How God Saves a Soul
My thought this morning is, How God Saves a Soul. What does God do for a man which results in that man’s being saved forever? The basis of what I am to say is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 16 and 17.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
Paul had never visited Rome up until this time, but he says in an earlier verse that he had an earnest desire to do so, not for the purpose of sight-seeing like ordinary travelers, but to meet the people of God in that city. “That,” as he says, “I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end that ye may be established.”
These facts indicate that no other apostle had ever visited Rome up until this time. There are two reasons for saying this. One is, that it was a principle with Paul never to build upon another man’s foundations so that if any other apostle had visited Rome and laid the foundation of the Gospel there, Paul would not have desired to have gone to that city. The second reason is, that if any apostle had preceded him there, those spiritual gifts which he desired to impart to the church would have been imparted because they were imparted by the laying on of hands by the apostles.
Peter Not the Founder of the Church
I only mention this in passing because of the claims of our Roman Catholic neighbors that Peter was the founder of the church at Rome, the first Bishop, or the first Pope of Rome, a statement that has been revived recently in connection with the elevation of the present pope to the pontificate.
There is no historic proof that Peter ever visited Rome either prior to this time or after it, and on the other hand there is pretty strong historical evidence that such could not have been the case.
How then was the church at Rome founded. It was founded just as other churches were founded in that day and since that day. It was founded just as The Moody Church was founded, by what we call Christian laymen in distinction from ordained ministers.
On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Ghost came down on the waiting disciples the phenomena of the occasions caused a great multitude to assemble who heard the disciples speak with other tongues. Every man heard them speak in the language in which he was born, the wonderful works of God. In that multitude were devout Jews from every nation under heaven, some of them from Rome. After Pentecost they went home again and carried with them the Gospel, and wherever they went, Christian churches were founded. So the church in Rome was thus founded, beyond doubt.
Why Paul Wrote the Epistle
Paul was ministering at this time in Corinth, and there was a woman named Phoebe, a deaconess in that church, who was about to make a business visit to Rome and Paul takes the opportunity to send this letter by her hand to the church there. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit it contains the most important truth that God ever revealed to man, the truth as to the way in which a man may be justified before God, the way in which God saves a soul.
It used to be said that all roads led to Rome and the converse of that was also true. From Rome there radiated to every part of the world whatever was known there, and when this great truth was revealed to Rome it was revealed to the church in every part of the earth.
Verses 16 and 17 tell us what the truth is. Paul had been preaching the Gospel to the Greeks, and he said he felt the same obligation to preach it to those who were at Rome also, for, he added, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
“Gospel” means good news, glad tidings. Oh, Paul, why are thou not ashamed of this good news? Because “it is the power of God unto salvation,” the dynamic which God uses to lift a man out of the depth of sin into the life of righteousness.
Dost thou mean every man, Paul? His answer is yes and no. That is, he qualifies the statement by saying it is the power of God unto salvation “to every one that believeth,” to every one who will accept the testimony of God concerning it, which means every man who will receive Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord.
Paul, you say you are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because it is the power of God to every one that believes. Tell us wherein its power lies. If it be good news, what is the essence of the good news? Tell us that. We want to understand it.
Paul explains what it is when he says that in the Gospel “is revealed a righteousness of God by faith unto faith.” This is one of the most wonderful declarations that God ever made to man. Look at it. In the King James Version it read, therein is revealed the righteousness of God, but in the Revised Version the definite article is changed to the indefinite, therein is revealed a righteousness of God.”
What is the difference between those two statements? From one point of view there is no difference, and yet the rendering in the Revised Version helps us to better understand the meaning.
“The” righteousness of God as given in the King James Version, might mean that Paul was referring to the righteousness which God himself is, i.e., God’s own righteous character.
But he was not referring to that, and as a matter of fact there was no necessity for his referring to that. There is no necessity for a revelation of the fact that God himself is righteous, for all men who believe in God at all believe that, or else He is not a God to be believed in at all.
Moreover there is no Gospel, no good news, in the revelation of the fact that God is a righteous God, because we are by nature lost sinners and the more we dwell upon the fact that God is righteous, the more we tremble at the thought that some day we must stand before that righteous God in all our spiritual nakedness to give account of ourselves to him. This not what Paul is referring to here.
He says, there is revealed “a” righteousness of God. In other words, he is talking about the righteousness which God gives. A righteousness which God gives to sinful men such as you and I are by nature, and which satisfies Him forever. If there is not good news in that wherein can it be found?
There is one phrase in connection with the text that is a little ambiguous, “by faith unto faith.” What does it mean?”
I can illustrate in this simple way. Suppose that instead of standing here before you as a preacher I were standing here as a tradesman, a salesman of some character. I have something to sell you. This Bible, for example. I talk to you about its excellency, and I say, “This book can be had for cash, I offer it to you for cash, have you the cash to take it?” If you have, and you want the book, you will come forward, present your cash and take it.
Now, this righteousness revealed in the Gospel, is a righteousness which can be obtained only one way, and that is by faith. God offers it unto your faith, and he says to you who have never yet received Christ and are in that sense lost because unrighteous, he says to you, have you the faith to receive this gift through my Son?
This is what is meant by Paul’s quotation from the Old Testament, “he that is righteous by faith shall live.” Every other man is dead and will always be dead so far as his fellowship with God is concerned. But the man who is righteous by faith, the man who accepts the gift of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, he shall live forever.
Paul gives us concrete illustrations of what he means in the fourth chapter of this same epistle, in the histories of Abraham and David.
You know the story of Abraham, for example. You remember that God promised him a son and heir in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, a son and heir who was to come to him through his wife, Sarah.
But Abraham was now one hundred years old, and his wife was nearly as old, long past the period of natural child bearing, and Abraham became solicitous about his estate after he had passed away.
It was customary in the orient that when the head of a clan or a family died childless his steward should become his heir. Abraham’s steward was a man named Eliezer, of Damascus, and one day when Abraham was communing with God about the matter he asked if Eliezer should be his heir. But God said, “No,” and repeated His promise that his heir should come out of his own loins and be born to him of his wife, Sarah.
It is night. God leads Abraham out to his tent door, and asks him to look up into the heavens. “Abraham, art thou able to count the stars?”
“Nevertheless, so shall thy seed be. Dost thou believe this, Abraham?”
And Abraham, in the face of everything to the contrary, nature, experience, reason for that matter, says, “Yea, Thou Almighty God, I believer thy testimony that it shall be so.”
And the records say that Abraham “believed in the Lord and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Abraham was born into this world as we are all born, in a state of sin, the outcome of which is death. But God gave Abraham this testimony, and Abraham surrendered himself to and submitted his will and his heart in believing it. The instant he did that thing, God, by and act of sovereign mercy and grace lifted Abraham out of the state of sin in which he was born and placed him before Him in a state of righteousness for ever more.
It was not as yet a question of Abraham’s character. God could and did take care of that later on, but it was a question of Abraham’s legal standing before God as a righteous man.
Paul now goes on to say in the close of chapter four that “it was not written for his (Abraham’s) sake alone, that it was imputed to him:
“But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
“Who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification.”
That is to say, you are a sinner and out of fellowship with God. Eternal death is staring you in the face. But God in grace, comes to you and says, “I have put your sin, the whole of it, past, present, to come, upon the person of my only begotten and well beloved Son. He died for you, and He has risen again in testimony that I have accepted him as your atonement. Believest thou this?”
Do you say to Him as you sit there in silence of your heart, “My God, I do believe! I cannot understand it, but I take Thee at Thy word. I now receive Thy Son as my Saviour and by Thy grace I will henceforth own him as my Lord!”
I could talk to you for an hour but could not put the Gospel before you any plainer. Settle it now. Here as we sit in the presence of the memorial supper of our Lord, settle it, that henceforth you will be counted among that blessed number who have a right to gather around His table.