Preaching the gospel... to the saved?
Writing over 30 years after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, John Mark, receiving much of his information from the Apostle Peter, starts off his treatise on the Lord Jesus Christ in this fashion:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
The term “gospel” means “good news,” and indeed, Mark was about to pen some! The ‘good news’ Mark wrote about was “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Yes, the good news concerning Jesus Christ… And good news it was! In his writing, Mark shared the love, righteousness, and compassion of Jesus. Extraordinary and notable miracles are testified to. Authoritative pronouncements of Christ were recorded. The readers are instructed on how to live the Christian life, a life of significance, purpose, and meaning! and one which can be richly rewarded! As a climax, Mark tells of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day after being put to death on a cruel, Roman cross; information not merely for the benefit of evangelism, but of exceeding importance for the Christian reader, who will use the cross as an example for his life, and appropriate the resurrection power of His ascended Lord for the purpose of sanctification!
Such a consideration is instructional, for it is quite revealing to note that some thirty years after Jesus left the earth, a friend of the Apostle Peter and helper of the Apostle Paul, uses the term “the gospel” (Gk: euangellion), with the definite article (denoting specificity), to refer to the happenings and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Let us trek over to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Here we are met with this verse:
So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you [2nd person, plural pronoun] who are in Rome also. (Rom 1:15)
Who are the “you,” in this context, who Paul is referring to? Put another way, to whom was Paul ready to preach the gospel to? Please note Paul’s employment of the second person, plural pronoun, “you”. In the first fourteen verses of the book of Romans, leading up to verse 15, the plural “you” is used by Paul fourteen other times to refer to the intended readers of his epistle: “the called of Jesus Christ” (1:6), “all who are in Rome, beloved of God” (1:7), “saints” (1:7), and those whose “faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (1:8). Let us follow along the thread of fourteen references to the plural “you” that lead up to verse 15.
“among whom you [#1] also are the called of Jesus Christ”
The Roman saints were among the nations, wherein they had received grace for obedience to the faith.
“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you [#2] and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul extends his greetings and blessing to the saints, beloved of God, who are in Rome.
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you [#3] all, that your [#4, lit: “of you”] faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”
Paul thanks God for the Roman saints because their faith is well known, being proclaimed throughout the world.
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you [#5] always in my prayers”
Paul makes supplication for the Roman saints.
“making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you [#6].”
Paul prays God to orchestrate a visit to the church at Rome.
“For I long to see you [#7], that I may impart to you [#8] some spiritual gift, so that you [#9] may be established”
Paul greatly desired to take a trip to the Roman saints so that he could bless them for the purpose of creating within them an indestructable foundation.
“that is, that I may be encouraged together with you [#10] by the mutual faith both of you [#11] and me.
Paul discloses that a visit to the Roman saints would be beneficial for both him and them.
Now I do not want you [#12] to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you [#13] (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among [Gk: en] you [#14] also, just as among the other Gentiles.
Paul wishes to have fruit in the Roman saints, which his gospel ministry among them would provide. (See 1 Thess 2:19 – 3:3)
So you see that within the span of only eight verses (1:6-13) Paul makes reference to the Roman saints, beloved of God, whose faith is well known in the whole world, by using the plural pronoun “you” fourteen times, which well establishes the identity of the plural “you” in verse 15. Let us look again at this verse and this time include the greatly attested antecedent to this pronoun:
So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you saints, beloved of God, whose faith is well known throughout the world, who are in Rome also. (Rom 1:15)
The fact cannot be escaped that Paul wished to preach the gospel to those who are already born again!
The next 3 verses contain the literary device called the explanatory ‘gar,’ which is translated into English with “for,” explaining that which comes before. This word is very important, for it flags to us an explanation to follow. A simple exercise in biblical interpretation: find out what the “for” is for. (Incidentally, one of the many reasons that I do not like the NIV is that it removes, if I remember correctly, some 90% of the explanatory ‘gars’ from its translation. You scholars out there can correct me if I am wrong, it may be only 70%.)
The reason that Paul wants to preach the gospel to the beloved saints in Rome is:
For [he was] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for deliverance for [i.e. available for] every believer. (Rom 1:16; translation mine)
In order to reduce the bias shown to the word “salvation” in 21st century Christian thought, I translated the Greek term “soteria” with the English “deliverance”. Whenever bible readers happen upon the words “save” or “salvation” they seem to have a knee-jerk reaction, assuming that they always (or even most likely) denote salvation from hell. But this would be the meaning least expected by the Koine Greek reader (see dialogue on such in one of my articles here: Discussion of Salvation). When one comes across these words, the context alone must decide what kind of deliverance is in view.
Furthermore, I translated the present, active, substantival participle (Gk: tō pisteuonti) as “believer” rather than the familiar “one who believes”. Zane Hodges speaks about this same Greek construction (the articular, substantival, present participle) in his commentary on 1st John, and it is here instructive:
This construction in Greek is essentially timeless and characterizes an individual by some act or acts he has performed, without specifying how often these were done or even whether they still continue. In this respect such statements have their closest analogy to many English nouns (often ending in –er) that express completed and/or ongoing action. For example, “he is a murderer,” “she is a cheater,” “he is a supporter,” “she is a winner.” In such cases, the person may be described this way based on one instance of murder, cheating, support, or winning, or on the basis of many such acts. (The Epistles of John, 1 John 5:4, pg 217, emphasis his. See also his note #7 on pg 237 which is referred to from this quote)
Therefore, we conclude that the reason that Paul wished to preach the gospel to the saints in Rome was that the gospel is the power of God available to the Christian (“believer”) for deliverance! (What kind of deliverance will be discussed shortly). The reason that the gospel is the power of God for deliverance to the Christian is next explained:
For in it is revealed the righteousness of God by faith, granted to faith, just as it is written, “Now the one who is righteous by faith shall live.” (Rom 1:17, translation by Zane Hodges, the Kerugma Message, Vol 13, No.3, Winter 2004)
The connection between the type of deliverance available to the Christian through the gospel, which Paul had just mentioned, and justifying faith (here mentioned) is this: the justified one through the power of God in the gospel shall live!
It is through the deliverance available to the Christian (in other words, the justified one) in the gospel that he will live in its truest senses! Paul speaks about such living available to the Christian through his gospel (see Rom 2:16; 16:25, and 2 Tim 2:8 where Paul calls the gospel “my gospel”) in Romans chapters 6-8. It is in Rom 8:12 where he states, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” When we were discussing the writing of Mark above, we mentioned that he related to us how we can live a meaningful and significant Christian life. When Mark writes:
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own lifel? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?
He was giving us the gospel!
Finally, we have one more consecutive, explanatory ‘gar’ to consider. Why do we need the deliverance afforded to us by the gospel through the power of God, wherein, we, those justified by faith, can live?
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men… (Rom 1:18)
The gospel teaches us how to be delivered from sin: from its power, and thus its effects and consequences. The above verse is universal in scope. God’s anger is presently being revealed in the world against all ungodliness and all unrighteousness of men. Romans 1:16-17 is the thematic statement for the whole book of Romans. The Roman Christians, the unbelieving Jews, and we, the 21st century beneficiaries of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, need to practice the principles of the gospel that Paul preached so that we can truly live and be delivered from God’s wrath which He presently reveals against any man practicing ungodliness and unrighteousness.
Accordingly, in Romans 1:16-17, the Apostle has set forth his theme succinctly and effectively. He is proud of the gospel precisely because it makes available the power of God that accomplishes deliverance in the lives of believers. This deliverance of sinful creatures is in full harmony with God’s own righteousness. That righteousness is revealed in the gospel as a righteousness actually attained prior to deliverance on the sole basis of faith. Thus the gospel leads to the realization of the profoundly important truth stated in Habakkuk: if a person is righteous by faith he can live For the New Testament person, that is nothing less than victorious Christian experience. (Zane Hodges, Ibid., emphasis his)
Are you in the practice of preaching the gospel to the saved?
The gospel is much more than faith alone in Christ alone...