time in history salvation was the one thing for which men were searching. There had been a time when Greek philosophy was speculative. Four and five hundred years before this men had spent their time discussing the problem--what is the one basic element of which the world is composed? Philosophy had been speculative philosophy and it had been natural philosophy. But, bit by bit, as the centuries passed, life fell in. The old landmarks were destroyed. Tyrants and conquerors and perils surrounded men; degeneracy and weakness haunted them; and philosophy changed its emphasis. It became, not speculative, but practical. It ceased to be natural philosophy, and became moral philosophy. Its one aim was to build "a ring-wall of defence against the advancing chaos of the world."

Epictetus called his lecture room the hospital for the sick soul. "Epicurus called his teaching the medicine of salvation." Seneca, who was contemporary with Paul, said that all men were looking, ad salutem, towards salvation. What we needed, he said, was "a hand let down to lift us up." Men, he said, were overwhelmingly conscious of "their weakness and their inefficiency in necessary things." He himself, he said, was homo non tolerabilis, a man not to be tolerated. Men loved their vices, he said with a sort of despair, and hated them at the same time. In that desperate world, Epictetus said, men were seeking a peace "not of Caesar's proclamation, but of God's."

There can seldom have been a time in history when men were more universally seeking for salvation. It was precisely that salvation, that power, that escape, that Christianity came to offer men.

Let us see just what this Christian soteria ( Greek #4991 ), this Christian salvation was.

(a) It was salvation from physical illness. ( Matthew 9:21 ; Luke 8:36 .) It was not a completely other--worldly thing. It aimed at rescuing a man in body and in soul.

(b) It was salvation from danger. ( Matthew 8:25 ; Matthew 14:30 .) It was not that it gave a man a life free from perils and dangers, but it gave him a security of soul no matter what was happening. As Rupert Brooke wrote in the days of the First World War in his poem Safety:

"Safe shall be my going,

Secretly armed against all death's endeavour;

Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall;

And if these poor limbs die, safest of all."

And as Browning had it in Paracelsus:

"If I stoop,

Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,

It is but for a time; I press God's lamp

Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late,

Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day."

The Christian salvation makes a man safe in a way that is independent of any outward circumstance.

(c) It was salvation from life's infection. It is from a crooked and perverse generation that a man is saved ( Acts 2:40 ). The man who has this Christian salvation has a kind of divine antiseptic which keeps him from infection by the evil of the world.

(d) It was salvation from lostness ( Matthew 18:11 ; Luke 19:10 ). It was to seek and to save the lost that Jesus came. The unsaved man is the man who is on the wrong road, a road that leads to death. The saved man is the man who has been put on the right way.

(e) It was salvation from sin ( Matthew 1:21 ). Men are like slaves in bondage to a master from whom they cannot escape. The Christian salvation liberates them from the tyranny of sin.

(f) It was salvation from the wrath of God ( Romans 5:9 ). We shall have occasion in the next passage to discuss the meaning of this phrase. It is sufficient to note at the moment that there is in this world an inexorable moral law and in the Christian faith an inevitable element of judgment. Without the salvation which Jesus Christ brings a man could only stand condemned.

(g) It was a salvation which is eschatological. That is to say it is a salvation which find its full meaning and blessedness in the final triumph of Jesus Christ ( Romans 13:11 ; 1 Corinthians 5:5 ; 2 Timothy 4:18 ; 1 Peter 1:5 ).

The Christian faith came to a desperate world offering a salvation which would keep a man safe in time and in eternity.

(ii) There is the conception of faith. In the thought of Paul this is a rich word.

(a) At its simplest it means loyalty. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he wished to know about their faith. That is, he wished to know how their loyalty was standing the test. In 2 Thessalonians 1:4 faith and steadfastness are combined. Faith is the enduring fidelity which marks the real soldier of Jesus Christ.

(b) Faith means belief. It means the conviction that something is true. In 1 Corinthians 15:17 Paul tells the Corinthians that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then their faith is vain, all that they have believed is wrecked. Faith is the assent that the Christian message is true.

(c) Faith sometimes means the Christian Religion (The Faith). In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul tells his opponents to examine themselves to see if they are holding to their faith, that is, to see if they are still within the Christian Religion.

(d) Faith is sometimes practically equivalent to indestructible hope. "We walk," writes Paul, "by faith and not by sight" ( 2 Corinthians 5:7 ).

(e) But, in its most characteristic Pauline use, faith means total acceptance and absolute trust. It means "betting your life that there is a God." It means being utterly sure that what Jesus said is true, and staking all time and eternity on that assurance. "I believe in God," said Stevenson, "and if I woke up in hell I would still believe in him."

Faith begins with receptivity. It begins when a man is at least willing to listen to the message of the truth. It goes on to mental assent. A man first hears and then agrees that this is true. But mental assent need not issue in action. Many a man knows very well that something is true, but does not change his actions to meet that knowledge. The final stage is when this mental assent becomes total surrender. In full-fledged faith, a man hears the Christian message, agrees that it is true, and then casts himself upon it in a life of total yieldedness.

(iii) There is the conception of justification. Now there are no more difficult words to understand than justification, justify, justice and just, in all the New Testament. We shall have much occasion in this letter to meet them. At this point we can only lay down the broad lines on which all Paul's thought proceeds.

The Greek verb that Paul uses for "to justify" is dikaioun ( Greek #1344 ), of which the first person singular of the present indicative--I justify--is dikaioo ( Greek #1344 ). We must be quite clear that the word justify, used in this sense, has a different meaning from its ordinary English meaning. If we justify ourselves, we produce reasons to prove that we were right; if someone justifies us, he produces reasons to prove that we acted in the right way. But all verbs in Greek which end in "oo" do not mean to prove or to make a person or thing to be something; they always mean to treat, or account or reckon a person as something. If God justifies a sinner, it does not mean that he finds reasons to prove that he was right--far from it. It does not even mean, at this point, that he makes the sinner a good man. It means that God treats the sinner as if he had not been a sinner at all. Instead of treating him as a criminal to be obliterated, God treats him as a child to be loved. That is what justification means. It means that God reckons us not as his enemies but as his friends, not as bad men deserve, but as good men deserve, not as law-breakers to be punished, but as men and women to be loved. That is the very essence of the gospel.

That means that to be justified is to enter into a new relationship with God, a relationship of love and confidence and friendship, instead of one of distance and enmity and fear. We no longer go to a God radiating just but terrible punishment. We go to a God radiating forgiving and redeeming love. Justification (dikaiosune, Greek #1343 ) is the right relationship between God and man. The man who is just (dikaios, Greek #1342 ) is the man who is in this right relationship, and--here is the supreme point--he is in it not because of anything that he has done, but because of what God has done. He is in this right relationship not because he has meticulously performed the works of the law, but because in utter faith he has cast himself on the amazing mercy and love of God.

In the King James Version we have the famous and highly compressed phrase, The just shall live by faith. Now we can see that in Paul's mind this phrase meant--It is the man who is in a right relationship with God, not because of the works of his hands, but because of his utter faith in what the love of God has done, who really knows what life is like in time and in eternity. And to Paul the whole work of Jesus was that he had enabled men to enter into this new and precious relationship with God. Fear was gone and love had come. The God whom men had thought an enemy had become a friend.

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