Sermon: Paul, God, and the Gospel (Pt. 3)

“Paul, God, and the Gospel” Pt. 3
Romans 1:1-7
June 7, 2015

You don’t need me to tell you this, but our world is changing. Rapidly.

This week I read a sobering article entitled, “Stage Two Exile: Are You Ready for It?” The author’s premise was that over the past thirty years or so the church has been “exiled” from the culture. We didn’t realize it then, but what experienced was only the first stage of the exile. We are entering a second stage, “and it will not be an easy time,” he writes:

In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over, the church needed to come up with better strategies to strip away the dross, and all of this in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world.

The biggest problem the church had, according to Exile Stage One thinking, was that no one was talking about us anymore. And as Oscar Wilde wryly observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.…We’d been marginalised;…discarded.…

…Everyone was discussing what it meant to have Christian convictions, but be post-foundational. Christendom was collapsing, and isn’t that a good thing, given all the fighting and crusades and bad stuff priests did? Were we not sick of simply being chaplains to the culture? Time to refresh. Time to do organic/total/on-the-other-side/radical church. For Exile Stage One adherents there was a kind of glee that Christendom was falling.…

But here’s the problem. Exile Stage One thinking has left Christians completely unprepared for Exile Stage Two reality.…

In the last five or six years the culture (read: elite framework that drives the culture) is increasingly interested in bringing the church back into the public square. Yes, you heard that right. But not in order to hear it, but rather, in order to flay it, expose its real and alleged abuses and to render it naked and shivering before a jeering crowd. It is Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego standing up before the statue of gold, whilst everyone else is grovelling and going, “Pssst, kneel down for goodness sake!” It is officials conspiring with the king to show that Daniel’s act of praying towards Jerusalem three times per day is not simply an archaic and foolish hope, but a very real threat to the order of the society and the new moral order that will hold it together.…

If the primary characteristic of Exile Stage One was supposed to be humility, the primary characteristic of Second Stage Exiles will have to be courage. Courage does not mean bombastic pronouncements to the world, not at all. It has to be much deeper than that. It will mean, upon hearing the king’s command that no one can pray to any god save the king for thirty days, that we go into our rooms with the window open towards Jerusalem and defy that king even as our accusers hunt us down. It means looking the king in his enraged face and saying, even if our God does not rescue us from the flames, we will not serve your gods or bow down to your statue of gold.

If we assumed neutral culture we assume we can get involved in, and play with, culture without getting infected by it. That we can remain distinct from it, undrawn to its more sickly parts, and more than capable of knowing when to say no to culture’s soft-focus, slow-motion beckoning and effete “Join us! Join us!” plea.

Simply put, we assume that we can have more impact on culture than it can have on us. That is dangerously naive thinking. Jesus never said the culture will misunderstand you; he said the world will hate you. He did not say to his disciples, “Display reckless abandon and go out there and change culture”; he said “fear not, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

How have I seen this play out over the past decade? Sadly in too many ways. Whilst good has come of it, I have watched too often as burnt out evangelicals who are sick to death with fundamentalist infightings drift first from saying we must get back to the source of the gospel for the sake of the culture, to re-interpreting the gospel in the shape of the world. I have watched as a series of questions that began with “What if we changed the perspective on how we look at this traditional issue?” end up with “Did God really say?”.

I do not believe he has overstated what is coming; difficult days are ahead.

But if we read our Bibles well, difficult days have always been ahead. Persecution has always been promised to and expected by God’s followers. (We have just forgotten that truth.) But persecution of believers has never been the final declaration. In fact, the final word is the word of God a word that contains the eternal gospel. How do we minister in times like this? With the gospel. For all the difficulty we are beginning to experience, it has never been clearer in our lifetimes “who is in Christ?” and “who needs Christ?” We have that clarity today. And we have an answer for those who are outside of Christ — and the answer is the same answer that Paul affirmed to the Romans as he prepared to go on his missionary journey to Spain. The answer is the gospel. It certainly didn’t seem to be a powerful solution in Paul’s day and it too often doesn’t seem powerful in our day either. But, Paul says —

Keep ministering the gospel because of what the gospel is and does.

Why did Paul preach the gospel and why should we preach the gospel and be committed to the gospel? In these two verses he offers five reasons why we should maintain our commitment to gospel preaching.

  1. The Commission of the Gospel (v. 5a)
  2. The Goal of the Gospel (v. 5b)
  3. The Scope of the Gospel (v. 5c)
  4. The (Ultimate) Purpose of the Gospel (v. 5d)
  5. The Effectiveness of the Gospel (v. 6)

Download the rest of this sermon from Romans 1:5-6.

The audio will be posted on the GBC website later today.

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