Unity in Christ

This post was originally published over at http://www.CitizenPriest.com under the heading Unity in Christ (Weekly Refreshment).

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14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity,” (Colossians 1:3-4; NASB).

Having been raised in Texas, and that largely in the country, by the time I reached middle school age I had imbibed an us vs. them mentality in regard to ethnicity. I had never really stopped to think about it, because it was not something I was forced to think about often, but I had come to think of race relations in an irreverent fashion. To me it was a game, a “my team vs. your team” kind of a thing. Then, something amazing happened.

In my seventh grade year, my mom and I joined a new church in a larger town, though we still lived in the country. At this church, I became friends with a young man of a minority ethnicity. We spent a lot of time together and had many common interests. We both loved music and would spend hours singing along with our favorite bands’ new albums. When we did church functions together, we were inseparable.

One day, as we were at one such function, he and I had gotten off alone and, as we were engaged in our usual immature banter, I made an off-color joke about choosing a group at random to be racist against. To me, this was a provocative joke. To my friend, it was no laughing matter. He quickly sat me down and, through tears, spent over an hour explaining to me the effects that racism had already had on his young life.

This discussion was eye-opening to me. I had never realized just how terrible a thing racism could be, and I vowed from then forward never to tolerate ethnic pride, partiality, or malice in myself or anyone else. I have not done so perfectly, but I have now gotten to the point where speaking about ethnic differences with any kind of irreverence turns my stomach.

In our world today, whether in rural America or urban Korea, a borough of New York City or a small village in South Africa—no matter where you go—you will find people who still imbibe the “us vs. them” mentality. This sinful mindset knows no language, gender, or ethnic boundaries, and it can still bubble up in each one of us. It can be seen in the way that we interact with one another or choose not to interact with one another. I can be seen in the way that we speak to one another or speak about one another in the absence of certain groups or people. It happens within Christianity, in spite of Christianity, and even in the name of Christianity (see the modern Social Justice movement to see how this type of ethnic partiality is being promoted as Christian).

Christ did not come to save people and leave them in their sin, but to save people from their sin. He did not come to save people and leave them in their “us vs. them” bubbles. He came to abolish the dividing wall of ethnic strife and make His church into one new man (Ephesians 2:15). Anyone who would resurrect dividing walls among God’s people and sow division in the name of Christianity, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4; NASB).

As you gather with your church for your midweek service, delight in the fact that your union and communion with one another is in Christ who makes you one new man. Shun partiality, and joyfully celebrate your common love for God and love for the saints. Do everything in your power to delight in the unity that you share with people of every tongue, tribe, and nation by virtue of their having been made in God’s image and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Consider the unity you have in Christ, and be refreshed!

Ethnicity and the Church (Audio)

In recent years, the issue of Racial Reconciliation has become more and more of a necessary discussion for local churches to have. It is my conviction that eventually every church will be made to care about this issue. The proponents of it have started hosting mega conferences and have gotten some rather big names in the Evangelical movement to voice their solidarity with the movement. As such, I recently took a few weeks to address the issue at our Prayer Service at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in San Angelo, TX. The series was five weeks long, but I was unable to record the first week.

In the first lesson, we spoke about the proper way to address sins of ethnic pride, partiality, and hatred within our local body. First, we went to 1 Timothy 5:1-2 and talked about the necessity of pulling one another to the side to appeal to one another. Second, we talked about the necessity of studying one another as we would study our own spouses. We need to know the context in which one another have formulated our views on this subject matter if we hope to address it properly. In support of this second point, we went to 1 Corinthians 8-10 and talked about how even good Christians can be very wrong in their views of sin. That doesn’t make them unbelievers but, perhaps, weaker brothers. As we seek to address ethnic strife within the body, then, we can only be benefited to examine the exhortations given by Paul in regard to how one might live with a weaker brother.

Below, you can find the rest of the lessons in audio form, or you can find the entire series here.

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Galatians 1-3 – Another Gospel

In addressing the sin of ethnic hatred and partiality within the church, we must avoid the errors of the Judaizers and add no extra-biblical requirements to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Colossians 1-3 – Look to Christ

When considering the biblical solution to sin, particularly that of ethnic pride and partiality, we need look no further than to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Psalm 62 – Hope in God

When considering a solution to the sin of ethnic pride, the answer is not to look to man-made institutions, political philosophies, or movements. Rather, we are to place our hope squarely in God.

 

1 Corinthians 10:13 – Actual and Original Sin

Biblically defined, sin is that which is common to all men and from which God provides a way of escape, a clear means of repentance. If the church defines racism in such a way that it does not align with these biblical affirmations, the church has adopted an extra-biblical definition of sin.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part V – Galatians

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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Paul, in writing to the Galatian churches, explores some of the same themes as in his letter to the Romans. Paul had noticed in his travels that there were certain very insidious teachings that had seeped in as Jewish believers and Gentile believers began to worship together. He penned his letter to the Galatians to address one such teaching.

Another Gospel

Now, it must be noted on the outset that Paul’s introduction to the letter to the Galatian churches is by far his shortest, shorter even than that of his letter to the Colossians, whom he had not likely ever seen in person (Col. 2:1). The matter about which Paul was writing was of grave importance, and he wanted his readers to feel the urgency of it. Some who had come in among them were teaching a different gospel.

Infiltrating the churches of Galatia was a group theologians have come to call Judaizers. These Jewish “converts” were teaching that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not enough. They went further and argued that, in order to become a real Christian, one must first become a Jew through physical circumcision (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:10; 5:2-6).

Paul explains in chapter 1, verses 6-9, that this gospel is not even another gospel. In fact, he labors throughout the book to demonstrate that it is the opposite. Rather than being the gospel which compels us to follow our Father’s law as sons, the circumcision taught by the Judaizers subjected its adherents to the curse of the law. These Judaizers were wishing to be justified by the law (a futile undertaking for any man), not by faith.

In the same way, there are many today who add their pet views to faith as a prerequisite for salvation, thus creating a “new gospel.” Some claim that their approach to the problem of self-defense speaks to whether or not we are truly hoping in the gospel of Christ. Others claim that their philosophical approach to the very real problem of racism and their specific terminology in addressing it is essential to a proper understanding of the gospel. Still others claim that their particular view of economics and subsequent solutions to the problem of poverty are a necessary part of the gospel to the extent that one cannot even be a disciple of Christ unless one is willing to vote in an economic system designed to take from one group and give to another. Others, while not adding to the gospel per se, add abstinence from drink to the law and to the biblical qualifications for elders and church planters (see here and here). We will address this particular heresy more fully when we get to our study of Colossians.

This approach to the gospel may be useful for shaming others who disagree, but that is not all it accomplishes. It also serves to promulgate a “new gospel,” which is not really the gospel at all. It is a false gospel!

Notice that the Judaizers were not telling Gentile converts they could not be Christians. They did not want to keep Gentiles from entering fellowship with them. Rather, they wanted to impose prerequisites on them for entering the fellowship that are not imposed by the gospel itself. In the same way, legalists in the church today (infiltrating even as far as the Reformed and Reformed Baptist camps) do not claim that people who are different than them cannot fellowship with them. They simply have to agree with all their solutions to the problems they see in society. They must circumcise the foreskin of political, social, and economic disagreement before they can expect to be welcomed to the discussion. They have to read all the right books, listen to all the right teachers, imbibe all the right terminology, and subscribe to the right social narratives. Otherwise, they must remain outside the fellowship like the uncircumcised dogs they are. They have not come under bondage to the right works of the law, so they dare not dine with those justified by these works.

The Seed of Abraham

Of course, in both Romans and Galatians, Paul condemns the idea that man can be justified by the works of the law. Rather, it is by faith that we come to have all the blessings of union with Christ, including justification. Along with justification, we have the blessing of oneness with believers of all stripes. Paul explains that these privileges come to us by way of the promise made to Abraham.

“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham,” (Gal. 3:6-7; NASB).

Paul goes on to remind his readers of the nature of the promise: “All the nations will be blessed in you,” and to explain further that this promise was made “foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (vs. 8; NASB). It is important to mention, at this point, that the term translated Gentiles and the term translated nations in this one verse are the exact same term in the exact same construction in the Greek: τὰ ἔθνη. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Paul understands this promise made to Abraham to apply to believers of every nation, even non-Jewish nations. In fact, he goes on to say as much:

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise,” (Gal. 3:25-29; NASB).

Paul was not denying the existence of ethnic disparity between the Greeks and the Jews within the church. What he denied was the law-centered approach to addressing this disparity. Rather, he pointed his readers to unity with Christ. We who have faith in Christ—who have been baptized into Christ, who have clothed ourselves in Christ—belong to Christ and in Him are now considered descendants of Abraham, heirs according to promise.

This union with, and unity in, Christ does not know racial or ethnic subdivisions. Rather, it is an indivisible unit. Furthermore, to reiterate, this breakdown of ethnic divisions does not pave the way for the gospel, as was attempted by the Judaizers with their requirement of circumcision. No. The gospel laid the foundation for the breakdown of ethnic divisions. It laid the foundation, provided the fuel, and supplied all the justification necessary for the utter destruction of ethnic division between the Greeks and the Jews. Circumcision had no power to accomplish such a feat, but the gospel could see it through from beginning to end.

Freed!

Having been freed from bondage to the law (chapter 4), Christians are now free to walk by the Spirit (5:16). The Judaizers, however, would have had the Galatian believers rely on a fleshly circumcision. Paul understood that there was no power in such works of the flesh. Rather, relying on our flesh to save us only leads to more “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19b-21; NASB). Walking by the Spirit has a vastly different effect, though:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” (Gal. 5:22-23; NASB).

So, rather than pointing the Galatians to fleshly solutions for ethnic tension, like the Judaizers, Paul pointed his readers to the gospel. Note also that Paul did not equate the gospel with fleshly solutions to the problem of ethnic strife (e.g. adopting worldly terms like “safe spaces,” “micro-aggression,” “majority privilege,” etc.). The Judaizers went there, claiming “We will fellowship with people of other ethnicities only if they meet our extra-biblical prerequisites,” and Paul declared them accursed. Rather, Paul pointed them to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the sole sufficient and holistic solution for the ethnic strife that existed between the Jews and Greeks in the Galatian churches.

Conclusion

As we have seen in our study, both of Romans and Galatians, and as we will see in the rest of Paul’s letters, Paul was very concerned to see the churches of God unified in the gospel. The world will seek to divide the church of God according to gender, ethnicity, and anything else the devil might imagine. It is necessary for us, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, to return to our unity in the gospel, and to look for no other, no “better” solution. All such solutions are accursed! The gospel, however, is the power of God unto salvation.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part II – Romans 9-11

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As we mentioned in our last article, Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome was the impetus for the letter he wrote to the Romans. Scholars have even proposed that Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 functions as the thesis statement of the letter:

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

In the last article, we considered two themes that arise out of this thesis statement: the gospel preached to the church and the gospel as the power of God unto salvation. These two major themes help us to understand why Paul spends the first eight chapters of Romans explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ. Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we are in our present study using them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.

Salvation to All without Distinction

First, the gospel proclamation began in Jerusalem and spread throughout all the known world (Acts 1:8; Col. 1:3-6). Not only is this true geographically, but Paul’s custom when he went from town to town was to preach the gospel first in the synagogues and, only after he was rejected by the Jews, he would turn and take the gospel the Gentiles (Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5, 13-52; 14:1-7; 17:1-9, 10-14, 16-17; 18:1-7, 19-21; 19:8-10).

Paul was not a Christian Zionist like many of the televangelists we see on TV today. He was not concerned with supporting his kinsmen with money, political power, and military might like so many politicians running for office today. Paul was concerned that his kinsmen according to the flesh be supported by the proclamation of the gospel, the planting of new churches, and the ministry of the Word. To bring the discussion home, a 21st century American Paul would not be so concerned to combat an intangible, unquantifiable notion of American systemic racism against his kinsmen according to the flesh as he would have been to see them saved from their sins and (as we will see in Romans 13) respect those whom God had put in authority over them so that they might lead quiet, peaceful lives..

Paul was so concerned to see his “kinsmen according to the flesh” come to salvation in their Messiah that he might have even wished himself “accursed, separated from Christ” for their sakes (Rom. 9:3; NASB). Paul loved the Jews, because ethnically-speaking he is a Jew. He had no desire, in the flesh, to see them forsaken on account of their disobedience for the eternal benefit of pagan Gentiles. To use modern American language, Paul was born into “covenant privilege,” and he did not feel the need to apologize for it in the least. He desired to see all, Jews and Gentiles, saved. Yet, he was willing to accept that the partial reprobation of Israel was the will of God for the salvation of all of God’s elect (Rom. 11:25-27).

One might expect that Paul’s love for his kinsmen according to the flesh would have derailed him on his mission as the apostle to the Gentiles. It did not. Paul was content with God’s sovereign decree, even if that decree meant that a large portion of the Jews would be broken off from the covenant tree. Afterall, who is he but a man (Rom. 9:19-20)?

This discussion of the Jews and Gentiles did not begin in Romans 9. Rather, Paul interweaves his discussion of this topic throughout his letter to the Romans, from chapter 2 all the way to chapter 11. From chapters 2 to 8, he addresses false notions Jews and Gentiles had of the law and the gospel. However, once he gets to chapter 9, he commits himself to addressing a very specific question regarding the application of the atonement:

In this Way

Second, the gospel spread as a result of a partial hardening of the Jews. If many of the Jews’ hearts were not hardened toward the gospel proclamation, the church might never have been persecuted, and the gospel might not have gone forth to the Gentiles (Acts 8:1-4; 11:19). It is this thread that weaves its way throughout the book of Romans. In addressing the gospel of Christ, Paul also sees fit to address the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and he does so from several different angles.

It is for the sake of the gospel, not social justice, that racial barriers needed to be broken down between believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Jews were considered the minority culture in ancient Rome. They were looked upon as insurrectionists and trouble-makers. The Jews, on the other hand, saw themselves as religiously privileged, the people of promise. From a religious standpoint, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles. From a cultural standpoint, the Gentiles looked down upon the Jews.

The first century gospel preacher had to forget all of these social stigmas. The Gentile-born Christian could not rightly look down upon the Jews, even if they were of the hardened segment of the Jews, the broken off branches. Likewise, the Hebrew-born Christians had no right to look down upon the Gentiles. As Christians, they had to accept that they were now engrafted into one new tree. They were brothers in Christ, regardless of the earthly families, tribes, or ethnicities into which they were born.

It simply would not do for Jewish Christians to emphasize their Jewishness in relation to their Gentile brothers. Nor would the church function properly if the Gentile Christians had emphasized their pagan cultures over that of their Jewish brothers. They had to come to see themselves as something altogether new, and new wine is not fit for old wineskins (Mk. 2:21-22). Compare Paul’s teaching on the newness of the Christian identity with another notion prevalent in our culture today:

“Malcolm X was the prophet of black rage primarily because of his great love for black people. His love was neither abstract nor ephemeral. Rather, it was a concrete connection with a degraded and devalued people in need of a psychic conversion. This is why Malcolm X’s articulation of black rage was not directed first and foremost at white America. Rather, Malcolm believed that if black people felt the love that motivated that rage the love would produce a psychic conversion in black people; they would affirm themselves as human beings, no longer viewing their bodies, minds, and souls through white lenses, and believing themselves of taking control of their own destinies,” (Cornel West, Race Matters. Beacon Press, Boston, 1993, pp. 95-96).

Earlier in his book, West describes a Nihilism that is present in much of black culture. Anyone who is familiar with 20th century philosophical structures will recognize that, in promoting this view of Malcolm X, West has just promoted a form of ethnic Existentialism as the philosophical answer to ethnic Nihilism. If one’s view of ethnic strife leads one to have a bleak view of ethnic strife, the answer for West seems to be to adopt a carpe diem approach to ethnic strife. One must become the captain of one’s own destiny.

The Bible does not promote this “Take charge!” approach to ethnic strife. It does not present us as the masters of our own destinies. Rather, we are called to see our brothers and sisters in Christ as just that: brothers and sisters. This approach takes much more courage than West’s ethnic Existentialism. In this approach, God is the Master of our destinies. Our job is merely to trust and obey.

It was as a result of, and for the sake of, the gospel that many hard-hearted Jews (not all Jews, mind you) were broken off from God’s one covenant tree and Gentiles were grafted in (Rom. 11:11-24). This was not an easy pill for Paul to swallow. It was not easy for Paul to see Gentiles as being grafted into the one covenant tree of Israel at the expense of his kinsmen according to the flesh. In his weaker moments, perhaps he might have been tempted to succumb to a form of ethnic Existentialism rather than humbly receiving his “brothers from another mother.” This was not the way, though, that all Israel would be saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ broke down ethnic barriers between Jews and Gentiles so that they were no longer two but one new tree in Christ! So it is that, in this way, all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25-27).

In our next installment, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 12, 14-16.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part I – Romans 1-8

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In our most recent posts, we have looked to the narrative portions of the New Testament to discover what they might teach us regarding Public Theology. We must caution ourselves not to read into the descriptive portions of Scripture anything that is not prescriptive. Thus, it has been our aim to stick only to examples in the words and actions of Christ and the apostles that can be proven by a closer examination of the more didactic portions of the New Testament. Today, we have finally arrived at those portions: the epistles.

A Preliminary Caution

We must be careful when discussing the different epistles within the New Testament canon, so that we do not speak in terms of a strictly Pauline theology, a Petrine theology, a Johannine theology, etc. The individual writers of Scripture did have different emphases because of their unique personalities and backgrounds. They also had different emphases because of their unique audiences and the occasions of their writings. However, insofar as the apostles were taught of the same Lord, led by the same Spirit, and inspired of the same God and Father of all to pen His holy word, they only confessed one faith.

Thus, as we begin the remainder of our study of New Testament public theology with the letters of Paul, we will take great care that we do not pit Paul’s public theology against any of the other New Testament authors. We will simply demonstrate some of his unique contributions to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, particularly as it relates to public theology. What we will find is that there is much unexpected overlap between Paul’s emphases and those of the other New Testament authors. On the other side of the same coin, we will see that there is much unexpected variety of emphases from one of Paul’s letters to the next.

Romans 1-8

The Thesis Statement of Romans

Providentially, Paul wrote to the church at Rome about his desire to come and to minister the gospel to them and, as we shall see, four other books of the Bible (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) would later be written by Paul from a Roman imprisonment. Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome spilled over into a lengthy and greatly cherished letter. In fact, Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 has been touted as the thesis statement that provides the structure for all that follows in the letter.

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we will use them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 1-8.

A Gospel for the Church

Notice firstly the fact that Paul is talking to the church of God: “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints,” (vs. 7a; NASB). Paul tells these believers that he desires to preach the gospel to them. He does not say he desires to preach moralism, jokes, stories, or any other thing modern, pragmatic churches might use in an attempt to attract unbelievers. Paul recognized one thing, and he recognized it very well: the corporate worship of God in general, and the preaching of His word in particular, are privileges given to His people. Paul had no desire to preach secular psychology, the traditions of men, or the wisdom of the world. Paul was concerned with preaching that which has the power to save the soul: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sanctification. He desired to preach this gospel to the church, a message that we often relegate to the task of evangelism. Why did he want to preach it to the church? He wanted to do so in order that, through the preaching of the gospel, they might be saved. But aren’t they already saved? I mean, they are the church aren’t they? When we think along these lines, we fall into the error of oversimplifying the doctrine of salvation.

Paul recognized the fact that his readers were already justified through the cross-work of Jesus Christ. He was not speaking of a desire to preach the gospel to them for the furtherance of their justification. Rather, his desire was to preach the gospel to them for their further sanctification (an essential element of overall salvation), that they might grow in their appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ and, thus, walk according to the knowledge they had accumulated.

The sufficiency of the gospel. Now, some may be confused as to how this teaching has anything to do with Public Theology. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the already saved church, we must be very precise in how we define the gospel. As we will see in our study of Galatians, adding anything to the gospel that is not intrinsic to the gospel makes it no gospel at all.

The first thing we must do is recognize the difference between the gospel and “gospel issues.” There are many pastors and theologians in the blogosphere today who use the term gospel issue as a social justice sledge-hammer to force people to do what they want them to do. We must first recognize that every sin is a “gospel issue,” because the gospel is what holistically saves us from sin. Furthermore, we should not confuse the gospel itself with the fruit that the gospel produces. The mission of the church must be centered on the preaching of the gospel.

Gospel preaching. We say that it saves us holistically, because the gospel saves us from beginning to end. Notice again that the gospel Paul is bringing, he is bringing to the church. Gospel preaching makes disciples; gospel preaching also teaches and guides disciples.

To say that we need anything other than gospel preaching to cure ethnic strife (for example) in Christian churches is like saying, “I stopped spanking my child, because it didn’t work.” Where we do not see immediate success in what God has commanded that we do, we do not have the justification to inject worldly philosophy and the traditions of man. Let us recall that Abraham had an illegitimate child with Hagar, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. Genesis 16). Saul offered the sacrifice he had not been commanded to offer and lost his throne, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 15). We will explore this notion more when we get to our study of Colossians.

The Power of God

Notice secondly that the gospel is the power of God to save. The Law has no power to save (Rom. 3:20, 28). Good feelings have no power to save. A sense of belonging and getting “plugged into a church ministry” have no power to save. The power of God for the salvation of all who believe is the gospel itself.

The goal of every valid, Christian pulpit ministry is wrapped up in this singular concept. Godly preaching has as its goal the salvation of the hearers (1Cor. 1:21; 15:2). There is a definite moment when that salvation is brought to the sinner, when he is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God (Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 8:14-17, 29-30). However, the result of that initial grace is that the newly regenerate saint will identify with the visible church through baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then, he will come under the teaching of the word of God and be taught all that Christ commanded. This is true discipleship: that sinners would repent, be baptized, and sit under the preached word of Christ (Mt. 28:19-20). It is that preached word, that gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the power of God unto final salvation (Rom. 8:30; 10:11-14).

Christian discipleship. One thing that often gets overlooked in our discussion of Public Theology is the necessity of discipleship. We must recognize the fact that no one comes to the Christian religion with a philosophical clean slate. By the time we come to faith in Christ, and even after we come to faith in Him, we will have imbibed the world’s way of thinking on a host of issues (e.g. gender, economics, science, ethnic relations, work ethic, etc.). These are all issues on which our thinking must be brought in line with the word of God.

There are two ways in which our thinking on these issues can be brought in line with Scripture: gospel preaching and intentional discipleship. There are at least two terms in the Greek Scriptures that are commonly translated preaching: κηρύσσω, or I herald (proclaim; cf. Lk. 24:46-47), and εὐαγγελίζω, or I bring good news (preach the gospel; 1Pt. 1:12). These are not the only two terms used in the Greek Scriptures, but they will suffice to demonstrate how preaching is discussed in the Word of God. Modern evangelicals, thanks to expository preaching, will be more clear on what we mean by gospel preaching than intentional discipleship. By gospel preaching, we simply mean the week-in / week-out preaching of the whole counsel of God, it’s central, unifying message being that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intentional discipleship is less uniform from church to church. Some elders are more drawn to a very intense one-on-one approach to discipleship. Others prefer group settings like Sunday School, small groups, etc. It is not our purpose here to tell pastors which of these is the only right and proper approach to intentional discipleship. The point is that intentional discipleship is a necessary element of church life. If this were not true, Paul might not have written Romans 12-16.

It is this intentional discipleship Paul wrote about when he told his child in the faith, Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2Tim. 2:2; NASB). The term used in 2 Timothy 2:2 for teach is the word διδάσκω from which we get the English term didactic. This approach might be seen as more lecture based. In Romans 2:18 and Galatians 6:6, Paul uses a much more intimate term: κατηχέω, from which we get the English term catechetical. Strong’s concordance gives as one definition: “to learn by nuanced repetition.” Where a more didactic approach might take place in a lecture-based setting, like a small group or Sunday School class, the catechetical approach might be encouraged in one-on-one settings like an intimate fellowship or in the home. Either way, the discipleship of Christians, and children of Christian parents, is essential for the Christian life.

Gospel-centered discipleship. Even the discipleship of Christians is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ as its central focus, because the gospel is God’s power unto salvation and ultimate salvation requires growth in holiness. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Heb. 12:14; NKJV). Christians who do not pursue holiness will not see the Lord; they will not be saved. Let us recall what is the power of God unto this salvation: the gospel. So, if salvation requires holiness and the gospel of God is sufficient for our salvation, it is clear that the gospel is sufficient for making Christians holy.

This means that all sin is to be addressed with the gospel, whether in our preaching or in our personal discipleship. When addressing homosexual marriage, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing ethnic strife, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing parental neglect, laziness, drunkenness, abuse, insubordination, etc., we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship.

Conclusion

Romans 1-8 is a thorough teaching on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul labors for chapters to help his readers to understand Christ’s gospel. Why? Simple. He wants them to know the gospel through which they have been justified, through which they are being sanctified, and through which they will be glorified. As a result of having a precise knowledge of the gospel of saving grace, believers are equipped to walk according to the statutes given them in God’s word. Having been declared holy as a result of Christ’s active and passive obedience, Christians are emboldened to walk in holiness by the power of the Spirit through the word preached.

In our next article, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.