The Great Good News
Romans 1:1-2, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.”
Most anyone who has spent any time in an evangelical church is familiar with the word gospel. In the Greek the word is euangelion, from which we get the word evangelism and it means “good news.” In his great commentary on Romans, D.Martin Lloyd-Jones is probably correct when he suggests that most of us stop at the definition and don’t really appreciate how good the good news truly is.
The word “gospel” is the most important word in the introduction to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The word “gospel” makes an appearance six times in the first 17 verses. It is the most important word because it is the theme of the entire letter to the Romans. Paul was writing to the Roman Christians to make this great gospel of God more widely known.
The word appears for the first time in verse 1, just sixteen words in Paul calls it “the gospel of God.” This is what Paul has been called and set apart for. In verse 2, he begins to explain exactly what the gospel is. He says in verse 2 that it is a gospel “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” In other words, the gospel concerns God’s Son Jesus Christ. In verse 9 Paul uses another phrase that makes it even more clear, “the gospel of His Son.” He then says that His deepest desire is to preach “the gospel” with his whole heart. In verses 15-17 he once again writes of his eagerness to preach the gospel: “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 the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…”
To truly appreciate the goodness of the gospel we begin with the fact that apart from Christianity, Biblical Christianity that is, the religions of the world are in no part “good news.” Instead, they are bad news, in fact very bad news and a severe burden for their followers. All one must do is look at the visages of the gurus, imams, mullahs, monks, and holy men that lead these religions. They never seem to be very happy. The religions they espouse are not happy religions for the people who follow them. The reason is not too hard to discover. You see apart from Biblical Christianity all the religions in the world are essentially “self-help” “works-based” religions. What this means is that they attempt to tell you how you can find God (or peace, or happiness, self-fulfillment, or autonomy or whatever) by your own efforts. If it were indeed possible to do this, then religion in general terms would be good news. But human effort to reach God is impossible, we cannot reach Him. Sin has such a great grasp on us that it prevents us from the happiness and peace that we long for. So, a religion that is based on what we can do is not capable of providing comfort and its requirements become a burden that can never be relieved.
The writer of Romans, Paul understood this truth all too well. He had followed a religion of carefully laid out good works and high moral standards. But it had not given him any real sense of peace or a true sense of achievement. Paul understood as he wrote in Romans 7:24 that he was, as we all are, a “wretched man.”
In our day the result of this has been a rise in what are called the “nons.” People who have no religion at all. They are practical or real atheists, regarding religion as a tool to control people and as members of a supposed enlightened society they have cast it aside. At first this seems like a good thing. But then the goodness fades away. You see, if there is no God and if we are therefore free to do as we please without any thought of accountability to a divine authority or punishment by Him, we seem to be liberated to joyous independence. But if there is no accountability, because there is no one to be accountable to, what we do with this great freedom becomes meaningless. If what we do is meaningless, then we must be meaningless. We are mere biological accidents then, mere accidents of nature if you will.
No religion, no beliefs leads nowhere. It might seem as if it is offering true freedom and the good news of human progress, but it leaves us in despair over the utter futility of human existence without God.
So, the gospel is good news for two reasons: First, it tells us that God is there – that He is not just the figment of human imagination. He really does exist, and He has created us for fellowship with Him and He does indeed hold us accountable for what we do and that gives our lives meaning. Second, the gospel tells us that God loves us and has reached out to save us through the work of Jesus Christ. We cannot reach God, because our sins separated us from Him. But God removed our sins through Christ and so He has bridged that chasm that separates us from Him. Before we were in the depths of despair groaning in futility after Him, but we could not find Him. Now, because He has saved us, we sing praises to the One who has found us.
Have you ever considered how characteristic it is of Biblical Christianity that such a big part of our worship time is spent in singing the praises of God? Yes, there is “singing” in other religions, but it really is just chanting which is usually just designed to make the worshiper more “holy” or bring them closer to the deity. Christians however are different; we sing not as a good work or as a form of spiritual discipline. We do not sing to find God, or at least we shouldn’t. We sing because God has found us, and we can’t contain our happiness about it.
The very first hymn in our hymnal at Sovereign Grace Community Church is “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above.” The words of the first verse are: “Sing Praise to God who reigns above, The God of all creation, The God of power, the God of love, The God of our salvation. With healing balm my soul He fills, And every faithless murmur stills: To God all praise and glory!”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked, “Has the gospel come to us like that? Can we say honestly at this moment that this is the greatest and best good news that we have ever heard?” If are unable to say that, it may be because we are not really born again even though you have at some point made a profession of faith of some sort. Or it may be that you do not actually appreciate the gospel, because you are not walking closely with God.