Words have power. Unfortunately in our world today, we might immediately think of the negative power of words, such as the hurtful power of hateful words to cut someone down. But words wield a positive power as well, such as the healing power of wholesome words to restore hope to someone on the edge.
No words have power like God’s words. Think of Jesus at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. The unforgiving stench of death had already overtaken his lifeless, decaying body. But what does Jesus do? He speaks a command of life to the dead man – "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43) – and life overtakes the dead man! Lazarus emerges from the tomb, made alive by the power of God through the word of Jesus! In the same way the gospel comes to those who are dead in sin; Jesus calls us to life with the word of forgiveness for our sins and deliverance from damnation. THE GOSPEL IS THE POWER OF GOD FOR SALVATION. (Romans 1:16) This is so much more than a message that is simply informative or inspiring. If I have a disease, I can read about medicines, treatments, and cures and be informed and find hope. But to read of them is one thing; to experience them is another. The gospel message itself is the power of God! God is working – powerfully, dynamically, graciously – He is working right now through this message to create and strengthen and sustain faith that leads to eternal life in Jesus. "He has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (II Timothy 1:10)
On August 15, 1945, the headline of The Baltimore Sun stated, 'The War Is Over.' What effect do you think that news had on all who heard it? One sub-headline read, 'Flood of Joy Sweeps Through Allied World.' But what if the headline was different? – 'The Allies Must Do Such-and-Such to End the War.' That headline wouldn’t bring peace and joy. The difference between good news and good advice is life-changing, isn’t it? The word "gospel" means "good news," the good news of salvation. Yes, THE GOSPEL IS GOOD NEWS, NOT GOOD ADVICE. If the gospel was no more than advice, it would leave us grasping at straws with God as it is with any other philosophy and religion: 'If you want to be right with God and live forever, do this, this, and this.' That’s advice, and bad advice at that. It only leads to hopelessness and despair as you fail to measure up, or it leads to pride and delusion as you convince yourself that you’ve earned God’s favor.
But the gospel is good news about what Jesus has done for you, something that has already happened, that has already been accomplished. It is the good news that God has worked out your salvation in full! The good news is that Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection count for you. On the cross, Jesus cried out, "It is finished!" (headline: 'Sin Paid In Full'), and at His empty tomb the angels proclaimed, "He has risen, just as He said!" (headline: 'His Victory = Your Peace'). The Bible puts it this way: "Jesus was handed over to die for our sins, and He was raised from death to make us right with God. Therefore, since we have been made right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 4:25, 5:1) Believe the good news of the gospel, and be at peace!
"Grace" is a word Christians use a lot that is not always well explained or understood. I would suggest that if you want to understand "grace," you need to understand the word "but." "But" means 'instead of,' 'rather than,' 'contrary to what you would expect.' How does it help us understand "grace"? Consider God’s Word from Ephesians chapter 2. "As for you, you were dead in your disobedience and sins…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." (v1-3) This is the ugly truth of who we are apart from God. We know how prone we are to sin and how often we repeat the same sins. Behind it all is a sinful heart that is profoundly self-centered and self-justifying. Martin Luther observed, 'Our sinful human heart is so deeply curved in on itself that it wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks to use all things, even God, for its own sake.' We must admit that God is right in saying that we are by nature "objects of wrath" (v3), deserving of His anger and punishment.
Then comes that little word "but" – little, yet pivotal and powerful. "BUT because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sins – it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4,5) So INSTEAD OF receiving God’s wrath for our sins, RATHER THAN being punished, CONTRARY TO our expectation of going to hell, God showed us a saving love that only God could show. This is GRACE, that God loved us, not because of something good in us, but because of something good in Him. Note the contrast between sin and grace: The essence of sin is the self-centeredness of us substituting ourselves for God, but the essence of grace is God substituting Himself for us EVEN WHEN we were dead in sin. Do you see why the Bible speaks of grace as "indescribable," "immeasurable," and "unsearchable"? I pray you have a better understanding of and joy in what it means to say that WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE.
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.